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July 22, 2014

Foods To Die For

Figs With Gorgonzola

I had my annual stress test yesterday. I normally avoid scheduling any such test in the month of July for a number of reasons, but the number one reason is because of figs. You heard me right—figs!
I’m sure you’re wondering how figs could affect a stress test. It’s not so much that the figs interfere with the stress test, it’s more that the stress test interferes with the celebration of figs. I don’t like my meals ruined by thoughts of running on a treadmill and worrying if what I’m eating might affect those results.

For those who don’t know, fig trees bear fruit once a year, and the figs usually last about one month. Where I live, they usually ripen in late June or early July, and, for the following month, we feast on figs. We occasionally just eat the fruit, but more often than not we prepare them the way God must have intended them to be prepared—stuffed with Gorgonzola and lightly broiled. This is a picture of last night’s meal. My son made it for me to celebrate the passing of one more stress test.

As you can see, the figs and Gorgonzola are to die for, but the seafood crepes…oh my God! (By the way, I have never tasted a store-bought fig that was worth a damn, so if you don’t have a fig tree, plant one, or two.)

The figs are sliced and stuffed with Gorgonzola and then placed under the broiler until the cheese starts to melt. What you see on the plate alongside the figs are savory crepes stuffed with shrimp and tied with a chive. They are then baked in the oven until golden on the outside. And what you can’t see is the garlic aioli sauce my son makes, which is so damn good I could eat it with a spoon.

If you remember in last week’s post I talked about what foods were served in heaven. This is one of them. The only thing I’m hoping is that in heaven fig season lasts all year long.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

July 14, 2014

What Food Is Served In Heaven?

A Late Thank You for a Father’s Day Gift

Being a person who cherishes a well-prepared meal—and being Catholic besides—I have often wondered what food is served in heaven. And that is making a huge assumption that I earn my way there.

Sure-Fire Menu Items

I know a few things that are can’t miss items. And these alone are enough to keep me walking the straight and narrow. Let’s take a look at these known foods.


  • Spaghetti and meatballs
    • No brainer. If only the Italians voted for it, it would still be high on the list.
  • Seafood Ravioli
    • Another shoo-in. Who doesn’t love a good seafood ravioli?
  • Lasagna
    • I’m hoping it’s Mikki’s lasagna, but I’ve tasted plenty that would suffice.
  • Veal Marsala
    • No more needs to be said.


Getting Back to My Story

I went off on a tangent here—which I tend to do when food is involved—so let’s get back on track. For father’s day, my lovely daughter sent me a gift card for my favorite grocery store. Yes, I know, that’s an odd thing, but my daughter knows me well, and she understands that a special meal and a good bottle of wine are better than almost anything. Hence, the grocery-store gift card.

To make this more than just a special father’s day, my oldest son chipped in and volunteered to cook me up a meal beyond comparison.

A Little Explanation

I love tiramisu. I go berserk over sfogliatelle. And figs with gorgonzola…fahgettaboutit.
But there is one dish that I seldom get, and it just might top all of the others.
What is it?

Homemade Ricotta Cheese With Pears and Cinnamon

If you’ve never eaten this slice of heaven, then I offer my condolences. If you have had it, and presuming it was made properly, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Take a look at the picture below, and tell me you’re not drooling.



Of course, no meal is complete without a glass of fine wine. For this occasion we had Santa Cristina, a Chianti that is inexpensive and delicious.



The Rest of the Meal

I almost forgot the rest of the meal. My son is not one to dally around with food. When he cooks there is usually far too much for everyone. This is a genetically inherited trait that he got from his mother. She is a compulsive feeder.

Getting back to the meal. He also cooked veal Marsala, which was magnificent, and he made a wonderful salad. But for me, the meal began and ended with the dessert.

What if You Can’t Make It?

Have no fear. If you haven’t had this delicacy, and you can’t make it, or find someone else to make it for you, all is not lost. All you have to do is live a good life, because there is no question that this is a food served in heaven.


If you do an Internet search for homemade ricotta, you’ll find dozens of recipes. Some will use lemon juice (or juice squeezed from fresh lemons) in place of buttermilk, but either will work. It boils down to preferences. This recipe can also be scaled up or down with consistent results. These measurements make enough cheese for about a dozen servings with enough left over to stuff shells or ravioli to feed about 8 people. (Stuffed shells with homemade ricotta is to die for.)

  • One gallon of whole milk. (Don’t use UHP ultra-high pasteurized)
  • One quart of buttermilk.
  • One pint of heavy cream.
  • One-half teaspoon of salt.

