Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades.
"Envoy of Jerusalem" won BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017, BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION and BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017 from Book Excellence Awards, Readers Favorites and Feathered Quill Book Awards respectively.

"Rebels against Tyranny" took Silver (2nd Place) for HISTORICAL FICTION in the 2019 Feathered Quill Book Awards.

For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Rebels Against Tyranny" Short-Listed for the Chaucer Award

This month, January 2018, Chanticleer announced the semi-finalists for the 2018 Chaucer Award. Rebels against Tyranny is just one of 11 titles on the short list. A great honor! For the complete list of semi-finalists visit the Chanticleer Book Reviews Website here

For more about Rebels against Tyranny including reviews from respected review sites such as Kirkus and Blue Ink visit: Rebels against Tyranny Page


Progress on the second book in the series, The Emperor Strikes Back, continues. I am now about two-thirds of the way through the rough draft and on the whole comfortable with the way things are shaping up. I greatly appreciate the in-put and advice of my "real-time" test-reader, who will remain nameless until such time as she/he gives me permission to "go public" with it. 

The cover is also underdevelopment. Here's the draft as it now stands:





I was also delighted to take part in a live broadcast of an interview with one of the world's leading experts (not to say THE leading expert) on the archaeology of the crusades. You can find the recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7zOekawDAs




That's all for this month. Thanks for checking in and I'll report back at the end of February.



 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Closing out 2018

Dear loyal followers and friends,


This is not only the last entry of this year but will also be the last entry of this blog in the format I have used to date.  Going forward, I will make only a single entry at the end of each month with a summary of the month's activities. I will provide a short up date on:

  1. Works in Progress  -- so in the immediate future The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II's War against his Vassals and Beyond the Seas: The Story of the Crusader States
  2.  Conversions: This will address e-book or audiobook formatting for already published works.
  3. Social Media Activities: This will provide links to entries on my other blogs or to quora posts. 
  4. Publications: This will provide information about other publications such as in the Medievalist Magazine or the like.  
  5. Miscellaneous: For anything I find worth sharing that doesn't fit into the above categories.
I hope you will find these summaries useful in the future, and thank you for being loyal readers in the past.

All the best for 2019!


Helena P. Schrader

Friday, December 21, 2018

Reflections on Today’s Book Market: Of Reviews and Best Sellers


As the year closes, I thought I would share with my followers some things I’ve learned about the creative writing industry in the last year. I do not mean this as a rant, but rather a serious reflection on where we are today and as food for thought for readers as well as my fellow writers. 


Publication


At the start of this year (2019) more than 6,000 books were being published each day -- yes, day -- in the United States. That included print, ebook and audiobooks released by both commercial publishers and self-publishing authors. Of those, based on past years (no stats yet for this year) 15% of those books were novels. That's 900 new novels being published every single day.


Traditionally publishers accept on average just 1% of all books submitted to them. They make money on just one out of ten. That means they lose money on 90% of all their releases. 

Most self-published novels "sell" about 50 copies. Most of those copies were bought by the author to give away to friends and family.

Reviews

Let me start with the subject of reviews. There was a time when book-reviews were written by select “literary critics.” These people didn’t need any specific qualification, but they did have to have a way with words and the ability to write prose that was fit to print in a reputable newspaper or magazine.  They tended to be a bit “snobby” and “high-brow” -- literary critics and reviewers, journalists, professors and teachers of literature, librarians, and book-store owners. 

With the advent of Amazon's “reader reviews” and the even more casual “rating” (without a whiff of justification) on Goodreads, those days are gone. The professionals along with their unique biases and prejudices no longer dominate the market. In their place are “reader reviews.” These, at least in theory, reflect popular opinion – or one would think. 

The problem with them, however, is two-fold. First, the quality leaves a great deal to be desired. Far too often they boil down to nothing more than “I didn’t like this book” or “I loved this book” without a trace of analysis or explanation. This is particularly pronounced in the case of Goodreads ratings where a reader (or non-reader) can just slap one or more stars without a hint of what was going through their heads. 

