Inherit the Flames

Flames5In an author’s blog, I recently found a comment that after she had written three books she noticed a dramatic increase in sales.  She now has 12 books out, but it was after her third book hit the shelves that she felt she gained more reader attention and things began to take off.

It is going to be a few months before I finish the second book in The Wandering King series, and possibly another two years before the third book in the trilogy appears. 

So I began wondering how I might be able to get a few more titles on Amazon without taking too much time away from working on my Greek story. 

Don’t know if it’ll make a difference or not, but I’ve decided to publish a few short stories on Amazon.  The first of these is titled Inherit the Flames.

It’s a modern re-telling of the Biblical Cain and Abel story about a good brother and a bad brother.  Bad brothers tend to get into more trouble, so there is more opportunity for conflict, so the story follows one day in the life of Cain’s modern day counterpart, Conor. 

Both 18-year old Conor and his 21-year old brother Aidan are equally intelligent and talented, but each have chosen a different path in life; Conor to become a rock guitarist and Aidan to go to med school.  Take a guess at which one their religious parents favor and which is the outcast? 

The story is set in and around Atlantic City in 1978.  I lived in that area when I was young and as this was the year before gambling was legalized in Atlantic City, it provides a gritty backdrop to the story.  In those days my friends referred to Atlantic City as ‘Sin City’ as it was overrun with drugs, prostitution and racial strife. This is the enviroment that Conor is trying to esacpe and he’s got one day to do it. Will he succeed?  That question propels the plot forward.

Juxtaposed against Conor and Aidan are two female characters, Miriam and Alyssa, one from the wrong side of the tracks and one from a wealthy family that has given her everything. I’ve included them to add depth to the central theme of the story: do we inherit the sins of our fathers?  Are Conor and Miriam doomed simply because their fathers were evil men? Or will they escape their fate?

Though the short story only costs .99 cents on Amazon, if you’re reading this blog and tempted to buy it, wait till March 1.  I’ll be offering it for free through Kindle Select from March 1 through March 5.

I’ve created several covers for the story.  Would love it if I could get feedback from people as to which cover they prefer.  I tend to like the one with the red car with the flames shooting out of its tires, but I can’t help but think this might only appeal to men, and as there is some romance in the story, I want it to appeal to women too.  Do you prefer the covers without the cars, and if so, which one? Would love to hear what people think.

 flames2      flames3      flames4

With This Shield

spartan shieldOne of the most gratifying things about reading the reviews on Amazon for The Wandering King are the comments from people that are looking forward to reading the second book in the series.  Therefore I wanted give my small band of followers a sneak preview as to where I am going with book two, titled:  With This Shield.

The title comes from a famous rite of passage in Spartan culture.  When a young man graduated from the agoge and was about to take his place in the army, his closest female relative, usually his mother, presented him with his shield, with these words:

“Return with this shield,
or carried home dead upon it.”

Victory or death.  Come home a winner or don’t come back alive.  That may sound like harsh advice, particularly from your mother, but the Spartans were so out-numbered by their helot serfs, their very survival depended entirely on military superiority.  In fact, after just one catastrophic loss on the battlefield, at Leuctra in 371 B.C., the entire Spartan system collapsed and never recovered.

Magna Graecia

Book one in The Wandering King series, Summer, Harvest, War, was divided into three sections:  Libya, Corinth and Delphi, and followed the main character Euryanax’s adventures in those three places.  All of which gave me a chance to introduce readers to the Spartan way of life; Euryanax’s father Dorieus’ rivalary with his half-brother Cleomenes; and Dorieus’ initial attempts to build a Spartan colony overseas.

With This Shield is divided into two sections: Magna Graecia and Attica.

The first section follows Dorieus, Euryanax and their army to southern Italy and Sicily, which in ancient times were known collectively as Magna Graecia.  During the Archaic Period of Greek history (750 – 480 B.C.), the Greeks colonized so much of southern Italy and Sicily they considered it an extension of Greece, and because the land was so rich compared to the motherland, it became known as Magna Graecia, which is Latin for ‘Greater Greece.’

The War Between Sybaris and Croton

In this section of the book, Euryanax recounts the war between the Greek colonies of Sybaris and Croton, which according to Herodotus, Dorieus may have taken part in.  Not all the ancient sources agree as to whether or not Dorieus and his band of Spartans actually took part in this war, but as it took place at the same time Dorieus would have been passing by on his way to Sicily, I can’t help but think, what Spartan general would have been able to resist getting involved in a war with the wealthiest city in the world, particularly when Dorieus needed money to finance his colony?

Among the few ancient authors to comment on the war between Sybaris and Croton was a Greek named Athenaeus living in Egypt in 200 A.D.  Athenaeus wrote a book called the Deipnosophistae, or The Banquet of the Learned, in which he discusses food, wine, luxury, music, art, sexual habits and literary gossip.  The Deipnosophistae is primarily important to us today for its references to hundreds of earlier Greek writers, most of whose work have been lost over time.  Some of the passages Athenaeus quotes are the only extant references we have for some of the missing works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Heraclides.

Athenaeus is important to me, because he is one of the few sources of information on the fabled city of Sybaris, which was legendary in ancient times as the wealthiest, most luxurious city of the age; sort of the Sodom & Gomorrah of its time.  As the story goes, Sybaris controlled one of the largest tracts of fertile farmland in southern Italy and was the leader of an alliance of 25 cities.  Dorieus and Euryanax were passing by on their way to Sicily, when Sybaris came into conflict with its neighbor Croton, and the Spartans became embroiled in this little known war.

The Philosopher Pythagoras

What interested the ancient Greeks about this particular conflict was Sybaris’ reputation for wealth and excess, and Croton’s reputation for its number of Olympic champions, good health and dutiful wives.  Croton owed much of its reputation to the philosopher Pythagoras.  Everyone has heard of the Pythagorean Theorem, but oddly enough, the mathematical equation attributed to Pythagoras has little basis in reality.  Historians agree that the theorem (that the square of the hypotenuse on a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides), was in use by the Babylonians, Egyptians and Indians hundreds of years before Pythagoras was born.  It is possible Pythagoras learned about the theorem during his travels to the Far East and brought it to the Greek world, but it’s not the most interesting thing we know about the man that is credited with inventing the word ‘philosophy,’ love of wisdom.

Pythagoras was famous in the ancient world for his teachings on science, music, medicine, astronomy, politics, math, religion and everyday life.  He preached equality for women, was a vegetarian and believed in reincarnation.  He had a great influence on later philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, and started his own religion.  During his lifetime his followers were called Cenobites, which meant, ‘the common life,’ but later they became known as the Pythagoreans, and greatly influenced the ancient world for hundreds of years after Pythagoras’ death.