Note: Add more buttermilk to sweeten to your taste.

  1. Use a pan like what you make your red sauce in. Heat the milk, buttermilk, and cream (and salt) slowly. Stir every couple of minutes for about 10 minutes, until you see bubbles form. Then let it sit without stirring until the temperature hits 170°.
  2. When curds begin to form, remove it from the burner and let it sit (without stirring) for ten minutes. The whey and curds should begin to separate. Lay cheesecloth over a colander and put it on top of a large bowl.
  3. Now pour into the cheesecloth-covered colander, and let it drain. This might take up to an hour. (Wait until the liquid drains completely.)
  4. Put the ricotta in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. You should have enough for a few good meals. (This is assuming you can stop family members from dipping spoons into the mixture while it’s warm and stealing half of it.)

Most importantly, enjoy! Buon appetito.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

photo credit: stu_spivack via photopin cc

July 7, 2014

Happy Anniversary To My Wife

On Being Married For 45 Years

On July 4th, Mikki and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. Way back in 1969, on a scorching hot Independence Day, we swore vows to each other. I was 17. She was still 16. But we knew what swearing to a vow meant. It was the way we were brought up.

jim and mikki giammatteo wedding

I still remember our honeymoon night, if you want to call it that. We had no money, so the honeymoon consisted of our first night in a new apartment. New to us, that is. It was actually an $85 per month roach-infested dump, but we didn’t care.

We Were Young, And In Love

We were talking about our honeymoon as we sat in bed reading the other night. That first night was special, so special that we both remember it almost exactly the same way. A rare thing after so many years.

Then I started thinking about how different things are, comparing how we went to bed back then, versus now.

  • Back then we couldn’t wait to touch each other, our bodies intertwined. Hot and sweaty in an apartment with no air conditioning.
    • Now we are normally propped up on pillows reading books on our iPads.
  • Back then after being intertwined, we would turn off the lights and go to bed with our arms wrapped around each other.
    • Now the light on her iPad goes out long before mine, and we go to bed with a wall of pillows separating us, so our hot bodies don’t touch.
  • Back then we looked at each other with lust in our eyes.
    • Now we look at each other with love.

But Is That So Bad?

I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that not only is it not bad, maybe it’s better. Neither one of us looks like we did back then. We definitely aren’t in the same shape physically. And we certainly don’t have the stamina we did on that night so many years ago.

But We Have Memories

And I believe it’s the memories that get us through the tough times. Memories are hard to compete with. They can be good or bad. For me, the memories are fantastic. I don’t mean that I see her in the same way as I did when we were teenagers.

  • But I’ll catch a glint in her eyes that makes me recall a particular incident, and that brings a smile.
  • Or I’ll hear her laugh, and remember a day when we hooked school and went to Philly. Back then all days were filled with laughter.
  • Or I’ll hear her cry when one of our animals die, and I’ll wish for the days when there was nothing to cry about.

Bottom Line

Regardless of how tough things are, or how tough the road ahead looks, we’re fortunate because we have those memories. And when times get the worst, we can always turn off our iPads, toss the pillows off the bed, and relive a few memories.

Happy anniversary, Babe

Ti amo con tutto il mio cuore.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

June 30, 2014

Pit Bulls and People Who Suck

Some People Deserve to Die, But This Pit Bull Doesn’t

Yes, I know that statement might offend some people, but I don’t care. It’s the truth. Every 11 seconds a dog is put down in this country.

Every 11 seconds!

That’s sad. The world would be a much better place if we substituted some of the worst people instead of dogs. I have never met a dog I felt should be put down, but I can think of a lot of people that should be…

Including Whoever Dumped “Pretty Girl” (Above Pic) On Our Sanctuary

Let me back up.

About a month ago, we had a dog dumped by someone on the private drive to our animal sanctuary. She was a pit bull, and it was obvious from her ninnies that she had recently given birth. We were able to lure her into a 12’ x 12’ pen we made from horse fencing under the shelter of our barn. She seemed nervous at first, but after we fed her and showed a little love, she warmed up to us.

She was infested with fleas, had mange, and showed signs of scarring in quite a few places. Despite all of that, there were no signs of aggression; in fact, she has turned out to be one of the most lovable dogs I’ve seen. She is wonderful with our grandkids, and although we haven’t introduced her to all of the dogs yet, she’s met three so far with no problems.

We have never owned pit bulls, but any animal is welcome at our sanctuary as long as there are funds to support them. We didn’t have the funds, so we tried finding a home for her. For two weeks, I posted on FB and we contacted many rescue centers, but no one could take her. We were almost ready to call animal control, when she put on a show for us during a nightly walk. Take a look at this video and tell me if you could send her to be put down.

