Alex Haley’s Roots in Paperback w/New Cover; Book Talk, 10/19

Featuring a new cover design, Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey is now available in paperback.

The new format includes a few minor updates to the story and a collection of blogs about my self-publishing adventures and researching Alex Haley. The eBook edition includes these changes too.

front new small fileNEW DESIGN

For those of you who participated in the interest poll for my new book cover design, I appreciate your help in selecting the winning design.

Congratulations Rachmad Agus!

Also, thanks to 99 Designs for an easy, exciting, and affordable service, and, of course, to the Self Publishing Podcast team—David WrightJohnny B. Truant, and Sean Platt—for their “bad ad reads,” resulting in my confidence in their sole sponsor, 99 Designs.


Finally, if you are a San Francisco Bay Area resident, or will be in the region on Sunday, October 19, I will be delivering a talk about Alex Haley’s Roots and will be signing my book afterwards at the Under One Tent: Contra Costa Jewish Book and Arts Festival.

See flyer below for more information.

Flyer for Book Signing

BOOK REVIEW: “The Brothers”

To those who have studied modern U.S. foreign policy, the first thing you discover is that every conflict stems from a previous one. But if you were to seek out its origins, much of it can be traced to two men, the Dulles brothers.    

97808050949781384278601In The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War, Stephen Kinzer focused on the scope of power and influence wielded by the Dulles brothers, Allen (CIA Director) and Foster (Secretary of State), in Washington and abroad during the early period of the Cold War. Their impressive foreign affairs pedigree (grandfather and uncle both served as Secretary of State) allowed them unprecedented access and opportunity to construct (and eventually deconstruct) America’s standing in the global community.

Author Stephen Kinzer

Author Stephen Kinzer

Although the Dulles’ had convinced politicians and the public that their allegiance was to their country, Kinzer argued that the brothers, who were high-powered attorneys,”sought nothing less than to shape the affairs of all the world for the benefit and well-being of the select, their clients.” How Eisenhower missed it but Truman didn’t could be the topic of Kinzer’s next book. Well-written and throughly researched, though the pace of The Brothers, at times, was slowed with Kinzer giving away the story before the event actually occurred.

Overall, it was an informative read that should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in America’s past and future foreign affairs.

This review originally appeared in the Tulsa Book Review.

Click here to read more about The Brothers.

Alex Haley and the Making of a Writer

Alex Haley in Coast Guard uniform, 1949. Courtesy of the USCG Military.

USCG Journalist Alex Haley, 1949.  Photo courtesy of the USCG Military.

On August 11, Alex Haley would have turned 93 years-old. To commemorate his birthday, I wanted to share a story about how he got his start as a professional writer.


Long after he became a best selling author, Alex Haley recalled a phone conversation he had in 1952. “I was standing up at the telephone. And when it hit me who [the caller] was, I just froze.” It was the editor of Coronet, a popular monthly magazine (owned by Esquire), who was looking for a writer. Then serving as the US Coast Guard’s Chief Journalist, the thirty-one-year-old Haley was desperately trying to break into the competitive magazine writing industry. His rejections slips piled high.

Hope was slipping away.

And then came the memorable phone call from the editor of a major New York City-based magazine. To have an article published in Coronet meant so much to the struggling writer that when he was told his byline would not be his own, Haley was not dissuaded. At the time, it was not unusual. Similar publications often hired unknown authors to serve as ghostwriters for celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, Zza Zza Gabor, and Groucho Marx.

Under contact at $125 (or $100 if written under his own name) for each 600-word article, Haley went to work. Between 1952 and 1960, the neophyte writer penned more than twenty articles for Coronet, with only three attributed to himself. The others were written on behalf of singer Kate Smith and radio/television host Robert Q. Lewis.

Coronet, May 1953 issue.

Coronet, May 1953 issue.

Strangely, the Coronet editors did not think its readers would find it odd that Smith and Lewis, both of whom had no background in maritime or black history, wrote about sea rescues and African Americans—topics that reflected Haley’s expertise.

In “Always a Champion,” published in May 1953 with Lewis’ byline, for example, the story focused on a boxing match that took place on a coast guard cutter. Actually, Haley had written an identical piece in SeaFarer, a short-lived newsletter that he had created for his crewmates.

