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IRS “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2017

As a freelance writer, I research many subjects for both my fiction and nonfiction. Recently, during the research phase of a project for an educational text on identity theft, I learned that fraudulent tax preparers are among the “Dirty Dozen” of IRS tax scams for this year. Who’d have guessed?

irsDid you know:

  • To charge for preparing someone else’s tax return, you must have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number and include it on all tax returns you prepare?
  • The IRS has a website with a list of all professionals who have credentials to file tax returns? You can visit this list to find qualified preparers in your area.
  • Paid preparers who complete returns for more than 10 clients are usually required to file electronically. If your preparer refuses to file electronically, find out why.

For more information about tax preparers, visit the full article, IRS “Dirty Dozen” Series of Tax Scams for 2017 Includes Return Preparer Fraud; Choose Reputable Preparers.

To see the Dirty Dozen list for 2017, visit here: https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/irs-summarizes-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2017

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And the winner is…

SSS-300x220Me!

No, I didn’t win first prize, but I placed 16 out of 25, so my short story, “Mama,” will be published in the 17th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection.

Each year, Writer’s Digest sponsors a variety of writing competitions, the winners of which win cash prizes and/or have their work published in the magazine or one of the books it publishes. Since this was only the second short story I’ve ever written, I’m very pleased with the win.

Once I have details about how you can obtain your copy of the short story collection, I’ll post it here. I’ll be entering WD’s Annual Writing Competition next, so stay tuned for another announcement in October!

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Daily Dose of Inspiration

It is time for her to stand up and claim herself.

She must now bring forth from beneath that bushel basket

The wonders she has kept hidden for fear they’d be snatched away.

 

She will collect the many griefs and burdens

And surrender them in exchange for

Solace in the arms of her treasures.

 

She will gently close the door to yearnings for what will never be

And throw wide the gateway to a paradise

Where innumerable possibilities await.

 

She will prod her failings and shortcomings into that basket

And stand atop it, hugging herself in glee,

Reveling in the wonders she has freed.

 

I am She

And I am so very much more

Than I ever knew or expected.

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We All Have a Voice

Our first amendment rights not only allow US the freedom of speech, they allow OTHERS the same right. Why do we become so hateful when we hear things we don’t like? Each of us is entitled to have our own beliefs and give voice to them.

If I don’t agree with you, are you more apt to listen to me if I try to win you over to my side respectfully, with explanations and facts that support what I’m saying, or if I holler at you, call you names, and point out [what I perceive as] your flaws? Why do we insist on always having our own way instead of finding a way to have some of what we want all the time?

When did our society decide that the better person is the one who can dig up the most dirt on an opponent rather than SHOWING his or her innate integrity and capabilities? As a writer, I was trained to SHOW and not TELL because readers want to see and feel the characters, not listen to blathering words. As an American I want to see and believe in my president; I don’t want to listen to baloney.

Has everyone forgotten why this country was founded?

A leader is someone people follow because the individual has qualities everyone admires and trusts, someone who leads by example and walks the talk, someone who leads for the purpose of serving the people.

Right now, our country lacks true leadership and I don’t see any examples I’m willing to follow.

How can WE convince our government we want a president who not only has read the Constitution and the laws of our country but also abides by them? How can WE convince our government we prefer a president who values loyalty over power? How can WE convince our government we are tired of being treated with disrespect … as if we don’t even know how to think for ourselves?

WE need to speak up, respectfully. WE need to live by the same standards we want our leaders to embrace. WE need to set the example and demand that our government follow it.

I challenge both our presidential candidates to conduct this final debate by only talking about themselves and their beliefs: what they are willing to do for us and about their past actions and words. Instead of pointing fingers at their opponent and saying, “S/he did something worse than I did!” let’s hear each of them dig down deep inside and SHOW us who they really are so we have a real reason to vote … or stay home.

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Book Review: BEYOND the RAGE by Michael J. Malone

BtRageMichael J. Malone’s Beyond the Rage is one of those novels that keeps you thinking long after you turn the last page. Its hero, Kenny O’Neill, made appearances in Malone’s previous books in the DI Ray McBain series (Blood Tears and A Taste for Malice).

Kenny, a successful criminal with friends in many places, is an unlikely hero. He’s a good bad guy, one who struggles to make sense out of senseless violence while avoiding the memories of a troubled childhood.

