CRITICAL REVIEWS

So, as a new and unknown author trying to make it in a cold, cruel world, I took a chance and did the unthinkable.  I submitted my book for review to Sacramento Book Review/San Francisco Book Review.  I know, I know….reviewers are typically unkind to indie authors.  And ebooks get a terrible rap.  It was a gamble.

Was it worth it?

Read for yourself…here’s a preview before it’s published in their upcoming May publication.

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods

By J.A. Coffey Amazon Digital Services, $2.99, 351 pages, Format: eBook

Star Rating: 4 out of 5
“When she is just twelve years old, Doricha witnesses her father’s death at the hands of Greek raiders. She and her mother seek refuge in the temple of the Bacchae, where her mother was once a priestess, but a tragic turn of events and the vicious jealousy of another priestess results in Dori losing the one thing she vowed she would always have: her freedom. Her temple training increases her value as a slave, and Dori finds herself in a household where no one and nothing can keep her safe, not even her mentor Aesop. Before long, she finds herself being sold again, this time to a master who is willing to keep her safe in Egypt and shower luxury upon her if she will only love him in return, but Dori has no desire to be kept by anyone. In a world where a woman’s only value is her beauty, will Dori ever find someone who values her for her mind?

J.A. Coffey’s novel, Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods, is a richly-detailed escape to an ancient past. Dori is willful to the point of stubbornness, so beautiful that it endangers her, smart and witty in a world where women are to be seen and not heard. It is easy to get lost in this novel, and readers will find themselves rooting for this woman who only wants to be in control of her own future once more. While the author does have a tendency to gloss over long points of time without much detail that some readers might be interested in—such as Dori’s daily life in the temple, or how she and Aesop managed to build up her reputation as the mysterious Rhodopis in Egypt—most chapters are rendered in such brilliant detail that the novel is difficult to put down.” Sponsored Review

 

GIVEAWAY!!

Everyone loves getting something for free.  From now until May 25th, you can register to win your very own trade paperback PRINT autographed copy of HETAERA on Goodreads!!  It costs nothing to sign up, so click the button below to register for your chance to win.  And if you like HETAERA, please consider leaving a rating/review on Goodreads or Amazon.

Want the latest info?  Like my page on Facebook fan page!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

HETAERA by J.A. Coffey

HETAERA

by J.A. Coffey

Giveaway ends May 25, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

An Interview with JennyQ

As promised, today’s blog features a Q&A with ebook cover artist Jennifer Quinlan .  I’m so excited to feature her!!  Since my undergrad degree is in art (and I try to write through that lens), I thought it might be fun for both readers and writers to see a “real” book cover artist in action.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom for a special discount offer on a custom book cover design!  Click here to see more samples of Jenny’s work!

Like this blog? Don’t forget to “Like” my author page on FB for more updates!

TMA COVER Small

What are your favorite genres?

I love to lose myself in another world while reading, and so I rarely read contemporary novels. I want to be transported somewhere else—I get enough reality in real life! My first love is historical fiction, but I’m also hooked on historical romance, and I read some paranormal romance, some traditional fantasy and urban fantasy, some steampunk, and some young adult too. I’ll take on any cover project if I feel I’m up to the task, but because I spend so much time in my favorite genres, I feel more knowledgeable and comfortable designing those types of covers.

 

Hope of Israel Final Cover SmallHow do you start?

By asking lots of questions! It’s important that I get a picture in my mind of what I need to do before I even take on the job because I need to be sure I have the skills to accomplish what the author needs. Then I go in search of my artwork. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m looking for (and when I do, it never fails that I have a hard time finding it!), other times I feel like I’m starting blind and my search takes me all over the place. But eventually ideas start flowing and it narrows down in focus until I know where I’m going.

 

Molly-Make-Believe-Final-CoverDo you read every book that you design a cover for?

Nope. I just don’t have the time. I ask questions that really help give me an overall picture of what the book is about and who it needs to appeal to, and what themes or emotions the cover needs to invoke. Often I need to ask more questions once I’m knee-deep in the design process, but so far I’ve found that I have been able to design covers that really fit and make authors very happy without reading the books.

 

 

The Dilemma Cover SmallWhat do you use for inspiration?

I’m a hugely visual person, so I’m always looking at images. I use other covers for inspiration or guidance within a particular genre, and I spend hours and hours browsing stock images and art. I also use emotion as inspiration. It’s really important that I understand what a cover needs to do to entice a reader to pick up a book, and what emotions a cover should convey and how that relates to the story behind the cover, and so as I’m looking, I’m looking for images that bring out that response in me.