We were walking and she suddenly decided to jump for the branch in the tree. After numerous attempts (I cut almost 55 seconds from this video) she opted to go for a branch that was easier to access.

She Got A Name

That was it. She must have suspected something was up, because from that night on, she was full of life and love. She had earned her name—Luci. Since then she has become part of the gang.

Here are a few pics of Luci enjoying her new home.

More Trouble

Luci was only with us about two weeks when another pit bull was dumped, and within the next two days, four more were dumped. The one thing they all had in common was that each had recently given birth, and all were in terrible shape. There was nothing we could do with so many dogs. Animal Control came and got them, and although we continued to try to find homes for them, we couldn’t take them in.

Fast Forward Two More Weeks

The other day another dog was dumped. This one looks as if they yanked the puppies from her while still nursing. Her ninnies are huge and filled with milk. We tried catching her for three days, but she seemed terrified of people. Finally, two nights ago, during a huge thunderstorm, she came to the house. She was shaking badly, and she trembled with each thunderclap.

We brought her to the barn and fixed her up inside the pen we had originally made for Luci. She devoured the first bowl of food and shortly after that, ate most of another. The next morning, when we took her for a walk, she was ecstatic. So full of life and love. Just like Luci. She raced around, and couldn’t get enough of us petting her.


Upon close examination, it was apparent she had been badly abused or used for fighting. Take a look at these scars.

Her head was only the beginning. She has scars on her back legs, hind quarters, and neck as well. It’s obvious this poor girl hasn’t had much of a life, and yet, you wouldn’t know it by her attitude.

I just went out to feed her and she greeted me with an enthusiastic wag of the tail and a magnificent smile, which you can see here. She smiles all the time.


All of this news is good. She seems healthy, other than past scars. The rest of her problems, like fleas and skin issues we’ll have taken care of shortly.

But “Pretty Girl’s” Problems Aren’t Over

I call her “pretty girl” because I’m not giving her a name. I can’t afford to give her a name, which would mean she’s staying. I already can’t afford Luci, but we took her in. When I say her problems aren’t over, it’s because of that. If we can’t find a home for her soon, we’ll have to call Animal Control or someone else. Everyone knows what that means. Pretty Girl, will be gone. She’ll have gotten free of whatever horrors some humans subjected her to only to be killed.

As I’m sure you can tell, I’ve already fallen for this girl. Please help me find a home for her. I can’t bear to see another good dog be put down.

Bottom Line

I haven’t had her long enough to know how she is with other animals. We don’t introduce them right away, and we always make sure they are free of diseases before introductions. But I can attest to how she is with people, at least so far. She has been magnificent with my wife and I, and with our son and his family, including our grandsons. Absolutely no signs of aggression.

So, please people, help her out.

Share this post.

Tell your friends. Tweet it. Put it on Facebook or G+.

I know it’s a pain in the ass to do those things, but Pretty Girl needs your help.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

June 23, 2014

What My Dog Taught Me About Life

Gracie with napkinOne Last Lesson From Coffee Dog

This is the third post I’ve done about Coffee Dog. The first was back in January, 2013. It was simply titled, Coffee Dog. The second one I wrote six months later. I called that one, A Lesson From Coffee Dog.

Each of those posts were difficult to write due to the circumstances. Today’s post was much worse. We lost our precious Coffee Dog. It wasn’t a surprise or a shock. We knew that this day was coming for a while, but we never knew just when it would happen.

Last week we got the first signs, and took her to the vet for tests. Her kidneys were failing. I won’t go through the emotions of those last minutes. Anyone who has been through it knows the feeling.

So Why Did I Write This Post?

To relate what my dog taught me about life. For a few days after Gracie was gone, my wife and I reflected on Gracie and what impact she had on our lives. We talked about how happy she was, and how we had done all we could. How we had given her a home for 12 years and taken care of her throughout her battle with diabetes. And the more we talked, the more we realized just how special Gracie was.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Gracie. She was playing with Slick. She had the spirit of a puppy until the day she died.

Gracie the coffee dog playing with Slick.

Of all the dogs that have been through our sanctuary, I believe Gracie was one of the few who knew her place from day one. She knew where she fit with the other animals, and with us.

  • Gracie didn’t demand attention.
  • She didn’t try to be the “big dog” like our Great Danes.
  • She never pretended to be the tough dog like Biscotti or Mollie.
  • She wasn’t a protector, like Mollie or Bear.
  • She didn’t sound alerts, like Freckles.
  • She knew her place with the pigs, and cats, and with Joe, the horse.

