The Realty of Honest Reviews and Book Blog Tours

Last Saturday, March 1, 2014, I received an e-mail from the publicist who arranged the March Book Blog Tour for my novel, Running with the Enemy. She was writing to let me know that one of the tour hosts who’d agreed to read my book and review it on her blog wasn’t going to read it and there wasn’t going to be a review posted on that Blog (I’ve removed the blog’s name and it’s host’s name from this post).

Here’s the reason for the change: “I wanted to let you know that (the book Blog host) handed the book off to one of her other readers who requested it. She never told me that it was for one of her reviewers and not herself.  That reader found it too violent and couldn’t finish it. (The blog host) won’t be posting a review but will be posting a spotlight of the book instead.  I really have to wonder if there are people who think you soldiers were out in the field eating bonbons, rather than shedding blood for your country!  I thought I made it crystal clear in the invitation that this was not a feel good, romanticized fluff novel.”

Here’s my response to the publicist who arranged the tour:

It’s understandable that many readers in North America and Europe might be repulsed by the violence in the novel, because more than 93% of Americans, for instance, have never served in the military and even fewer have fought in a war.

There are more than 316 million Americans today, but only 1.8 million served in the Korean War; 2.7 million in the Vietnam War, and 2.3 million in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

That means that in the United States, less than 2% (this number is probably much smaller due to the deaths of veterans over time) of the population has been exposed to the violence of war. Only a combat veteran understands what it’s like and we’re an often misunderstood minority most Americans would rather sweep under the carpet.

Low Res e-book and paperback covers joined December 13

e-book cover                                     paperback cover

In fact, the only exposure to war most North Americans experience is the romanticized, sanitized, Hollywoodized versions of war that is one of the reasons I joined the US Marines in 1965 thinking of glory and not gore. Over the years, I’ve only seen a couple of films that came close to real combat. Most films are fantasies that glorify boozing, violence and sex, and the few scenes of violence are usually edited (sanitized). This may explain why the big money makers from Hollywood are usually fantasies or cartoons like the recent Lego film that a neighbor said was silly.

It was in the summer of 1965 in MCRD (Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego) that I started to wake up to a reality often not found in films. That summer of training was harsh and demanding where fear coursed through our blood daily as the drill instructors pushed us to the physical and mental brink of collapse and sometimes beyond to strip us of our ignorant innocence and convert us into killing machines willing to die on command.

Then right out of boot camp, we were shipped to Vietnam, where my childhood dreams of glory and heroism from watching John Wayne movies (and other films) evaporated and never returned.  Instead, I came home in 1966 a heavy drinker with a heavy dose of PTSD and night flashbacks so vivid that I often awoke in a cold sweat in a semi nightmare state where I was back in the battlefield being hunted by the Vietcong.

Even to this day, I feel helpless if I don’t have a weapon within easy reach—a knife or a firearm. I still sleep with a .38 caliber pistol. If I lock that weapon up in the gun safe, I can’t sleep. I lay awake all night listening to every sound wondering how long it would take me to open the safe if someone broke in the house.

My medical provider is the Veterans Administration (VA), and on the door to the VA clinic I go to is a sign that says we have to leave any weapons in our cars—don’t bring them inside.

When I stopped swilling the booze back in the early 80s—after my first marriage ended—I started to manage the anger that comes with the PTSD so it wouldn’t consume me and destroy my life totally. The anger is always there like a simmering volcano that occasionally flares up. This may explain why I prefer the life of an introvert. Crowds make me nervous.

Running with the Enemy, although fiction, represents what I experienced in combat, and why I used that 1880 General William Tecumseh Sherman quote to open the book.

War, like rape, is hell. War does things to most of the troops who actually fight in combat. It’s also why I can’t condemn combat troops who end up committing atrocities like the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam or what happened in Abu Gharib prison in Iraq where there was torture and abuse. Those troops didn’t need to go to prison for what they did. They needed help to recover from the combat trauma that ruined their lives. Maybe a mental hospital/prison would have been a better place to end up with help to heal if healing was possible.