Kenny’s father abandoned him shortly after his mother committed suicide when he was 12-years-old, at which time his mother’s sister and her husband took him in. Now, however, family secrets  have surfaced and Kenny is determined to find out the truth about his father … and what really happened to his mother.

But Kenny get gets sidetracked from his mission when his girlfriend Alexis, a high-class escort, is attacked. Kenny’s attempt to hunt down her assailant is thwarted repeatedly because Alexis refuses to provide details about the man who brutalized her. As Kenny  copes with his frustration and mounting anger, he begins to wonder who he can believe, who he can trust, and why no one wants to tell him what really happened–both in the recent past and all those years ago.

MickMalMalone paints his characters with vivid strokes of genius and slashes of colorful dialogue. He also mixes reality with dashes of fantasy and encourages us to believe Kenny probably isn’t going to find his happily-ever-after while at the same time persuading us to have hope. Malone’s plotting is brilliant and the story’s ending is sure to be a surprise.

Michael J. Malone is a novelist, poet, blogger, and reviewer. He can be found on Facebook, his blog May Contain Nuts, and on Goodreads. His books are available in the U.S. via the Book Depository, which provides free shipping.

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Book Review: SIGHT UNSEEN by Iris and Roy Johansen

I’ve been reading Iris Johansen’s books since the 1980s and enjoyed every single one of them. Sight Unseen is my first introduction to her collaborations with Roy Johansen and it’s no surprise it hit the New York Time’s bestseller list right out of the gate.

Kendra Michaels is a recurring character in a number of previous novels (written by Iris solo and in collaboration with Roy). One of the traits that makes her a unique and appealing character is the fact that after the once-blind Kendra underwent surgery that restored her sight, her heightened senses made her acutely observant–a quality much appreciated by law enforcement. What I really like about Kendra and her superpowers is that they aren’t outside the realm of possibility. They make me wonder…

When watching a news clip on television, Kendra realizes the tragic traffic accident isn’t really an accident–it’s a murder. She rushes to the  scene and reports her suspicions to the police. Kendra winds up being drawn into the investigation, which grows to include a number of other murders that initially masquerade as accidents, because they all contain copycat qualities of cases she’s worked on in the past. While the killer taunts Kendra, she attempts to protect her loved ones from the killer’s gruesome game as she and the authorities track him down.

Sight Unseen blends the authors’ writing styles seamlessly and the  pacing and suspense won’t let you put the book down. I read Sight Unseen straight through, unable to tear myself away from the action and the questions about what was going to happen next … and who was going to do it. As a mystery/thriller addict and author, I seldom read a book where I can’t figure out whodunnit. I’m very pleased to report this book stumped me.

Run right out and buy Sight Unseen – I can’t recommend it highly enough! (P.S. I just purchased two previous  Iris/Roy collaborations.)

Sight Unseen by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

St. Martin’s Press, released July 2014

ISBN:

  • 978-1-250-02052-9 (hardcover)
  • 978-1-250-05053-6 (ebook)

 

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Book Review: KEEP QUIET by Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline’s Keep Quiet is one of those novels that keeps you wondering how you’d behave if you were able to change the outcome of a single, regrettable decision.

What would you do if you were responsible for the tragic car accident your son caused? Just how far would you go to protect him? And how long could you shield your wife from all the lies and secrets, especially when keeping quiet might not only quash her hopes for federal judgeship but kill her career, as well?

These are just some of the heart-wrenching struggles Jake and Ryan Whitmore face as they cope–together and separately–with the consequences of their split-second decision that fateful night.

I found this novel to be a departure from Scottoline’s other work in some ways; however, it packs the same type of emotional punches. If it’s not on your summer reading list, it should be.

Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN 978-1-250-01009-4

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Book Review: THE GUILLOTINE CHOICE by Michael J. Malone

9781908643407

Although the Book Depository’s blurb for The Guillotine Choice appears below, it doesn’t touch on the powerful and emotional impact of this novel. Malone, who is best known for his award-winning poetry and crime novels featuring DI Ray McBain, has proven himself to be a versatile and truly gifted writer.

Michael J MaloneI have a habit of reading really good books straight through regardless of the hour the alarm clock is set to ring the next morning. However, I had to limit myself to a few chapters at a time because this story, its characters, and the consequences of every action had me by the throat. If you want to read a book that grabs your emotions and takes you on a roller coaster ride, this is it.

