Thank you for asking me to review your book, but …

Occasionally, an e-mail arrives in my overcrowded inbox—like one did today—from an author asking me to review a book, and 99.9 percent of the time I say no. Then I offer advice on where to seek reviews from what I have learned since I launched my first title in December 2007.

Does that mean I don’t read books?  Of course I read books. I have exactly sixteen very patient tree-books waiting on my bedside table. Some have been waiting to be read for months. I also have four audio books (on CDs) waiting for me to review. These days, I read more books with my ears than my eyes.

Hint—ask avid readers for reviews who don’t write books. The odds of hearing a yes might be better.

The reason why I don’t accept 99.9 percent of books authors ask me to review is due to the fact that I’m usually spending fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM working on my next book, or promoting the books I’ve already published. For instance, it’s Sunday and I’ve been at it since before 6:00 this morning. I did take a break to walk two miles and eat. I’m eating now as I write this and it’s almost 4:00 PM.

I even force myself to get out of my chair and walk to the bathroom when the call comes, and Monday through Friday, I spend an hour a day exercising with weights and aerobics—something I get out of the way as early as possible.

Here’s some of the advice I offer:

I understand the hunger for reviews, so I suggest starting out with a Library Thing Giveaway in addition to hiring an internet publicist—my publicist is Teddy Rose—for a few hundred dollars to arrange a book blog tour that might generate a few more reviews that appear on Amazon and on blogs that review the book.

You might even want to attempt a Goodreads Giveaway, but be warned, there are trolls who are members of Goodreads dedicated to trashing books—that they never read—with rotten reviews and 1-star ratings, and that even happens on Amazon. Trolls are mean, sneaky, mentally ill people addicted to anonymously hurting others, and standing up to them just motivates the trolls to be meaner. Consider these trolls to be the Ebola virus of the internet. If you question why there are such people on the earth, think about Hitler, Stalin, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

You may not know this, but last year when I decided to stand up to a flock of Goodreads trolls who attacked me and my work, one of them predicted my career as an author was over—more than seven thousand copies of my work has been sold since that flame war.

Once a book has garnered enough positive reviews to be considered, I suggest submitting to sites such as BookBub or eReaderNews Today and then, if they accept the book for a paid e-mail blast advertisement—you have to offer it for sale at a reduced price or for free—be aware that not everyone who reads a book will review it, but a few might.

For instance, My Splendid Concubine had an e-mail blast from BookBub earlier this month, and the book has already garnered two, great 5-star reviews from verified purchases and one review from a troll that wasn’t a verified purchase—most trolls are too cheap to even pay 99 cents for a book they plan to trash. Since this June’s BookBub blast, as of this morning, Concubine has sold more than 3,000 copies.

There’s also eBookBooster to announce a book that is going on sale. Click the link and discover for yourself what eBookBooster offers and what it costs, and never forget that there are no guarantees for anything you do as an author to promote your work.

The truth is that for most authors, it takes time, patience and persistence to attract readers, reviews and build an audience. Because there’s a lot of competition from other authors, that means readers and sites like BookBub get to reject books and even ignore them if they aren’t interested.

There’s also another reputable site I know of to submit a book for a possible review, but even The Midwest Book Review only accepts about a third of the books sent to them. For instance, Midwest reviewed my first book, My Splendid Concubine, but didn’t review my second book, Running with the Enemy.

Midwest will not tell you that they haven’t accepted your book for a review or the reason why. What happens when a book is not reviewed by Midwest is that you will never hear from them. If they review the book, they will contact you and send you a copy of the review.

Also, be aware that Amazon will not allow sites like Midwest to post reader reviews. That doesn’t mean Midwest sells fake reviews, but it does mean that Amazon has a policy not to allow any review that was paid for to be posted on their site as a reader review.

Midwest reviews are free for paperbacks but not for e-books. Because Midwest charges a fee for e-books submitted to be reviewed, that disqualifies all Midwest reviews from being posted on Amazon as reader reviews even though they are reader reviews. Here’s my disclaimer—I have never paid Midwest for a review, because I have always submitted paperback copies to them.

Does that mean reviews that Amazon will not allow to be posted on their site can’t appear on the Amazon page of your book?

Unless Amazon changes their policies and rules, any reviews that Amazon rejects as a reader review may be posted through Amazon Author Central. To see what I mean, I suggest you visit the Amazon pages for My Splendid Concubine and Running with the Enemy.  Scroll down and read each Book Description and/or the Editorial Reviews section, where the awards and some pull quotes from reviews are posted. These appear before the reader reviews.

These are legitimate awards and reviews that come from reputable sources. The literary contests charged entry fees for juried literary contests that offer no guarantee that a book will earn an award. In fact, I have been told by the book festival organizers that less than five percent of submissions earn awards.

In addition, next time someone tells you that it’s wrong to pay a fee to enter a literary contest, consider this: The National Book Award that is announced in the national media annually, charges an entry fee of $135 for each title submitted, and the Pulitzer Prize charges authors/publishers a $50 entry fee and again charges to attend the award ceremony where an author, who is a finalist, might not win. The National Book Award and the Pulitzer are considered by the media to be two of the most prestigious literary awards in the United States and possibly the world.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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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