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Meet Anthony Wessel, the man behind 'Digital Book Today'

Helping Book Lovers Find Authors in a Digital World

There's a morass, a maze, a muddle of e-books on the market in every genre and sub-genre you can imagine.

How's any discriminating reader to choose what to read next? Who can possibly organize all this content, which I might liken to herding a cascade of cats every single blinking day!

Enter Digital Book Today. Their tagline is "Helping Book Lovers Find Authors in a Digital World." And that's precisely what the site does. 

Digital Book Today is a mecca for e-book readers and e-book authors. The website maintains a list of current free books for book lovers along with providing authors both free and paid promotional opportunities.

It was founded by Anthony Wessel, who religiously, effectively, and efficiently accomplishes that all important mission of connecting e-readers with e-authors.

DBT Founder Anthony WesselWhen your e-book makes Anthony's Top 100 Best Free Books list, I'm here to tell you that it absolutely makes your (and your book manager's) day, believe me.

Intensely busy organizing and insuring current content on his robust sites, Anthony rarely steps into the limelight himself. That's why I am delighted to welcome him to "Scrivengale," so you can learn more about what he does and how he does it.

After reading this interview, if you feel like a lazy bum by comparison, you can blame the dairy industry, which makes workhorses out of anyone, from a young whippersnapper on up, who slaves on a dairy farm.

Welcome to Scrivengale, Anthony! When did DBT get started and why?

I started Digital Book Today and The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books list as a way to combine my love of books and my experience working in the retail book industry with Borders/Waldenbooks as a District Manager for 7+ years. Before DBT I was running stores on CafePress and Zazzle under the name of for the previous 5 years selling print on demand designs. These stores are still in operation.

My wife gave me a Kindle in September of 2010 which brought be into the digital book world. We determined that I wanted to start another business that I had a passion for (books) and could see that digital books was going to be a growing market.

Did you have a vision of what DBT might become at the time you started or did you have to adjust/ratchet up your vision?

DBT did not have a clear focus initially besides highlighting free books. We quickly starting making contact with small and independent authors that were looking for an additional outlet to promote their books. In many ways these authors resemble what use to be "local authors" in the retail book industry. Authors who were extremely determined to get their books into the local book stores. The digital world has changed who they can market their book to but they are still facing many of the same hurdles that the "local author" faced.

The past 18 months have been fun as we have grown and learned the digital market along with the authors. We have all learned a lot about the new world of digital book selling and yet see many ways it is still the same retail book selling model for small authors. The only thing that is changed is the medium.

Were you ready for/expecting the digital book tsunami or do you think that wave has yet to crest?

If we would have been ready then our site would have been running 3 years ago. However we were expecting a booming holiday season this past year for eReaders.

I still think there is for sure one more good holiday season left for eReader sales. A lot will depend on the next evolution of eReaders as they become more of a tablet computer. At BEA this year it was apparent that companies are trying to figure out how to move into the next phase of digital books which would be incorporating additional digital content with a book (photos, web sites, links, fan pages, etc). This is still a couple of years in the future.

The digital wave has not crested yet, but the traditional version of the book is still dominant and will be for many years. There will still be many people who will not want or own a digital book. The real question is what will be the penetration level before the market levels off.

Top 100 Best Free Books list is updated daily. Fellow Booktrope author Tess Hardwick's 'Riversong' is a top free book today, June 26.What is your typical day like?

A 6:00AM CST start with the idea of being done for the day by early afternoon. We try to complete all of our scheduled events for the week by Wednesday at 2:00PM. Thursday and Friday is for working on the next iteration or version of our site. Can't sit still and stay at the status quo.

Any success stories that you wish to relate about how you've made a difference in an author's life?
I am not going to point to any particular author. However, we have been an outlet for many authors in promoting their books. We hope we can make a difference in the success an author.

Maybe more of a success story is while we are monetized site, we continue to offer free promotional opportunities for authors that is our way of "helping the little people and not selling out to the man". Many of the authors who have used our free promotions have also come to use our paid promotions.

The real success story is our continuing process of educating authors in the world of publishing their books. Many authors after writing their first book think the hard part is done. Then the real world hits them in the head and they realize they have to be president of the "sales and marketing" division. This reality can sometimes be really hard on an author. There are many resources for authors to help them out with this stage of their journey.

Anthony, enjoying the outdoors!Is there anything special you want people/authors/readers to know about Digital Book Today that's not on your About Us page?

