A Novel About Alexander?

Recommend, or otherwise, books on Alexander (fiction or non-fiction). Promote your novel here!

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ness
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A Novel About Alexander?

Post by ness » Sun Jan 27, 2019 11:18 pm

Hi everyone! I wasn't sure where to post this. Essentially, I am very interested in ancient Greece, and specifically Alexander the Great's life and his contemporaries, and for the past couple of weeks I have been planning for a fictional book based on this theme. However, I noticed that Mary Renault and others have already written books like this. Do you think that it concept has been overdone and there would be a lack of interest in this topic? Any help/thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks everyone!

derek
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by derek » Mon Jan 28, 2019 5:19 pm

Ness,

As someone who has written 5 Alexander novels, I think I’m qualified to speak on this. I thought the same. I enjoyed writing and wanted to become a world famous author, and Alexander was a perfect subject with lots of material.

But the publishing world is a hard place. It’s all about money and what will sell. Even established authors can’t guarantee their next work will get published, and nowadays they’re even being asked to pay for things like marketing. An unknown has about as much chance as the next wannabee pop star. I followed the guidelines and submitted letters and chapters to agents in that genre. Most never replied and eventually I’d exhausted the list. I think my books are good, but even that doesn’t really matter. There are so many unknowns submitting work, and publishers just aren’t prepared to risk the expense in an overcrowded market with such narrow profit margins. So unless you’re some celebrity, the chances are that even if you’ve written the best novel ever, it will never get beyond the slush pile.

Having said that, look at J K Rowling. According to the guidelines in writing magazines, she did everything wrong: wrote in longhand, sent the only copy to agents forcing them to send it back – and yet she got picked up after only a few rejections. So it can happen.

As for Alexander; he’s too much of a niche market. The average reader doesn’t know enough about him or his times, and one person told me they gave up on my first book because the names of the characters were too difficult to pronounce. And above all, the Alexander movie was such a flop it’s killed Alexander as a book/movie topic for years to come.

So I’d written the first instalment of a trilogy about Alexander, and it had become apparent I was never going to be published. I was left with a choice, give up – or self publish. Vanity publishing is the kiss of death for anyone wanting to be taken seriously, but I made that choice. I enjoyed writing for the sake of it, and it was better than pressing the delete button after all that hard work.

Writing about Alexander is now my hobby. I’ve published 4 full length novels with another on the verge of completion. Since the first in 2005, they’ve sold maybe 1,000 copies on Amazon over the years. Yeah, I’ll always be an unknown vanity author, but the research and writing is enjoyable and I’ve had enough decent reviews to make it feel worth it.

There’s a number of people who contribute to this board have written Alexander books. I know a few have published the traditional route, but I think the majority are like me. My advice: go for it with a good attitude, but keep your feet on the ground.

Best of Luck,
Derek

ness
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by ness » Mon Jan 28, 2019 8:57 pm

Hi Derek,

That was such a helpful and thoughtful response, thank you so much! I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying your writing and that you've received a lot of positive feedback, that's very encouraging. Yes, as you said, I just love the topic and I want to write it so badly, even if it means no one will read it. I'm just completely captivated by his history. Thank you again, and despite the realistic setbacks you've warned me about, you have inspired me to pursue my writing, so I thank you for that :)

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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by Alexias » Tue Jan 29, 2019 8:52 pm

Hi, Ness. I'd urge you to read Mary Renault if you haven't, and any other Alexander novels you can, just to see what is possible. There are so many Alexander writers, there has to be an audience. I know I keep banging on about fan fiction, but I'd recommend you try it. There is no pressure on what you write for fan fiction and it lets you practise writing.

One of the things the guides to self-publishing recommend is to build up a fan-base. Fan fiction can be a means to do this as it will introduce people to your writing. When you set up a website, you can use short stories as a reward for people signing up to your mailing list, who will be potential buyers for your novel. An occasional short story will keep people interested until your next novel is ready. Self-publishing is all about marketing and keeping people's interest going.

ness
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by ness » Tue Jan 29, 2019 10:22 pm

Thank you Alexias! I will keep that in mind, that sounds great!

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Jeanne Reames
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by Jeanne Reames » Mon Feb 11, 2019 2:31 am

Hi, ness -- What Derek already told you is painfully true. I've got several good friends who've been publishing in SFF for years, and not only is it hard to break in, the rules change constantly, and the ebook market has upended everything. The midlist is dead, and it's harder and harder to market because it's become a many-headed social-media hydra.

I'd STRONGLY recommend that you follow Kristine Rusch's blog on the writing business. She's done it all, and while she's in SFF, her advice is solid for virtually all markets (except maybe Romance, which is its own weird animal):
https://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/

There's a lot to be said for *timing*, as well as to whom you're marketing. The good news is that it can be done--I'm proof. The bad news is that it took 30 years to get published, from the time I first set out to write on the Gross One. Of course, what I was writing in at least those first 10 years (even with previous writing experience) didn't deserve to be published. Ha. Thank God it wasn't.

