OK, Let’s Discuss This Whole Book Review Thing… Please

read your novel

I spent some time chatting with a group of writers today, discussing a topic that seems to not only be tripping up indie authors in a variety of ways, but contributing to the persistence of stigmas and attitudes about the self-publishing “brand” in general:


Coveted, powerful, manipulated; misguided reviews.

It was a spirited debate — though, in truth, everyone was in agreement — focused squarely on the corrosive effect of what some in the discussion called the “5-Star Circle” and the “Review Swap Gang.”

For those unaware, the 5-Star Circle is that loose contingent of indie author who will automatically award 5-star reviews to colleagues regardless of the quantifiable merits of their books. This is done, purportedly, to show support for fellow self-pubbers, but there’s also an unspoken quid quo pro element at work, assuring that the 5-star-wielding reviewer will be gifted in kind. The Review Swap Gang is essentially an off-shoot, a more organized venture whereby authors agree to write reviews for each other and I don’t think anyone need guess how rife with corruptible possibilities that deal might be!

I expect a holler at this point, an insistence by some in the self-publishing world that they will and do and always give honest, authentic reviews regardless of how swappers review their own books, and, hey, it’s possible. But what’s also possible (and likely probable) is an inherent awkwardness to the set-up, the politics involved if, say, they give you a good review and you don’t return the favor. In fact, I spoke to one author who confessed that he often gives weak, inept books much higher than deserved ratings for the sake of group politics. Another spoke of feeling pressured within professional friendships to do the same; someone else mentioned not wanting to spark trollish behavior from disgruntled authors unhappy with their “swap.”

And the result of all this? Far too many poorly executed and amateurishly written books sporting a raft of undeserved 5-star reviews from gushing (or, perhaps, intimidated) “friends” who apparently don’t see the value of creative accountability; a fact that has the long-term effect of misguiding readers and perpetuating negative attitudes about all self-published writers, even those whose work is worthy of the accolades.

There’s a book blogger I happen to like, Tara Sparling, who regularly offers sharp (and very funny) analysis of the self-publishing world on her blog, Tara Sparling Writes (check out her posts about book covers, fonts, and what compels readers to choose — or not choose — self-published novels). She recently wrote a piece on the topic of reviews, Why 5-Star Book Reviews Are Utter Rubbish, that triggered a strong reaction from readers on the title alone (my response is in the comment section). Tara offered seven reasons in support of her thesis, some of which echoed my own points; for example:

“One 5-star review is ok. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them.”

OK, I’m not sure I wouldn’t believe a one… maybe, but she lost me a bit on the next sentence:

“So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.”

I got her point, but took umbrage with the resolution. Since I am not a swapper, nor a review solicitor, I can’t control what reviewers end up saying about my work and certainly don’t want to be discounted out-of-hand — by Tara or anyone else — if the lot of them happen to honestly like my book! I made this rebuttal in my comment; she graciously took the point, as well as similar points made, allowing that, yes, if a book truly deserves 5-stars, wonderful. But the more salient issue is that, like me, like others, she finds solid reason to raise a ruckus on the topic, a shared impulse that indicates just how transparently corrupt this reviewing thing has become.

Look, the value of reviews to anyone selling anything — whether a toaster, movie, restaurant, or book — is indisputable. But the politics of reviews has turned the process into a sort of creepy, virtual-payola scenario that’s about as manipulative as A&R thugs dropping cash-packs and trip tickets into the laps of slick fingered radio programmers. And when we’ve got countless threads on Goodreads hawking “swap requests,” Yelp choked with either phony take-downs or BFF gush-fests, and Amazon battling some version of the same on all kinds of products (including books), we’ve lost the point of the endeavor… for honest people to leave honest responses to just how much they did or didn’t like something. Period.

Here’s my personal stance: I do not want ONE, not one, review on my author page that is not authentic or honestly felt. Whatever “star” rating or review comments you think my work warrants based on your truthful, visceral response to my book, that’s what I want you to leave. Don’t troll, don’t be irrational or other-agenda’d; but don’t feel obligated, under any circumstances, to leave a puffed-up, bullshit review. If you’re uncomfortable about what you might honestly have to say, I’d rather you not leave anything than an unauthentically positive review. And I mean that. An unearned “star” should mean nothing to any of us.

To my indie author colleagues: Please understand that I will not leave a 4- or 5-star review on work that does not warrant it based on my experience and perceptions as a writer and my response as a reader. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how much I support your efforts, how well I like you, or how much you’ve done for me. But, taking into account the shared obstacles and challenges of being in this self-publishing game together, the best I can agree to is that I won’t leave a decidedly negative review on your page (which, in this world, appears to be anything below 4- or 5-stars!). If you know I’ve read your book and want my response privately, I will be happy to share it with you.