Gracie, our coffee dog, who taught me many lessonsGracie only did two things: She stole napkins from anyone’s lap at dinner time, and she demanded to go with me to the porch while I drank my morning coffee.

Oh, and she was friends with every person and every animal she met. Here’s a pic of her with the dreaded Freckles, who befriends no one.

What Did That Teach Me?

It sounds crazy to say I learned something new from Gracie, but I did. I mentioned in one of the other posts all the things I learned from Gracie as she struggled with diabetes. But now that I look back on her life, I’ve learned more.

Gracie knew exactly where she fit in this world, and she was happy with it. She knew who she was, and she didn’t try to be anything else. Gracie carved out her niche as Coffee Dog, and she was the absolute best coffee dog I could ever imagine.

As to me and what I learned. During the past few years I’ve struggled a few times with my writing—not writer’s block or self-doubts—but wondering if I should be writing something different. Something more popular. As I talked with my wife about Gracie, I realized that she left me with a bit of wisdom. I’m happy writing the way I do, and the stories I do, so that’s what I’m sticking with. I can’t change to please the market.

Bottom Line

Gracie had a level of self-awareness that made her happy. If more people could reach that level, we would all be far happier. I’m thankful she helped me reach mine.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

June 17, 2014

What Father’s Day Means To Me

What Do Newspapers, Money Clips, and Garlic Have To Do With Life?

Paul and Nalletta Giammatteo on steps kissing

My Dad and Mom

I lost my father when I was still a young man of 27. That’s a lot more time than many people get, but it was too early for him to go. I still had a lot to learn. But every year on father’s day, I celebrate the time I did have with him, and I’m grateful for the things he taught me.

What Did He Teach Me?

Silly things. Things like…

  • How to fold newspapers perfectly so they didn’t open when I tossed them onto people’s steps.
  • How to slice garlic so thin “you could see through it,” he’d say.
  • How to keep your money organized, and all bills turned the same way, with all wrinkles smoothed out.

bowl of garlic bulbsAs I said, these were silly things, but I did them. At first, I thought my dad was just being “a dad,” forcing me to do things that didn’t much matter. Then I started seeing the benefits.

  • The newspapers landed on the stoops and didn’t pop open; it saved me time.
  • The garlic was uniform and could be put on sandwiches evenly, improving the flavor.
  • The money I earned was easier to count, and I didn’t even have to take it out of the money clip.

As these lessons became ingrained in me, the process was no longer a chore, just something that had to be done. At the time, I didn’t realize the value of what he taught me; hell, I didn’t even realize he was teaching. Sometimes I thought he was just being a pain in the ass.

money clip and bills, organized neatlyWhat Changed?

I got married when I was 17. My first job was as a laborer for a masonry crew. I soon learned that stacking the bricks wasn’t much different than folding papers. If I did it, “just right” I saved time. During the next 40 years, I went through a lot of changes, from bricklayer, to homebuilder, headhunter, and now writer. The one constant was the things my father taught me never changed. Even now, as a writer, his lessons prove valuable. I know it doesn’t seem like those simple things have much to do with writing, but they do.

rolled newspaper, showing lessons learned in life from early teachingsHe Wasn’t Teaching Me To Fold Papers…

…Or to slice garlic (and tomatoes and meat).
…Or to organize money.

He was preparing me for life.

I don’t fold papers anymore, but when I write a book, the preparation is the most important part. And I do it meticulously, knowing it will save me time, just like folding the papers did.

When I get a new idea for a new book, the first thing I do is sit down and organize my thoughts, and I make an outline, and then I read through it and smooth out the rough edges. Just like organizing and straightening the bills in my money clip.

And the garlic…that’s for making garlic and tomato sandwiches, without which life would be meaningless.

So every father’s day, while I’m eating spaghetti and meatballs cooked with the recipe my fantastic wife cloned from my father, I think of him and say a silent prayer, and then a “thank you.”

At the beginning of this post, I asked what newspapers, money clips and garlic had to do with life. I hope the answer is obvious—everything!

Paul Giammatteo and his sister, Margaret WWII Paul Giammatteo's famous golf swing 6 Giammatteo brothers playing pool

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

June 9, 2014

Launch of New Mystery Book

Launch of A Bullet From Dominic

I’m thrilled to announce the long-awaited launch of my new mystery book— A Bullet From Dominic, the sequel to A Bullet For Carlos, in the Blood Flows South series.