Second, and even more serious, however, is that there is now a market for reviews. It is possible to buy reviews for as little as $10. Indeed, you can buy 100 reviews for $1,000. These 100 reviews are guaranteed – but there is no guarantee that the reviewer will actually read the book first. 

True, they will have to download the book to be a “verified purchaser” for Amazon, but with most ebooks priced below $5, a reviewer still nets at least $5 a book. If they concentrate on free books, they can make the full $10 per book. Just think how many books you can download in an hour, a morning, a day? Clearly, this is a great source of supplemental income for anyone on welfare, social security, or simply a low-paying day job. It just doesn’t help inform readers about the content or quality of the book reviewed.

Yes, the reviewers are obligated to write a review, but they can get away with a single sentence that they can use for every book. Something like: “This is AWESOME. I can’t WAIT to read the next book by this author.” (Note, no need to even change the name of “the author” for each review. Amazon is littered with reviews of this type.)

If the reviewer is a little more sophisticated, they can turn the cover blurb into a review. Example: “This is sensitive literary fiction at its best. A mixture of insight and humor, this book is guaranteed to both educate and amuse. The author is bound to make a name for herself as a 21st century Jane Austin.” Lovely, just what the author has put on the back cover, and the reader still has no second opinion, much less a qualified second opinion.


Best-Sellers

In my opinion, a more disturbing development in the publishing industry is the changes that have altered the definition of “best-seller.” Before the days of print-on-demand and ebooks, a book needed to sell 30,000 (hard) copies of a single edition at prices generally between twenty and thirty dollars in order to qualify as a “best seller.” Today, it is not the absolute number of sales that a book logs but rather the title’s “sales rank” on Amazon that earns a book the rubric of “best seller.” This has a number of implications -- most of which appear to have gone unnoticed by readers.

At one level, obviously, the overall Amazon sales rank still reflects large sales volumes. Although the absolute number may vary on any given day, on average the overall #1 best seller on Amazon will have sold 5,000 copies on that one day alone. Books ranked at or near 1,000 will have sold 100 books that day, those at 10,000 15 books a day, at 50,000 2-3 books and at 100,000 one book. 

However, there are two problems with these numbers that make them qualitatively different from the traditional method of counting “best-sellers.” First, Amazon's numbers are daily numbers not cumulative. Theoretically at least, a book might be a “flash in the pan” that sells enough copies one day to rank in the top 100 books, yet never sell another copy thereafter. Second, and more important, the Amazon sales ranks for ebooks includes not just sales but free downloads as well. There is a very serious difference between a sale and a free download that is obscured by this methodology. If someone spent $20 to $30 on a book, they were clearly seriously interested and very likely to read it.  Downloading a "freebie" on the other hand can be done on a whim (or a request) without anyone ever really planning to read the book. 

The problem is compounded by Amazon's categories. The creation of categories is undoubtedly useful – or should be – in helping readers find books of interest to them. The broad categories conform to common conventions for categorizing books whether in libraries or book stores: fiction vs non-fiction, then sub-categories by topic for non-fiction (biography, business and finance, cooking, self-help, history, religion, politics, parenting etc.) and by genre for fiction (mystery, romance, science fiction, historical, thriller, “adult” and children’s fiction etc.) Comparing books in similar categories also makes perfectly good sense. Why should I care if my book about dog grooming is under-performing compared to cookbooks or the latest political thriller? 

The problem is that Amazon has created so many sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that the value the rankings has been watered down to meaninglessness. Let’s take an example. Suppose you have written a dystopian novel about two teenage vampires who fall in love and you keep all the love scenes very “clean and wholesome” because these vampires discover Jesus. You have now written a book that fits into the Amazon categories of romance, teen romance, “clean and wholesome” romance but also Christian, vampire, and dystopian novels. Indeed, you invented the category of “dystopian, Christian, vampire, clean and wholesome, teen romance.” My guess is you will not have a great deal of competition in this category, so even if you only sell one copy to your mother, if there is no other book in this category you can become a “#1 best seller”!