Many if not all of us who joined the military mostly do so out of patriotism—naive and innocent we went off to war singing patriotic songs, and then, like a Dr. Jekyll, many of us combat veterans came back as a Mr. Hyde changed for the worse. For us who manage our demons and stay mostly in control, we must always be on guard to control the dark stain on our souls that was birthed in combat.

Running with the Enemy, not for the faint of heart, is on sale for .99 cents through March (2014) and in April the price returns to $3.99. A few pull quotes from reviews might paint a more complete picture of the story.

A judge for the 21st Writers Digest Self-Published Awards said, “Quite good and has a lot to say about the nature of conflict.” Another reviewer said, “Well written with very graphic language and violent scenes, but a very good suspense book.” A third reviewer said, “I was sucked in by the nitty gritty feng shui of the book; then repelled by the sexual violence.”

The reality is that as authors—if we are honest—we have no control over how any reader will respond to our work.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran and English-journalism teacher.

His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy that started life as a memoir and then became a fictional suspense thriller. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

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Learning Twitter for authors; then tweeting magic

Several years ago I joined Twitter and set up an automatic feed from my first Blog—iLookChina.net; then I ignored Twitter for more than four years. I had no idea how to use Twitter or Facebook properly. Both sites confused me and Facebook still does.

In fact, it’s been so long since I signed up for my Twitter account, I had to visit Twopcharts.com to discover that I first signed up on March 16, 2009—1,782 days counting back from January 31, 2014, but I started building my author’s platform December 2007 when I launched my first website. The blogs came later, and after I started to seriously blog in 2010, sales took off from 341 for 2009 to 2,375 for 2010, and in 2013, my work sold 5,044 books—the best year yet.

Then last May—1,531 days or 4.19 years after I signed up for my Twitter account—I was encouraged by another author to seriously start working it. A week later a speaker at the Berkeley Branch of the California Writers Club (est. 1906 by Jack London and friends)—where I am a member—told the audience that writers/authors needed to be on Twitter—that Twitter was crucial for an author’s platform.

Still not sure how to use Twitter, I found a short tutorial and read it; then turned to YouTube and watched several videos. The embedded videos in this post may give you an idea of what YouTube has to offer.

On May 25, 2013, I posted my first original tweet—Historical Novel Review says “written in gritty way enhanced by vivid compelling descriptions that seem too real” @ http://goo.gl/gPnwP 

Since then—for the 251 days before January 31, 2014—I retweeted or posted almost 35,000 times, and I’m still learning how to use Twitter properly.

In those first-four years while I was doing little to nothing with Twitter beyond automatic feeds from my first Blog, my Twitter page attracted about 400 followers.

But since May 25, 2013 that number has improved dramatically; when I starting writing this post, I had more than 4,200 followers and was following more than 4,600.  I’m also retweeting and tweeting three times a day when possible—a morning Twitter session; another one in the afternoon, and a third in the evening. I know there are sites—like Hootsuite—that offer automatic feeds of one kind or another, but I haven’t taken advantage of that yet. I’m still thinking about it.

I’ve also discovered that everyone on Twitter doesn’t tweet the same way. For instance, there are those—it seems—who tweet an endless stream of thank you, thank, thank you, and don’t say much of anything else. Then there are others who tweet stuff that doesn’t work well for retweeting.

I have now developed a routine where I post two originals tweets together and then retweet (RT) others five or more times who retweeted one of my originals. The reason I follow this pattern is so anyone who retweets my tweets won’t have to scroll far down the page to find one to RT, because I’ve learned that it isn’t always easy to find something to RT when you have to scroll for several minutes past hundreds of tweets searching for one that’s worth retweeting.

Anyway, I maintain four Blogs and in each pair of original tweets I post, I Tweet something that includes a shortened link that leads back to one of my blog posts [where I have written and published more than 2,200 posts], Websites or my books on Amazon. I almost never thank anyone for retweeting my tweets. Instead, I visit their Twitter page and RT something interesting they tweeted—if I can find something interesting.

The results of this effort and then some [the following numbers are based on referrers for All time]:

By 6:46 PM on Thursday, January 30, 2014, my Soulful Veteran Blog had a total of 160 visitors who had arrived from Twitter; 2,046 from search engines; 474 from the Website for My Splendid Concubine; 10 from my Facebook page, and 3 from Google +.

iLookChina.net has had 529 visitors arrive from Twitter; 234,889 from search engines; 1,284 from Facebook, and 520 from Google +.

