A Book Cover Must Make a Promise, and the story must Deliver it

How important is a book’s cover? Well, for an answer, The Midwest Book Review rejects books submitted for review if the cover doesn’t measure up to traditional industry standards. Midwest reviewers do not bother to open those books. They go in the recycle bin.

On Saturday, January 10, 2015, I attended the January meeting of the Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club to hear a presentation by Jim Azevedo, the Marketing Director of Smashwords. The title of his presentation was “The Secrets to Ebook Self-Publishing Success”. With a Power Point Presentation that had 72 screen shots, he focused on ten secrets, and the one that grabbed my attention was #2, Creating a SUPBERB cover image.

It was soon obvious to me that a book’s cover was probably one of the most important steps to publishing success after writing a riveting story that is professionally edited, because more than 26% of the presentation focused on the importance of an attention grabbing book cover that makes promises about the story.

Azevedo provided a case study of one cover that went through four changes. During the metamorphosis of this book’s cover from dull to boring, then interesting to sexy and hot, it was barely selling.

It wasn’t until the sexy and hot fourth cover in the sixth month that the novel took off and became an Apple iBoostore #5 bestseller, and today the book has been a New York Times Best Seller and is still selling well on Amazon—when I checked while writing this post, it was ranked #466 in competition with more than 12-million titles on Amazon.

The book I’m talking about is Playing for Keeps by R. L. Mathewson, and on Amazon it currently has a 4.5 average from 1,128 customer reviews. If you check out the paperback, you’ll discover cover number three (there were two clovers before #3 that are not worth seeing).

What does that #466 rank mean? The one-time “My Splendid Concubine” hit #56 on Amazon, it sold more than 2,000 copies in 24 hours. On January 13, Tuesday, the same novel sold three copies and was ranked #114,722.

Anyway, Smashwords’ Jim Azevedo got me thinking. The cover of my second novel, Running with the Enemy, wasn’t promising what readers would find in the story compared to the winning book covers that I saw in the presentation.

Now I have generated several choices to replace the current second e-book cover of “Running with the Enemy” (the paperback still has the first cover), and anyone who leaves a comment and votes helping me select the best cover will be entered in a drawing for a free e-book copy of the novel (or a paperback if the winner prefers one and lives in the United States). If the winner already read it, that’s okay. I’ll send the winner of the drawing a copy of my next novel when it comes out in a few months—“The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova”. It’s with the copy editor as I’m writing this Blog post and the cover is pretty much a done deal—I hope. And if the winner doesn’t want to read these two novels because they offer the theme or genre the winner prefers to read, then I will offer an Amazon “Give as a Gift” equal to the full price of the e-book.

If you decide to take part in helping me select a better cover for “Running with the Enemy”, there are four choices. Please indicate your choice in a comment. Thank you. To help you make a choice, I’ve copied after the five new cover choices the most helpful review on Amazon in addition to what a Writer’s Digest Judge said about the novel. In addition, if none of them work better than the current e-book cover, then I will return to the Adobe Elements editor and get back to work. The drawing for the winner will be held on February 1, 2015.

FIRST ROUND OF CHOICES

Resized and Low Res 4  Covers for Voting on 1-17

“Lloyd Lofthouse describes his book Running with the Enemy as a memoir that evolved into fiction. As a Vietnam veteran who had seen and experienced enough to leave him with post-traumatic stress disorder, he wrote this book it seems to come to terms with all he experienced in Vietnam. The book became fiction, an action novel with a strong romance component.

“Overall it rings true of war and what it was like to serve in Vietnam. Much of the book details the fighting, the casualties and the heartbreak and the trauma experienced by the soldiers. The book also takes you on a dizzying journey when the lovers Tuyen and Ethan flee to other countries in Southeast Asia – Laos, Cambodia, Bangkok, Thailand ,and Burma (Myanmar).

“For those who would like to get a sense of what combat was really like, this is an excellent book, which began as a memoir of Vietnam.” – A Novel of Combat by Harvee L.