A Bullet From Dominic features Detective Connie Gianelli and Tip Denton, with a special appearance by Hector “Ribs” Delgado, who you will recognize from Necessary Decisions. It takes place in Houston, Texas.

A Bullet From Dominic, mystery book, thriller, suspense book.

Here is the quote that starts it off:

Na famigghia può esse distrutta solo dall’interno— A family can only be broken from the inside. 

~ Dominic Mangini 

A Bullet From Dominic is available as an ebook, priced at $2.99 for the first week only. After that it will go back to the original price of $5.99.

Links to all the major retailers are included.

Buy the eBook here:

| Amazon| Apple | Barnes & Noble | Google | Kobo | Smashwords | Scribd | Xin Xii |

Buy the Print Version here: Coming soon.

Short description:

Detective Connie Gianelli is a broken woman, and she doesn’t have the will to start again. While recovering in Brooklyn, she gets a call from her old partner about a new case in Texas. Combined with the pressure from her uncle, it’s enough to convince her to pack up and leave. But what seems like an easy case, turns out to be the worst killing spree Houston has ever seen. On top of that, her nemesis, Carlos Cortes, is waiting to kill her. But first he plans to destroy everything she loves, and tear her family apart.

Thanks for your time, and don’t forget to tell a friend if you enjoyed the book. Word of mouth is the number one way to sell books, so please take a minute to tell someone. And if you really want to help, leave a review on Amazon, or Apple or B&N…anywhere.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

May 27, 2014

CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark Part 2

CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark

Print Book Distribution

Last week I did the first part of this comparison. You can view it here. This week concludes the post.

Weighing the Other Factors

Any time that you are comparing services and products, it turns out to be far more complex than you thought it was going to be. This was no different. Comparing print distributors involves a lot of options; it’s not simply looking at price and quality. This is where the “ease of use” comes in.

Ease of Use

Whether you categorize this as ease of use or difficulty of setup, doesn’t matter. It’s like asking if the glass is half full or half empty. No matter which term you use, CS comes out on top.

  • CS is easy. You can upload your file, and—if you are prepared—you can finish in less than an hour. They even offer an expert option to save time if you know what you’re doing.
  • Spark is not as easy. Ingram was designed for professionals and the process reflects that. It’s not difficult once you get to know the system, but the learning curve is steeper.

I have heard a lot of complaints about the difficulty of working with Ingram. I’ll be the frist to admit it isn’t as easy as CS, but I also have to be honest and say, it really isn’t that difficult. If you are prepared (like you should be with CS or Ingram) and you have the files and information you need in front of you, it takes very little time or effort to do it right. In fact, it takes me about the same amount of time to upload a book to Ingram as it does with CS, although I’ve been through this before.

Customer Service

CreateSpace really shines here. They have an online chat system that is second to none. If you need to speak to a representative, enter your phone number and hit the “call me now” button and your phone will ring within seconds. (No kidding—seconds!) Spark is working hard on improvement, and I have to give them credit for that. In recent months, I have seen one of their top management team join discussion groups to answer questions and provide advice. That shows their head is in the right place. In fact, while writing this post, I received news that Ingram Spark now has an 800 number for customers. A huge step in the right direction.


When I mention changes what I really mean is the costs associated with making changes, and, once again, CreateSpace wins this hands down. If you make an error—and many indie authors do—you simply upload a new file. No charge. With Spark, if you make an error, you upload a new file, but you will have to pay $25. This is not an insignificant item or one to be overlooked. Everyone makes mistakes, especially indie authors, and if you have to upload a new file to fix them, it will cost you with Spark.

Cost per copy

As you can see the cost per copy is very close on B&W—within 35c, but the cost for color shows a tremendous difference—about $13 for a 300-page book. This one isn’t even a contest. If you need a color book, especially if it has more than a few dozen pages, you should definitely use Spark.


CreateSpace will provide you with one of their own ISBNs free of charge. The problem with that is they will be listed as the publisher of record. I’d advise against that and I will cover that in a future post. However, they also have a few new options—$10 and $99 choices—which give you the option of naming your own imprint. I’m not fond of doing it this way, but again, it’s a topic to be discussed later. Spark requires you to have your own ISBN. (You can purchase them directly from Bowker in the US, or from Nielsen in the UK.)

Hardcover books

CreateSpace does not offer hardcover. Spark does. (I believe you can ask CS to print personal copies in HC, but not for distribution.)


CreateSpace does not allow returns. Spark does. What this means, is if you plan on trying to get into the brick-and-mortar stores, you’ll need to use Ingram.

