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Mark Coker, Smashwords, Outer Banks Publishing Group, OBX Publishing

Need your help to end the US book embargo

I recently received a very interesting email from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who brought to light the US book embargo against Cuba. Cubans earn the equivalent of only about $20 USD per month, whether they’re a doctor or a janitor. They don’t have a lot of money to invest in publishing.Smashwords Logo

Imagine if we could make our free ebook publishing and distribution services available to their writers? Imagine if Cuban readers could gain greater access to the nearly 400,000 low cost ebooks at Smashwords and other ebook retailers including over 60,000 free ebooks at Smashwords?

The petition will help abolish the embargo and free up our rich literary history to the Cuban people. Outer Banks Publishing Group supports Mark and  this worthy cause and I am hoping you will, too. Please help and sign the petition.

Here is Mark’s email, published in its entirety:

“I’m writing to ask for your help.
Please go to https://petitions.whitehouse. gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba and consider signing my petition to end the US book embargo against Cuba.

Background on this Petition

Last month, I joined a publishing industry delegation to Cuba to meet with Cuban writers, publishers and government representatives from their ministry of culture and book institute.
The goal of the meetings was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration between the Cuban publishing community and the American publishing community.

I was struck by what I learned.

First, the good news.

Cuban writers and publishers are excited about the warming political relations between Cuba and the United States.
Cuba has an adult literacy rate of nearly 100%, about 20 points higher than the US.
Cuba boasts a rich literary culture.
I visited the Havana Book Fair, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of Cubans. I’d estimate 90% of attendees were millennials. These young readers are smart, educated and optimistic. They want greater access to books. They’re the future of Cuba.

Here’s the bad news

The US embargo against Cuba has been enormously harmful to the Cuban people, and it’s been especially harmful to their book market. Cuban publishers have difficulty acquiring even the basic raw materials of bookmaking like paper and ink.
Because so much of the infrastructure of global book publishing passes through the United States, the embargo makes it difficult for Cuban authors and publishers to reach a broader audience.

Cuban readers don’t have easy access to books published by American authors and publishers.

Cubans earn the equivalent of only about $20 USD per month, whether they’re a doctor or a janitor. They don’t have a lot of money to invest in publishing.

Imagine if we could make our free ebook publishing and distribution services available to their writers? Imagine if Cuban readers could gain greater access to the nearly 400,000 low cost ebooks at Smashwords, including over 60,000 free ebooks? I want to help them today but I can’t because of the embargo.


I founded Smashwords to break down barriers like this. To give every writer the freedom to publish, and every reader the freedom to read what they choose.
According to a Pew poll in 2015, fully 72% of the American public wants the embargo lifted.
The US stands virtually alone in this embargo which has now persisted over 50 years.
I realize the politics around this are heated. I realize many Americans — especially Cuban-Americans who emigrated in the ’60s — have strong feelings about the current political regime in Cuba. I respect these feelings. I want to take the politics out of this and focus on the Cuban people.
Would it be so bad to let the books flow freely in both directions? Might books help heal the wounds on both sides?
President Obama has taken steps over the last year to normalize relations with Cuba and set the stage for the end of the embargo.
But change can’t come soon enough. Given the current political dysfunction in the US, it’s unlikely the US congress will vote to end the embargo even though 59% of Republicans want it ended, according to that same Pew poll above.
The embargo is composed of a spaghetti mess of presidential edicts, Treasury department statutes and Congressional actions.
Despite the political gridlock, President Obama has some latitude to make modifications around the edges. He’s already relaxed travel restrictions and allowed American telecommunications companies to invest in Cuba so they can make Internet access more ubiquitous in Cuba.
President Obama says he wants to do more to expose Cubans to American culture and more global information. Books are the solution!
As we say in the petition, books promote greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development and free expression.
On the eve of President Obama’s March 21-22 trip to Cuba, I’d like to ask your support. Let’s encourage President Obama to lift the embargo against books and educational materials. It would be a good first step.


  1. Please sign the petition at https://petitions.whitehouse. gov//petition/end-book- embargo-against-cuba
  2. Compose friendly Tweets directed at the White House (@WhiteHouse) and President Obama(@BarackObama), urging the Obama administration to end the book embargo. In your Tweets, include the link to the petition. For example, earlier I tweeted this:

    End the Cuba book embargo https://petitions.whitehouse. gov//petition/end-book- embargo-against-cuba @WhiteHouse @BarackObama

    Books help cross-cultural understanding and economic development. You can retweet it at https://twitter.com/markcoker or feel free to copy and paste it into your own tweet, or compose an original tweet.

  3. Visit the many news stories and blog posts that have been written about our campaign and use their social media buttons to share on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Or join the discussions in their comment threads.