“Obviously drawn from the author’s first-hand experiences as a Marine serving in Vietnam, Running with the Enemy is a rough but occasionally heartfelt war story. … The book is sometimes too obviously drawn from his experience. But ultimately that’s a small complaint about a book that, on the whole, is quite good and has a lot to say about the nature of the conflict .”  – 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards commentary from an anonymous judge

Note: This novel—awarded Honorable Mentions in four literary contests and a genre Runner-Up in a fifth literary contest—was targeted by a flock of Goodreads trolls at the time of its publication. Here is the review from one of the Trolls, that I linked to the group of Goodreads bullies, who  never bought or read the novel and gave it one-star on Amazon in an attempt to sabotage its sales and my reputation.

“Lofthouse’s attempt at a 60’s-era thriller is cliched, trite and rather boring. If you’re looking for a good read, check out Graham Greene’s Quiet American instead.” – Miss M

SECOND ROUND OF CHOICES on 1-22-2015

Thanks to comments and suggestions the choice has narrowed down to two covers. They look similar but both have different images on the top third of each cover—which one works best?

Low Res January 22 - two choices

 THIRD ROUND OF CHOICES ON 1-24-15

These two choices are based on the majority of comments from both Twitter and this post.

Jan 24 Low Def Final two choices of New Cover

FOURTH ROUND on 1-25-15

This may be the final cover. There were two more suggestions after I posted the choices for the third round. One suggestion was for a compromise between A & B, and the second suggestion was to take the kissing couple and make them partially opaque/transparent. I used the burn tool on Adobe Elements to take away some of the brightness in the stars and scanned the couple with the Eraser set at 5% Opacity. I started at 20% Opacity and worked down to 5% in several stages, and discovered that anything more than 5% and the lovers started to vanish into the starry sky. This cover revision is still open for suggestions until February 1, 2015, and I thank everyone who is taking part in the process.

Low Res Final  Cover on Jan 25

The Winner of the Drawing for February 1, 2015 was:

Poetic Justice
@ http://poeticjusticect.com/

The details of the giveaway were:

“anyone who leaves a comment and votes helping me select the best cover will be entered in a drawing for a free e-book copy of the novel (or a paperback if the winner prefers one and lives in the United States). If the winner already read it, that’s okay. I’ll send the winner of the drawing a copy of my next novel when it comes out in a few months—“The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova”. It’s with the copy editor as I’m writing this Blog post and the cover is pretty much a done deal—I hope. And if the winner doesn’t want to read these two novels because they don’t offer the theme or genre the winner prefers to read, then I will offer an Amazon “Give as a Gift” equal to the full price of the e-book.”

_______________________

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

His fourth novel is The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Book Cover and Blurb to use in promotions

Lloyd Lofthouse also worked as a maître d’ in a nightclub called the Red Onion for a few years. A romantic at heart, in his award winning novels, he tests true love in difficult situations and the challenges of keeping that love alive. My Splendid Concubine, his first novel, is an epic love story that teaches acceptance and respect for other people and their cultures. Running with the Enemy, his second novel is a love story that will either cost the characters their lives or will complete each other’s hearts. Lloyd Lofthouse lives with his family in California’s San Francisco Bay area.

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A Writer’s Cave—Here’s mine

On a recent Wednesday night near sunset, I looked out my writer’s cave window and saw this scene. The front of the house faces the sunset, and I ran outside and snapped off four shots with a borrowed smart phone.

One

Then I asked myself, why not do a post showing where I write—the clutter, the mess. A digital camera made this silly idea easy.

The first shot is toward the north, the second shot east, and the third faces south. The last one faces west from inside the house toward my desk and the window.

Two

 

Three

 

Four

 

Five

I built all the bookshelves and drawers. Did you notice the wood carving of a fight scene from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms? There’s a story behind that wood sculpture to share one day.

This post was written to avoid editing and revising a manuscript. I spend a lot of time in this ninety-square-foot room facing the sunset. It’s amazing how much space we actually use most of the time.

_______________________

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

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!”

