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REVIEW: The Atheist and the Parrotfish by Richard Barager

4 Stars

This has got to be one of the most interesting (and potentially “what if”) premises I’ve read in a long time. What makes it even more enticing is the fact that it’s something we all should have wondered about: does a transplant patient take on more of the organ donor’s life than just the functioning body part? Is there a spiritual connection, or something happening at the cellular level that speaks to another level of life?

Of course, Barager’s highly-complex main character grapples with other issues. His atheism is almost an angry part of him. This isn’t a comfortably aware person at peace with his steadfast belief in the pattern of life. This is someone–face it, the stereotypical atheist from the headlines rather than the peace-filled but scientific mind–who feels rage in the presence of believers, jealous that they credit God with Dr. Cullen Brodie managed to do himself: save a life.

The author also briefly explores an undercurrent of the premise that most people probably don’t imagine: is the recipient of the donation “worthy?” Yes, there are committees to decide a patient’s best chances for long-term survival, and no one wants to think that their organs were donated to a serial killer. But the aging cross-dresser (who’s only recently admitted to himself who he really is) isn’t necessarily the best candidate for the organs, not because his chances of survival are minimal, but because…is this really the best we could do with a heart and two kidneys?

Woven throughout is a highly complicated and melancholy reconnection with an old love interest, one that is designed to rip at the threads that keep Cullen’s heart and mind locked inside a fortress of disbelief.  Spiraling the book even more is the fact that the recipient of the organs, already unstable and unsure of himself, is convinced that he has become part of the female donor, that her life is now intertwined with his.

It was a very interesting read, with the only drawback being the long, sometimes winding writing style the author uses for sentence structure. Some sentences required reading once or twice to get their full meaning, but after several chapters the style felt a lot more familiar.

Available now on Amazon: click here.

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There’s a Lot of Broohaha over Amazon Reviews…

It’s Monday. I’ve been at work for a grand total of one hour and fourteen minutes, and I’ve already had three articles on the “horrible” changes to Amazon’s review policy come across my feed. I read those articles with the same fear that I’d read a slasher thriller: eyes squinty, peeking through my fingers, waiting for the gruesome end.

Only there was no gruesome end. I’m looking at Amazon’s policy, and I’ve gotta tell ya, not much has changed.

First, let’s get the actual link to Amazon’s official policy out of the way. It’s right HERE. Then, let’s get the link to Amazon’s FAQ about its review policy out of the way, too. It’s right HERE.

But here’s what I’m seeing people complain about: “You can’t swap reviews, meaning you can’t read some guy’s book and then have him read your book.” “You can’t review a book if you’re a blogger and the author is on a blog tour.”* “You can’t be friends with the author on Facebook.”

Well… that’s not exactly true.

Those are loosely defined examples of what Amazon DOES say, which is this:

“To help illustrate, here are a few examples of reviews that we don’t allow:

  • A product manufacturer posts a review of their own product, posing as an unbiased shopper
  • A shopper, unhappy with her purchase, posts multiple negative reviews for the same product
  • A customer posts a review in exchange for $5
  • A customer posts a review of a game, in exchange for bonus in-game credits
  • A family member of the product creator posts a five-star customer review to help boost sales
  • A shopper posts a review of the product, after being promised a refund in exchange
  • A seller posts negative reviews on his competitor’s product
  • An artist posts a positive review on a peer’s album in exchange for receiving a positive review from them”

But here’s a vital, super-crucial piece of info directly from Amazon’s own mouth:

“If you think we got it wrong and removed a customer review that we shouldn’t have, please e-mail review-appeals@amazon.com and we will take another look.”

If your book is reviewed (or you’re a reviewer who’s review was taken down), just shoot them an email and tell them. I’ve had this exact scenario happen to me, and I’ve also had Amazon flag my keywords for containing the title of another book (also generally a no-no), and in every instance the company responded quickly with either an explanation or an apology and replaced the content. Interesting NOTE: When I received the email warning me that I couldn’t use “Catcher in the Rye” as a keyword in my book’s listing, I wrote back and explained why it was pertinent. Not only did an Amazon rep later reply to say a) our mistake, and b) save this email as proof that you have permission, just in case it ever comes up again, the Amazon rep went on to say, “By the way, after looking into your book to resolve this matter, it sounded really compelling. I bought it, read it, and LOVED IT!”

Man, do we love to bash Amazon, but sorry folks… they’re still the best game in town for both authors and readers. When that changes, I’ll be sure to admit it.

*The blog tour issue stems from this statement in Amazon’s own language: “Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package” That does NOT mean blog tours, because the blogger who writes the review isn’t compensated. This is saying you can’t pay for publicity or marketing and then have the person you paid write the review.

So How’s Amazon Treating You These Days?