In “Whittler of Time,” published in June 1954 with Smith’s byline, this piece was about the 18th century African American inventor and scientist Benjamin Banneker. It was highly unusual for a popular magazine like Coronet (that was geared toward a white audience, as demonstrated by its advertisements) to feature an article about an African American figure, especially one who was neither an athlete nor entertainer.

Haley had to pay his dues–even if it meant writing under someone else’s name. In the long run, it paid off. Eventually, he published in Reader’s Digest, Playboy, Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan, with his name in the byline.


Best Part About Being a Self-published Author….


99designs-logo-r_0What’s the best part about being a self-published author?

Well, that’s easy—selecting your book cover!

One of the biggest gripes among traditional published authors, aside from getting nominal royalty rates, receiving minimal visibility in bookstores, and waiting months (if not years) for your book to be published is that they have no control over one of the most important features of their book—the cover design.

For self-published authors, we can choose any cover design we like or, if we have enough talent, create our own.

One of my editors recommended a professional graphic artist who designed my current book cover.

My plan was to have him use a photograph of Alex Haley, which I had purchased from Associated Press (AP) granting me eBook commercial rights for five years. The artist, whom I had hired, did a splendid job, positinig the photograph, title, and my name on the cover.

He charged his standard fee for a single design. If I wanted another design, there would be an additional fee.

Six months later, when I began thinking about publishing a paperback edition of my eBook, I investigated the cost of publishing the same photograph on a hard cover. To my chagrin, AP charged about the same fee I had paid to have the image on my eBook cover.

Furthermore, I would have to pay my designer another fee just to create a back cover (since there wasn’t one prior).

And I would have to renew the rights to the photograph every five years.

At that point, I had all but given up on publishing a book I could actually hold in my hands and turn the page.

Then, it occurred to me while I was listening to my favorite podcast program on writing—Self-Publishing Podcast—that there was a plausible alternative.


The podcast is hosted by three indie authors—Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright. It was their lone sponsor, 99 Designs, who caught my attention.

99 Designs is a San Francisco-based web company that provides a marketplace for graphic designers to showcase their work based on a business’ needs.

The designers compete in a contest (paid for by a business or an individual), and, whichever design is selected by the person(s) paying for the service, the winning artist receives two-thirds of the fee. 99 Designs takes the other third.

The best part about working with 99 Designs is that there is no obligation if you don’t like any of the designs. You’ll receive a full refund.

Although the concept seemed perfect for my situation, I was convinced when Wright said on Episode #109: 

“We’re not going to advertise anything on this site that we would not use….If you want a professional design, go to 99 Designs.”



At first, there were only a few and they weren’t eye-catching. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. But by the following morning, scores had been submitted and there were enough quality designs in the lot that I knew a refund would not be necessary. By the end of the seven-day-period, I received a total of 145 submissions in the opening round! At least twenty of them I deemed “cover worthy” and those made it to the final round.

I haven’t chosen a cover yet, but I’ve setup an interest poll featuring my favorite designs. I want YOU to help me select the best design!


“Thank You For Your Service,” A Review


In honor of the our nation’s birthday, we celebrate the festivities with fireworks (be careful!), flags, and picnics.

It’s important, though, that we seize the holiday as an opportunity to remember  that there are still battles taking place, both on and off the war front.

A few months ago (well before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  implosion surfaced, which eventually led to the resignation of  Secretary Eric Shinseki), I was engrossed in reading a first-hand account of what was happening to our soldiers upon their return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s a short  review of it that was originally published in San Francisco Book Review.


“I feel so fucking violent right now,” wrote a young soldier in the journal he maintained as part of the healing process during his transition from the battlefield to civilian life.

Author David Finkel

Author David Finkel

In David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service, recently named by Amazon as the “best nonfiction book of the year,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer followed a group of young yet troubled male veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Like those who served in Vietnam, our most recent veterans are burdened with similar adjustment issues.

Whether it’s excessive drug or alcohol use, suicidal thoughts, violent outbursts, or domestic abuse, the twenty-something-year-old vets that Finkel chronicled are suffering from varying degrees of PTSD and are in need of much more assistance than their families or even the VA normally can provide.