 

 

The Silver Shawl ThumbnailWhat do you do if your vision doesn’t match the author’s?

Start over! LOL! I do ask for some creative license when I embark upon the design process, because sometimes an idea may strike me or I might come across an image that speaks to me but is different than what the author and I discussed, and I like to be able to play with inspiration when it strikes me. But ultimately, it’s the author’s book and the author has to love the cover. And for that reason there is a stipulation in my contract that says an author is entitled to a second round of mockups if they don’t like what I came up with on the first go-round. It stings a bit when that happens, but I learn from it and try to narrow down what those covers were lacking so I can get it right on the second try. So far I have not failed. It’s very important to me that every author I work with has a positive experience and walks away with a cover they love.

Not sure if a custom cover is in your budget?  You may want to check out her stock covers posted on her website here.

BIO: Jenny Q

Jennifer Quinlan, aka Jenny Q, is a freelance editor and cover designer specializing in historical fiction, fantasy, and romance. Armed with a History degree from Virginia Tech, a Copyediting certification from the University of California, San Diego, ten years of marketing experience, and a lifelong passion for good books, Jenny is dedicated to helping new voices get published and to helping indie authors craft polished novels and covers that garner critical acclaim and higher sales.

A farmer’s daughter, Jenny was born and raised in Virginia, and though she likes to visit the big city once in a while, her heart belongs to the country. When not working she enjoys photography, spending time outdoors, and traveling the southeastern US visiting historic sites, having some fun in the sun, and eating good food! In addition to reading, she loves country music, football, dogs, and big trucks. She also loves connecting with fellow book lovers and invites you to visit her book review blog, Let Them Read Books, or her website, Historical Editorial.

Don’t let anyone tell you cover design doesn’t matter. The beautiful covers
Jenny created for my novels have made such a difference in sales. With its new
cover, sales of my novel, Hope of Israel, jumped 300%. Jenny was so easy to work
with and her work is amazing.
~ Patricia O’Sullivan

Now for the SUPER SEEKRIT offer from JennyQ to my blog readers.  Jenny is offering 20% off a custom cover design if you contact her and use the word “HETAERA” in your email.  Thanks, Jenny!

Never Judge a Book By Its Cover?

Ohhhh, yeahhh.  Like people never do that.

Ever designed a book cover?  Wish you knew how the pros go about it?

 

This week, I’ll be featuring the lovely and talented Jenny Q in a blog interview on her process for ebook covers.  She’ll be offering my readers a special discount, so be sure to come back and visit us this Wednesday, April 3rd to find out more!

 

And don’t forget to like my Facebook Fan page, so you can get the latest and greatest news! This week will be premiere of PRINT publication and a sweet giveaway that can net you an Amazon.com giftcard!

Let Them Eat Cake…or Hot Cross Buns?

At the risk of posting controversial statements and religious commentary on my blog, I cannot help but make mention of my latest novel-in-progress in these days leading up to the Easter holiday.

Let me preface this by stating that I believe strongly in tolerance and acceptance. I will not discuss my personal spiritual beliefs other than to state charity for my fellow man. Whew!  Now, having that out of the way…

Genesis-GiftLife-20-of-65Some many years ago, I stumbled across a gorgeous sculpture while hosting a student tour of the Dallas Museum of Art. It was there the artist’s siren song sang a name to me, a name that inspired countless hours of research. The likeness was attributed to that of a Babylonian queen—Semiramis.Semiramis

She’s been called many things—Mother of Harlots, Queen of Heaven…and like much of my work, I believe the truth may lie somewhere in the human story of the woman who brought adulation (and horror) to the entire known world. She has been called many names- Sammuramat, Shamiram, Astarte, Ishtar, …and as she lived in the time of Genesis, it stands to reason that the same legends would be told and retold in many (confounded?) tongues.

The book is only half-begun, and I feel like I’m wrestling crocodiles on most days—just trying to sift through conflicting legends, stories and embellished historical and biblical accounts.  Only time will tell if I can do the story justice.

So, why bring it up now?

Because Semiramis, for anyone who has made a study of religions, is considered by many to be the origins of Easter.

Her name is everywhere at this time of year.

Don’t believe me?  Try googling “Pagan origins of Easter” and read the first page (and there are many, many pages) of listings for what comes up. And while I’m not a big fan of using internet resources as gospel, the fact is that many of them cite gospel, when stating these claims.

As a historical author, I’m wary of anything proclaimed as “fact”.  But the fact (tongue-in-cheek aside) remains that there may be an interesting parallel between life in Mesopotamia and what is documented in Biblical history.