Although Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos, he left during the turmoil caused by the tyrant Polycrates of Samos, ventured to Egypt and Babylon, eventually settling in Italy at Croton where he was responsible for writing their code of laws.  In some sense, Pythagoras is a mythical, somewhat Christ-like figure, as his views differed radically from what most Greeks believed, his teachings inspired a religious cult, and he came to a tragic end.

Though Herodotus never mentions a meeting between Pythagoras, Dorieus or Euryanax, there is no question that the famous philosopher was living in Croton at the same time my heroes stopped in southern Italy on their way to Sicily.  Were Euryanax and the Spartans attracted to Pythagoras’ teachings?  No one knows.  All we know is that according to Herodotus, Sybaris’ army amounted to over 300,000 men.  Herodotus does not give us a figure for the army fielded by Croton and Dorieus’ Spartans, but it was miniscule in comparison.  To the Greeks, the war between Sybaris and Croton was remembered as a clash between the forces of excess and the forces of discipline.

A Failed Attempt at Democracy

I’m not going to tell you what happened during the war, except to say that one of the additional causes, beyond Sybaris and Croton’s obvious differences in lifestyle, was a difference in political philosophy.  Sybaris was ruled by a tyrant named Telys.  Croton was ruled by an oligarchy called the Thousand.  The ancient sources such as Strabo and Diodorus hint that Croton was among the first cities in the ancient world to flirt with the idea of democracy.  Unquestionably it was a failed attempt, possibly led by Pythagoras and his followers.

What is fascinating to me about what was going on in southern Italy is that my hero Euryanax got to witness these political struggles between tyranny, oligarchy and democracy, and this struggle provides the backdrop for what occurs in the first section of With This Shield.

I cannot reveal what happens to Euryanax in Italy and Sicily, but a reading of Herodotus will let you know that the Spartans didn’t stay in Magna Graecia.  Euryanax eventually returned to Sparta, where in the second section of With This Shield, he is sent with an expedition of Lacedaemonians to free the Athenians from the oppressive rule of the tyrant Hippias.

The Democratic Revolution at Athens

The second section of the book is titled ‘Attica,’ which is the name of the Greek province where the city of Athens is located.  Why not call it ‘Athens?’  Because the action takes place in the city of Athens along with several additional locations in Attica, such as the plain of Phalerum, the villages of Braunon and Piraeus, and by the Cephissus River.

I’ve always been amazed that there aren’t dozens of books on the market regarding how the world’s first democracy was formed at Athens.  History books touch on the subject, but there’s never been a novel depicting the revolution that occurred in Athens around approximately 508 B.C., a revolution triggered according to Herodotus, by a small Spartan expeditionary force that was sent by Euryanax’s uncle King Cleomenes to overthrow Athens’ tyrant Hippias.

Herodotus is among our few sources for what happened at Athens, and he is maddeningly vague about the details.  All of which allows me to create my own plot based on the details we do know.  Suffice it to say, it makes for a good story.

Like the first book in the series, With This Shield is first and foremost an adventure story that describes Euryanax’s wanderings around the ancient world during a pivotal period of  history.  On a deeper level, With This Shield is about the end of the Age of Tyrants and the emergence of democracy on the world stage.

While we take things like freedom of speech and democracy for granted today, they were prized commodities in the ancient world, things people fought and died for.  One of the things that may surprise you about the original democracy at Athens is how many people, Socrates and Plato among them, distrusted ‘rule by the people.’  To them, it meant rule by the uneducated, unwashed masses.

As of December 2013, I’m approximately 3/4′s of the way through writing With This Shield.  I hesitate to promise an exact date as to when it will be available, but will say that it’s my goal to have it completed in 2014.  Stay tuned…

A Way to Market Your eBook: Ereader News Today

entThis week I opted to try promoting my book through Ereader News Today.  They send out a daily email to their 400,000 members advertising 1-3 ebooks and provide a link to your book on Amazon.  Their service is strictly for Kindle users.

To get promoted in one of ENT’s emails you have to agree to two things:  lower the price of your book so that their members are receiving a deep discount and pay ENT 25% of whatever sales you make that day.

For me, that meant lowering the ebook price of The Wandering King from $3.99 to .99 cents.  Not sure yet what they will charge me, but I can see that over their one-day promotion I received approximately 270 ebook sales.  I’m guessing I’ll owe ENT something like:  270 x .99 = $267 x 30% Amazon royalty rate = $80 x 25% fee = $20.  Twenty dollars is a negligable price to pay for getting my book into 270 additional readers’ hands.  Plus, their fee is coming out of new sales, so it’s not really costing me a dime.

ENT also has a Facebook page where they encourage authors to interact with their members.  By doing so, ENT claims it helps get your book noticed.  I posted 2 messages there.  Whether it helped increase sales, I have no way of knowing, but I figure it didn’t hoit.

All in all, I’ve been quite happy with ENT’s service, and have noticed that even after I raised the price back up to $3.99, I continued to get a spike in sales, possibly from their members who spotted the email after the promotion.

If your primary goal is to make money, ENT may not be the way to go.  But if your goal is to get read,  ENT can help immensely.  I also have 270 additional word-of-mouth advertisers out there promoting my book and 270 potential reviewers that I may never have found otherwise.

bookbubThere is similar service called BookBub.   Like ENT, they offer to send out an email promoting your book to their subscribers.  What’s different is that:  (1) they’ll provide links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, (2) you don’t have to discount your book price, and (3) you do have to pay a fee for their service.

The price BookBub charges is based on the number of subscribers they have in your book category and the price of your book.  For instance, they have 430,000 historical fiction subscribers.  If your book is free they charge $200, less than $1 they charge $400, $1-$2 they charge $600 and over $2 they charge $1,000.

If I were to keep the price at $3.99 and to receive a similar number of sales that I got through ENT, I would spend $1,000 and end up making $800.  Odds are, at $3.99 instead of .99 cents, I’ll get less sales, so it could end up costing a pretty penny.  Even if I were to lower the price to .99 cents, and even if I received 270 sales, it would end up costing over $300.

Might sound foolish, but I am determined not to spend money marketing my book.  So for me, I don’t see where BookBub makes sense.  If others have tried it, I would love to hear about your experience.

Sword & Sandal Movie Reviews

When I was doing my student teaching, my 9th graders’ mantra was, “Why do we have to learn how to read?  Can’t we just watch the video?”

As you are reading this blog, I take it for granted that you enjoy reading, but like my 9th graders, you probably enjoy watching a good flick too.  The following, in no particular order, are some of my favorite picks and pans for films dealing with ancient history.

