This is potentially the most combustible part of the entire writing and publication process. A couple of years ago I sent out an earlier version to get corrections and comments back. I got a few brief notes, but overall the response was muted.
I could have taken that as a Cease and Desist notice, but I'd already put in too much work. Worst case scenario, I thought, I'll just change all the names and locations. Even put it out under a pseudonym and not tell anyone. That's the paranoia of a self-publishing author busily trampling on his family's memories.
Anxiety is one of my governing emotions as the release date approaches. One relative, who's name was changed in the book, warned me that anything published about Vietnam gets read by the Communist government. I certainly wasn't going to censor myself and let the “red menace” off lightly, so my fingers will be crossed next time I apply for a visa.
So far one family member has completed it. She is said to be happy and is bugging her siblings to finish it too so they can talk about it. Her brother scanned through the book and was colorful with irony that he only appears on half a dozen pages.
The release process has been complicated as Amazon does not offer any opportunity to control when the book actually gets posted. 6-8 weeks was, I think, the window. So I submitted it in late January, worrying that it might not be up by March 8th. It was posted in early February.
My purpose behind picking March 8th as a release date is partly to coincide with the Vietnam War's 50th Anniversary. The other is that to have the best chance of getting into the top 100 rankings of one of Amazon's sub-genres, sales have to be bunched together.
If most of the book's purchases come on Sunday and Monday, I might get into a top something-something list and become visible to readers not searching for the book directly.
That – in a nutshell – is one whole half of my marketing strategy.
The other half has been to convince Vietnam history professors that my book is worth a look. I figure if I can get it on a college reading list or two that can't be bad, right?
So I sent a brief outline of the book to forty scholars in the field and was chuffed to get about ten positive responses back. One professor simply replied to say that he has told his library to get it on the shelves.
Institutions favorably representing themselves include the Universities of New York, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Illinois, California-Irvine, Cornell and Harvard.
The professor from Cornell recently published his own book on the war. He said he wished Uprooted had been available during his research. On reflection I don't think his work suffered too much – He won a Pulitzer.
All that said, these responses were based on their reading of my summary, not the book itself.
So Captain Paranoia returns to remind me that their goodwill may take a slide on a full reading. However, what is a blog for if not for uncomfortable over-sharing.
You will be relieved to know that, while these posts will continue through April, I have plenty of material to steer me away from sales-figure introspection:
Was Vietnam an Un-winnable War for the U.S?
Why did Vietnamese soldiers fighting for the South fare so badly while those fighting for the North performed so well?
What were the boat people running from?
That may be my last post, and will coincide with April 30th, which is the 40th Anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
I feel that it's important to note that Uprooted is not, first and foremost, a history book. For the hard sell, I will hand over to these Amazon reviewers:
“gives you a fascinating insight into an unfamiliar culture whilst also providing a gripping and engaging plot”
“this is a book that stays with you long after you have put it down”
“captures the fear and frustration of his characters as they try to deal with a political landscape that is constantly changing”
“really interesting and often quite moving. Overall, the book tells an amazing story”
“I hope that one of the several excellent Vietnamese filmmakers gets funding for a TV drama, based on this book”
“There is ... plenty of suspense about how and whether Tung and his family will survive”
“The book is in some ways is a Vietnamese parallel of ... Farewell, My Concubine”
And to repeat once more, if you plan to buy a copy, please do it on Amazon this Sunday.
I'll send out a reminder on the day. It is available in paperback ($18.99 or £13.89) and Kindle edition is ($4.99). The Kindle is on the U.S. Amazon site, but not the UK one. I don't know why that would be.
If you've read this far, grateful thanks. I'll endeavor to be more interesting next week!