And one more thing: PLEASE, please, indie authors, do not rant on social media about your negative reviews and do not ask fellow writers to go to your Amazon page to make any response to them. Both the rant and the request are not only distasteful, but utterly unprofessional. As is presuming a negative review is automatically undeserved, unauthentic, or written by a troll. Let’s please, for God’s sake, have some grace and dignity and take our hits where they come. Every reader has the right to their honest response no matter how many reviews they’ve written. And if you truly believe a troll is having his/her way with you, handle it privately. Don’t play creative-victim in an effort to engage fellow writers to circle the wagons; we all have to stand by our work, good, bad or in-between.

The impact of all these shenanigans is that readers — the very people we’re hoping to engage — can no longer count on reviews to guide them to what they might enjoy or find excellent.  Personally, I’ve now downloaded far too many books by self-published authors — abundant in stellar reviews — that were, ultimately, poorly written. I’ve spent my money and my time only to either not finish a book, or to put it aside with a shake of my head and a growing uneasiness about what all of this is doing to the self-publishing world at large.

For now, though I’m being much more selective about the books I buy, I still believe in the movement and will continue to support my indie colleagues, particularly those who’ve earned my reader loyalty, as I hope they will support me. But I will continue to candidly address the issues we face, holding out hope that we as a group learn from our mistakes and honestly strive to be better. More professional. More demanding. Of ourselves… and our fellow authors.

Related articles: 

• Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here? 
• The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Them

Cartoon by Kudelka

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Hey, After The Sucker Punch, You Look REAL Good Up On That Book Shelf…

ATSP @ Skylight Bookstore

Oh, isn’t it just the dream of every writer to see their book up on the shelf of a real, live, brick & mortar bookstore, sitting there next to the famous writers with their famous books, looking not only like they belong in that spot but fit right in with the “big kids”?


So given that I’m a leave-no-stone-unturned kinda dreamweaver, I decided to see just how successful I could be at getting my independently published debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, beyond Amazon and the online marketplace and actually into bookstores where perusing patrons could stumble upon it and, hallelujah, pick it up.

First I contacted Skylight Books in Los Angeles, “what a neighborhood bookstore should be,” to make a pitch. The contact person sent me straight to their book buyer to see if he was interested. Gulp…

He was interested! “I’d like to buy 2 copies for the store and see how it does,” said the book buyer, and off those two copies went. I visited them yesterday (see above) and they look mighty comfortable on the shelf right above Meg Wolitzer’s NYTimes Bestseller, The Interestings, don’t you think? I urge Los Angeles area book lovers to find their way into this very cool bookstore and pick up a copy (or two… there’s two, remember? :)… cuz I want to be sure “how it does” is some version of “it does really well”!

Here’s the information:

1818 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 660-1175

They don’t have a local authors section, so just find your way to the “W’s”… (hence, that Wolizter proximity!).

But I wasn’t about to stop there. Two books in one cool bookstore is a start, but I had to see what else I could stir up….how about Vroman’s in Pasadena?

Vromans bookstore

Known as “Southern California’s Oldest & Largest Independent Bookstore,” Vroman’s is another eclectic, beloved neighborhood bookstore that has a stellar reputation amongst writers for its support of the community in all its configurations… including independent authors (which isn’t necessarily the case with everyone in the book industry; see Who Do We Have To ____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here?).

I had spent time at Vroman’s earlier this year when Karrie Ross, the author of an art/essay book in which I participated as a writer and photographer — Our Ever Changing World: Through the Eyes of Artists: What Are You Saving from Extinction? — organized a reading at the store (something I’ll do after the holidays). It’s a very nice set-up, interesting and bursting with every kind of book and book-related item you can imagine, and it’s clear they are vibrantly engaged with the world of reading.

So I got in touch and was delighted to discover they have a  “Local Authors” program, which invited me to bring a total of 8 books to the store, 5 for the iconic Pasadena location, and 3 for the Hastings Ranch location, all of which should be on shelves this week. Just ask for the “local authors” section and you’ll find After The Sucker Punch there.

Here’s the information for both locations:

695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101
(Fax) 626-792-7308

3729 E Foothill Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91107
(Fax) 626-351-0798

As all book lovers know, there’s a great debate out there regarding the burgeoning industry of online book sales and the impact of that inexorable trend on the shrinking population of bookstores, particularly of the independent variety. Since I am a champion of books, writing, and reading, whatever form, format, or delivery system is involved, I want to be sure to play my part in keeping all options as alive and well as can be managed! So if you live in or are visiting Southern California, I encourage you to visit one or all of these bookstores. And when you’re at the counter to pick up your paperback copy of After The Sucker Punch, be sure to tell them I sent you! 🙂

Next up: Book Soup on the Sunset Strip…

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

With Fiona Mcvie: Just Two Girls Chattin’ About Books…

women over books

As I march forward in this exotic adventure called independent publishing, I find myself thrilled to discover just how passionate people remain about READING. When I was a young girl, reading was my escape, my entertainment, my world away, but as the noise and movement of ever advancing digital life has evolved, it wasn’t clear to me whether the lure of a good book (however it is delivered!) was still as powerful a draw. Seems it is. Good timing on my part, then, what with just now entering the fray with After The Sucker Punch, “She Tumbled Down,” and more to come!