The links on the movie titles will take you to the movie reviews found on Rotten Tomatoes.  If you’ve never been to the site, it gives you access to all the top critics’ reviews.  Below the link are the number of critics that reviewed the movie, their average rating (out of 100), the number of moviegoers that rated the movie, and their rating, followed by my grade.

gladiator_ver3_xlg

Gladiator (2000)
166 critics 77%
34M moviegoers 85%
me 90%

One of the best movies about the ancient world of all time.  I give it credit for starting a renaissance in movies about ancient Greece and Rome.  Though I enjoyed the film, my only real problem with it, was where it deviated from history.  Emperor Marcus Aurelius was not murdered by his son Commodus, but died of an illness in Vienna at age 58.  He had made Commodus his co-emperor three years before his death.  He also had 13 children, five of whom out-lived him.  Commodus was known for his love of the gladitorial games, where he would do things like shoot hundreds of animals with his bow from the safety of his box seat in the coliseum (on one such occasion he shot 100 lions) or he would have groups of sick citizens chained together and club them to death himself (or he would collect his own wounded soldiers and slay them with a sword).  Commodus was not killed by the fictional Maximus, but was assassinated by his own officers.  They tried poisoning him, but after Commodus vomited the food, they strangled him to death.  Despite these inaccuracies, you can’t beat the movie’s opening battle scene or the gladitorial scenes.


300a300
(2006)
226 critics 60%
1.4M moviegoers 88%
me 40%

Though I enjoyed parts of this movie, I spent the vast majority of my time in the theater groaning.  What does one expect from a movie based on a comic book?  For example, the Spartans did not go bare-chested into battle.  They wouldn’t have lasted long if they had.  Too, Xerxes did not shave his head, wear nose-rings or a loin cloth.  Take a look at a piece of ancient artwork that depicts the Persians and you’ll see that they wore long beards and pants.  The thing that I found most disappointing was how they depicted the ancient phalanx.  In the battle scenes they started formed up in a shieldwall, but as soon as the fight would begin, the Spartans would break ranks and devolve into a Matrix-like slow motion, hack ‘n slash fest.  What made the Spartans invincible was their training, heavy armor, and their ability to fight in an impenatrable, close order, shoulder to shoulder formation.  It’s diappointing that in Hollywood it’s more important to show comic book blood spraying across the screen than an actual phalanx in action.

300

The 300 Spartans (1962)
N/R critics
55K moviegoers 72%
me 95%

According to Frank Miller, who wrote the comic book that was the basis for the movie ’300,’ he was inspired by a film he’d seen as a young boy, ‘The 300 Spartans.’  Like Miller, I’d seen the same film as a kid and loved it.  All of which makes me wonder why Miller injected charging rhinos, dual sword wielding ninjas and an oversized giant, as they weren’t anywhere to be found in the original.  I suppose that’s what’s known as creative license.  The sad thing is, today’s young people, whose knowledge of ancient events may come from the movies, are going to have a horribly distorted view of actual events.  Though the 1962 version of ‘The 300 Spartans’ has no special effects, and was done on a low budget, it’s a fairly accurate depiction of what happened at Thermopylae.  Richard Egan, though not as muscled as Gerard Butler, is a better actor, and the film includes Sir Ralph Richardson as Themistocles (a crucial character the Frank Miller version leaves out), and David Farrar as a very convincing Xerxes.  I can do without ’300s’ pumped up pecs and digital effects.  I’ll take a more historically accurate film any day.

troy

Troy (2004)
221 critics 54%
819K 72%
me 40%

As The Iliad is one of my favorite pieces of literature, when the movie ‘Troy’ came out, I rushed to the movie theater, where I was promptly disappointed.  In the credits they state the movie is ‘based on The Iliad.’  A better description would have been, ‘loosely based.’  The producers took so many liberties with the Trojan War, that anyone that loves Homer’s epic poems will hardly recognize the story.  For one, Brad Pitt is no Achilles.  He’s too small.  The very sight of Achilles struck fear into the hearts of his enemies.  Probably the only hysteria Brad Pitt inspired during the shooting of ‘Troy’ is when the filmmakers saw the size of his bar tab.  Sure, they got right the part about Paris stealing Helen, but they botched what happens to each.  In the original, Paris dies and Helen is reclaimed by her husband Menelaus and the two of them live a long happy life together.  In the movie, Menelaus dies and Paris and Helen run off together.  In the ancient Greek version, marriage is sacosant.  You steal someone’s wife, you are doomed.  In Hollywood, you steal someone’s wife you ride off into the sunset together.  I could go on and on about all of the things ‘Troy’ gets wrong, but reliving it is just too depressing.  Even though The Iliad has been a classic for 3,000 years, the filmmakers seemed to think they could improve on the original.  They didn’t.

Alexander

Alexander (2004)
194 critics 16%
236K moviegoers 39%
me 70%

I’m not a big fan of Alexander the Great, but I’ve read enough about him to know that Oliver Stone did a wonderful job of researching his story and for the most part stuck to the actual historical facts.  Where the movie goes horribly awry is the casting of Colin Farrell as Alexander.  It’s one of the worst acting performances I’ve ever seen.  Remember George C. Scott in the movie ‘Patton’?  Now there was a general.  You can understand why his soldiers followed him across Europe.  I couldn’t imagine a poodle following Colin Farrell even if he was loaded up with doggie treats, much less the Macedonian army following him across 16 countries.  If you manage to block out Colin Farrell, the rest of the movie isn’t bad.  Oliver Stone pays a great deal of attention to Alexander’s generals, troops like the Silver Shields, and correctly arms the phalanx with the Macedonian’s long spears called the sarissa.  The depiction of Babylon, though probably computer generated, is awe-inspiring, as is the Battle of Gaugamela, that is if you delete Colin Farrell’s less-than-inspiring speech.  Farrell spends so much time weeping in the film, instead marching his army back to Greece, he could have sailed them back on all his tears.

Alexander Burton

Alexander the Great (1956)
6 critics 35%
5,325 moviegoers 56%
me 75%

Though somewhat old, this is a much better movie about Alexander the Great, for one big reason:  it has the British actor Richard Burton playing the leading role.  It lacks today’s special effects, it’s not a 3 hour Oliver Stone extravaganza, and it only touches on some of Alexander’s life, but it does have one great scene.  When Alexander was in Asia Minor at a city called Gordium, he encountered something known as the famous ‘Gordian Knot.’  As the story goes, whoever could untie this huge, tangled mess of ropes, would conquer all of Asia.  Richard Burton looks at the knot, draws his sword, and in one swing cuts the knot in two.  Not a word spoken, but a brilliant scene.