In 1920s Algeria, an innocent man faces a terrible choice: 25 years hard labour in Devil’s Island, or condemn his cousin to the guillotine. The Guillotine Choice is a novel based on the true story of one man’s time in a notorious prison. A real-life Shawshank Redemption, it is an inspirational story of the triumph of dignity over despair.

The Guillotine Choice, by Michael J. Malone with Bashir Saoudi is available from the Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide

(Also available from Amazon Kindle)

ISBN: 9781908643407

 

 

 

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Book Review: THE PLAYER by Brad Parks

player-225

The PlayerParks’ most recent novel in his Carter Ross series, is exciting, amusing, and suspenseful–all in a classy way. In this book, our hero (a reporter for a New Jersey newspaper) investigates the strange and sometimes deadly illnesses affecting a small neighborhood in the city … all while fielding a number of personal and professional curve balls. I rate this 4 stars–it’s very, very good and I won’t be lending my hardcover copy of the book to anyone.

The Player by Brad Parks

Released March 4, 2014 by Minotaur Books

ISBN 978-1-250-008-2

 

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Are New York Publishers Still Relevant?

This crossed my desk today and I thought all you writers would find it interesting:

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

For years New York publishers (also called legacy publishing or corporate publishing) were at the top of the publishing food chain. They decided which books were released and when. They created books that started pop culture trends and, in a word, they ruled the world. But as we’ve evolved through the publishing mecca and other, viable options presented themselves, the issue of how to publish and whether the big New York publishers still control the industry is very debatable. Even bigger are the issues surrounding what, if any, value these publishers bring to the author.

Great industry equalizers have been eBooks, eReaders and, of course, the often-hated and always mysterious Amazon.

During Digital Book World in New York, this topic was pretty heavily discussed. In fact, Dana Beth Weinberg presented on this very issue, why publishers should be worried about losing their author base. The Indie Math, as she calls it, would show that authors who have self-published could potentially earn more money than if they had published traditionally: http://www.amarketingexpert.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2014-01-15-10.55.41.jpg

The real problem with this is that while publishers are aware of the options that authors have, they still do not feel that their existence is in jeopardy. Or, most of them don’t. I have spoken with a lot of publishing colleagues who are in-house at publishers who completely get that the axis of power has shifted. The author now holds all the cards. Let’s celebrate that for a moment because I remember when I was first in this industry and self-publishing (now renamed the ever-trendy indie publishing) was the little stepchild never invited to the table. If you self-published you were considered somewhat akin to a bottom-dweller. Sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s the truth. New York looked down at self-publishing, and I know this firsthand because I’ve always self-published and, frankly, I’ve been proud to jump on this trend.

When I started my business some thirteen years ago, someone in publishing asked me why I’d even bother to spend time on the self-published book or promote the author of such a tome. My answer was always the same: don’t judge what you don’t know and even if you know it, don’t judge. You never know where the great ideas will come from or the things, like print-on-demand or the initially poo-pooed Kindle e-Reader, that will change the world.

So, back to my original question: are the New York publishers still relevant? The answer is: “it depends” and often, just flat-out “no.” I think it’s time that we offered publishers a glimpse of the future, a future that is not all too far off and where they have to prove their relevance to authors. Everything that was once exclusive to a publisher has become much more accessible to authors. If you’re trying to decide if you should wait for a publisher, perhaps it’s time to reconsider that question altogether.

Let’s have a look at where publishers have succeeded in the past and how that’s changed:

Book Production: At some point during Digital Book World one of the speakers showed a survey that indicated that authors generally felt that publishers could do a better job of creating a marketable book than they could. They worried about things like editing, cover design and general market segmentation. Many authors still feel publishers can do a better job, but guess what? They can’t. We work with a number of high quality self-published titles and, for most of them, I’d dare you to find something about them that screams self-published. These days, there is a font of information out there for authors who are willing to educate themselves enough. The competitive advantage is in the hands of the author who can go the distance with this and, if you do it on your own, you could end up making a lot more money.

Distribution & Bookstore Access: There was a time when only publishers could get you into a bookstore or airport store. That’s simply not true anymore. You can get distribution, and you can get yourself into a bookstore, gift shop, or airport store.

The Ring of Fire: This is perhaps one area that scores an advantage for the publisher, and it’s something I call the ring of fire. This is the process by which a book is filtered through the publisher’s system and a process that really helps educate authors and gets them ready for the hardcore process that is publishing.