I actually loved the write up from UK author Heather McDougall who said hot buns

“… early Christianity made a pragmatic acceptance of ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter….In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.”

277px-Shamiram_araMaybe I’ll just stick to a slice of coconut cream pie….

 

 

 

Mmmm….pie.

Of Mice and Men…

Okay, I’m not really going to discuss mice (although I mention a few men) in my Guest Blog Q&A on author Christy English’s website.  But I will be there this coming Monday, March 25th, 2013 for fun, frolicking and a fabulous giveaway.

Ever wonder what got me writing?  Where I find inspiration?

 

Better yet, ever thought about being a writer?

Check out the post, and register to win a free copy of my book HETAERA and a gorgeous bronze beaded necklace from CWC (my favorite place to shop)!

Necklace-for-March-25

I think Dori would’ve loved this….

Where in the world is J.A. Coffey?

Although I’m a bit shy….I’m very excited to be featured on historical fiction author Christy English’s blog.  Be sure to drop by next Monday, March 25th for a Q&A with me, including how I got started, what inspired me…and a fabulous giveaway worth over $100!!

This guest blog will also kick off my FREE ebook weekend on March 30-31st!  So, if you haven’t already picked up a copy of HETAERA: Daughter of the Gods, that would be a GREAT time to get your copy for free!

Also, that weekend, friends, family and fans are invited to celebrate the Official Unofficial Book Launch for HETAERA at the fabulous Greek Isles in SouthEnd in Charlotte, NC. Come by for dinner and share a toast.  We’ll be bringing our electronic devices and posting for free books at 6:00pm–and there will be another fabulous giveaway that evening (because I’m all about giving fans some swag!)

Later next month, I will be hosting another special giveaway…to stay tuned.

What an author wants…

So, I’ve been asked recently what my friends can do to support me in this journey.  I thought I’d offer you a quick list of “Top Things Authors Need”.  This list isn’t specific to me; it’s for any author.  If you like to read, no matter if it’s a best-selling author or a debut novelist, there are three things every author needs.

1. Readers – Seems like a no-brainer but the reason we all get into writing is we feel we have a story to tell. The top thing an author needs is people to read their work. So, pick up my book. Or any book, for that matter. Doesn’t matter if you buy it, borrow it, or download it during a free promotion.  If the subject matter isn’t your thing (and how do you know, unless you read it?) then recommend it to someone else. Whether you read one book a year or 25, every author needs a reader.

2. Reviews – Aside from peeking at the first few pages and/or judging a book by its cover, most people decide on whether or not to purchase based on reviews–both quantity and quality.  Lots of readers also check to see how many reviews a person has posted, so if you’ve read more than one good book (or you read a HORRIBLE one) it’s to your credit to rate and write about it. Reviews on Amazon, or reader sites like Goodreads (are you a member?) are critical. Authors do read them, and often we make revisions based on what the feedback says. FYI- This is especially important to indie published authors, because many professional review publications will not read independent or small press published books. And as anyone who has read the Wall Street Journal lately can tell you, indie publishing is on the rise but admittedly difficult (see linked article here and here).

3. Promoters – Promotion is the great, dirty word of publishing. Most authors are fairly shy and introverted.  We rely on others to talk about us, our work, and to spread the word if our work was appreciated. Anyone who has seen the movie Sideways gets a pretty good glimpse of what it’s like to be an author.  We all struggle with thinking our work is the ‘best thing ever written’ and believing it to be utter crap.  So, we need others to help boost our visibility. The Rule of Seven is an old marketing adage– a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least SEVEN times before they take action and buy from you. Tell your friends, coworkers, hairdresser…when someone asks how things are going, you can respond with “My friend just published a book last month” or “I just finished an awesome book!” You never know where you will find a fan. Chances are word of mouth is like that old Wella shampoo commercial–the one where you tell five people and they tell five people and so on…and so on…and…you get the picture.

Tit for Tat…

So, as much as I need critical reviews on my novel, today I was offered a review from another (new) author on Goodreads. Their comment offered to read/review my book, if I would do the same for theirs.  Seemed like an innocent request.  But as the day wore on, I realized.

It didn’t feel right.

First, let me preface this by saying that I *did* state I would be happy to consider reviewing their work if it was of interest to me.

But there’s some key phrasing there.  If.

Quid Pro Quo

First, as an author, we love to see reviews from readers.  And writers are, first and foremost, readers.  On the surface, it sounds like a pretty good deal.  However, having another author read our work (and reciprocating) could pose a potential risk.  It smacks of Quid Pro Quo to me.  Or skid pro row, if you will.  You give me this, and I give you that.  You give me five stars, I give you five stars.  And posting that review under our author name may constitute an endorsement of the work–something we may or may not be inclined to give.