How Blogging helped me find Readers and sell Books

It seems that many authors think that if they are not writing a book, it’s a waste of their time. For instance, producing a blog. If you are an author who thinks that way, I suggest you think again, and learn how to blog properly.

To make a point, I’m not going to start out talking about blogging. I’m going to mention poetry. Back in the early 1980s, I fell in love with writing poetry when I took a summer workshop from a Pulitzer Prize winning poet while I was working toward an MFA in writing.

I have never earned any money from my poetry, but I write it anyway and post my poems on Authors Den. The 124 poems I’ve posted there have had almost 80-thousand views. My latest poem, Smartphone, has had more than 50 views so far, and I posted it this week.

My fifty-five articles on Authors Den have had almost 50-thousand views, and the fifty-two news pieces I posted there have had more than 23-thousand views.

In fact, the excerpts of my three books on Authors Den total almost 72-thousand views.

There’s also one short story, and it’s had 1,917 views. I also published A Night at the Well of Puritya finalist in the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards—on one of my blogs where it’s had another 125 views.

The idea behind all of this free stuff that I write is to attract readers who might decide to buy and read one or more of my books, and I also enjoy doing it.

But the Authors Den stats are nothing compared to the views on the Blog I launched to support my first book, My Splendid Concubine, a novel that’s sold more than 20-thousand copies. iLookChina.net has 7,481 followers and more than 500-thousand views. In fact, I can track the before and after sales of the novel this blog supports as part of my branded internet author platform.

As I’m writing this post, iLookChina currently has 1,897 posts, and I wrote most of them. So far, for 2014, the site averages 239 views a day. I launched iLookChina in late January 2010, but Concubine only sold 221 copies its first year in 2008, and to promote the book that year, I was on 31-radio talk shows as a China expert, held several author events in local brick-and-mortar bookstores, and conducted two book-blog tours—but I wasn’t blogging.

How has blogging translated into sales of My Splendid Concubine? Well, by the end of 2010—after I had written and published more than 1,000 posts on iLookChina, Concubine sold 2,375 copies that year—more than four times the combined sales of the first-two years. In 2011, Concubine sold another 4,641 copies, and in 2012, four thousand one-hundred-fifty-eight sold, and more than five thousand in 2013.

In addition, in 2009, before I launched iLookChina.net, Concubine sold only 341 books for an average of 28 a month—that’s less than one a day. Over the years, I’ve launched several other blogs and published two more books, a thriller called Running with the Enemy, and a memoir called Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé.

There’s another benefit to writing more than just books. The more an author writes—even Blog posts or poetry that readers may view free—the better the author’s writing becomes, and when I took an all-day blogging workshop from Bill Belew through the South Bay branch of the California Writers Club in late 2007, Belew said we can write a Blog and eventually turn what we write into a book.

What I don’t do on my blogs is write that much about me, my writing habits, or my books. This post is one of the exceptions. Instead, I focus on China, its history, its politics, its culture and its people. For the blog, The Soulful Veteran, that supports my thriller, I write mostly about war, combat, military issues, PTSD, etc. For my third book, a memoir, I write about teaching, public education, children and parenting at Crazy Normal.  Then there’s this blog, Lloyd Lofthouse.org, where I write on any topic that strikes my fancy. I’ve even written about Growing up with Oranges.

After every post I publish, there’s a line that separates the post from a short bio of me and a blurb about my books with links—scroll down to see what I’m talking about. To learn more about how to Blog properly, I suggest you start out by watching the two videos from Bill Belew that are embedded in this post. Because Belew taught me how to blog, why not let him teach you too?


This presentation explains how to overcome the obstacle to getting started with your blog and web site. Bill Belew is an SEO and web traffic guru – a real one. No fancy tricks. Just long hard and long lasting effort.

In conclusion, if you read this far, thank you for visiting. You may never buy or read one of my books, but you might tell someone about this post who will. Think about it.

_______________________

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!”

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.

