Vote for America this November!

This is something I originally wrote for Facebook, but I feel it’s relevant to post here as well.

American flag with some grunge effects and lines
Dear Friends and Family,

I do not know whether anyone will care to read this, as I haven’t been using Facebook lately for personal reasons, but my heart is heavily burdened by everything that is going on in the world today, and I am frightened by the future that I and my kids may inherent. I know that for many of you, these words will fall on deaf ears—but my conscience is telling me to speak out.

We have not been so divided in this country since the Civil War. America today is not the land I was born in. I remember an America that valued freedom and equality. I remember an America that cared about truth. More importantly, and this is something I feel gets overlooked in the media, I remember growing up in a country where I knew, with certainty, that we were the good guys. Every other nation looked to us as a shining example of what they could aspire to be. Now I do not tend to get sentimental when it comes to patriotism. I have never valued American lives over foreigners, because I hold equal measures compassion for all humanity. But I did get teary eyed when I visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. This had less to do with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” and more to do with what the plaque, and its poem, The New Colossus, was expressing about what America represented. America was going to be different. This nation, built upon a foundation of liberal ideals, was to be the end of kings and tyrants and “rule through power.” Humanity was growing up, leaving behind the primitive mindset of tribalism, in the formation of these United States. The torch of liberty was a beacon for all nations to follow, into a future where rule of law would always prevail, and truth would hold more sway than greed and influence.

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Now I look at what is happening in this great country and compare it to everything I studied in college, and I am both disheartened and afraid. The history of the world is a dark tale, full of wars and oppression and devastation, where mostly evil men reigned, but where occasionally our better natures triumphed. It happened in Athens, Greece, and it happened during the early days of the Roman Republic, and again the torch of democracy was passed down through the ages to a bunch of young political philosophers who had the audacity to form their own government in these United States of America, based on the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It was not a perfect union by any means, blacks were still slaves and women could not vote, but they had planted the seeds for utopia. Democracy was and has always been a struggle toward a better world. But just as in Athens and Rome, I feel that the torch of democracy is fading.

We are scarcely a democracy when all of our politicians are bought and paid for; we cannot hope to cling to the illusion that rule of law applies when so many of us look the other way as our constitutional checks and balances are dismantled; we cannot pretend that we live in a land of freedom when a great many minorities are routinely treated with inequality.

I do not doubt that many of you, reading this, will think to yourselves, “Yep, I agree with you, Nick, and that’s why I am a Republican!” More than any time in human history, we are mired by the most powerful tool for propaganda ever conceived: the Internet. So, whatever your political affiliation, you cannot be blamed for believing the wrong things. It is so very difficult in this day and age to separate the truth from the lies. But perhaps the biggest lie we must address is that of “there are two sides to every argument.” Clearly, there are times when one side is wrong. If I were to say to you that 1 + 1 = 3, that would be incorrect, and it would not matter how many people I could find to agree with me. So our goal must always be to seek the truth, wherever that truth leads us, however greatly that truth makes us feel uncomfortable or tears down our illusions. The alternative to not seeking truth, to remaining complacent in a cocoon of lies, is to surrender everything that makes America what it is, and just as in Athens and in Rome, this grand experiment, these two centuries of freedom, will end.

So how do we separate truth from lies? I think there are three ways, that I use, at least:

1) Educate yourself. Don’t learn your history and your science from political pundits or web blogs. I don’t get my information from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Visit a bookstore or a library. Knowledge is inoculation from those who would manipulate you. Every tyrant who ever lived, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jong Un, worked to curb the flow of information.

2) Listen carefully to what the politicians actually say. Don’t judge them by any other analysis (this is called spin) but specifically by their own words and actions. Soon after the election, one of the liberal leaning sites I used to follow kept posting articles insisting that Trump had raped a thirteen year old girl. Is it possible that this happened? Of course. But, I did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I promptly unfollowed the site.

3) Who benefits? Ask yourself this question. Who benefits by stating that Global Warming is a hoax? Or that Obamacare will ruin healthcare? Or that gun control will lead to a repeal of all guns? And when you ask yourself that question, consider who has the most money and influence to disseminate false information. Is it the 98% of scientists who are the deceivers, who really have nothing to gain aside from the grants used to pay for their research, or the billionaire tycoons who rely on fossil fuel revenues to keep them in business? Are we to trust the insurance companies who stand to lose billions by offering health care to those who most need it? Are we to rely on the gun lobby, who represent not gun owners but gun manufacturers, when they tell us that any limit on the SALE of guns will turn America into Nazi Germany?

Perhaps America was not meant to last. But I do not want to live the last days of my life in a fascist state, and we have never leaned so closely to a fascist state before now.