So it was with great delight that I received a missive from Scottish book blogger, Fiona Mcvie (yes, with a lower case “v”!), whose site, Author Interviews, features wonderfully in-depth conversations with specific writers she reaches out to for one reason or another. She posted our “conversation” this week and I was happy to share perspective with her about books, the writing process, readers, even my favorite color! 🙂

I’ll send you over to her blog and hope you enjoy a little sit-down with two girls just chattin’ about books!

Fiona Mcvie @ Author InterviewsHere is my interview with Lorraine Devon Wilke

Image from Vintage Women on Pinterest

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Who’s Reading What and IS Self-Publishing Dropping? What Ron Knight at UPAuthors Has To Say

books and more books

Who’s reading what and is self-publishing dropping?

The answers to those questions might surprise you, given the current and conventional wisdom that ebooks and self-publishing are a tsunami of change flooding every corner of the literary landscape. It turns out there’s some statistical nuances to that perception that might inspire, perhaps, a rethink, not only in how one views the publishing industry as a whole, but in how each individual writer approaches their own “industry.”

The information I’m about to share comes from an interesting post written by Ron Knight, whose site, UpAuthors.com, defines itself as follows:

UPAuthors.com is a collaborative effort, founded by marketing expert Melissa Powely and author Ron Knight. This advisor program was developed to give authors a way to share resources and provide economically priced opportunities. These opportunities arise in the ability to have an inexpensive web presence with search engine optimization, the use of social media networks, sharing of like minded contacts, and a variety of resources that can help you along the way in developing your book and your career as an author.

As as independent author open to any new and innovative ways to market and promote my work, I was interested to explore their site and see what they might have to offer someone like me. In doing so, I came upon an article Ron put up last week titled, Why did self-publishing drop 46%?

That title alone caught my attention, as I’ve been led to believe that self-published titles, particularly in ebook, are a growing market trend, with ever-increasing numbers and a burgeoning audience eager to purchase those titles. Ron’s research, it turns out, has led him to a different conclusion, one that appears to be supported by statistics:

In 2010, there were 3,844,278 self-published books. It was a time when people started going on their own to find other sources of income. They put up their own website, uploaded a book to Amazon, signed up for Facebook, and realized that publishing and marketing was cheap.

That turned out to be the problem with self-publishing…cheap.

Books were rushed and poorly written.

Publishing was rushed, which flooded the markets with first-time authors.

Marketing was rushed, producing low results.

In 2012, self-publishing dropped to 2,042,840 titles and in 2013, self-publishing dropped to 1,108,183.

I’m not great at math, but that’s about a 50% drop each year, which means by 2016, there may only be 130,000 self-published books.

Now, having only embarked upon my own self-publishing endeavor in the last few months, I cannot in any way intelligently counter these statistics, but given what I’ve already learned in that short period of time, frankly, they don’t surprise me. What I’ve found most discouraging about the self-publishing industry are the same things Ron cites as reasons for its current downtrend, particularly the quality issue. As one who holds myself and my work to the highest bar possible, it’s dispiriting when, by simple BEING a self-published author, one is automatically categorized, sight unseen, as someone whose book is “rushed and poorly written.” This translates to literary media and journals that will not take submissions from self-published writers, literary contests that exclude self-published books; review sites that will not respond to queries from self-published writers, and so on. Their rationale? Most likely the familiar meme of “books were rushed and poorly written.”

But the downtrend is about more than that, according to Ron. It’s about MARKETING. About how we self-published authors tend to market – or not market – our work:

What’s the main reason self-publishing is fading away?

[Han] Huang, [Director of Product Management for Data Licensing at Bowker] an expert in product management said that self-published books are, “Marketed almost exclusively online.”

Traditional publishing uses multiple ways to market, along with focusing on specific areas to market which is based on the author’s genre, storyline, and characters.

Self-published authors attempt to market books to the entire world via Amazon, social media, and their website.

Ain’t that the truth?!

But for a self-published author who hasn’t rushed a poorly written book into the marketplace but, instead, has a professionally produced, well-edited, and very worthy title to sell — but not a lot of money to spend on big-time marketing and promotion — what is the path to success? We might want to break out of exclusively online promotional options, but what are the affordable choices? Ron has some good suggestions:

Here’s the good news!

Every self-published author that continues on this trend [exclusively online marketing]  will fade away. It’s not my opinion…it’s a fact.