I, Claudius (1976)
133 reviews on Amazon (105 gave it 5-stars)I Claudius
me:  95%

I, Claudius is a made-for-TV, BBC mini-series, based on the novel of the same name by Robert Graves.  I, Claudius is one of the best programs about ancient Rome ever produced.  If you’re looking for a Gladiator-like action movie, pass I, Claudius by. If you’re looking for an intelligent, Masterpiece Theater-like inside look at the palace intrigue, murder, and back-stabbing that went on in the Imperial Roman family during the reign of Augustus Caesar, then this show was made for you.  The members of the royal family stop at nothing, including poisoning their own relatives, to jockey for position in the royal line of succession.  Augustus’ wife Livia, played marvelously by Sian Phillips, is the most fiendish of the bunch.  I lost track of all of the people she murdered to ensure her son Tiberius was selected as the next emperor.  What’s sad about all of this is that some extremely worthy, noble, talented people like Germanicus end up getting knocked off in the mad grab for power.  Ironically, Claudius survives all of this mayhem because he’s lame and he has a stutter.  Livia and the rest of the royal family consider him an idiot, so after the family does each other in, the only one left with royal blood to claim the throne is Claudius, played to perfection by British actor Derek Jacobi.  If you’ve heard about the antics of people like Caligula, Messalina and Nero and want to find out why they are so infamous, I, Claudius gives you the inside track.  While the program is not on Rotton Tomatoes, the link above is to its page on Amazon.  Amazon Prime owners can watch it for free.

Agora1Agora (2009)
89 critics 53%
21,100 moviegoers 64%
me 85%

This movie did not do well with critics, but I came away thinking it was an enjoyable film about a period of ancient history I knew nothing about.  It follows the life of a Greek philosopher, astronomer and mathematican named Hypatia played by Rachel Weisz.  The story takes place in the city of Alexandria in Egypt and has a great deal to do with the emergence of Christianity and the Christians persecution of the pagan religions.  From what I’ve read by people who know more than I do about the 4th century A.D., the movie is a bit heavy handed when it comes to the Christians, who appear more like modern day Taliban, and it seems the Library of Alexandria and lighthouse were already destroyed.  As I was ignorant of those facts, I found Hypatia’s story interesting and the depiction of Alexandria quite fascinating.

Jason

Jason and the Argonauts  (1963)
35 critics 94%
22,100 moviegoers 72%
me 90%

As a young person this was one of my favorite movies of all time.  Nice to see it received a good response by the critics, and somewhat surprising audiences did not appreciate it as well.  Though the special effects of the titan Talos, the harpies and the ‘children of the hydra’s teeth’ look rather dated now, at the time, they were the work of the master of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen.  There are no actors in the film you’ve ever heard of, nor is the acting anything special, it’s just a fun adventure story.

ulyssesdouglasUlysses (1954)
N/R critics
1,710 moviegoers 46%
me 95%

This is an oldie but goodie, starring Kirk Douglas as Ulysses.  Similar to other films done during the period, they look faded now, but the producers made a strong attempt to stick to the original story from Homer’s Odyssey.  The scenes where Ulysses and his crew are captured by the cyclops, when he listens to the song of the Sirens, and when he finally returns home to slay the suitors are classics.

The Odyssey (1997)
N/R critics
7,630 moviegoers 60%
me 60%

This was a made-for-television miniseries starring Armand Assanti as Odysseus (Ulysses).  It seemed to go on longer than Odysseus’ ten-year voyage home.  Though not as lavish, nor did it include Vanessa Williams, Isabella Rossellini or Bernadette Peters, I much preferred the original with Kirk Douglas.

Spartacus  (1960)spartacus1
49 critics 96%
75,700 moviegoers 79%
me 90%

This is another golden oldie starring Kirk Douglas, this time as the gladiator turned rebel leader, Spartacus.  He is supported by a great cast including Sir Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons and benefits from the directorial talents of Stanley Kubrick.  There’s plenty of sword play and battle scenes that include a cast of thousands, but my favorite moment in the film comes when Spartacus is training to be a gladiator.  As Jean Simmons, playing a slave named Varinia, is pouring wine for Spartacus, as he takes the cup, he gently caresses her hand.  It’s an extremely small, tender moment in a 3-hour spectacle, but it’s that sort of attention to detail about the characters that make it a great film.

Clash of the Titans (1981)
38 critics 66%
55,900 moviegoers 68%
me 40%

This is a horrible movie about the mythical hero Perseus starring Harry Hamlin.  What a great actor like Sir Laurence Olivier is doing in this film, I have no clue.  It also includes the stop motion animation by Ray Harryhausen, but in this film, it’s pretty lackluster stuff.

Clash of the Titans (2010)
238 critics 28%
280K moviegoers 43%
me 30%

Why anyone would want to re-make a bad movie is a mystery.  The only good thing I can say about this film is that Wrath of the Titans (2012) and Immortals (2011) are worse.

Ben Hur (1959)ben_hur
36 critics 89%
103K moviegoers 81%
me 95%

What list of films about the ancient world would be complete without mentioning Ben Hur.  The chariot race is probably one of the most famous scenes in movie history.  Am just glad Charlton Heston was not toting a rifle throughout the film.

The Ten Commandments (1956)
32 critics 91%
58K moviegoers 83%
me 95%

Another great Charlton Heston film, this time about Moses.  When I first saw it as a young person, I could not help but think Moses was an idiot for abandoning the war-loving Egyptians in favor of the poor Judeans.  I must not have been paying enough attention in church.

Julius Caesar (1970)
N/R critics
2,660 moviegoers 40%
me 80%

Yet another Heston film, this time in the role of Mark Anthony in the Shakespearan version of Julis Caesar.  It’s not bad if you can sit through the old English.  The 1953 version starring Marlon Brando, Sir John Gielgud and James Mason received vastly better reviews.

Cleopatra (1963)Cleopatra 2
26 critics 46%
20,000 moviegoers 70%
me 70%

I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to sit through this 3-hour epic starring Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra and Richard Burton as Mark Antony.  The climactic sea battle between Antony and Octavian is obviously between toy models and so bad it’s almost comical.  As I recall, the love affair that erupted during the filming between Taylor and Burton (both were married to other people) and resulting scandal eclipsed interest in the actual movie.  It’s $44M cost ($300M today) made it the most expensive movie ever made.

The Wandering King: Sample Chapter

Spartan_woman

Since I have written quite a bit about my book The Wandering King , thought I would share a small sliver.  Below is the first half of the opening chapter.  It is told from the perspective of Euryanax, a grandson of the Spartan King Anaxandridas, and the nephew of the famous Leonidas of ’300′ fame.  At this point in history, Leonidas is approximately 20 years old and won’t become a king of Sparta for another 25 years.

Greek words are italicized in the text and defined in a glossary at the back of the book.  Most should be fairly self-explanatory.  The ‘agoge’ was the name of the mandatory military training school that all Spartan boys attended from ages 7-20.  The ‘Planistai’ was the name of a festival held annual at Sparta involving two teams of 12-year old boys and girls.

