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!”

Real-world author events are usually overrated unless you are Christina Oxenberg

Being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of a situation should not be underrated.

Taryn Ryder, writing for omg!, reported [claimed] that Gwyneth Paltrow hijacked the East Hampton Library’s 9th Annual Authors Night on  Saturday, August 10.

And Christina Oxenberg may have been the loudest complainer quoted by the media. Oxenberg complained about the number of people who came to see the A-list actress.  Then Oxenberg complained about the A-list actress’s healthy vegan lifestyle and decided to eat unhealthy food at her author table next to Paltrow to rub it in and of course get more attention.

How many authors were at this event? Ryder failed to mention that in her omg! piece.

IMDb reported, “Paltrow was one of about a hundred writers who gathered for the East Hampton Library’s Authors Night … and she was seated — “due to the inflexibility of the alphabet” — next to writer Christina Oxenberg at the fund-raising event. Paltrow was signing her cookbook “It’s All Good,” Oxenberg her latest book “Life Is Short: Read Short Stories.”

Christina Oxenberg should get down on her knees and thank God that Paltrow’s table was next to her’s, because now Oxenberg and her work has been exposed to millions of readers who would have never heard of her. I never heard of her. Have you heard of her?

I think that’s why Oxenberg acted like a smart “ass” to make sure she was noticed and quoted by the media. After all, even bad publicity is better than no publicity. Besides, the media doesn’t pay much attention to someone being polite and nice. In fact, I think you have to be an “ass” to get media exposure and Oxenberg was smart enough not to miss this chance at priceless national media exposure.

Until I read Ryder’s omg! piece, I didn’t know that Oxenberg even existed, and that led me to search Amazon to find out what she writes. The book that Oxenberg was plugging at this one-hundred author event was “Life is Short”.

I couldn’t find “Life is Short” on Amazon, but I did find “Royal Blue”; “Do These Gloves Make My Ass Look Fat?” and “Taxi”.

My wife is an A-list author who has lectured to hundreds of people in sold-out events across the country. But it wasn’t always that way. In 1994, when her first book, Red Azalea, came out—before it became a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and went on to win the Carl Sandburg Award—she had author events in bookstores where no one came.

In addition, I’ve been to a few of my own author events—as a lowly midlist author—ranging from no one showing up to a full house with standing room only, but none of those events sold many books. Even a dozen sales was considered good but can’t compare to one ad on BookBub that sold more than 1,900 copies of my work in one day. I’d be willing to bet that there wasn’t one author at the East Hampton Library’s 9th Annual Authors Night who sold that many books at the event—not even Gwyneth Paltrow.

The best thing that ever happened to Christina Oxenberg as an author was sitting next to Gwyneth Paltrow. It was like winning the lottery. I wonder if Oxenberg realizes that yet.

What did I learn? When opportunity knocks, make sure to open the door like Oxenberg did and make a smart ass of myself unless I’m too much of a dumb ass to even notice.

_______________________

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!”

Authors Finding Readers – Part 4/4

How does an author build an Internet platform to attract readers to his or her work?

Here’s how I did it and it seems to have worked for my first three novels:

I launched iLookChina.net (my first proper Blog after taking three workshops on the subject), the platform for my first-three historical-fiction novels set in 19th century China. Instead of writing about the writing process and my angst as a writer, as I have discovered many authors do with his or her Blog/s, I focused on topics about China and the Chinese.

Does that make sense?

Here are the results:

I launched iLook China.net near the end of January 2010. Since launching the Blog, I have posted more than 1,500 articles about China and the Chinese.

However, my first novel, My Splendid Concubine was released December 2007.

Sales in 2008 = 221 copies.

Sales in 2009 = 341 copies.

After I launched a Blog to support the novels, sales for 2010 = 2,375 copies (a 696% increase in sales over 2009 when I did not have a proper platform Blog).

Sales in 2011 = 4,641 copies.

So far, sales in 2012 have reached more than 2,700.

As of 6:10 PST on August 19, 2012, iLookChina.net had 285,272 all-time views that I’m sure have contributed to almost 10,000 book sales.

What do these numbers say? Answer: It is crucial for an author to identify the interests of his or her potential readers before building and branding a proper Internet platform.

For example, if an author publishes a cookbook, he or she should consider a Blog about food.

There is more to building an author Internet Platform than just launching a Blog. For example, in 2008, I was a guest on 31 radio talk shows (only one was a Blog radio station) and I have linked from my Website to a few of the reviews that were converted to podcasts.

Recently, actually this morning (as I worked on this series of posts), I read a piece by David Vinjamuri for Forbes.com called Publishing Is Broken, We’re Drowning in Indie Books – And That’s a Good Thing.  It’s a long piece but worth reading for anyone that wants to learn about the current state of publishing. Near the end of Vinjamuri’s six-page on-line article, he says that Indie books must get reviewed, and from the start back in 2008, getting reviews was one of my goals.

I do not pay for reviews, but I have been on three Internet book tours of my work and I paid publicists to organize these Blog tours, which generated maybe 50 – 60 reviews. Most were positive. A few were not. I also submitted my work to literary contests and lost more than I earned some recognition in.