Time To Publish

This is another area where I’ve seen a lot of authors and bloggers talk about how quickly CS gets their book to market, but Ingram is so much slower. It’s yet another case of not comparing apples to apples. Yes, CS can, and will, get your book published on Amazon quicker than Ingram can get it published anywhere. But there is that little point of CS being owned by Amazon. I think that helps. On the other hand, CS won’t get you into B&N, or BAM, or anywhere else faster than Ingram. In fact, CS uses Ingram for distribution.


This is the one close to my heart. People value things differently, but to me, quality is the most important aspect. In this area, Ingram shines.

  • The print is a rich, crisp black.
  • The cream paper doesn’t look as if had been left out in the sun.
  • The white paper is bright and clean.
  • The covers are true to the colors you submit, and their covers fit perfectly.

With CS I have experienced a number of problems with covers, but the biggest complaints have been with the ink. It almost always appears faded, and I haven’t been happy with their cream paper.

Summary of Pros and Cons

CreateSpace has the edge on:

  • Price per unit, B&W.
  • Ease of use
  • Customer service
  • Changes
  • ISBNs (if you want to use them)
  • Setup costs and yearly fees
  • Domestic shipping

Ingram Spark Has the Edge On:

  • Price per unit, Color.
  • Discounts
  • Distribution
  • Hardcover
  • Quality
  • Returns
  • International shipping

Bottom Line

I have seen a lot of companies rush in to take advantage of authors during this surge in self-publishing. Most of them are easy to spot if you dig deep enough, but some aren’t. The difficult part, being an author, is in being able to spend the time to validate a company and see if what they’re selling is, in fact, a good deal. Sometimes even a good company offers services that aren’t the best.

CS is a top choice for fulfilling an author’s print needs, but I suggest a word of caution about some of their other offerings. From what I’ve seen, you can do far better shopping elsewhere for things like cover services and/or marketing help. Which brings us to one of my favorite points to make. Look at intent. Any time that you are evaluating a vendor or a service company, look at what their intent is. In the case of CS, they offer a lot for free or at a very reasonable price, but is it so they can “upsell” you to other services?

On the other hand, Ingram has no hidden agendas. They offer print services. They don’t charge a commission; they don’t offer cover design, or marketing, or layout, or ISBNs, or anything else. Ingram makes money when you sell a lot of books. That is their motivation—to sign up customers who will sell a lot of books. In other words, they want the same thing I do.

You might think it’s great that CS offers to sell you an ISBN for $99 that you can put your own imprint on. But step back a minute and think. If you spend another $196 you can have 10 of them. And let’s not forget that CS is not doing this out of the goodness of their heart; they make $98 per ISBN at that price. Yes, you didn’t read that wrong. They buy them for a maximum of $1 apiece. (Actually less)

So What Do I Do?

Long ago I stopped looking at any company or service as good or bad. I look at them with one thing in mind—how can they help me achieve my goals? So instead of saying:

  • CS doesn’t have the best quality.
  • Ingram’s customer service isn’t as good.
  • CS has terrible shipping to AU.
  • Ingram’s distribution and discounts are better.

Instead of saying that, I do the opposite. I use the best from each company. And it works magnificently. Here’s how I do it.

I use CS for Amazon only, as far as distribution goes. That means I do not sign up for expanded distribution when I create a new book.

I use CS for US shipping to readers who order from my website, or for giveaways, or to send review books to bloggers, etc. They really shine in this department. It’s inexpensive and it’s quick.

I use Ingram for all other distribution. That means every book that goes to B&N, or BAM, or Charter Books, or to Libraries, or if they get ordered by bookstores…those books come from Ingram. If I send books to independent bookstores in an effort to get in with them, I use Ingram also. I do this for two reasons: Quality is better; and I don’t want the bookstore to see it came from CS.

I also use Ingram if I have to ship to AU, or UK, or anywhere in the world, except the US. And I use Ingram for an initial order to myself to keep for autographed books. Purchasing through Spark not only refunds your sign-up fee, it gives you an inventory of high-quality books to autograph. After all, the people who ask for autographed books are most likely your best customers. Give them your best material.

By the way, if you want to see a comparison on ebook distribution, I did one here a few months ago. Take a look.

Here is a short infographic that sums up most of what was discussed here.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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If you want to download the pdf of the Infographic, click the button below.
CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark — Download pdf

May 27, 2014

CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark Part 1

CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark

CreateSpace VS Ingram Spark

Print Book Distribution

I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between CreateSpace (CS) and Ingram (either Lightning Source or Spark). In almost every instance I walk away thinking that it wasn’t a fair comparison. And almost every discussion I’ve seen tends to be the same. The one common ground is that many people seem to have quite a bit of misinformation.