Today we learned that pipe bombs were sent out to Obama, Clinton, CNN headquarters, and to basically everyone Republicans consider their enemies. Now, this isn’t to say I blame any Republican for this, although the never ending stream of vitriol certainly didn’t help dissuade anyone. What I will say is that this reminds me of something my mother used to ask me. “Why is it,” she would say, “that it’s always the good presidents who get killed?” And she was right. Lincoln was shot and killed. Kennedy was shot and killed. My answer to her was, “Well, because they were good, and their political enemies were evil.” When we have an evil president, the moral opposition cannot in good conscience commit an act of evil, even if to stop those who would do harm to society. And this is why we cannot rely on violence to bring about a better world. Sure, there have been exceptions. The Civil War. The two World Wars. But we are not at that point yet. We still have the power to affect change through peaceful measures.

I urge you, BEG you, to GO OUT and VOTE this November. You cannot possibly imagine how much this matters. And I pray that each and every one of you reading this tirade looks into their hearts and asks themselves, “Who are the good guys?” and votes their conscience.

 

Thank You.

Exposing the Scammers 2: URLinkPublishing.com

fraud-alert

 

I was in the midst of editing a chapter when I hear my wife on the phone saying, “He’s working on his book.” She handed me the receiver, and I was immediately intrigued. People never call me at my house about writing. The guy on the other end started telling me how interested he was in Ages of Aenya, and how “book scouts” had given the book an 8.5 out of 10. Anything over 5, he said, and his company, URLinkPublishing.com, takes interest. We talked about the business for a good thirty minutes. He extolled the virtues of marketing, to help get the book into the hands of readers, and the best way to do that, he said, is book reviewers. He name dropped Kirkus, which I’d seen on the jackets of top-selling novels, and overall he sounded knowledgeable and sincere. To assuage my skepticism, he urged me to “do the research” before making any decisions. Surely, if this was all a scam, he wouldn’t be telling me to do research, would he? But here’s the thing: my heart rate did not change a beat. Five years ago, I might have been jumping with excitement, but like a jaded lover, I’d been burned too many times before.

When I got off the phone with URLinkpublishing.com, I went simply back to my chapter. Only later in the day, when I got bored at work, did I whip out my phone to check the site. After no more than five minutes I determined that the man on the phone was a liar. Here was a company promising to help me increase book sales, but their book/client list had about ten books, most with amateurish covers, and their “featured author” had, and I kid you not, ONE review on Amazon! Couldn’t they get a few of their office workers to help out? Christ, I have TEN reviews already and I find that pathetic. What’s more, their “featured author” is in the 3 millionths in sales. And to join the ranks of their esteemed laureates, I had only to get a professional review, for the recommended low low price of $3000.00!

It disgusts me to know that companies like this exist. But we are living in world of school shooters and rapist politicians, so there are worse things, I suppose. Still, when someone tries to deceive you personally, to take advantage of all your hard work and heartache, it just burns me up inside, and this is why I’m writing this post, because scammers like these need to be exposed for what they are.

My most popular article to date remains Olympia Publishers and the Art of the Soft Scam. Dozens of hopeful writers have thanked me for steering them clear of that pitfall, and now I am hoping to do the same for anyone about to get duped by URLinkPublishing.com. No doubt, they will go by a different name, or someone else will come up with a new way to fuck over people, so here’s some basic tips for not getting scammed:


1)  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

2)  Be sure to ask, up front, if there’s money involved. Don’t be too shy to be blunt. You can say, “What do you get out of this?”

3)  It’s OK to get your hopes up, but DO YOUR RESEARCH! Look up the company’s website, find blogs (like this one) discussing the company, and e-mail old clients.

4)  Be clear as to what the company is offering, and if what they are offering is something they have successfully provided to others in the past. If they have an author/client list, look up the author on Amazon, and check out that author’s sales rank! The author need not be a bestseller, but they should be ranked in the thousandths or tens-of-thousandths in their prospective genre, at the very least.


 

I should probably note here that, after turning hundreds (maybe thousands?) away from Olympia Publishers, I managed to get the attention of Olympia Publishers. They sent me a few e-mails to curry my favor (in hilarious ways) to get me to remove my piece, but I refused, despite their excuses, and assertion that they’ve changed. You can read our e-mail exchange below, and decide for yourself whether Olympia is worth a second shot:


 

Dear Nick,

Firstly, my name is Chantelle, I am the PR manager for Olympia Publishers. I recently came across your article written on your website. And I have to say I was rather disappointed. Opinions are of course welcomed, but falsities are a little disheartening. We are in no way a scam. ‘Scam’ is defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “an illegal plan for making money, especially one that involves tricking people”- That we are not.

We’re transparent about our different types of contracts, to quote our website: “Should we be unable to offer a traditional contract, but I feel the work has potential an alternative offer may be made. This offer is known as a ‘partnership contract’ and is based on a contribution, to be paid by the author, to cover initial production and printing of the work”.