For those of you that want to succeed at self-publishing, then you can succeed by following traditional marketing methods.

Here’s a list of traditional ways to market. Remember that you don’t have to do all of this at once. Mix and match, invest what you can, but this is your only way to survive and eventually sell millions of books.

~ Target Market Research (Knowing which cities would purchase your book. Also, which cities have the highest income and education rates.)

~ Book Conferences

~ Events

~ Book Signings

~ Book Clubs

~ Media Coverage

~ Advertisements (Billboards, Newspapers, Commercials, Movie Theatres)

~ Press Kits

~ Book Reviews

~ Reading Samples/Serialization

~ Speaking Engagements

The next stage should be…

~ Placement of books in big box stores

~ Placement in bookstores, both chain and local (Especially bookstores that report numbers to the Bestsellers List)

~ Placement of books on the end-caps of bookstores and big box stores

~ Film Adaptation (There are resources for film adaptation. See below.)

Some authors feel it’s great news that self-publishing is fading away. This opens the door for authors that are going to stick it out and adjust their marketing. Meanwhile, the authors that rush a book on Amazon will soon fade away.

Start a budget for marketing, even if it’s only $50 a month. This simple adjustment will propel your career, while other authors find a different career…

“There’s a big gap between you and the all-time bestselling authors in the world. Inside that gap are billions of potential readers.” ~ Ron Knight

OK, Ron. Since I intend to be one of those authors who will stick it out and, therefore, will adjust my marketing towards a goal of longterm success, I’m paying attention. And given the wide range of options listed, with assurances that one is not obligated to do it “all at once,” I’ll start making my own list of what to tackle first. I appreciate the information.

If you’d like to read the full piece, which I suggest you do, click over to Why did self-publishing drop 46%?. The UPAuthors site looks to be a very useful resource for any author looking for marketing assistance and information, so be sure to take a look at that too. I plan to avail myself of it in whatever ways I can… dammit, I ain’t gonna be one of those crashing statistics! 🙂

And to those of you new to me and my work, I hope you’ll take a moment before you leave to read through other articles at this blog, as well as acquaint yourself with my published work (After The Sucker Punch, a novel; She Tumbled Down,” a short story), details of which can be found via my Amazon Author Page HERE.

Thanks… and let’s all keep raising the bar!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Interview With The AWESOME GANG: Where Awesome Readers Meet Awesome Writers

Author interview
There’s a fellow named Vinny O’Hare who’s a very active member of the Goodreads and other writer/reader communities, and who has various site promoting his books, his photography, and his work as a web consultant. One of those sites is called AwesomeGang: Where Awesome Readers Meet Awesome Writers. A very on-the-nose moniker for a cool site that does just that.

Vinny’s mission statement is pretty simple:

What is your favorite part about the book blogging community? I like the way the community helps each other out. Being in the Indy publishing world I get to visit a lot of websites by people that don’t know how to make a website. I can offer them SEO advice and help them rank better for their books. I love helping authors get sales for their books. I believe it comes full circle.

And given how many opportunities he gives authors through awesomely priced book postings, awesome interviews, etc. (he admits he likes the word “awesome”!), his full circle should be… well, pretty full!

awesome gang banner

I recently participated in an AwesomeGang interview, talking about my books, my work, and what I’d take with me to a desert island, and since I know you want to partake of all that essential information, let’s start with an excerpt and go from there!

Do you have any advice for new authors?

To start with, and this is a big one, be very clear about your voice, what it is, what it wants to say, what it tells you, what your gut tells you, and then LISTEN TO THAT. Learn to trust it, humbly and with a willingness to take and implement good critique and wise input, but trust what you know is your voice. Don’t let anyone dissuade you from expressing yourself, tell you all the reasons why you should do something else, why you should say something else; knock you down with their “honesty.” There’s a lot of arbitrary “advice” people will offer and it’s essential to be clear what’s useful and what’s just… arbitrary advice.

Which leads to the second part (and this may sound contradictory, but it’s true): while and as you get clear on your own voice, be very aware of the value of what others have to share with you. Some of it will be good, essential even, and the trick is to sort out what critique, insights, suggestions to take and which to discard. It can be very challenging at times. But ultimately your work has to be YOU, and if you believe in it, have the courage of those convictions to stand by it. Even if you don’t sell a million (or whatever your goal), you’ll know your work is out there in the world exactly as you intended it. A creative legacy can be a very soulful thing!

 Click to read on….

Thank you, Vinny O’Hare, for your incredible awesomeness!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Fact of Fiction: AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH Keeps Readers Guessing

Ever since James Frey was publicly flayed for his bestselling “semi-fictional novel,” A Million Little Pieces, the issue of just how little fiction is allowed in memoir and how much fact peppers the typical novel has inspired endless conversations in the literary world. Frey was excoriated like no author before or since (on-air shaming by Oprah has to be the apex!) after originally releasing his book as a “memoir,” an admitted miscalculation by his publisher, Nan Talese, who readjusted after many “facts” of the book were debunked.