I hope I can provide a little objectiveness and help people decide which company they should choose for their print needs. Please note, this is not meant to be a comprehensive report on the self-publishing print options; this is a comparison of CS and Spark only. I didn’t even include Lightning Source because almost all new self-published authors are being steered to Spark for their print needs.

Features CreateSpace Ingram Spark
Changes No charge? $25
Cost per copy B&W 4.55 4.80
Cost per copy color 21.85 8.40
Cost of setup $0 $49**
Yearly fee $0 $12
Customer Service Excellent, instant chat online Good, but slow
Discount 40/60%* 40/55%
Distribution Amazon/Extended Worldwide
Ease of setup Very easy Learning process
Hardcover No Yes
Quality Good Excellent
Returns No Yes
Shipping Excellent US/Okay int’l Very good US/excellent int’l

Specifications used for book calculations—B&W and color: Paperback, 6×9, cream, perfect bound, gloss finish, 300 pages.

*Discounts are figured using both options with Ingram Spark. CS has only one option for expanded distribution. CS discount for Amazon is 40%, and for expanded distribution is 60%. Spark discount is your choice—40% or 55%. [Note: This can make a huge difference.]

**Spark will refund the set-up fee if you purchase 50 books within the first two months.


Calculations are for one book, to three locations, and standard shipping was figured in each case. In addition, I listed expedited and time estimated for delivery. All currency is local: US dollars, UK pounds, AU dollars.

US (#days) UK (#days) AU (#days)
CS–Standard 3.59 (13) £3.05 (40–45) 8.54 (40–50)
CS–Expedited 11.18 (5–7) £5.00 (15) 14.53 (21)
Spark–Standard 5.30 (10) £2.14 (10) 8.83 (10)
Spark–Expedited 9.23 (5–7) £5.25 (3) 11.51 (3)

As you can see from the chart, while CS is great for US shipping, it falls apart in the international arena. Their US shipping is even better than what they cite online, as I have found that deliveries usually arrive before their estimates. International is another story.

I did numerous giveaways on Goodreads, and I usually opened them to international readers. Three times I had to ship to AU. The first time I used CS and had to spend almost $30 to make sure it arrived within 2 weeks! Afterward I used Ingram and paid ⅓ the price and it still arrived in fewer than 10 days.

Ingram has worldwide distribution with printing facilities in many countries, so you can ship almost anywhere at reasonable prices, and, expect delivery in a reasonable time frame. The cost to ship to Queensland, AU, for example, (for me, from TX) is $19 and that includes the price of the book. If you intend to distribute internationally, this is a huge advantage.


Most of the authors I speak with know very little about discounts and how they work. They simply sign up with CS, and go about business. But remember, you’re not just an author; you are now in business for yourself, and you should pay attention to all the details, especially discounts. So, let’s take a little page time to review the basics.

Keep in mind that when we talk about discounts, this is the amount you are discounting the book off the retail price. This is not the amount of discount the bookstore receives. As an example, a 55% discount with Ingram means the bookstores would get a 40% discount off the retail price. So if your book retails at $15, they would buy it from Ingram at $9. Ingram keeps 15% ($2.25). You would be credited $6.75 ($15–55%) for each sale, from which you would have to deduct the cost of printing the book (4.80), which leaves you a profit of $1.95. [See tables below]

I tell you this so you don’t go telling the bookstores to expect a 55% discount. They’ll understand, but it will make you look naive. The easiest way to tell them is that you offer the “industry-standard discount,” and that the books are returnable. (If in fact they are.)

With CreateSpace the only option for expanded distribution is to offer a 60% discount. Of that, I believe the stores receive about 25%, so the breakdown looks like this. [Since I’m not positive of the split between CS and the bookstores, I am showing the portion which goes to them and to the author. Part of what CS keeps goes to the bookstores.]

On a $15 sale, CS takes $9 and you get $6. From that you need to deduct the cost of the book, which is $4.55, leaving you a profit of $1.45. From this example, you would think that the bookstores get $9, but they don’t. They don’t even get close to that. CS passes on about 45% of the discount to Ingram (who they use for distribution) and then Ingram takes their cut. The result is that the stores receive about 25% as a discount. That’s not enough to make them even consider stocking the book, but they will order it if a customer asks. Here’s how it breaks down:

CreateSpace (showing expanded distribution discount)

Retail Price for B&W Book $15.00
CS (60% discount) –9.00
Cost of book –4.55
Royalty to author 1.45

Ingram Spark (showing 40% discount)

Retail Price for B&W Book $15.00
Spark (40% discount) –6.00
Cost of book –4.80
Royalty to author 4.20

Let me show you what this looks like in terms of earnings for you based on each company’s price of a 300-page b&w book with their respective discounts at the different retailers. The table shows the CS discount to Amazon and expanded distribution. Ingram shows the options for 40%.