We’ve suffered through another round of Amazon bashing lately, but for the life of me I cannot remember what the brouhaha was this time. I know we already live through the stink about how they changed how authors got paid for book borrows (like anyone else was paying you every time someone borrowed your book from them… but I digress), and I do understand a lot of authors were upset at the switch to being paid per page read instead of per borrow. It’s about equalizing things, but I know it doesn’t feel that way if you were getting enough traffic that it was a significant part of your income.

We also put up with yet more complaining about the exclusivity contract of KDP Select, as though Amazon was somehow requiring authors to list their books in Select for so many cycles before they could choose to sell it elsewhere. They could do that, you know… but they haven’t.

Oh, I remember now… Amazon has a physical bookstore but they are selling books besides indie authors’ works. That was it.

Again, what has Walmart done for your book lately? Target? Barnes and Noble? A local bookshop, if you’re lucky enough to live in a town that even has one?

No one owes us anything as authors except the ability to write and (hopefully) publish. It’s amazing how many people have forgotten that, for a long time there, Amazon was the only one to offer that second option to the entire literate–and even not-so-literate–world. The fact that there are humans on this planet who’ve read my books means Amazon did something that literally no one else on earth was willing to do: give me a platform from which to publish and sell my work.

Are we seriously angry that Amazon keeps adapting its business model to ways that will let it continue to do what it does? Are we upset that they decided to sell toilet paper as well as books? (My ADD thought: did you know you can buy a coffin on Amazon, like, a serious, for-real, “get buried in it” coffin?)

Folks, we have to face the facts. There’s a lot of books to read out there, and only so many hours in the day. Amazon is doing its part by giving your work a place to stand. Are you doing your work by writing it and selling it?

Amazon Enlists Unlikely Help in Hachette Dispute: ACTUAL READERS

Amazon sent a pretty amazing email to its readers, enlisting the help of the people who have been shoved aside and overlooked throughout the Amazon-Hachette dispute. The industry has covered the whining that publishers will lose money and the even louder whining that authors who live in 12-bathroom mansions in Florida are having food ripped from their mouths by Amazon, but no one has spoken about ME. The reader. The person who doesn’t live near a bookstore and whose public library isn’t open on weekends. I’m the person who buys ebooks just so I can get my hands on reading material, and Hachette thinks I should pay more for them just so print books don’t become undervalued and so literature doesn’t lose its esteem in the eyes of society.

The letter and its call to action are below:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

We’re going to the Decatur Book Festival!

Readioactive Books and its parent company, Author Options, will be at the Decatur Book Festival this weekend! The DBF is the largest independent book festival in the US, now in its eighth year. Some of our authors will be signing books at the booth, and the general literary mayhem will be epic. If you’re in the area, please stop by!

Here’s some info on event: Decatur Book Festival

COVER REVEAL for Maria DeSouza’s LOVE LOST

Here it is, Readioactive’s first-ever cover reveal! Woohoo! Well, technically, we had nothing to do with the book, but it’s the first time we’ve gotten to do a cover reveal for someone so we’re pretty excited!

Final Front Cover

Love Lost’s synopsis:
Love can come into your life in an instant, and leave just as quickly….

Jason Straiz is a New York detective working on a case to bring down a major crime lord.
He keeps his life simple. Work. Family. Friends.
Until he meets Selene.

Selene is a lawyer on a mission.
Her goal is to bring down the monster that has been terrorizing her for years.
When she meets Jason, the attraction is intense.
When Selene realizes Jason is after the same person she is, he becomes a complication.
When his case and her mission collide, will her secrets destroy a future they could have together?
Can he handle the truth about her?

Can love truly conquer all or is there a limit?

This title releases September 30th. Follow Maria DeSouza on Facebook at MariaDeSouzaAuthor.

New Book Reviews Posted, Book Shares on their Way!

This has been a busy week for the team at Readioactive Books!

First, new book reviews are being posted as we speak in a variety of genres and publishing approaches. My personal review is of Cora Carmack’s Losing It, a really fun look at losing one’s virginity!

Also, a crop of books left the Readioactive office today, destined for locations unkown…mwah hah hah! Okay, I lied, they went to our affiliates in San Francisco, Dallas, New York, and Tampa. But where they go next is a mystery! Each book is fitted with a QR code sticker that takes them to this site, and inside are instructions on what to do with it. Basically, book finders read and review the book, post a picture via social media, and send the book on its way by dropping it somewhere else.

While the review swap and the book sharing are kind of novel concepts (get it? novel?), we hope to do a number of things with our efforts in both of those projects. We want to raise awareness about the really great books that indie authors are producing, we want to help authors find great feedback on their writing, we want to help readers discover their next favorite author, and we want to have fun in the process! And Readioactive Books makes all of that possible for us.

Thank you for letting us be a part of your reading or writing journey.

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