More recently, author Dani Shapiro took to Salon in a piece titled, “Open letter from Dani Shapiro: ‘Dear Disillusioned Reader Who Contacted Me on Facebook’” to wrist-slap an apparently irate reader who took umbrage with the degree of the “truth” in her book, Slow Motion: A True Story. In a somewhat condescending, if educational, tone, Shapiro makes her case for the differences between memoir and autobiography, in defense, one presumes, of some fudging on the veracity of her “true story.” (Of course, calling a book “a true story” does set one up for the challenge!)

Wherever you fall on this particular debate (I have to say, I – like Shapiro’s “disillusioned reader” – always presumed memoir and autobiography were interchangeable!), there’s a bit of a parlor game to sorting out just what is or isn’t true in what any writer presents to their public, even when it comes to fiction, where rules dictate that truth is not actually required.

But what if readers presume a fictional tale is true? That characters are based on real people, that plot lines follow the trajectory of a real life; that resolutions, transformations, and denouements mirror the realities of the writer? That makes for fascinating, if occasionally misguided, discussion, one I found myself party to when readers of my debut novel, After the Sucker Punch, started writing with queries like, “Is her best friend ‘Kate’ based on (fill in the blank)?” or “How come you never told me you had an alcoholic brother?” or “Aren’t you lucky to have an Aunt Joanne?” (answers to which were, respectively, “No,” “I don’t” and “I don’t actually have an aunt who’s a nun”).

I’ve discovered, as a first-time novelist who’s written a story that utilizes some elements of my own life, that readers, even those who don’t know me, are eager to ascribe truth to what I’ve consciously and creatively imagined. And that can get tricky at times, particularly when you do have brothers and none of them are alcoholics! While a mentor suggested that, “It’s a testament to the depth and detail of your novel that people assume these things are true,” sensitivity dictates that one’s real family or friends are not associatively tarnished by fictional comparisons. So when yet another reader gleefully wrote, “I bet I can guess who all these people are!” it seemed time to set at least a bit of the record straight!

For those who haven’t yet had the chance to read After the Sucker Punch, here’s a short synopsis to set the stage:

They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took to read one-and-a-half pages her world turned upside down… he thought she was a failure.   

Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just when she thought her twitchy life was finally coming together – solid relationship, creative job; a view of the ocean – the one-two punch of her father’s death and posthumous indictment proves an existential knockout.       

She tries to “just let it go,” as her sister suggests, but life viewed through the filter of his damning words is suddenly skewed, shaking the foundation of everything from her solid relationship and winning job to the truth of her family, even her sense of self. From there, friendships strain, bad behavior ensues, new men entreat, and family drama spikes, all leading to her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention. It’s a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but somewhere in all the twists and turns unexpected truths are found.        

So, with those narrative bones, let me clarify certain “facts” of this fiction: My real father did write journals and, many years after his death, one was brought to my attention that was particularly focused on me in a somewhat, shall we say, critical way. I had my understandable reaction, but since I’d had a fairly distant relationship with my father throughout my adult life, his retrospective critique, while hurtful, was not, for me, particularly life shattering. It was only when I brought it up in a women’s group I was in at the time that I realized just how provocatively the incident translated to others:

The women in the group were collectively horrified; the variety and intensity of their responses was fascinating, most exclaiming that such an indictment from their father, particularly posthumously, would have left them devastated. My curiosity piqued, I then took the prompt – “how would you feel if you found your father’s journal and he said you were a failure?” – to a number of others, both men and women, and accrued a panoply of replies on all sides of the spectrum, most of which made their way into the lives of the various characters in the book.

That was the inciting incident. What, from there, was true? Really, consciously, thoughtfully, actively… none of it. I didn’t want to memorialize my life, my family; my friends. I didn’t want the obligation of truth and sensitivity; I wanted to fully create a protagonist, a family, friends, lovers; a series of events, plot, and a conclusion that evolved organically from the journey taken by these characters I’d created, truth be damned. And that’s what I did.

Yes, for a person who’s led a fairly interesting and unconventional life, it made artistic sense to imbue my protagonist with some of my characteristics, as well as challenge her with some of the events with which I was challenged throughout my life. But – and it’s a big but – giving “Tessa” and other characters some of the elements of my life and the lives of people within my circle did not make the imagined characters and their plots any less imagined. Any resemblance to truth was, in fact, wildly fictionalized.