* * * * * * * * *

The Planistai

In union there is strength.
            Aesop

 “You are a big boy,” said my cousin Gorgo, poking at the faint muscles in my arms and chest.  It was true.  I was a head taller than the boys in my herd, the twelve-year old pais from the Pitane Village called the crickets.

Gorgo and the girls of Amyklae Village our age called the sparrows had been teamed with us.  In the agoge, the instructors loved teaming boys and girls of different villages.  It was supposed to teach us how to fight together, instead of against one another, which we did constantly. 

“I know our fathers hate each other,” she said, “but I like you.  You don’t pick on the smaller boys like Pausanias does.  I’ve watched you defend them.”  She looked up at me.  “I want you to stand by me today.  You will, won’t you cousin?”

I could only shrug in response.  Gorgo and her father, my uncle Cleomenes, had just returned home from a diplomatic trip overseas to Miletus with the Senator Chilon.  Because our fathers were estranged, we rarely saw one another.  To me she was a skinny kid with short brown hair that stuck out at odd angles, freckles and a sun burnt nose, but there was something regal about Gorgo.  Perhaps it was the snobby way she said her father would be king one day, and whoever married her would inherit the Agiad throne.

Gorgo kept talking, but I paid her little attention.  There was so much activity going on around us, I was a bit distracted.  The crickets and the sparrows stood on the Bridge of Heracles that led to a small grassy island on the Eurotas River covered with ancient plane trees.  On the other side of the river stood an identical stone bridge, dominated by a statute of the lawgiver Lycurgus.  In his shadow stood a similar group of boys and girls our age.  We were about to compete in an annual ritual called the Planistai, the Festival of the Plane Tree Grove.    Men and women crowded both banks of the river talking, laughing and watching.  Somewhere among them were my father Dorieus and my mother Phile.

My uncle Leonidas gathered us together around him at the base of the statue of Heracles.  “Come here little ones.”  Leonidas was beardless with long blonde braids dangling around his handsome face.  He grinned merrily about the sizeable bet he’d placed on us to win the Planistai.  “You know what to do.  Push the other team into the Eurotas.  And you win.  It’s that easy.  Now,” Leonidas said lowering his voice and dropping down on one knee.  “Here’s how you achieve victory.  The trees drop sticks and branches.  Grab whatever you can and use it as a weapon.  A good whack will drive those little brats from Mesoa into the water.” 

As my uncle flashed us a winning smile, I couldn’t help but notice how his blue eyes and blonde hair were all very much like my father’s.  But that’s where the similarities ended.  While my father Dorieus reminded me of the hero Achilles, my uncle Leonidas took after the wily Odysseus.  My father was a giant, the type of man that tackled problems head on, as if there wasn’t any obstacle in life he couldn’t batter down with his spear.  Leonidas was not as large, nor did he go through life like a ram butting heads with everyone like Dorieus did.  Instead Leonidas preferred to use clever, sometimes devious means, to get what he wanted.

Gorgo lifted her hand for permission to speak, and said.  “Last year during the Planistai a boy lost an eye and two girls were killed.  If you hurt anyone, you’ll be thrown out of the agoge.”  Meaning, you would become one of the hypomeiones, the inferiors, a class of Spartans who had no rights.

“Well, you don’t have to crack their skull,” Leonidas said standing, “or poke their eyes out.   Hit them on the legs…”

“No,” Gorgo said firmly.  “We should fight fair.  With just our hands and feet.”

Not one to be bested by a child, especially a little girl, Leonidas laughed.  “All right, have it your way.  I was just trying to help.”  Wiping his hand across his face as if trying to wipe away his annoyance, my uncle left us.  Along with the people gathered on the banks of the Eurotas, we waited for the signal from the flutists standing by the two kings, my grandfather Anaxandridas and his co-monarch, King Ariston. 

Sparta was unique in that we had two royal houses, the Agiad House and the Eurypontid House, descended from twin grandsons of Heracles named Eurysthenes and Procles.  Our match was of special interest to the kings because it pitted the grandchildren of the two houses against one another.  Fighting for the Agiads were my cousins Pausanias, Gorgo and myself, while on the other side of the river representing the Eurypontids was a boy named Othrias, the grandson of King Ariston.

While we waited for the signal to begin, a chorus of 12-year old pais from the village of Kynosoura sang a song by Alkman …

  “I am your servant, Artemis.
  You draw your long bow at night,
  clothed in the skins of wild beasts.
  Now hear our beautiful singing…”

“Listen to me, all of you!” Gorgo said after Leonidas had left.  “Everyone pick a partner.  Team up.  Hold hands.  One boy and one girl.  Together we go after them one at a time.  Use the wrestling tricks Idmon taught you in the palestra.  Trip them.  Knock them down.  And then together with your partner pick them up and throw them in the water. Do this, and we will win.”

“No girl is going to tell me what to do,” my cousin Pausanias snorted.  Especially not the daughter of Cleomenes.  Pausanias was a husky boy, with a thick neck, gloomy, deep-set dark eyes, a face full of pimples and a broad, pug nose that had always made me think of him as a wart hog.  Like the rest of the crickets his head was shaven. 

“Have you got a better idea?” Gorgo asked.  “If so, let’s hear it.”

Of course he didn’t.  Even though Gorgo was too skinny to be attractive and there was something pushy about her, I decided her plan was better than no plan.  “Do as she says,” I urged the crickets.  They looked at me unhappily.  The boys my age respected me, if only because I was the tallest, but I wasn’t sure if they would listen this time.  Holding hands with a girl was asking a lot.  Some glum, some smiling, some complied, some edged away looking nervous.

Pausanias sneered at me, “What kind of sissies hold hands with girls?”

“Just do it!” Gorgo yelled grabbing my hand. 

I had to control the urge to shake her off, but I did it to oppose Pausanias, then felt my cheeks turning bright red as he laughed at me.  Gorgo continued to encourage the crickets and sparrows to pair up.  They looked at Gorgo and I holding hands, then looked at one another bashfully as they found a partner.  As they did, the chorus finished their song and King Ariston started a prayer to Zeus Ouranios.  While we waited, I noticed Gorgo was trembling beside me.

“Are you all right?”

She looked at me wide-eyed. “I am so excited!”

Suddenly the air filled with the sound of flutes as a dozen auletes piped the start of the contest.

As we started to run across the bridge toward the island Gorgo squeezed my hand.  “Hold hands with your partner!” Gorgo yelled, her eyes bright with anticipation.  “Work together!”

Gorgo’s little fingers felt as puny as a puppy’s paw in my grasp.  My age-mates looked at one another uncertainly.  No boy wanted to run out in front of the whole city holding hands with a girl.

Shouting eagerly, most of the crickets let go of their partner’s hands as boys and girls from both sides of the Eurotas ran across the bridges onto the narrow island.  Wearing the pelt of the Nemean lion over his brawny shoulders, the statue of Heracles looked down at me as I ran past.  I offered up a quick prayer to my ancestor, asking him to breathe his strength into me, if only for a little while.