Or let’s take this example a step farther. Maybe there are already 99 other authors who write in your niche genre, and they all “sell” more copies of their books than you do. You can still bill yourself as a “best-selling” author because you’re in the top 100.

I put “sell” in quotation marks, however, because free downloads count. So, if you price your book at $0.00, then you can personally download it thousands of times – as many times as it takes to become the #1 in your niche category – without one single other person (whether mother or lover) downloading - much reading and liking - your book. That’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? You can make yourself a #1 bestseller without spending a single cent or persuading any other person to read it!

One cannot blame authors for giving books away – especially if no one is willing to actually spend money on them! Nor can one blame desperate authors for downloading thousands of copies of their books personally – if no one else will -- in an effort to push themselves higher in the Amazon ratings. 

The problem is not unethical authors, but rather readers obsessed with “best-selling” books rather than quality. Think about it.

Happy New Year!

Read reviews and learn more about my books on my author's website: 




Friday, December 14, 2018

Why I Write 7: To Reach (a Wider Audience)

All the reasons for writing that I have listed up to now apply equally to non-fiction and fiction. The primary reason that I prefer fiction as a medium, however, is that it opens the potential audience to a greater segment of the population.


I'm perfectly aware that I do not write books for the "general public" (whatever that is!). My books are not relevant to everyone and do not interest everyone. I do not expect "everyone" -- not even my closest friends and family -- to take an interest in, for example, Ancient Sparta or 13th century Cyprus. Why should they share these arcane interests simply because they happen to have been born in the same family or have worked with me somewhere in the world? My friends and family like me for the things we share, not necessarily the things I write about.

But there are thousands, even tens of thousands of people around the world who do share my interest in Sparta or the crusader states. They have studied these topics academically or as a hobby. They read every book they can get their hands on about these topics of interest -- fiction and non-fiction, film or documentary.  Through my writing, I connect with them, and they are my loyal readers and fans. They follow my blog and facebook entries on the historical background of my novels. They recommend other sources and novels. We belong to the same little club.

And then there are readers who aren't particularly interested in the subjects of my novels and would never pick up a non-fiction book about them to learn more, but are interested in  "a good read." These are people who wouldn't read a book "because it's set in 12th century Cyprus," but might read a book "full of lessons we'd be foolish to forget." (Chanticleer Review, The Last Crusader Kingdom) They may not be interested in the Third Crusade, but want to read "the Best Biography of 2017." (Envoy of Jerusalem) Readers who couldn't care less about Emperor Frederick II may yet be intrigued by a hero described by Kirkus Reviews as "like Shakespeare's portrayal of the young prince Hal." (Kirkus, Rebels against Tyranny)

In short, because fiction is about characters (people) as much (if not more) than about historical events, it appeals to a wider audience. I will never forget that when working on my dissertation about the German Resistance to Hitler, I had a conversation with Graefin Yorck, the widow of Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg. She confessed to me that "all she ever knew" about the American Civil War she had learned from Gone with the Wind. The same is true for millions of people who accept Shakespeare's Richard III as history or have learned about Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel.

It is my hope that readers will come to share my interest in ancient Sparta and the crusader states through my books, but, if not, they will nevertheless enjoy the stories for themselves and want to read more from my pen.



Novels make great Christmas presents,and it's not too late to order!


      Buy Now!                                        Buy Now!                                         Buy Now!




 

 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Why I Write 6 - To Critique

In reflecting on why I write, I have to confess that I use my books to express social criticism of the world as I see it. Indeed, I have often argued that all historical fiction says more (whether consciously or not) about the time in which it was written than the time it allegedly describes.

We can see this clearly in art and film. Here are some examples.