Taking on un-known authors is a risk, we’re the first to admit that. But we felt that was a huge gap in the market where first time authors without an agent had no chance. The bigger publishing houses who only publish traditional contracts very rarely publish first time or unknown authors, especially those that do not have a literary agent. To get ones work to the meet the approval of the large publishing houses, they have to spend thousands on literary agents who often take cuts of the royalties of your work when published, paying professional illustrators to take on  their covers and inside artwork and paying proof readers to look at their work before they can even submit. We wanted to give those authors a chance. We are more than happy to take on first time authors or un-known authors, do not have a charge to look at work, and if we do not take on the work we offer free advice in where to go and what could help.

Publishers cannot guarantee success, no matter which publishing house you are. From the smallest to the biggest. If a book doesn’t sell it doesn’t make that publishing company a scam. It’s not a trick, as we said, we’re open about being a hybrid publishing house, many of our authors have not paid and some have had contribution contracts.

I see writers as one of the most respected careers one can choose. I have a huge amount of respect for authors, knowing that a book can change someone’s life, bring someone out of a very dark time in their lives, offer help and guidance, or for some, having a place to escape and feel at home.

I’m are genuinely glad you have not quit and of course wish you the best of luck in publishing, I’m sure you’re well aware of how difficult it is to break into the market as a published author, so please see both sides, we try and give our authors the best platform and all the help we can.

On a more personal note, as a fellow enthusiast of D&D, it’s good to see another avid player, and we also sympathise and totally agree on your stance with trump. We found ourselves in a bar in Soho when we heard the dreaded news and a dark cloud just loomed over us and has since not budged.

Also, it’s very refreshing to see someone smart enough on the internet that understands the earth is indeed round, not flat. Great choice with the Zelda shirt as well, we certainly approve of that. Like Zelda, it’s dangerous to go alone – in publishing.

Many authors are happy with the way that we operate, hence why we have a large number of returning authors, some of whom have published 5 or more books with us. This would not be the case if we were any kind of scam.

I’m are more than happy to accept criticism for our practises, and I understand that many authors are firmly against paying to publish, but this is not the problem here. The problem is that you are accusing us of being a scam, with no actual evidence to back up this claim. If you could please remove this falsity that would be very much appreciated.

I look forward to your reply.
Kind regards,
Chantelle Wadsworth


 

Chantelle,

I never said Olympia was a scam, or that it was doing anything illegal, hence the title of my article, “The Art of the Soft Scam,” emphasis on the word “soft.” Here are my exact words, from the piece I wrote,

They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam.

Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)!

You need to realize that you are crushing the hopes and dreams of many struggling authors, by creating a false sense of hope. I have sold more copies of Ages of Aenya through my own website than most of your “published” authors have, and for one tenth the price, so what exactly are you offering writers for their $5000?

If you don’t want people to be turned away from your services, I suggest you change the way you do business. Be upfront with your authors. Tell them in advance that they will have to pay you. Admit the kind of publishing services you provide, that you are more Xlibris or CreateSpace than Bantam, then I’ll drop the soft scam label.


 

Dear Nick,

Thank you very much for your reply.

I have worked here for three years now, and even in these three years, I have noticed a huge change in our company. We’re being completely honest about out publishing process, we’re just about to launch our Author Hub (which by the way I’d love to share with you to see your own comments and how we can maybe improve before it goes live) which is a website for author advice – this is not biased to us, we actually recommend other types of publishing if it suites the writer/author and we’ve invested time and resources in creating helpful videos and articles. It’s not to promote us and our company or to sell books – it is purely a helpful resource.  We’ve also taken to charities and so on with our new website, writing blog posts dedicated to them and donating what we can to various hospitals, libraries and animal and environmental charities.

Also, on our about us section right in the centre of our website, we make it very clear that we offer both free and paid contracts. We even say to authors that submit to us to please put a comment in the additional notes if they are only interested in a free contract,  then a free contract will be the only contract that is offered.

We have expanded our publicity and promotions team so each author has a publicity coordinator to work with on a daily basis, since this we have been able to expand to the US and India. Some of our recent books have sold over ten thousand copies, which is a huge step up for us. Our contract prices have also significantly lowered. So overall we are really trying our hardest to be as upfront as possible with our publishing!

If you have a look on our forums (not by us by other reviewers) you will notice a huge turn around in the comments. The last two or three years there have been little or no negative comments.

At the end of the day. We appreciate your article, its those like you that help publishing shape themselves and improve. But as I’ve said, we have really up’ed our game, we focus all of our attention on our authors and are including many charities and projects in a lot of our works. Which is why I email to kindly ask you to perhaps remove the review, or even give us an updated review if you would rather?

That is fantastic that you have had success! And there’s no doubt more will come for you too.

Have a great day!