So, now I’m rethinking the decision to offer a reciprocal review.

What if I don’t want to give 5 stars?Sperm_Whale_vs_Giant_Squid

I have no problem reading and reviewing books that I’m interested in.  I’m a reader, after all!  But I struggle with how to respond to a request for a reciprocal review, when the book is not a subject matter that I typically read (or even enjoy).  And my own work is slightly controversial.  It deals with some subjects that may offend readers (rape, sexuality).  I know that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of chai, but for me, I like my historical fiction gritty and a little provocative.

Another issue for me might be the perceived quality of the work.  Some author voices just don’t appeal to me, no matter how acclaimed they may be.  I can’t possibly give an honest review, if I don’t enjoy the subject matter or the style in which it was written.  So, if I execute an honest critical review of what I liked or didn’t about a novel, what are we going to do?  Count off and hit ‘post’ at the same time?

It just doesn’t feel right to me.

Reviews are an essential part of marketing our work.  And I want to do my part to support other writers.  So, when an option to review the work is accompanied by my perusing the first few pages which do not draw me in, what’s an appropriate response?

And then there’s posting on books on my TBR list–the ones I read for the sheer joy of reading.  Do I post reviews under my own name?  My author name?

Keeping in mind that requesting a review may be very different from asking an established author to give you a quote for your back cover blurb.  Or is it?  One of those authors graciously gave me a read before publication (actually, twice).  She gave me a nice quote to use in my “back cover blurb” on Amazon.  But she never asked me for a reciprocal review for when her latest novel hits the shelves, and I never offered.

So, you tell me.  Am I being hypocritical?  Paranoid?  Because right now, I kinda feel like a squid.

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

As a historical fiction writer, I’m often asked what parts of the story are “real”.  That is to say, what parts are research and what came from my own imagination.  In many regards, it’s quite a compliment that the reader could not ascertain the difference between truth and fiction.

As a writer of ancient cultures, and an amateur researcher, I will be the first to admit that there will be some inherent fallacies in my stories.  It’s simply not possible to know every detail for certain, especially in a time period where it was common practice to use multiple names, or spellings of the same name.  The lens of the historian who documented the tale can also taint the story, by the very act of writing it through his or her own perspective.  Some details were embellished, or given more prominence, as ultimately, my job is to tell a good story.

My stories have been researched from several perspectives, resources and historians.  Some of them are rooted in historical documents, ancient texts or even art and artifacts.  All are based in some small part, in mythology or commonly held legends.

So, the task is to determine, what to leave in– and what to take out.  Let me assure you, that is no easy feat.

THE BEGINNING: PART ONE Egyptian-Cinderella

I plan to discuss several historical references in the book, starting with where it all began.  In my early years of writing, I worked as an elementary art teacher.  I’ll discuss the importance of that in an upcoming guest blog post for historical author Christy English later in March. But suffice to say that while pulling out some fairytale references, I stumbled across a great book by Shirley Climo titled “The Egyptian Cinderella”.

In HETAERA, multiple sources, from Herodotus to Strabo have recorded the legend of Doricha/Rhodopis.  Although these sources may have questionable validity, the similarities (despite the fact they were recorded some 500 years after Doricha/Rhodopis would have lived) were astoundingly similar.  It’s been summarized on Wikipedia (again, not the most scholarly of sources, but convenient for the purposes of this blog) much better than I can summarize for you:

rhodopisRhodopis (Greek: ροδωπις, real name possibly Doricha) was a celebrated 6th-century BCE Greek hetaera, of Thracian origin. [1] She is one of only two hetaerae mentioned by name in Herodotus‘ discussion of the profession (the other is the somewhat later Archidike).[2]

According to Herodotus, she was a fellow-slave of the fable teller Aesop, with whom in one version of her story she had a secret love affair; both of them belonged to the Samian, Iadmon. She afterwards became the property of Xanthes, another Samian, who took her to Naucratis in Egypt, during the reign of Amasis II, where she continued to work as an hetaera for the benefit of her master. This led to her meeting Charaxus, brother of the poetess Sappho, who had gone to Naucratis as a merchant. Charaxus fell in love with her, and ransomed her from slavery with a large sum of money. Sappho later wrote a poem accusing Rhodopis of robbing Charaxus of his property.[3]

Rhodopis continued to live at Naucratis after her liberation from slavery, and tithed a tenth part of her income to the temple at Delphi, where ten iron spits were dedicated in her name; these spits were seen by Herodotus.[1]

Some 400 years after Herodotus, Strabo stated that Sappho called Rhodopis “Doricha”. And 200 years after Strabo, Athenaeus maintained that Herodotus had confused two separate women.[4] As “rhodopis” means “rosy cheeks”, it was probably a professional pseudonym,[5] but it is unclear whether “Doricha” was her real name.