I will answer this more as a bio of myself. Married. Two high school age children living in Minnesota. Computer Science major in college. Played basketball at a college level. Worked 7 years with Egghead Software (anybody old enough to remember those stores) before joining Waldenbooks/Borders. Grew up on a family dairy farm milking cows every morning and night 365 days out of the year. Avid hunter and fisherman.

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Follow Digital Book Today on Twitter at @DigitalBkToday or Like them on Facebook at

Oh, and please stop by Digital Book Today on Thursday, June 28, to catch my Author Interview there.


Happy Memorial Day, USA -- my homage to the beloved ice cream truck (and my nephew)

It's a scorcher on the East Coast of the USA today -- Memorial Day 2012, the unofficial but traditional start of summer in the States.

A friend on Twitter mentioned hearing but not being able to find the ice cream truck in her neighborhood. Oh, did that bring back the memories!

Time to power up the Wayback Machine. In 2007, I published a humorous essay in the Christian Science Monitor about my nephew and I chasing down an ice cream truck called, "Oh, for that familiar sound of summer."

This clip was before the Great Age of Social Media, which was too bad, in retrospect. It was a fine essay that I wasn't able to share widely at the time unless you were one of the twenty people following my blog. In case you've forgotten how much the world really has changed in just five years, we are really fortunate to be syndicating content left and right (but perhaps not as appreciative of it as we might or should be.)

My nephew enjoying his Wilbur chocolate on a visit to Lititz where I liveAbout this essay, well, I never got to Tweet it, Google Plus it, Digg it, Reddit, MySpace it, Blog it, Bligg it, Pick it, or Stick it. However, since the star of the piece is turning eleven years old this week, I thought I'd share it with you, in honor of the day, in homage to the All-American ice cream truck, and to a wonderful, write-home-about experience with my nephew.

Here's the link:

"Oh, for that familiar sound of summer" by Gale Martin

And happy start of summer, ice cream lovers around the world.


What's your opera fudge I.Q.?

Yes, this is what opera fudge looks like.When I visited the lovely ladies of the Pequea Valley Library Book Club in 2010 after they'd read an early draft of DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA, they served opera fudge while discussing my book.

Très classy, no?

I'd never heard of opera fudge before. I was about to be educated in the most memorable way--by eating it.

I was delighted to learn that it was a creamy candy with a dark chocolate coating. Not much like the fudge you get at candy stores at the Jersey Shore (though I like that kind, too.)

As it turns out, opera fudge is a specialty from a neighboring Pennsylvania County, and I found the world's best maker of opera fudge. (Excepting you, if you are a terrific candy maker).

And the winner is -- Wertz Candies in Lebanon, an 81-year-old family run company. Opera fudge is their signature candy. You can read all about it on the company's opera fudge page.

Chuck Wertz showing off a batch of opera fudgeWhen I launched DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA in December of 2011, I served opera fudge from Wertz Candies at the reception. I also shared it with the ladies from Curves when I had an author event there--which they forgave me for since it was so yummy and would only mean 1 or 2 extra workouts that week.

Of course, you can make opera fudge. There are lots of recipes on the Internet: a more traditional opera fudge recipe from Martha Stewart, one for opera fudge with cherry bits in it, and another for vanilla opera fudge.

But if you'd like to try some authentic opera fudge without all the fuss of making it yourself--with no plans to buy a candy thermometer in the near future--you can order a box from Wertz Candies. It's absolutely scrumptious!

And it goes perfectly with my novel, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA. Savor a piece as you linger and laugh over the pages of DON JUAN. Oh, and don't forget to let me know if you liked it--the candy. Oh, and the book, too. Feel free to let me know if it was as yummy as the candy.


Writer Wednesday with poet and writer Brian Fanelli

Poet and writer Brian FanelliIt's an honor to welcome Brian Fanelli to "Scrivengale" today.

If there was a weekday to set aside for hard-working young writers who bust their behinds promoting and elevating the literary arts, such a day would be dedicated to him.

Writer Wednesday will just have to serve.

Brian obtained his MFA from Wilkes University and is widely published in national journals and on websites. You can read more about him here.

He is really a remarkable person with an unflagging supply of energy and focus. He tirelessly campaigns for writers as if working under the banner, "Who Doesn't Need More Great Poetry in Their Lives? We ALL do," making appearances at bookstores, galleries, and other intimate venues around Pennsylvania. He also hosts his own New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton, every other month, providing an invaluable outlet for other writers to share their work.