During this process you’ll have an editor requesting changes, you’ll be tinkering and rewriting until they feel it’s perfect enough for publication. It’s hard and often humbling and it helps an author realize how tough it is out there, I mean really tough. With 3,500 books published every day in this country, be good or be gone, and remember: hope is not a marketing plan.

Media and Marketing: Most often authors feel like this is where publishers succeed, and for the authors who actually get some marketing for their book, this is probably true. I know a lot of very talented publicity people who work in-house and believe me when I say that they know their stuff. The problem is this: there isn’t always an aggressive marketing and publicity budget assigned to each book. In almost 90% of the cases, authors have to do their own marketing.

Money: The all-important driver behind book publishing is the bigger question: “Will they make any money?” The challenge with this question is that no one knows, at least not with any certainty. Publishers (understandably) have become more risk averse, publishing titles by authors who have huge followings or who are celebrities. This becomes somewhat of a challenge for the rest of us, especially if you’re considered a newbie, no-brand, non-following author – which is, candidly, most of us. Is the money really better on the other side? What about author advances and such?

Well, as the link shows above, the advances may not bear out, given the higher sales percentage you can get self-publishing your book. And advances have also shrunk in recent years, which is, again, understandable. The caveat to this is that you can embrace the indie revolution, and forgo traditional but you have to think big time. Especially if you’re a newbie. By “big time” I don’t mean hoping for a movie deal, but rather holding your book up to a set of very high quality standards. That’s the long answer. The short is answer is: yes, you can make as much money or more by self-publishing, but you have to do it right.

Cache: The cache of being published by a big house once was a big deal and I think that for many this still holds true. The media was sensitive to self-published books and often didn’t feature them, not because they didn’t want to or had a bias against them, but because they were, in a word: garbage. But now that the bar is being raised and authors are beginning to understand the expectation of the industry, this is changing. That cache isn’t really having the publisher’s name on the book, it’s about having a book that looks like it came from a Simon & Schuster or Random House. Get the picture?

In looking at all of the above, authors have to wonder why on earth they’d even go with a big house. Yes, why indeed? Now publishers, realizing that there is money to be made in self-publishing, are offering self-publishing as an extension of their brand and this creates even more confusion. Penguin bought Author Solutions but if you publish with Author Solutions it does not, in any way, make you a Penguin author. Problem is, many authors think that’s the case. In fact, last week I got a book sent to me by an author who said he was published by Penguin. He wasn’t. It was Author Solutions. When I attempted to explain this to him he became upset and thought I was selling him some misaligned bag of goods.

I get that buying Author Solutions was probably a great business decision for Penguin. But as we see more and more of this, the issue of publisher brands is going to get even murkier and hard to define. As they find ways to remain relevant, despite the fact that the earth is shifting beneath them (and often in the author’s favor), it’s becoming more and more difficult to survive.

Maybe instead of trying to find ways to expand their brand into self-publishing, these publishing houses should be looking at ways to keep their traditional arms more attractive to the author. One has to wonder if, at some point, savvy authors will weigh a potential contract against going it on their own for more profit and more creative license, and I think that this is a big point that publishers are missing.

The problem in the industry, and I would say that this is the biggest problem, is that so many still don’t get it. Donald Maass wrote a piece for Writer Unboxed recently that illuminates this point with stunning clarity: the industry does not get it. They see this as a class issue (at some point in his piece Maass refers to the self-published group as “Freight class”) (http://writerunboxed.com/2014/02/05/the-new-class-system/). It was infuriating and frightening at the same time. Frightening because despite this self-publishing revolution, no one wants publishers to go away.

We do, however, want them and the legacy publishing industry to get it. The revolution has arrived, it’s knocking on their door and no matter how long they decide to bury their heads in the sand or write blogs about the class distinction and other outdated notions, it is taking over and changing the way we see the industry.

People keep comparing publishing to the music industry, but I think that’s wrong.

Sure, there are similarities in that they both faced changes they weren’t willing to deal with, but the issue of publishing goes much deeper than that. Technically, we’re talking about an industry that, if it doesn’t change, could face extinction. You can produce a book for a lot less than you can produce an album and with far fewer people. Elements of the music industry will never go away, but big players in publishing might and that’s a shame.

When faced with a changing business model, you can either learn how to be a part of the publishing revolution – or step aside and let the revolution take over.

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com