Crazy Normal—my blog about education, teaching and parenting—has had 407 visitors from Twitter; 254 from DianeRavitch.net; 93 from Facebook; 9,765 from search engines, and 50 from Google +.

For my signature Website/Blog—Lloyd Lofthouse.org—925 arrived from Twitter; 8,214 through search engines; 1,849 from Yahoo! (where I leave comments in news piece forums); 479 from Facebook; 11 from LinkedIn, and one from Google +.

Note that this isn’t the entire list of referrals to my Blogs—visitors arriving from other sites and sources.

As for book sales, there’s no way to link sales to Twitter, Facebook, Google +, my Blogs/Websites or any other site, but my first two novels have sold almost twenty thousand copies and continue to sell steadily.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

 

Discover how Amazon changed book cover design and why authors need to pay attention

There’s a reason that the Midwest Book Review [est. 1976] rejects books from the covers before even opening the book to discover the story inside. To learn more, I suggest you read what Midwest has to say about The Importance of Book Covers.

Midwest says, “[Titles] are rejected for having cover art that looked like the product of a high-school drawing class assignment for beginners. Cover art that was so avant-garde that it left all mainstream sensibilities bewildered in its wake. Cover art that looked cheap, felt cheap, was cheap.”

The same logic applies for readers who are in search of a good read. The first thing readers see is the cover and there are too many books to choose from. The cover that wins the contest for the eyes usually means the book is picked up and opened.

Because of this, the first book I published that ended up with two covers was “My Splendid Concubine’s” 3rd edition when a fellow author said the paperback cover wasn’t working on Amazon as a thumbnail sized cover. I think it was because there was too much detail in the original art work.

LowRes_e-book-and-paperback-cover-together

The reason why authors need to rethink book covers has been explored by C.K. Abbott on her blog. She says, “Paperback book covers have to perform different jobs than Kindle covers.”

Here’s where I may have made my mistake—twice. For both “My Splendid Concubine’s” 3rd edition and “Running with the Enemy”, my first two novels, I commissioned an artist to create original art quilts and then took photos of the quilts to convert into book covers—those impressive art quilts now hang on our bedroom wall.

But here’s the twist. It’s all in the size. What looks great large doesn’t always work in a smaller size.

The original quilt for Concubine was 23 inches wide by 31 long, and the quilt for “Running with the Enemy” was 21 x 27. After I took the photographs, I shrunk them to 5.5 x 8.5 for the paperback covers.  On Amazon, those same covers were even smaller and the rich details in the original quilts were lost.

As an indie author in charge of every step of book production, it’s possible to get carried away—like I did—when it comes to experimenting with other art forms to create original book covers.

In another Blog post, Scarlett Rugers discusses how to choose the right font for your eBook cover. Rugers is an award winning book cover designer from Melbourne, and the work she displays on her site is stunning.

But cover art appears in more places than on a paperback or Amazon. Cover art needs to be effective in both a thumbnail and larger-than-life on a poster and Read Owl.com discusses this topic in Seven Tips for Great Cover Design.

Low Res e-book and paperback covers joined December 13

And at Book View Cafe.com we learn: “It is a fact that most potential customers for any particular ebook will first encounter the cover image as a thumbnail. With that in mind, cover designers have trended toward simple art, toward large type size rendered in straightforward fonts. Cover illustrations have been demoted to lesser importance. Graphic considerations reign.

“Unfortunately, far too many ebook designers are still thinking like print book designers. The only difference is they have applied the rule of making covers that are legible at thumbnail size. They’re repeating that mantra until they throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

If you want to see more stunning book covers, check out the winners of the e-Book Cover Design Awards, September 2013, by clicking on this link for The Book Designer.com.

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Lofthouse’s first novel was the award winning historical fiction My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. His second novel was the award winning thriller Running with the Enemy. His short story A Night at the “Well of Purity” was named a finalist of the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. His wife is Anchee Min, the international, best-selling, award winning author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1992).

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”