He published his first chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) in 2010. Christopher Reilley, poet and author of Grief Tatoos said this about Front Man, "The personal life of Brian Fanelli gets the rock star treatment here, in twenty nine brutally honest renderings of his opened veins."

Click here for samples of his poetry.

So nice that you could join us, Brian. How long have you been writing poetry?
Since I was in high school. I was lucky to have a few creative writing classes then and supportive teachers. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended West Chester University, which has a really wonderful poetry scene and a well-known poetry conference every year. My parents were also supportive, and my mom was really the one to buy me some of my first poetry books. She used to go to flea markets, yard sales, and book sales and come home with collections by Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Shelley, and others. So, I started reading poetry at a young age.

What was the impetus for formally studying poetry in the Wilkes program?
After working as a news reporter, I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school. I also knew that I wanted to teach, so I would need an M.F.A. to do so. The Wilkes program appealed to me because of the low-residency aspect. I was able to hold down a few part-time jobs and still obtain my degree. There was no question in my mind that poetry would be the genre I would study since it was always the genre I enjoyed writing in the most.

How would you describe your poetry?
Most of my poems are narrative. I borrow a few elements from fiction in the sense that I like a story, and sometimes I use re-occurring characters. But more than anything, I am concerned with word play and language, so I always try to ensure that my work has at least some musicality to it.

How did you find the rhythm, the cadence for your poetry?

I usually count every syllable in my lines for one thing. I do measure the beats of my lines, and I use a lot of the standard sound techniques in my poems, including assonance, consonance and alliteration, though I don’t go overboard with them. But, as I said earlier, I am concerned with creating a rhythm and musicality to my work. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, behind the freest of verse, there should lurk some ghost of meter. I agree with that.

A lot of your poetry is reflective--about your past. Why so many from this period in your past?  When I was putting together a collection of poems for my M.F.A. at Wilkes, I knew that I wanted to write narrative poems about my youth and time in the punk rock scene. There was so much to write about in terms of character, imagery, and memory. I was never actually in a band, though, so some of the poems are persona poems. I did play guitar for a number of years, though. Front Man also worked well as a coming-of-age collection because the front man persona eventually leaves the scene and lands some real world jobs, which I think is true for most people involved in that scene. You have to grow up at some point.

What is your favorite poem in the collection?
I like some of the poems in the book that aren’t about music necessarily, but about father and son relationships, especially the poems “Waiting Room” and “How I Remember Him.”

Brian Fanelli reading at the Doylestown Bookshop in FebruaryHow do you start a poem? What is your impetus?  I usually have an image in my head, and I start from there and see where it goes.

What are your challenges or frustrations?
Finding enough time to write is one of the biggest challenges. I usually write in the morning, before I have to teach. I enjoy the quiet of the early hours. There is also the frustration of the place of poetry in our society. Sometimes you have to convince people that they will actually enjoy a poetry reading, or I have to convince my students that they will enjoy reading or writing poetry. After they experience a reading or poetry unit, they do enjoy it. In fact, after I finished one of my English courses last year, students wrote in their evaluations that they wanted more poetry!

What is most rewarding about writing poetry?
I just enjoy the challenge of writing poetry, working with such a compressed form where every word really does matter and every line should be well-crafted in terms of image and rhythm. I also love doing readings, traveling to different cities and getting to interact with the poetry scenes outside of Scranton.

What's next?

I have a full-length book of poems coming out next summer through the press Unbound Content. A lot of the poems are working-class narratives, and there are poems that explore relationships and gender communication. There are some music references too, but this collection is a lot different than Front Man, I think.

I also have some readings coming up this summer. On May 31 at 7 p.m., I’m reading at the KGB Bar in New York City again with fellow poet Sandee Gertz Umbach, novelists Taylor Polities and Rich Uhlig, and memoirist Pat Florio, so it will be a mini Wilkes reunion.

I’m also looking forward to reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on June 30 with you, poet Dawn Leas, and novelist Barbara Taylor.

Last summer, I did a reading almost every weekend or every other weekend, so this summer I want to take it a little easy. I’ll also continue to co-host the New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton. We want to keep that thing going for as long as possible, and our next one is Saturday, May 12 at 7. Then we’ll have one in July.