A friend, however, challenged me on this assertion. She had graciously sent out an email promoting my book to her circle of friends and, in it, had made the statement, “Lorraine says this is fiction, but it’s really more of a memoir,” something with which I took immediate exception for all the aforementioned reasons. But she persisted, countering, “Well, you did have a father who wrote critical journals, you were a Catholic, you did sing rock & roll, and you were in Scientology, so… come on!” But here’s what I told her:

Imagine a writing exercise in which you give ten writers the following prompt: “Write a story about a young inventor –with Buddhist parents, a sister with a debilitating stutter, and friends who regularly vandalize the small town in which they live – who leaves on a journey to transcend his myopic existence.” Despite the very specific points assigned, you would get ten wildly divergent narratives from your ten different writers. It’s simply the nature of writing; characteristics and events only serve the plot, they do not necessarily define or design it.

And the only way to tell the story I wanted to tell was to create fictional characters with fictional plot lines. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing exactly that!

So to summarize: the protagonist of After the Sucker Punch is not me (in fact, my husband, after reading the book, remarked, “I can’t believe how different she is than you!). Nor are the parents, the siblings, the friends, boyfriends, employers, aunts, neighbors, or small animals the ones in my life. They are, however, very rich and hopefully endearing, maddening, compelling, and intriguing characters who will engage your interest as you make your way through their story and the very human and complex issues within.

And that’s the truth!

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

The Kindness of Strangers… Meet Brenda Perlin

Brenda Perlin

I don’t know Brenda Perlin. We’ve never met, we’ve never spoken; we’ve never even emailed each other (except for a Kindle gift book). I’ve connected with her through sites like Goodreads or Facebook, particularly a Facebook writers group called Master Koda, and though she’s a fellow writer, so far I’ve only read one of her books (a short story for kids called “Ty the Bull,” written with K.D. Emerson and Rex Baughman). Yet, despite this seemingly peripheral relationship, no one has done more to promote and raise a ruckus about my novel, After The Sucker Punch, than this woman. Which I find both astonishing and profound.

There are some artists so focused on their own work that they rarely look outside that narrow sphere to see what others around them might be doing. I have people in my Facebook circle who show up only to post their gig notices, theater schedules, release dates of their CDs/books/films/blogs, or calls-to-action for petitions, votes, and Kickstarter campaigns, but they rarely comment on or share similar posts of others and it seems clear they’re not paying one damn bit of attention to me! 🙂 Which is fine. They don’t have to. But still… I always wonder why they’re there in the first place.

This “disinterest syndrome,” in fact, at least per countless conversations I’ve had with other artists on the topic, often extends outside social media to impact even our closer circles of family and friends. We’re all busy, certainly, but one can’t help but notice the repeatedly unopened or unanswered emails about the new site, the art opening, or the release of a new book; the forgotten promises to leave a review or share the book/CD/film/art piece with known contacts in the industry; the lack of response to queries, promotions, and candid requests to “check out my (fill in the blank).” We all have those people around us (and they tend to be the ones sending “sincere pleas” to donate to their Kickstarter campaigns!).

Then there’s Brenda Perlin.

When my book first came out, I was lucky enough to have some wonderful friends and colleagues who’d read advance copies and left reviews on the Amazon page… which helped greatly with marketing and promotion. But the very first “stranger review” came from Brenda. I didn’t know who she was; it just said “Brenda” on the Amazon page, but it was a thoughtful, impassioned, and very specific review… the kind you revel in as a writer (she even quoted lines from the book!). I later figured out she was the “Brenda Perlin” in the Master Koda writers group to which I belonged and sent her a private Facebook message in thanks. She responded with such sincere appreciation for the book that I was additionally touched.

But she wasn’t done there. She wrote another review on Goodreads, shared information about the book on Pinterest, Twitter and other sites, and within days, I stumbled upon a post from her blog titled, “After the Sucker Punch…a Novel by Lorraine Devon Wilke rocks… and then some!” in which she not only included her Amazon review, but extrapolated further on the book, using a few very clever photos with the cover embedded in random places like bus stop banners, door hangers and urban billboards… like this one:

ATSP subway_photo art by Brenda Perlin

And, to top it off, before I could barely blink an eye after I’d posted my new short story, “She Tumbled Down,” at Amazon, Brenda had already downloaded it, read it, and left a review both there and at Goodreads.

To be honest, I was just blown away. No one before or since (at least not yet!) has made that kind of unsolicited effort to push my work out into the marketplace and I have no idea why Brenda was compelled to do so for me. But beyond her expressed appreciation of my work, I’ve come to realize it’s simply who she is, her very generous and thoughtful nature. She gets it.  She knows what artists need and want in terms of response to their work and she’s gracious enough to offer it. She has the consideration to step outside of herself to provide something of value to her fellow artists. And that’s a gift.

I’ve seen her reach out to many other authors to review their work, encourage them to keep going, and promote their promotions. She must read more than anyone on earth and always takes time to leave a meaningful review that focuses on the positive aspect of whatever she reads. She seems to know when a newbie need a boost, a journeyman could use a hand, or just how and when to tweet, click, share, or comment so that prime attention gets paid in all the right places. She’s like the Johnny Appleseed of indie writers!