I didn't wind up getting my foot in the door via the regular channels. I'd actually put aside ATG and was trying to sell an SFF series about Dionysos and Ariadne (still hoping to sell that one). While trying to market the first book of the series, I stumbled across a review of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, written by an English professor. She had many of the same quibbles with the book that I did (while beautifully written, WHY the two boys were friends/lovers was more assumed than established, characterization was sometimes shallow, and she glossed over/flinched from sex scenes). She also mentioned in the review that she'd just left her tenured prosition to pursue her real passion: to become an editor of fiction, and she was the new acquisitions editor for Riptide Press.

Bingo! I looked up the press: a small boutique publisher of LGBTQI romance, primarily. But on the website, they mentioned wanting to expand (which they since have) into gay-friendly novels that aren't strictly Romance. So I found her email address and emailed her about the Alexander novel. She asked to see it. I didn't hear back for ages, then out of the blue, she emailed to say she'd not read it herself (time) but had given it to several other editors/readers at the press who raved over it as being like Renault or Mary Stewart (their words, not mine, but I'll take the compliment). They wanted the novel. Boom.

That said, it still took a loooong time. Even once you get a contract offer, there's a lot of red tape (if you're smart) before signing, and while Riptide was growing (hiring staff, not firing them), first the editor, then the publisher have had some troubles (that very editor is no longer there) which slowed up getting anywhere even post-contract signing. But I stuck with them, and they've done right by me since. I have a great editor, I just turned in the final line edits for the first book (the original was so long, they cut it in two), and it's slated to come out now in June, rather than May (original release date). Then Fun Marketing TImes begin (and I hope folks on Pothos will give it a try, and--if you like it--review it on Goodreads or Amazon, and mention it to others who might; the best way to sell books is word-of-mouth).

So it boiled down to finding the right publisher, at the right time. It also helps to have a "platform": in my case, I'm a professor and specialist in Macedonia, so this will be the first [to my knowledge] ATG novel written by a Macedoniast, and Riptide jumped on that. But there are other sorts of platforms one could use. Say you wrote your novel from the point of view of one of the physicians in ATG's army, and you happen to be a medical doctor. That would be another type of platform. A platform is what do you, uniquely, bring to THIS novel?

It's also VERY very important to know what your own novel is *doing*, thematically, and what is its most likely audience? For instance, and despite the fact I actually write quite a few action and battle scenes, and have the military knowledge to do so, I probably won't get the same readers as those who like Christian Cameron or Steven Pressfield. :wink: And not just for the homoerotic elements in the novel. Dancing with the Lion is a coming-of-age story, ergo its *primary* themes deal with interpersonal and internal growth. In short, it's a true "novel" not a "romance," in the old meaning of those terms. Novels are character-driven, romances are action-driven. That doesn't mean one can't have elements of the other, but it's a matter of focus. That's why I could sell a novel about a world conqueror to a Romance+ press. It's far *more* about fathers and sons (Alexander and Philip, Hephaistion and Amyntor), about learning what one can become (Alexander at Mieza, then Alexander's role as regent, etc.), and learning about love (Alexander and Hephaistion), as well as about the struggles of women in a deeply misogynistic society (while I don't have a lot of female POV characters--nature of the beast--there's a prominent sub-thread centered on Alexander's sister and mother).

Because I'm very clear on what the novel, or really novels, as Riptide cut it in half, are trying to do, I knew how to market it. I just had to find the right opportunity, and that was the long, at times deeply discouraging part. I wrote the first line in December of 1998. It won't see print until June of 2019. That's a bit of a long wait, but not unheard of. Marguarite Yourcenar apparently took 30 years to get out Memoirs of Hadrian, too, although I'll be damn lucky if I'm even half as successful as she was.

But it's really important that you, as the writer, think about these sorts of things. What is your novel trying to say? What are the themes? What is the perspective? Who is your intended audience? Then you market it accordingly to agents and publishers. It's important to also look at other novels on the same subject. How is yours like or not like those?

Hope my personal story helps with both perspective and some ideas of how to move forward. :-)
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html

ness
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by ness » Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:11 pm

Hi Jeanne,

Thank you so much! That was the most wonderful reply, and I am so glad that you are finally getting a chance to publish your book, it sounds brilliant and I can't wait to read it! Your advice was extremely helpful, and for that I am grateful. Best of luck to you, and thanks again!

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Jeanne Reames
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Re: A Novel About Alexander?

Post by Jeanne Reames » Thu Feb 14, 2019 4:03 am

Good luck, ness. Just believe in yourself and what you're doing, and go in assuming it might take a long while.
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html

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