Compare, for example, these two depictions of Richard the Lionheart. 

To the left. an contemporary 12th century manuscript illustration.

To the right a painting by Henry Justice Ford, from the end of the 19th century.



Below two Hollywood versions. 

 
 
To the left, Richard and Eleanor in "The Lion in Winter" (1968) - which depicts Richard as homosexual.

To the right, Richard in Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," (2010), where he is a bloodthirsty fool. 


Likewise, although all my novels are firmly grounded in historical fact and describe historical events and characters as authentically as possible, the choice of subject and my interpretation of events and characters is a result of my experience with the modern world. Just as critics of totalitarian systems from the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany often disguised their critique as science fiction, I use my historical novels to render commentary on events, trends, attitudes and behavior I see around me.

One example of this is my treatment of the Greek Orthodox opposition to Lusignan rule on the island of Cyprus at the end of the 12th century. The opposition is entirely understandable and justified, but like so many rebellions (including the one I was witnessing while writing the book in Ethiopia), the rebel actions often hurt innocent people -- indeed the most vulnerable and least powerful of people, rending their actions far less heroic than the cause would suggest. The Last Crusader Kingdom is a commentary not only on a 12th century event but also on rebellions, insurgency, and good governance generally.

Another example is A Boy of the Agoge. While this book describes year by year the activities of Spartan youth in the Spartan upbringing, in doing so it analyzes human nature and the things that motivate and de-motivate, it looks at group dynamics, leadership and the eternal process of "growing up."

I firmly believe in my motto that we learn about ourselves as human beings by studying the past. When I write about the past I explicitly examine issues and patterns of behavior that I have seen in my own life. Sometimes those are positive experiences that restore my faith in mankind. Sometimes, however, I feel it is important to highlight negative characteristics or behaviors that, unfortunately, keep repeating themselves through the ages. 

I am always delighted when my readers recognize the parallels to modern personalities and events! Don't forget it's only ten days to Christmas and books make great gifts!

    Buy Now!                                            Buy Now!                                        Buy Now!


Friday, November 30, 2018

Why I Write 5: To Share

Sharing is akin to teaching, but I wanted to handle it separately in this series on "Why I Write" because I wanted to underline that not all an artist shares with the reader is knowledge. 


When writing non-fiction only the fact and analysis count, but when writing fiction emotions, intuition, and dreams count too. An novelist shares with the reader a wide spectrum of precious, personal feelings -- feelings about people, ideas and things.  

All my novels reflect my personal experience with life. This isn't about facts but about world-view -- my understanding of human nature, of politics, of marketing and parenting, of love and hate etc. etc. 

These subjective components are largely what make it possible for two authors to write about an identical subject and produce startlingly different works. Schiller's Joan of Arc is different from George Bernard Shaw's. Which one you like best will largely depend on your world view, which of the writers strikes a cord with your soul, not your mind. 

Teaching is all about passing on facts and knowledge, whereas sharing is about opening one's heart to the readers and showing them how how you see the world. Looked at another way, the information that is taught belongs in the realm of plot and setting; the philosophy and worldview that is shared belongs to the realm of theme and character development.  

Let me take an example from my most recent publication, Rebels against Tyranny. It is a fact that Emperor Frederick II held two of the Lord of Beirut's sons hostage for their father's good behavior. Beirut seized two royal castles anyway and used these to bargain a truce with the Emperor. When the Emperor released the hostages, including Beirut's sons, the latter had been evidently been badly mishandled. Those are the facts of the case, but there many -- all justifiable and plausible interpretations -- of what the characters felt about the events. Was Beirut callous and indifferent to what might befall his sons? Did they blame him -- or the Emperor for their maltreatment? And just how did two youths raised in luxury and privilege respond to abruptly being prisoners, and mishandled ones at that? I postulate, based not on evidence but intuition, that the experience would have had a profound impact on their character. 