As we spilled onto the small, grassy island of a dozen ancient plane trees, the men on both banks clapped their hands to show their approval, while the women laughed and sang. Without pause, like two opposing phalanx’s on the battlefield, the crickets and sparrows charged the frogs and the wrens.

Because I was holding onto Gorgo’s hand, a strange thing happened.  We ran at a 12-year old boy of average height.  Without even speaking—Gorgo and I bore down on him, gathered him up between our joined arms and used our combined momentum to force him backwards through the trees and right into the water. 

The crowd applauded and cheered.  We had made the first score.

The scene beneath the ancient plane trees was bedlam.   The majority of our teammates had let go of their hands and were busy punching, kicking, and biting our opponents as both sides grappled and tackled one another. 

With Gorgo screaming in my ear, the two of us ran back across the grass, still holding hands.  We singled out a lone wren from Limnai, a blonde-haired girl with blood seeping from her nose.  This time the force of our joint attack bowled the little girl over.  She went sprawling on the ground.

“Get her leg!” Gorgo shouted.  We each grabbed one of the fallen girl’s kicking feet and dragged her into the water.  “That was fun!” my cousin laughed gaily.  “Let’s get another one!”

And so it went.  Our teammates took note of what Gorgo and I were doing, found their partner and began to mimic our actions.  While King Ariston’s grandson Othrias did manage to overpower a cricket and a sparrow, pick them up and throw them into the water, Gorgo’s strategy worked.  Pausanias and Othrias met and began wrestling on the ground, while pairs of boys and girls from Pitane and Amyklae grabbed Mesoa’s frogs and Limnai’s wrens and pulled them one at a time into the Eurotas.  Once they landed in the chill water they were out of the contest and waded glumly up the far banks to join their friends.

Some of our opponents tried to adopt what we were doing, but because they had not paired up previously, confusion reigned among them, to the point that some of their members struck one another when a boy or girl tried to grab their hand.  Not that it mattered.  Once we had gained numerical superiority, the outcome was inevitable.  Groups of crickets and sparrows grabbed the frogs and wrens’ flailing arms and legs and tossed them into the shallow water that usually ran clear, but today ran muddy.

Gorgo shrieked with delight as four of us threw a bellowing boy named Kleitos high into the air.  He landed with a loud splash in the center of the stream.  Looking around, I realized there were no more frogs or wrens left, except Othrias, who rolled around on the grass wrestling with Pausanias.  They were both cut and bleeding, and I saw a bruise made from Pausanias’ teeth on Othrias’s shoulder.

Grabbing one of Othrias’s ankles, I would have helped Pausanias defeat the grandson of King Ariston, but my cousin would have none of it. “No,” Pausanias rasped.  He’d been fighting the Eurypontid for much longer than a wrestling match in the palestra and he was exhausted.  “He’s mine.”

While Pausanias was squat, strong and determined, Othrias was tall like myself, wiry and just as bull-headed.  The two punched and beat on one another till they were both so weary they could hardly lift their arms.

As Pausanias rolled around on the ground, I saw his hand close around a sturdy stick.  Before he could raise his arm to strike the royal frog, I stepped on my cousin’s wrist, pinning it down.

“Enough of this!  Let’s finish it.” Gorgo cried.  “Throw him in!”  Having established herself as a leader among us, we listened to her.  The crickets parted the two combatants. Pausanias struck blindly at his own teammates, while fair-haired Callicrates, whose name meant ‘most handsome,’ and identical twins named Alpheus and Maron helped me pick up the weary Othrias.  Each of us taking an arm or a leg, we lifted King Ariston’s grandson off the ground, carried him through the grove, and owing to his position within the Eurypontid royal house, we dropped him gently into the water. 

More than half of the crickets and wrens still stood on the grass of the plane tree grove, while the Lacedaemonians on both sides of the Eurotas River applauded.  For a single day in our young lives, we understood what it felt like to be heroes.

Smashwords: Access to Multiple e-Bookstores (sort of)

smashwords

Though initially excited about getting my book, The Wandering King, onto the web site of the e-book seller Smashwords, ultimately the results have been disappointing.  To explain…

Getting your book on Smashwords is an ordeal akin to one of Hercules’ labors.  Like Amazon, they provide you with a free guide on how to format your e-book for Smashwords.  Unlike Amazon’s clear, concise booklet, the Smashword’s manual is over 100 pages long.  Oi.

Not wanting to go through their novel length ‘how to’ book, I tried uploading my existing e-book file that had worked with Amazon.  No luck.  Tried the same with the file I used for Barnes & Noble’s Nook.  Strike two.  All right, time to crack open their 100-page opus.

Smashwords’ distribution channels

One of the things I didn’t realize about Smashwords, is that when you format your e-book for their site, if you do it according to their specs, you can qualify for something called ‘premium status.’  If your book makes the grade, not only can you put it for sale on Smashwords, they give you access to 12 sites like Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, even public libraries. 

The first thing they recommend in their formatting guide, is to strip out all of the current formatting in your MS Word doc.  You can do this by copy/pasting the entire book into a program on your computer called WordPad.  Putting it into WordPad knocks out all of your italics, tabs, links, font styles, etc.  Then all you do is select your entire document in WordPad and copy/paste it back into MS Word.  Then you begin the laborious process of adding back all of your formatting. 

Smashwords’ guide walks you through each step, including how they want you to set up the links in your table of contents.  As every ancient Greek word in my book was italicized, it took me a long time to get all of the formatting back in my book, but according to Smashwords, by starting with a clean copy, you eliminate any possible quirks that may have wormed their way into your original MS Word doc. 

Too, because every e-book seller seems to use their own format (such as ePUB, PDF, MOBI, LRF, RTF, etc…) it’s wise to follow Smashword’s instructions to ensure it meets their formatting requirements, because when you’re done, if successful, once you upload the book to Smashwords, their internal programming automatically saves your book in multiple formats (such as ePUB, PDF, MOBI, etc.) giving you access to Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, etc.

Though it took a while to fix all of the formatting in my book, it was well worth the effort.  The third time I tried uploading the book to Smashwords was a charm.  It passed their internal checks and even qualified for their premium status, giving me access to a number of new booksellers.

Should you format your book first for Smashwords instead of Amazon? 

In hindsight, I wondered if I should have started working with Smashwords, instead of Amazon, as both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are among the distribution sites that Smashwords gives you access to. 

Once my book was on Smashwords and they began distributing it to other e-book sellers, I realized, no, I was glad I started with Amazon and did it myself with Barnes & Noble.  Why?  The main reason is you have more control over your book and how it appears for sale on those sites.