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Don't forget. Brian will be reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on Saturday June 30 from 1-3 with other Wilkes University authors. Visit Brian's website for other upcoming appearances or friend him on Facebook.


Communing with Mom on "our" day

I get romanticized ideas in my head whenever I seek out my mother's company as to how our time together should proceed. (So, sue me. I'm a fiction writer--it's what we do.) She is looking ethereally lovely and me, not looking a day over fifty, and we are having coffee at a cozy cafe. I gaze down at the froth on top of my latte forming a fanciful flourish--and sigh.

That's her cue to ask me how life is treating me and what my challenges are. I pour out my heart, and by the time I can see the bottom of my cup, I feel cleansed and fortunate to have a mother who also is my dearest confidant.

Ding! I am jostled out of my reverie by the sound of my chicken timer. Time to put the hair brush down and head to Reading, to the B'nai B'rith Housing complex for senior citizens.

It being Mother's Day, I offered to take my mom to church and then out to lunch. My own daughter is grown and living in Vermont. Though she did send me a goodie package earlier this week and called me this morning, we won't be seeing each other today.

Some years all the siblings in Pennsylvania get together to fete Mom on her big day. This was not one of those Mother's Day celebrations. Nor is it anything like the scenario in my head either, but turned out to be precious in its own offbeat way.

Usually our time together is a journey between the sublime and the ridiculous. I've been taking my 85-year-old mom to her church once or twice a month since I finished graduate school in 2010. Each time we walk into the elevator, the fellowship hall, or the sanctuary, she introduces me to others in the congregation--though they've all seen me many times before. I guess it beats her pretending I'm invisible or not introducing me at all (which my husband has done in the past).

Though she has macular degeneration (the dry kind) and hearing loss in both ears, I still hold out the bulletin and the hymnal so that she can see it and possibly refer to it during the service.

I flip to the hymn coming up and smile. "You won't need the hymnal for this one," I say.

"Don't bother. The print is too small," she says, pushing the hymnal back toward me, because she hasn't heard a word I said.

The congregation starts singing "Jesus Loves Me." Yes, Lutherans often sing Sunday School hymns during the church service. My former choir director would have been mortified to use such a common song during worship.

I glance over at my mother, who is belting the familiar refrain, tears welling up in her eyes. After the song concludes, while I am closing the hymnal she says brightly, "I knew that one."

"How about that?" I say, since I'd been trying to tell her that all along she wouldn't need the hymnal to participate.

Later while having lunch at the Wyomissing Family Diner, she is chattering more than eating the lunch I ordered for her. She tells a few stories about her life as a little girl in Brooklyn, one that I'd heard before, one that I never heard. She tells me about a time when she cut her leg on a telephone pole, and her dad took her to the doctor when he got home from work, which I'd never heard. She tells me how he went swimming when she was seven and got water in his ear, which went to his brain and killed him, at only 34-years-old, which I'd heard many times.

She shows me a Mother's Day card that she received from my friend Gaby with the most thoughtful little note penned inside.

On the drive home, she complains about the man she had been seeing but who is now Public Enemy No. 1 and about someone in the house who's been made some sort of ambassador to new tenants. How this woman is ill-suited to her new honor because she only talks about herself and wants to be the queen bee.

"Queen bee? Is that right?" I say, but I'm not asking a question.

There have been a few times (but only a few) as an adult when my heart was so heavy, I unburdened myself to my mother over the phone as I recall and she listened to me and comforted me. I am grateful for those rare occasions when I caught her on a good day, when I needed a friend and she was willing to be one, if only for a few fleeting minutes.

Then as we are stopped at the light at 5th and Franklin Street, a slim, young girl wearing barely anything crosses in front of us.

"I guess she can wear that," Mom says. "She has a nice butt."

When I burst out laughing, she says, "Well, it's better than calling it a bottom. Or an ass."

I can't remember ever hearing my mother use the word ass to refer to a body part; we weren't big swearers in our household.

"How about booty, Mom? Booty's a great little word for butt. Underused these days, but made for occasions just like this."

From a sweetly sung "Jesus Loves Me" to "She has a nice butt" within the span of an hour.

Another Mother's Day observance is on the books. It may not be the one I imagined sharing with her, but it's one I'll remember, or try to forget with the help of a few cold beers, enjoyed on the back lawn with my husband, just as soon as I finish this post.

After all, it's my own Mother's Day celebration, too.