The most valuable reviews came from Writer’s Digest judges (my work has had two); The Midwest Book Review (three); City Weekend Magazine in China; and Historical Novels Review Online—all reputable, established media sources linked to traditional publishing, and this is the quality of reviews/recognition for Indie work that Vinjamuri says Indie authors need to prove credibility equal to that of traditionally published authors.

In addition, I belong to Authors Den, write reviews for Amazon Vine, LL Book Review, leave comments on other Blogs for posts that interest me (the posts I leave comments on have to really interest me—if they do not, I don’t leave a comment).

I belong to other on-line social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Historical Fiction eBooks, and the Independent Authors Guild to name a few where I spend time commenting in chats, etc.

One fact for sure: there is NO guarantee that anything an author does will attract a sizable reading audience.  In fact, there is no guarantee that the Blog/Internet platform I’m building for my next novel, Running with the Enemy, will succeed in finding readers interested in that story.

Unless an author belongs to the rarified A-list of the most successful authors that have sold hundreds of thousands or millions of books, each book an author publishes is another venture into the unknown. For example, one of the most successful Indie authors is Amanda Hocking, and it took her about nine years of hard work building her platform before she graduated to the A-list that most authors will never join.

In conclusion, I want to share a few more depressing thoughts—According to Mental Floss, Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix, in the United States:

1. One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

2. Forty-Two percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

3. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

4. Seventy percent of U.S., adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

5. Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion.

Then, according to a 98-page, 2007-study by the National Endowment for the Arts, reading is declining as an activity among teenagers.

1. Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers.

2. The percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period.

3. For age 9, fifty-four percent read for fun almost every day; for age 13, thirty percent read for fun almost every day but by age 17, only 22% do.

4. The percentage of college graduate that read literature was 82% in 1982 down to 67% by 2002, and 65% of college freshman read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all.

5. Literary readers are more than twice (43%) as likely as non-readers (16%) to do volunteer or do charity work.

6. Deficient readers are far more likely than skilled readers to be high school dropouts. Half of American’s Below-Basic readers failed to complete high school—a percentage gain of 5 points since 1992.

Now, do you understand why writers and authors have to promote to find his or her readers?

Return to Authors Finding Readers – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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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

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!”

Authors Finding Readers – Part 2/4

In 2010, the ABA’s Bookselling this Week reported, “Based on the two Verso surveys, which were statistically weighted to mirror the U.S. population age 18 or older, avid readers (those who spend five or more hours a week reading) comprise 28 percent of the population. These readers skew older into the Boomer cohort, and 63 percent – or approximately 39 million – are female. Importantly, actual book purchase behavior showed a similar pattern in the Verso survey, with avid readers buying 10 or more books a year. … Older Americans represent two-thirds of avid readers …”

If those numbers hold true today, that means there are about 63 million avid readers in the US age 18 or older reading an average of 10 books a year and there are about 3.3 million new titles to choose from if we do not count books published in previous years.

Stephen’s Lighthouse.com reported, “Bowker released its much-anticipated 2009 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Report today, providing the U.S. book industry with the most complete consumer-based research on who buys books and why. … Women lead men in overall purchases, contributing 64% of sales. Even among detective and thriller genres, women top 60% of the sales. Where do men catch up? Fantasy titles are purchased evenly by men and women. … Americans like people. The biggest selling non-fiction genre is biography – auto and otherwise.”

Then German Book Office New York, Inc. says, “According to the 2011 United States Census Bureau, in 2010, 37.9% (75.8 million adults) of Americans read a book within the last 12 months, with 20.8% (41.6 million adults) reading two or more times a week; 3.6% (7.2 million adults) reading once a week; 3.8% (7.6 million adults) reading two or three times a month; 2.8% (5.6 million adults) reading once a month, and 2.5% (5 million adults) of American participated in a book club in the past 12 months.

“The Harris Poll surveyed over 2,000 adults online between July 11 and 18 … With questions focusing on reading habit, the survey revealed insights into the changes that e-Reading has had over the past year as well.

“Overall 16% (32 million adults) of Americans read between 11 and 20 books a year with 20% reading 21 books or more in a year. These numbers are very different for Americans who read electronically: 32% of Americans read 11-20 books and 27% read 21 books in an average year with e-Reader devices.

“The Harris Poll has also revealed that e-Reader users are also much more likely to purchase books. Thirty-two percent of Americans say they have not purchased any books in the past year, while only 6% of e-Reader users could say the same.

“Among those who say they read at least one book in an average year, 76% read both fiction and non-fiction. However in both these categories, certain types of books are on the rise. Among fiction categories, 47% of respondents read mystery, thriller and crime books; 25% read science fiction; and 23% read literature and romance. The remaining readers chose between graphic novels (10%), “chick-lit” (8%) and Westerns (5%).

“Within the non-fiction categories 29% of readers pick up biographies; 27% read history; and 24% read religious and spirituality books. 18% of non-fiction readers pick up self-help books, while 13% read true crime, 12% read current affairs, 11% read political books and 10% read business books. …

“According to consumers, free chapters or sample giveaways had the largest impact on buying e-books.”

As you can see, tastes vary as do the number of books read annually from person to person. If an avid reader reads ten books a year and there are several million titles to choose from, what do you consider the odds are that your work will be one of those books?

Continued on August 31, 2012 in Authors Finding Readers – Part 3  or return to Part 1

View as Single Page

_______________________

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!”