Based on retail price of $15 Profit if sold on Amazon Profit if sold anywhere else
CreateSpace 4.45 1.45
Ingram Spark 4.20 4.20

Spark shows only the 40% option for this chart so that we’re comparing apples to apples. If you don’t plan on active distribution into brick-and-mortar stores, you can keep your discount at Spark to 40%. That means with every book sold, no matter where it’s sold, you’ll earn $4.20. With CS you’ll only earn $4.45 on Amazon. All books sold at B&N (Barnes & Noble), or BAM (Books-A-Million), or any stores that happen to order from you, will earn you $1.45. That’s a big difference.

And if you’re thinking…but I want to get into bookstores, so I need the 55% discount…That’s fine. But then you’re not comparing apples to apples, because you’re not getting stocked in stores with CS, not without the stores getting a true industry-standard discount and the books being returnable, neither one of which CS does.

Part Two of This Post Will Be Published Next Week

We’ll be weighting all the other factors in more detail.

  • Ease of use
  • Customer service
  • Changes
  • Cost per copy details
  • ISBNs, Product selection
  • Returns
  • Time to publish
  • Quality
  • Shipping

And then we’ll wrap it up with a summary of pros and cons.

In the meantime, sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss future posts. If you sign up now, you can also download my novella, Finding Family, for free. The links for Kindle and ePub are below.

Kindle version

ePub version

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

May 13, 2014

Six Billion Ways to Develop Characters

Building From Scratch to Develop Characters

I was talking to an author last week about the writing process and she told me about a great character she had developed. I asked what role the character played in her book.

She said, “I’m not using him in this book. I’m saving him for the next one. Or maybe even the one after that.”

I looked at her and shook my head. “Why?”

She said, “He’s such a good character that I don’t want to waste him on this book.”

I laughed, and said, “There are six billion people in the world, and every one is unique. You will never run out of characters.”

Protest against anti-immigrant law

Protest against anti-immigrant law


She was afraid that if she used up that character she might not be able to create one as good. That’s worse than saying you’re afraid to use a word or a phrase to describe something. I have news for you, there are about 6,000 people in this world for every word in the English language. And that’s not counting the dead people.

At this point, you might be asking—what the hell do real people have to do with character development?

The answer is, they have everything to do with it.

Using real people is the best way to make your book shine. Using real people ensures that your book is filled with three-dimensional characters, complete with problems, conflicts, and their own unique personality.

 Using Real People to Develop Characters

Using real people is the best way to build a character. It’s best if you know the person well, but even if you don’t you can work magic. You don’t have to use the entire person, but the essence has to be there. If you make a character based on your cousin Mary, she can look like anything you want—as long as you use Mary’s personality. You can stuff that personality into any body—a blonde or brunette; fit and trim or overweight; sexy or plain; brown eyes or blue eyes; white skin or dark skin. None of that matters, with the exception of how it might affect personality.

The key is this—if you use Mary’s personality, make sure that when decisions are made, Mary is the one making them. Keep true to your characters.

Keeping Track Of Your Characters

The added benefit of using real characters is that it makes it easy for you to not only create the character, but to keep track of them. Now, in your character notes, all you have to do is write:

       >  “Doggs Caputo” (personality based on my brother Doggs, but with Uncle Ralph’s gambling).

If you do it this way, you don’t need to take many notes. No matter what happens, no matter what the situation, you know how your character will react, because you know the character he/she is based on.

You’ll know your character’s quirks and habits, and you’ll know how they’ll react to different situations. If “cousin Mary” twirls her hair when she’s nervous, your character will, and you won’t forget it. If she has to put on her glasses to read the fine print on a prescription, your character will too. And if a crisis strikes, you know how she’ll respond to that as well.

The best part of all of this is that when you are done, you’ll have characters that your readers can love, hate, envy, admire, or detest. No matter the emotion, the readers will love you for creating them.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

If you’re looking for more on character development, check out this post on invisible characters, or this one on secondary characters.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

Photo credit: Between Half-million and One Million People Protest against Anti-Immigrant Law

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