The horror that combatants experienced make this insightful and well-told book–a sequel to the author’s previous book about the war, The Good Soldiers–difficult to plow through. Hopefully, it serves as a reminder to the 99% of Americans unaffected by these recent conflicts that we need to do more for our veterans.

Book Bloggers: Seriously?

If a DIY author has any chance of success, he or she must be realistic and knowledgeable about how and where to get press for their book. Don’t waste your time, for instance, contacting the book review editors of the New York Times or Los Angeles Times. And for that matter, don’t even bother contacting your local daily newspaper.Unknown

The newsgathering industry is dealing with its own financial demise and it is certainly not going to dedicate its space publishing a book review of an unknown author. Essentially, bypass the traditional book reviewers altogether.

To reach prospective reviewers, (and in turn, readers), there are several avenues an author can take without spending a dime. Using popular social media sites such as Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook are a given, but nothing is as effective about creating buzz for your publication as the Book Blogger.

A subculture unto itself thanks to websites like Blogspot and WordPress, these bloggers are the new gatekeepers of the publishing industry. KirkusBooklist, and Publisher’s Weeklyin several respects have been supplanted by “Amy Reads,” “Bookslut,” “Busy Mom Book Review,” and “Reads 4 Pleasure” that are calling the shots.

After sifting through endless pages of Google search results for “Book Blogs,” in hopes of establishing a cadre of potential reviewers for my own book, I began to notice a pattern among these bloggers.

From their “review policies,” it is clear that these bloggers are being inundated with lots and lots of books, most of which, I presume, do not get reviewed, let alone read. These policies in many instances are quite cumbersome.

What I found disconcerting, though, as a self-published author of a biography, which is only available electronically, I concluded that the odds of having it reviewed by one of these book bloggers are nil.


Let me explain:

  • No eBooks – First and foremost, book bloggers are adamant that they will not review eBooks; they want a hard copy. Are they aware that in 2013, eBooks accounted for nearly a third of all books sold in the U.S.? More to the point, considering their blogs are only available electronically, I find their refusal to review eBooks a bit odd (and hypocritical) at such a request, but, hey, they are the gatekeepers.
  • Nonfiction is non grata – Nearly all book bloggers are female. Certainly, this does not bother me on a personal level but the reality is that most women’s reading taste (i.e., fiction: fantasy, romance, coming-of-age, paranormal, food) is frequently different than generally men’s (i.e., nonfiction: biography, military history, science & technology) as demonstrated by the scores of published blogs. Clearly, I am at a disadvantage in terms of what most book bloggers are willing to review.
  • Self-publishing stigma remains - The majority of bloggers refuse to review, let alone consider, books that are self-published. Certainly, I understand the need for a filter like this one. Most self-published books are poorly designed, are not professionally edited and focus on topics that are narrow in scope. However, there are a number of self-published books (such as, Catherine Ryan Howard, Edward W. Roberston, Johnny B. Truant, David Gaughran and many others) who are on equal footing, in my view, with most seasoned writers.
Irish author David Gaughran

Irish author David Gaughran

Furthermore, I find it ironic that the vast majority of book bloggers themselves are neophytes in the industry. Most have no professional background when it comes to the books they examine. Only a handful have ever reviewed books for an established publication. Yet, they are willing to exclude newcomers similar to themselves.

No matter.

Authors and publishers alike have figured out the value of these bloggers and are more than willing to acquiesce to their demands.

All I want is for book bloggers to remember their roots.

Prolific Author and co-host of Self Publishing Podcast, Johnny B. Truant

Author & podcast host, Johnny B. Truant

That is why I have taken the initiative and launched my own book blog! As part of my “indie” (a fancy word for self-published) author duties, I have dedicated space on my blog to review books that are: a) nonfiction, b) available either electronically or via hard copy, c) and do not impose a “no self published book” clause.

In the age of Amazon, anyone, literally, either can be an author or a reviewer. I understand refusing to review books you’re not interested in reading, but don’t discriminate based on who is the publisher or the nature of the format.

This article was orginally published in the Portland Book Review.