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

A New World of Publishing

I rode BART into SF and hiked up Powell Street to The Sir Francis Drake Hotel to attend the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival that started at 11:00 am on May 18, and discovered by 9:45 pm—almost eleven hours later when I hiked back to BART to ride home—that giving up a day of writing was worth what I learned and the connections I made.

I think the event was more for writers than readers and considering the number of writers and want-to-be writers in the Bay area there should have been more people in attendance to learn about today’s fast changing publishing environment.

But many of today’s authors have no idea how important it is to learn all you can to understand how challenging it is to attract an audience in addition to the dangers that can destroy an author’s career.

The six-scheduled free discussions—open to the public—were packed with information from journalists, writers, poets, publicists, and traditionally published or indie published authors with a wide range of experience.

The first panel of four met at 11:00 am and focused on the art of marketing and promotion—an examination of what it takes to get your work noticed in a crowded marketplace.

To understand how crowded, Bowker says, “The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and “e” titles.”

For comparison, traditional publishers put out between 300,000 and 350,000 new titles annually but the average avid reader only reads 9 or 10 books a year. Do the math and you will understand why it is important to get out there and compete for readers—that is if you are interested in anyone reading your work.

In addition, reading books isn’t dying as some fear—but the way people read books is changing drastically.

R. R. Bowker reports, “that Gen Y’s 2011 book expenditures rose to 30 percent—up from 24 percent in 2010—passing Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) 25 percent share. And with 43 percent of Gen Y’s (born 1978 – 1990) purchases going to online channels, they are adding momentum to the industry shift to digital.

And the Los Angeles Times says, “Total trade book sales in the U.S. reached $7.1 billion in 2012, up from $6.7 billion the prior year.”

“The book industry is operating in a new and dynamic landscape that puts much more power in the hands of consumers,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice-president of Bowker Market Research. “Consumers can now very easily purchase virtually any book they want, whenever they want it and get it at a competitive price. It’s more essential than ever before to understand who is buying and what their expectations and habits are.” Source: Bowker.com

During the first break of the SF Book Festival, I met Jean Davidson, Ph.D., the author of two nonfiction books: Mother of Fire and The Ostrich Wakes—two books I now want to read after talking to her.

Then I had a brief conversation with Porter Gale, the author of Your Network is Your Net Worth. Gale was the former VP of Marketing at Virgin America with more than twenty years of experience working in marketing and filmmaking. I wanted to talk longer but the next lecture started at 1:00 pm, and I did not get a chance to reconnect.

The 1:00 – 2:10 pm panel topic was Writing About your Life.  Because my next book is a memoir, I wanted to hear what the four experienced authors had to say. For example, one member of the panel was Dean Dimitrieski—the winner of the Biography/Autobiography category of the festival—who wrote Tears For My City.

I wanted to attend the 2:30 – 3:30 pm panel on Children’s Books in a Modern Age, but during the break I got into a conversation with Lone Morch, the author of Seeing Red, and then talked with Patty Kogutek, the author of A Change of Habit—and met her husband, a Vietnam vet who has led a fascinating life—and felt it was worth staying.

At 3:40 pm, there was a powerful and dramatic poetry reading by Dr. Neal Hall, a multi-award winning poet quickly followed at 4:10 with an active panel of five discussing The Future of Books. Three of the five panelists combined had at least eighty years of experience in publishing/journalism. This was followed by an inspiring presentation by Richie Norton, who wrote the grand-prize winner The Power of Starting Something Stupid.

At 5:00, the free admission portion of the book festival ended, and off I went through the streets of San Francisco to have dinner at the Millennium Restaurant.

At 7:00, the award winners returned to attend the award ceremony of the festival—with open bar and a buffet—where I learned that less than five-percent of the authors and poets who submitted entries to this festival’s literary contest were honored with recognition from the judging staff of authors, publishers, journalists, agents, directors and others committed to supporting the literary community. After months of hard work where these judges read, discussed, analyzed and even argued, the list of award winners was announced leading to May 18.

I’m already planning to attend the 2014 San Francisco Book Festival.

Discover The Need To Edit and Authors Finding Readers

_______________________

Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition].

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. 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.

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