Or another example, we know that the Lusignan's invited Franks who had lost their lands and livelihoods in the wake of the disaster at Hattin to re-settle on the Island of Cyprus. The historical record says nothing about how these immigrants were received by the native population.  My descriptions are based not on evidence and facts but on my experience of waves of immigration by peoples with a different faith (or race, ethnicity etc) in today's world. The discussions in The Last Crusader Kingdom about how to ease tensions between the groups are not founded in learned facts but in my personal exposure to contemporary events.  

Books make great Christmas presents! Share with someone you love new perspectives and worlds full of adventure by giving a book for Christmas.

 














                           Buy Now! 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Why I Write 4 - To Educate

In the fourth in my series on "Why I Write," I reflect on my desire to teach.


In my experience, it is human nature to want pass on knowledge that we have gained. Certainly, when my research uncovers something particularly unexpected or significant, the first thing I want to do is tell others what I have learned. Since I like to research topics that are either controversial or less familiar to people, I often find myself turning up unexpected pieces of information. From the amount of complaints about historical novelist who bore readers by cramming into to many facts and details, I am not alone in my passion for teaching what I've learned!

The challenge, therefore, is to teach in a way that doesn't bore, irritate or distract the reader.  Since each reader's level of knowledge and tolerance for education in a fiction book differs, there is no single answer. What I attempt to do, however, is to replicate my own experience in that I create a context for learning that makes discovery of new facts a force that moves the story forward.

An excellent example of this is my first novel about ancient Sparta, The Olympic Charioteer.  Because this was my first novel about this topic, I had learned so much. Indeed, almost all that I knew about Sparta I had just learned and wanted to share. Rather than doing a data-dump, however, I chose to make my narrator a stranger coming to Sparta for the first time in his life and being shocked and confused by one thing after another.

The ability to step back and look at things from the outside is critical to teaching properly. No one who is completely familiar with a culture or period is able to see what makes it unusual. Here's an example. A very well-educated African, who traveled over-seas for the first time as an adult was amazed to discover that toilets did not need to smell. He had assumed that since shit smells, toilets had to smell, and it was a revelation to discover that if properly cleaned and flushed they need not do so. In short, no one who has grown up in the advanced industrial world is likely to comment on toilets that don't stink, while no one from Africa would comment on those that do.

The historical recorded is consistently distorted by this phenomenon, by the way. For example, because all boys who went to school in ancient Greece learned to read and write, none of the foreigners who described the Spartan school mentioned that the boys learned to read and write. That was obvious and didn't need to be said. Instead, they commented at length on the things that were unique about the Spartan educational system, e.g. the boys could be flogged, or elected their own leaders etc. Modern readers, not seeing reference to Spartan boys learning to read, often mistake this for proof the boys didn't learn when in fact it is only proof that the observer didn't think it was worthy of mention.

When teaching about the environment in which my novels are set I often find it useful, as in the case of The Olympic Charioteer, to step outside the perspective of my principle characters. This enables me to describe aspects of the setting that the principle characters would not naturally comment upon. In the latter Middle Ages, knights and nobles knew heraldry inside out, but if they described it as they would have done (or, a cross pate gules, for example), it is meaningless to us. Yet a peasant could describe the shield in terms we understand -- a yellow backdrop with a flared, red cross on it. 

The utility of changing perspectives from time to time in order to teach better (and incidentally add depth of perspective) is one of the reasons I abhor the modern fashion for writing everything, exclusively in the first person. There is truly nothing wrong with the prose of John Steinbeck or Leo Tolstoy. The obsession with not changing points of view is a modern fad that will hopefully die a natural death -- soon. 

Writers should be free to share their knowledge in whatever way is most effective and entertaining because it is only if the teaching is effective that readers will truly learn. 

Discover topics you've always been interested in through my novels -- and don't forget that books make great Christmas presents!

Visit http://www.helenapschrader.com/books.html to find the perfect gift for someone you know loves learning!