Amazon is the biggest bookseller on the planet.  That’s where I’m getting 95% of my book sales, both e-book and paperback.  If I want to change my book description or the search engine keywords, it’s a snap on Amazon.  You make the changes online, and within hours they are live.

This is where I have a problem with Smashwords.  Yes, my book appears on their site and they’ve gotten it on most of the sites they advertise, but I’m guessing they don’t send along the keyword search string to these sites.  For instance, when I do a search on Kobo or Sony under ‘ancient Greece’ or ‘Sparta’ my book does not appear.   In fact, the only way you can find my book on these sites is to do a search for my name or the book name, ‘The Wandering King.’  Otherwise, my book is invisible on those sites.  Nor has it ever shown up on the Apple iBookstore. though Smashwords claims it is there.  I guess I just need new glasses.

To smash or not to smash?

I don’t know that Smashwords’ services are quite as good as advertised.  Nor are the sales.  In the 2 months my book has appeared on their site and the multiple other sites they distribute to, I’ve made a whopping single sale.  Whoopty-do.

The other area where I have a problem with Smashwords is the description of the book that appears on sites like Kobo and Sony.  Smashwords asks you to write a long book description and a short one, both of which appear on their site.  Unfortunately the short description is about three sentences, and that’s what they feed to most of their distribution partners.  Make a change to your book description on Smashwords, it’s hit or miss whether it gets posted on the other sites.

So although it sounds great that Smashwords will help you get onto all these other e-bookstores, you end up with no keywords for people to find your book, and you end up with a minimal book description.  No wonder I have not received any sales from these sites.  Readers have no way of finding my book, and when they do, there is very little to tease them into buying a copy.

About the best thing I can say about Smashwords is that they format your book into multiple e-book fomats for free.  If you need an ePUB or MOBI file of your book, Smashwords does the heavy lifting for you.  Other than that, my experience with them thus far has been far from a smashing success.

How I Got My Book Out in Paperback and On the NOOK

self-publishingUsing CreateSpace for Your Paperback

Wanted to keep people abreast of the latest developments with my historical fiction novel, The Wandering King.

Since self-publishing the e-book version on March 29th, the paperback version came out a month later on April 29th.   For the hard copy, I used Amazon’s company, CreateSpace.  Similar to self-publishing for the Kindle, CreateSpace is fairly easy to use, it simply involved following their formatting guidelines.  As I’ve stated previously, you can pay people to do all of this for you, or you can do it yourself.  I’ve done the work myself, and believe that if you have half a brain you can pretty much do the whole thing on your own.

Book Size

CreateSpace gives you a lot of options for publishing your paperback.  Almost everything to do with printing your book is under your control.  For instance, the book size.  There are 15 different sizes to choose from, the smallest being 5” x 8” and the largest 8.5” x 11”.   Though you might think a smaller size would yield a cheaper book price, not necessarily.  The smaller the book, the less words you can fit on a page, hence the more pages you’ll need.  The more pages you use, the more expensive it is to print your book.  After fiddling with several sizes, I settled on 6” x 9.”

Formatting

You also get to select which fonts you use, along with the spacing between lines and paragraphs, again, all of which affect your total number of pages.  Just by tweaking these parameters, my book could have been anywhere from 250 to 500 pages long.  As readability was important to me, I used a 12 point font, and 6 points of leading between the paragraphs, all of which looks quite pleasing to the eye.  Since the book is about ancient Greece, I used the Papyrus style font for the chapter titles.  These might seem like rather small details, but it’s actually rather cool to have that level of control over what your book will look like.

As a novice, about the most difficult part of the formatting process was breaking the book into two sections, so that I could use Roman numerals for the pre-book materials, like the maps and table of contents, and regular numerals for the text.  Might sound silly, but perhaps the most maddening thing about the process was getting the headers set up correctly.  Once I got those parameters straight, the rest was a snap.

Creating a Cover

The only thing I could not accomplish myself was creating the book cover and the maps.  Once you have all of your formatting issues resolved, you upload your book file into CreateSpace’s cover creator.  In the end, The Wandering King weighed in at 378 pages, which determines the width of the spine of your book.   Their cover creator program kicks out a PDF template that gives you the exact dimensions of your cover.  As I work with a number of graphic designers, I asked a co-worker to put together the cover and create two maps.  Though I wanted to pay her, she refused to take any money from me, so I gave her a $100 gift certificate to a nice Italian restaurant,  She was pleased, and I came away feeling that I got all of the book’s artwork done rather cheaply.  I placed the maps in my Word doc and uploaded the cover into CreateSpace.

All of this might sound rather complicated.  It’s not.  You simply follow CreateSpace’s online step-by-step instructions.  If you’ve done anything wrong along the way, they tell you exactly on what page you can find the error so you can correct it and move on.

Proofing

The next step is simply proofing your final manuscript and cover.  CreateSpace’s tools for proofing are excellent, as they give you a snapshot of what your finished book will look like online in a PDF format that you can download and review at your leisure.  They’ll even mail you a printed version for you to proof for a small fee.  After you’re finished proofing your book, you release it to CreateSpace and they check to make sure it meets their requirements (i.e., no pornography).  They get back to you within 24 hours and if all goes well, the book is ready for publication.

Print-on-Demand

CreateSpace works on a print-on-demand basis.  As orders come in through Amazon, they print out the books one at a time and mail them out.  Unlike traditional publishers, they are not printing out an initial run of several thousand books, which would have to be catalogued and warehoused.  It also means you don’t get stuck with a bill or an angry publisher if your books don’t sell.

CreateSpace takes care of getting the book onto Amazon for you.  If you have an e-book version out there already, as I did, within 72 hours, Amazon marries together the two books so that they are for sale on one page.

Distribution Channels

Among the last things you have to decide is the distribution channels where you want the book sold and how you want to price your book.  CreateSpace distributes through Amazon US, Amazon Europe and the CreateSpace e-store for free.  The CreateSpace e-store is a page on CreateSpace’s web site, similar to Amazon’s web site where people can buy the book.

For an additional $25 a year, you can opt for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution.  CreateSpace does not explain how it works, all they tell you is that by using their expanded distribution the book will be available to online retailers, libraries and academic institutions.  The problem with expanded distribution is that CreateSpace charges them more for your book, so if you decide to use it, you have to raise the price of your book, otherwise you’ll be selling them at a loss.

Pricing

One of the cool things about the entire process is pricing your book.  CreateSpace has an online calculator that allows you to plug in a price, and they calculate your royalty.  You can modify the price of the book for each channel, and will make the most profit by selling it through the CreateSpace e-store, which is also where you’ll want to order copies for yourself, as they give you a reduced price (about 30% of the retail price).