Here are some of the links:
Wall Street Journal


Huffington Post (I wrote this)

Publishers Weekly

Smashwords Blog

The timing today is critical. Next Thursday, March 17, 2016,  the Obama administration will announce modifications to the embargo that will likely loosen some restrictions on the embargo. Let’s encourage him to add books to his list!
Thank you for your consideration and support. At the bottom of this email I’ve pasted in the full text of the petition.

Best wishes,
Mark Coker



Sign it now at https://petitions.whitehouse. gov//petition/end-book- embargo-against-cuba


On the eve of his historic visit to Cuba March 21-22, we call on President Obama to utilize executive powers to immediately lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.
As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.
Books promote cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression and positive social change.
The book embargo runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
Cuba’s adult literacy rate – at nearly 100% – is among the highest in the world.
Cuba boasts a rich literary heritage.
End the embargo to make the works of American and Cuban writers more accessible to readers in each country.
72% of Americans support an end to the trade embargo against Cuba (Pew, 2015).”

Mark also orchestrated another petition which will appear next week on the cover of Publishers Weekly. Unlike the petition above which is for the general public, the other petition was signed by nearly 50 CEOs of publishing companies and writers associations (RWA, Authors Guild and more). You can read about both petitions in the news stories above.

Writing may make you healthier

First published in Arts.mic

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write

Hands on computer

Rachel Grate's avatar image By Rachel Grate

The benefits of writing go far beyond building up your vocabulary.

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

> Read the rest

How To Become a Better Reader in 10 Steps from Publishers Weekly

How To Become a Better Reader in 10 Steps

Gretchen Rubin –  Photo Credit: David Cross

By Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, is back with Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Here, Rubin shares 10 tips for becoming a better reader.

Reading is an essential part of my work, it’s an important aspect of my social life, and most importantly, it’s my favorite thing to do. I’m not a well-rounded person.

But reading takes time, and most days, I can’t read as much as I’d like. As I was writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, I adopted many new habits to help me get more good reading done. Consider whether these habits might work for you – click here to read the rest of the story.

Wishing you and your family much happiness & success







Writing Retreats

Inspire your writing in romantic France, Italy or the Outer Banks

Writeaways founder John Yewell tells about the writer’s retreats he and business partner Mimi Herman provide in France, Italy and the Outer Banks and how they inspire writers to find their muse.

By John Yewell

Mimi & John in Paris

Mimi & John in Paris

Go to our Writeaways web site, with its pictures of a centuries-old French chateau and an Italian villa, and your initial reaction is likely to be: What a great vacation! And it is, of a sort. But it is so much more than that.

We created our writing getaways in exotic places to get you as far from your daily life as possible, to set you free from care while giving you the guidance you need to unlock, or unblock, the writer within. We welcome writers of all levels and genres, and now have programs in the Loire Valley, Tuscany, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“I didn’t know until I got busy how essential to the process being removed from my regular life would be. John and Mimi took care of all the necessities, creating a space for us to write and indulging us along the way. The food was amazing!” – Charity, North Carolina


We take care of everything. Each morning in France, you are greeted with a complete breakfast, including fresh croissants purchased before sunrise at the local boulangerie. In Italy, our hosts Patrizia and Paolo serve you continental style.

Afterwards, we engage in our specially designed workshop and private consultations for two hours. Whatever your level of experience, you’ll find the constructive help you need to produce your best work in a cooperative, but rigorous, atmosphere.

“I first met Mimi and John at their writing retreat at Chateau du Pin. While I had a very interesting story I’d thought about writing for years, I did not think of myself as a writer. Thanks to their thoughtful guidance, I finally began writing that story–and I’m still at it. John and Mimi made me believe I could do it, and gave me the tools I needed. I can’t thank them enough.” – Regina, North Carolina


After lunch – buffet-style in France, Tuscan-style in Italy – you are free to write or explore. In France, the chateau is surrounded by 300 acres of topiary, rose gardens, meadows and vineyards. In Italy, you can wander in the olive orchards, sit by the pool, or explore Tuscany as widely as you like. In both locales, we offer tours of the surrounding region, including tastings at local wineries. All of this is included in the program.

In the evening we reconvene for cocktails and wine, then sit down to a spectacular dinner prepared by professional chefs. Afterwards, relax with a digestif or cocktail of your choice in relaxed reflection, surrounded by five-hundred year old walls.

Writers enjoying a great meal during a writeaway.

Writers enjoying a great meal during a writeaway.

Our program in Southern Shores, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is a weekend intensive class designed to jumpstart a dormant writing project or launch a new one.

After people began coming to us and asking if they could put together their own groups of friends and families, we began organizing self-organized getaways. We expect to make the first such trips a reality in France and Italy in the spring of 2015.

We are also developing a Master Class intensive program, which would be limited to two students for a week in Beaufort, NC.

Writeaways is based in Durham, North Carolina, although our students have come from all over: Texas, Wyoming, Virginia, Canada. Our long-term plan is to create writing getaways in the kinds of places people dream about going, so that we can pair that dream with their own desire to become better writers.