I have not yet had the chance to read her other books beyond the short story mentioned above, but I wanted to do something to thank her for being who she is, to acknowledge just how grateful I am for her efforts on my specific behalf. That I can do by throwing a little light her way.

So please visit, “like,” click, download, or just say hello. She’s a rare breed in this crazy world of distraction and disinterest; one of those “strangers” whose kindness changes that status much more quickly than most!

Her blog: Brooklyn and Bo Chronicles
Facebook writer’s page
Twitter: Brenda Perlin
LinkedIn: Brenda Perlin
Amazon Author’s Page: Brenda Perlin

Photo of Brenda from her Facebook page.
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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

It’s Not Every Novel That Has Its Own Theme Song

Rick Hirsch & me... after writing "My Search for You"
Rick Hirsch & me… shortly after writing “My Search for You”

There’s a song in my book, After the Sucker Punch, a song that comes in the epilogue and pulls a concluding plot point off the page into downloadable form. It seemed a very cool addition to the story and it is! Quite a few people have asked me about it – how it got there, did I write it for the book, who’s performing it, etc. – so I thought I’d tell the story:

I wrote the song a while back with a wonderful guitarist named Rick M. Hirsch; it’s called “My Search for You.” With Rick’s guitar tracks to inspire me, I came up with a set of lyrics from the perspective of a woman talking to her father, written a few years after my own father’s death, with a narrative based on the struggle he and I had throughout our lives relating to each other. I’d written, at that point, ten other songs with Rick for somewhere on the way, the album we were doing together at the time, most of which had something to do with love, heartache, or relationships, and I was compelled to explore a different theme with this one. It became the song it is, “My Search for You,” and while not necessarily one of the more explosive songs on the album, it has a certain singer/songwriter quality that appealed to many listeners.

Fast forward a few years… I’m writing my novel, After the Sucker Punch, a story about a woman finding her father’s journals on the night of his funeral and discovering he thought she was a failure. Based on a kernel of truth from within my family, extrapolated into the world of fiction with all its imagined characters and plotlines, the book started and remained a story largely focused on the particular vagaries, attachments, and longings that often exist between fathers and daughters. Which is key to how the song fits in.

At some point after the first or second (or tenth) draft, as I pulled out of the fog of writing to focus for a moment on interesting marketing ideas, the notion of including the song came to me. Given that the main protagonist is a former rock & roller for whom music remains an undercurrent throughout, I had the inspired idea to somehow get an actual CD of the song included as part of the book. Brilliant, I thought!

I read through the lyrics and realized I could easily, within the framework of the story I’d already created, work certain elements of those words into the dialogue and narrative so that the song made sense. Ultimately, “My Search For You” became the epilogue of the book, the song the protagonist, Tessa, writes for her father as a culmination of the journey she experiences after his death and the discovery of the journals.

Of course, including a CD with the book was a grand idea, but only possible if the book went down the traditional road with teams of high-profile players helping to publish and market it with a budget that allowed for such novel add-ons. That, as we all know, was not the road I traveled with After the Sucker Punch, and the parameters of self-publishing were not necessary amenable to the option!

But never one to give up easily, I just had to get clever about how to include this “theme song” as a tangible part of the book. And I did.

I set up a page on SoundCloud under the character’s name, Tessa Curzio, and input the song track there. I then included that link, along with the lyrics, in the epilogue of the book (an active link the Kindle version). Readers could click over the to Soundcloud page to hear “Tessa’s song,” even click from there to iTunes to download the track. I felt it was the perfect way to bring that musical plot point off the page into the real world of the reader… and readers are listening!

So if you haven’t yet gotten a copy of the book (and I hope you will), perhaps hearing the song will inspire you to do so. Following is a link to the SoundCloud page and the lyrics. Once you’ve listened and read, you just might want to know just how this piece of music fits into the story of After The Sucker Punch….

My Search For You

You were puzzled by my need for clarity
Maybe you thought I depended on language too much
But there were volumes you didn’t say or I never heard
I know you thought the way you loved was surely enough

So elusive, I wonder if you ever figured out?
How your silence always made me feel a little loud
So convinced if I sang and danced and jumped up and down
You would see me, just me, and maybe be a little proud
And sometimes I know that you heard me
Sometimes I know that you cried

But you left me in early December
You loved me but we both knew our time was through
Now I stand here and try to remember
The girl I discovered in my search for you

They say love doesn’t ask for more than what it gets
So why did I always need a bigger piece of you?
In the crush of life I felt sometimes lost in the crowd
Never sure if I ever came completely into view
But somehow I learned to be stronger
And somehow I’m certain you knew

But you left me in early December
You loved me But we both knew our time was through
Now I stand here and try to remember
The girl I discovered in my search for you

You gave me the passion to find my way
You gave me the eyes to dream
If we squandered the time we had
You’ve got to know
That what I searched to find in you
I finally found in me

You left me in early December
You loved me but we both knew our time was through
Now I stand here and surely remember
The girl I discovered in my search for you

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

From INDIES UNLIMITED: The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Them

Indies Unlimited

In the world of independent writing there exists an enormous pool of resources designed to guide, educate, inform, cheerlead and help independent writers. Indies Unlimited is one of the most popular of those sites, one that works hard to provide what authors, writers, and those working with them need to move constructively forward in a constantly changing industry. I was delighted to be invited to write a “guest post” for them.