There was a tale current in Greece that Rhodopis built the third pyramid. Herodotus takes great pains to show the absurdity of the story, but the story kept its ground, and is related by Pliny the Elder as an unquestioned fact.[6] The origin of this tale, which is unquestionably false, has been explained with great probability by Georg Zoega and Christian Charles Josias Bunsen. In consequence of the name Rhodopis, she was confounded with Nitocris, the Egyptian queen, and the heroine of many an Egyptian legend, who was said by Julius Africanus and Eusebius to have built the third pyramid.[1]

Another tale about Rhodopis related by Strabo and Aelian makes her a queen of Egypt, and thus renders the supposition of her being the same as Nitocris still more probable. It is said that as Rhodopis was one day bathing at Naucratis, an eagle took up one of her sandals, flew away with it, and dropped it in the lap of the Egyptian king, as he was administering justice at Memphis. Struck by the strange occurrence and the beauty of the sandal, he did not rest till he had found the fair owner of the beautiful sandal, and as soon as he had discovered her made her his queen.[1] This is the Rhodopis story, famed for being the earliest Cinderella story.

Indeed, here is specifically what Herodotus specifically had to say on the subject.

[2.134.2] indeed, it is clear to me that they say this without even knowing who Rhodopis was (otherwise, they would never have credited her with the building of a pyramid on which what I may call an uncountable sum of money was spent), or that Rhodopis flourished in the reign of Amasis, not of Mycerinus;

[2.134.3] for very many years later than these kings who left the pyramids came Rhodopis, who was Thracian by birth, and a slave of Iadmon son of Hephaestopolis the Samian, and a fellow-slave of Aesop the story-writer. For he was owned by Iadmon, too, as the following made crystal clear:

[2.134.4] when the Delphians, obeying an oracle, issued many proclamations summoning anyone who wanted it to accept compensation for the killing of Aesop, no one accepted it except the son of Iadmon’s son, another Iadmon; hence Aesop, too, was Iadmon’s.

[2.135.1] Rhodopis came to Egypt to work, brought by Xanthes of Samos, but upon her arrival was freed for a lot of money by Kharaxus of Mytilene, son of Scamandronymus and brother of Sappho the poetess. 749px-Alkaios_Sappho_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2416_n2

[2.135.2] Thus Rhodopis lived as a free woman in Egypt, where, as she was very alluring, she acquired a lot of money–sufficient for such a Rhodopis, so to speak, but not for such a pyramid.

[2.135.3] Seeing that to this day anyone who likes can calculate what one tenth of her worth was, she cannot be credited with great wealth. For Rhodopis desired to leave a memorial of herself in Greece, by having something made which no one else had thought of or dedicated in a temple and presenting this at Delphi to preserve her memory;

[2.135.4] so she spent one tenth of her substance on the manufacture of a great number of iron beef spits, as many as the tenth would pay for, and sent them to Delphi; these lie in a heap to this day, behind the altar set up by the Chians and in front of the shrine itself.

[2.135.5] The courtesans of Naucratis seem to be peculiarly alluring, for the woman of whom this story is told became so famous that every Greek knew the name of Rhodopis, and later on a certain Archidice was the theme of song throughout Greece, although less celebrated than the other.

[2.135.6] Kharaxus, after giving Rhodopis her freedom, returned to Mytilene. He is bitterly attacked by Sappho in one of her poems. This is enough about Rhodopis.

And what about Sappho? sappho

Sappho herself supposedly blasted her older brother for owning her (and referred to her as Doricha), which only added to my suppositions.  Ovid paints the poetess as short and dark in complexion. Alcaeus calls her ”violet haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho”.  I admittedly attempted to portray Sappho as simply a “Lover of the idea of Love” rather than insinuating any judgments about her sexual inclinations, as I felt it was more appropriate for the time period and to the story.

So, you can see from the above where I began the research for the book, notwithstanding the need to gain an understanding of the life of courtesans, the difficult and much disputed hierarchies for prostitution in ancient Greece, and simple daily life and customs.  In the next posting, we’ll move on to Ahmose/Amasis and the role of legend in a good story.