Mimi and I are both writing professionals with complementary backgrounds. Mimi Herman has taught over 20,000 students to fall in love with writing, especially their own. A Warren Wilson MFA graduate, her teaching style captures students’ imagination and creates a supportive learning environment. As one student said of her time with Mimi, “It is an experience that I will hold with me throughout my whole life.”

I am a writer and editor with an MFA in fiction from San Francisco State University and twenty years of experience in journalism. I teach a memoir class in Durham and consult as a private editor and writing coach.

For more information, please go to www.writeaways.com, or write to us at writeawaysinfo@gmail.com.

JCC Clip from Mary Tabor on Vimeo.

New cloud radio interviews Mary L. Tabor

Listen to Mixcloud’s interview with Outer Banks Publishing Group author Mary L. Tabor. She discusses her newest novel, Who by Fire, where one of the main characters who died, lives throughout the story.

The interview starts at 50:26 into the broadcast.

Mary L Tabor 03-14-13 by Total Education Network on Mixcloud

Mixcloud connects radio content to listeners more effectively. Mixcloud is re-thinking radio by joining the dots between radio shows, Podcasts and DJ mixes. We refer to them as Cloudcasts – audio shows that are stored in the “cloud” and available to be streamed on-demand.

Can geckos write books?


Well, yes, because the lovable, popular Geico Gecko has written and illustrated a book called You’re Only Human: A Guide To Life, released today by Workman Publishing for $11.95.

Gecko's book

Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Bloomberg Businessweek online quoted Workman saying the Gecko “has spent the last few years traveling across America, like a modern-day de Tocqueville.” What’s more, it adds:

“He’s a philosopher, an aphorist, a humorist, an artist, a warm companion, a natural storyteller—and, in a grand tradition, a keenly observant and wise outsider who in the course of living and traveling among us has discovered quite a lot about the things that make us human.

“He makes curious and interesting observations on everything from dreams to job interviews to adversity, Twitter to the Golden Rule (it’s not what you think it is) to talking animals: I’m really not sure what all the fuss is about. Lots of animals talk, including humans. The bigger question is, what do you have to say worth listening to?

See the trailer on YouTube.


Available at bookstores everywhere.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (April 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761174826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761174820
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 6 x 0.7 inches




Kentucky Author Ron Rhody to announce next THEO novel at A Gathering of Authors


Outer Banks Publishing Group Author Ron Rhody will be one of the guest authors at The Paul Sawyier Public Library at its fifth A Gathering of Authors on Saturday, August 25th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Ron Rhody

Ron Rhody

Ron will introduce his next THEO novel, the third in a series, at the library.

The Gathering is a celebration of the rich tradition of literature in Kentucky.

This event features gifted writers who play an integral role in the library’s service to readers throughout Frankfort, KY and the Commonwealth.

Authors from across the Bluegrass come to sell and sign their works as well as carry on a dialogue with attendees about their craft. The Gathering is an excellent opportunity to meet some of your favorite authors in a casual atmosphere. Stop by and chat with the participants, and be sure to pick up their newest releases!

This event is free to the public and open to all ages.  For more information, please contact Diane Dehoney at (502)352-2665×108 or Mark Kinnaird at mark@pspl.org.

Author revives 60-year-old Murder Mystery in his Newest Novel

Outer Banks Publishing Group author Ron Rhody ventured back to his hometown, Frankfort, KY recently to speak before the Frankfort Women’s Club about his new upcoming murder mystery novel based on true events, THEO & The Mouthful of Ashes. Kay Harrod of The State Journal in Frankfort covered the event. Here is her story.

By Kay Harrod of The State Journal, Frankfort, KY
October 16, 2011

It may be Frankfort’s oldest unsolved murder. Few remember it, but author Ron Rhody does.

Rhody, a Frankfort native and 1950 graduate of Frankfort High School, remembers it so vividly that he focuses his latest work of fiction on the story to be released at the Kentucky Book Fair, Saturday, Nov. 12.

Rhody’s latest work is a prequel to “Theo’s Story,” a Frankfort-based novel of political intrigue and murder written in 2009.

“Theo and the Mouthful of Ashes” examines the protagonist’s younger days as a reporter at The State Journal when it was on West Main Street.

The book sets it sights on a murder in Frankfort more than 60 years ago. A woman was discovered at the bottom of a flight of stairs, her head bashed in and her throat stuffed with ashes.

The impetus for the story comes from Rhody’s recollection of Frankfort as a young man. Read the rest of the story here.>

Photo by  Tricia Spaulding


THEO & The Mouthful of Ashes is available at special pre-launch discount until Nov. 12 at the Outer Banks Publishing Group Bookstore.

Order yours now at this special pre-launch discount price.

Publication Date: January 2012THEO & The Mouthful of Ashes

Prelaunch Price: $12.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
274 pages

ISBN: 978-0-9829-9316-3
ISBN EL: 978-1-4524-0970-2

Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Language: English