In thinking about what salient issue to cover, I decided to throw some focus on the conundrum around “the quality of self-published books,” an ongoing discussion, even debate, that rages (OK, maybe rages is too harsh; how about persists?) amongst publishers, marketers, promoters, reviewers; magazines and newspapers, certainly readers and even writers, as the self-publishing trend continues to expand.

Those of us in the category are inevitably faced with a set of preconceived ideas and opinions about what a self-published author is and what that author provides by way of their independently published book, and while many of those notions are folly — or certainly non-applicable to the better writers — they DO, unfortunately, apply to far too many. This piece offers some rethinking about how to change that reality:

The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Them:

We self-published writers are like the big kids Mom and Dad left at home with the baby; there’s a list of instructions on the refrigerator but we’re basically on our own. Which means we have no choice but to step up. To meet the challenge. To make sure the “baby” that is our book flourishes as well as the one down the street with the high-priced nanny…

… yet one [writer] remarked that most self-published writers can’t afford editors and cover designers and so they “do the best they can,” their books going out “as is.” Another told me, “Readers are less picky because ebooks are so cheap”….

 Click HERE to read full article at Indies Unlimited.

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Sometimes The Best Story About a Book Isn’t About the Book At All

“If cookies be the food of love…munch on.”
-Dame Judi Dench

There are three things about the above quote that I adore: Dame Judi Dench, love and… cookies. If one combines cookies with love, well, that’s an explosion of wonderfulness that could only be topped by adding Dame Judi. Barring that option (and one assumes that’s a given), the combination of cookies and love is a mighty potent mix in itself. And today I had occasion to be the recipient of that marvelous brew:

This is a cookie… a very delicious (yes, I ate one) shortbread cookie designed with the cover of my book as the frosting top. I ask you: WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT??!

Not much.

The cookie came in a box of identical cookies, all of which were designed, made, and sent by my cousin in Chicago, Vicky Sarris Blanas, who, with her husband, Larry Blanas, owns the Lawrence Deans Bake Shop in Wilmette, Illinois, a close neighborhood of Chicago. (A little history about them and their bakery can be found in a Chicago Tribune story titled, It Started With Biscotti.)

What is utterly amazing about this unexpected and incredibly touching gift is that it comes from a member of my family whom I only recently met and rarely get to visit, what with her in Chicago and me in LA. But my blood ties with Vicky go way back and are attached to some of the sweetest memories of my childhood:

Grandma by Mary_3.11.79
My grandmother; photo shot by Mary Amandes on 3.11.79

When I was a little girl visiting my grandmother in Chicago (though the city of my birth, my family moved to a small farm town in northern Illinois when I was three), my sister, Mary, and I often spent time with various combinations of our many Greek relatives. Two who completely captured our little-girl imaginations were women whose names I’ll never forget: Sia and Helen. They were incredibly beautiful young Greek women who couldn’t help but appear particularly glamorous next to our dear but rather classic Greek immigrant grandmother! Their names were always said with Sia’s first: “Sia and Helen.” I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Helen and Sia.” Don’t know why. Sia and Helen’s mother, Victoria, was the half-sister of my grandmother. And Sia’s daughter is Vicky Sarris Blanas, the baker of my cookies.

I met Vicky and her family during the summer of 2011 when in Chicago for an event, and found their very hip, just-opened bakery on Green Bay Road to be as warm and inviting as a good bakery should be. We later connected on Facebook, particularly in a private family group, and have “liked” and Facebook commented on various posts over the last three years. But, to be honest, I didn’t know she was particularly aware of my book and I certainly didn’t expect her to take the time, and put her creative skills to work, to memorialize it in such a unique and thoughtful way!

But she did… and I am so touched. We will enjoy “munching on” them, as Dame Judi suggests, but I will keep at least two as mementos of not only the launch of my first book, but the love and incredibly sweet consideration of my dear cousin Vicky.

Lawrence Deans Bake Shop

Stop by the bakery’s Facebook page and give a “like,” and if you’re in the Chicago area, be sure to visit for coffee and a treat. Here’s the link: Lawrence Deans Bake Shop.

Sometimes the best story about a book isn’t about the book at all….

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.