I don’t know how other people go about it, but as I was making roughly $2 per e-book through Amazon, I priced the paperback at $12.50 because that yielded the same royalty per book, $2.  I realize at $2 per book, I’m not going to get rich on The Wandering King, but that was never my goal.  My goal was simply to get read.

To make the book as inexpensive as possible, initially I did not opt for expanded distribution.  This meant I was able to sell the book for $12.50, which is cheap for a paperback.  According to my local independent bookstore, books like The Wandering King typically sell for $16.95.  Hard to believe, but true.

For the first three months, I kept the e-book for sale on Amazon for $2.99 (the cheapest price point that yields a 70% royalty) and kept the paperback at $12.50.  I took a handful of the paperback around to our local independent bookstores and was happy to learn that they were glad to support local authors and willing to sell the book on a consignment basis.

Promoting Your Book

I also joined the websites Goodreads and LibraryThing.  In a way they are social networks like Facebook, but with a twist: they are devoted to reading books.  I discovered that both sites allow you to raffle off a couple copies of your book, which gets them noticed by thousands of readers.  I gave away 5 copies of the book on each site, and was delighted when over 450 people wanted a  copy on Goodreads and 200 people wanted it on LibraryThing.  This turned out to be a fairly good marketing strategy as both sites allow you to place a book on your ‘to read’ list.  Just by throwing a few copies into these free raffles, several hundred people added The Wandering King to their ‘to read’ lists.  Of course they might not get around to buying and reading the book for a year, but it still helps generate interest.

At the end of the free promotions, Goodreads and LibraryThing randomly selected 5 winners and sent me their names and addresses for me to mail them a copy of the book.  As privacy is always an issue, part of the arrangement states that you will not try to mail these people or give out their address.  As you are giving away your book for free, the unwritten agreement is that the raffle winners will write a review of your book.

Thus far, out of the 10 free copies that I mailed out in May, only one person has given me a review.  A Goodreads member named Glen gave the book 4 out of 5 stars.  In his review he wrote:  “This is a superior novel about the life of a young Spartan prince as he grows up and travels the world on various adventures…  All in all, a great novel.  I can’t wait for the next volume.”

Amazon Reviews

Speaking of reviews, in three months time I’ve received 15 reviews on Amazon.  Fourteen of the reviewers gave the book 5 stars, while one person gave it 4 stars.  All in all, some very encouraging comments.  A man named Steven from Houston, TX, wrote:   “Many thanks to the guy who wrote this book. Really enjoyed it and have recommended it to all my friends. The book is something special, great character development; this man can really write. Its historical fiction with some cool romance. A whole big bunch of book for the money.”

Someone named Dianne wrote:  “Turning the last page of a good book, ending a good read, is like saying goodbye to a dear friend. One relishes the experience of both and longs for more time together. This author quickly pulls the reader into the story and maintains the suspense and action throughout the story. The author did a terrific job of weaving his story around the Hellenic era and including their gods in the story. I highly recommend this book.”

Click here to read all of the reviews for The Wandering King on Amazon.

Kindle Select

When I first released the e-book, I signed up for something called Kindle Select.  I did it for two reasons:  1) they allow you to run a promotion of your book giving it away for free for up to 5 days to help spread awareness and gain reviews, and 2) you get paid when Amazon Prime members borrow your book.  The downside was that Amazon had exclusive rights to your e-book for 90 days.  In other words, no selling it to their competitors such as Barnes & Noble for the NOOK.

During that 90-day period, I ran a free promotion and over 5 days 886 people downloaded the book for free, over 100 of them from outside the U.S.  How many have resulted in reviews on Amazon, I’m not sure.  During those 90 days, about 15 Amazon Prime members borrowed the book and I got paid a little under $2 per borrow.  Supposedly, Amazon totals up the amount of money they make selling Amazon Prime memberships during the month and hands a portion of it back to Kindle Select members.

In the end, I decided that the small amount of money that I made through borrows did not justify giving Amazon exclusive rights to my book.  My hope is that by opening it up for distribution on other sites like Barnes & Noble, Google Play and Smashwords, ultimately I’ll net more readers.  Of course, that remains to be seen.

Barnes & Noble

At the end of June when the 90-day Kindle Select period was over, I opted not to re-up.  Instead I formatted my book for the NOOK and on July 1st it went up for sale on Barnes & Noble’s web site.  As an aside, though not difficult, the self-publishing instructions provided by Amazon were a lot more extensive than those provided by Barnes & Noble.  Having gone through the process for the Kindle, admittedly it was not that hard, but I was a little disappointed by B&N’s scanty instructions.  Still, the NOOK Press step-by-step online instructions made the whole thing fairly simple.  Just to mention it, Amazon pays a 70% royalty on their e-books, while Barnes and Noble pays a 65% royalty.   Not a big difference.  On an inexpensive e-book it only comes down to about .20 cents per book, but it’s still worth noting.

Adjusting the Book Price

At the same time that the book came out for the NOOK, In an effort to increase distribution of the paperback, I decided to spring for the $25 and opt for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution.  Unfortunately, to keep from losing money, I was forced to raise the price on the paperback from $12.50 to $14.95.

At the same time I decided to raise the price on the e-book from $2.99 to $3.99.  On one hand, I did not want there to be a widening disparity between the cost of the e-book and the paperback, plus, I‘d read a blog recently that made the argument that if you price your e-book for $2.99 you are waving a big, red flag that says:  BEWARE!  NOOB!  SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHOR AHEAD!  This blogger claimed that the $2.99 pricing can actually be a detriment to getting your book read.  Some buyers will view the $2.99 price as a sure sign that the book is by an inexperienced writer, meaning the book could be riddled with typos, formatting issues and misspellings.  The blogger claimed that by raising the price of her book from $2.99 to $3.99 and then $4.99 her book sales actually went up!  Therefore I decided to experiment with the e-book price by raising it to $3.99.   Though it’s only been a week since the change, I can’t say that I see an increase or a drop in sales, they’re pretty much holding steady.

The good news is that the book is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  The expanded distribution through Amazon must also be kicking in, as I’ve also noticed it for sale on online retailers like Tower Books, AbeBooks, Dealzilla and Alibris.

Sales Results After Three Months

To share with you the sales results I have thus far, in a little over 3 months there have been 180 e-book sales and 16 hard copies sold.  Since putting it up on Barnes & Noble on July 1, there have been 2 NOOK sales.  Yeah, I know, my novel about ancient Greece isn’t cracking up big numbers, but I rather expected that.  I’m just happy that anyone is reading it, and that the initial reviews are all positive.  About the only other point I want to make about the numbers, is that it’s interesting to see that the e-book is out-selling the paperback by 11 to 1.  Because the e-book is cheaper, I had a feeling it would sell more, but not by that margin.

That’s the latest.  Once I get the book onto Google Play and Smashwords, I’ll let you know how the process went.