Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Amazon”

Happy 60th Birthday to City Lights Bookstore

I find the death of the bookstore to be sad. I have found myself taking my sons to my local independent bookstores and even having pit stops when we are on the road at a Barnes and Noble. It makes sense – B&N have good bathrooms, passable coffee, and we can walk around.

I am as much to blame for the demise of the bookstore as anyone. I deny any connection to my first public author signing at a Borders and their announcement the next day that they were closing all stores.

Borders 0211I buy most of my books online and as ebooks. It is not just a matter of convenience or price: I genuinely believe in the environmental necessity of ebooks. As an author, my focus is on creating an online platform and this translates (outside the first week or so of a book launch) into consistently selling more ebooks than tree books.

But I realize that I am increasingly treating these trips to a bookstore like a visit to a museum. I will tell my children how you can make spontaneous choices this way, ask advice from staff who are always genuine book lovers (they would not work there I assume otherwise), and enjoy the smell of the bookstore.

My kids know that I am not exactly telling the truth. We rarely buy books on these visits, scouring the bargain bins perhaps, and I often resort to their please to purchase something that I will look it up used online.

I recently went to a book launch of a friend and bought her book at the store, standing in line to get her autograph. It is the actions of a good friend showing up for someone they care about. The book was one-third more expensive than it was new on Amazon. But this is a friend and, in a strange sense, I felt an appreciation for the staff of the bookstore for hosting her.

But one bookstore stands alone, at least in my stomping grounds. Last month City Lights celebrated its 60th birthday. There is a great article here and I don’t want to simply hash out the same story.

imgres-3When I first came to the US and told someone that I dreamed about using fiction as social activism and commentary on our society, they smiled: “You gonna be another Kerouac?”

I could see the disappointment on their face when I asked: “Who?” I looked around, half expecting the immigration police to appear, tear up my green card, and deport me to Canada.

Patriotically, I devoured On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and this began a long and wonderful journey into the beat movement. I feel privileged to still meet men and women who were beatniks. The sequel to Unwanted Heroes is a modern day tribute to the beat generation.

When I told someone of my new interest, they promptly sent me to City Lights (and the Jack Kerouac Alley, and the museum, and oh those delicious Italian pastries in North Beach!).

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I often return to City Lights and always buy a book. I stand in reverence on the top floor, which is dedicated to the beatniks who gathered there under Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I wrote a scene in the sequel to Unwanted Heroes, which I really witnessed as an elderly couple came upstairs and were looking through a coffee table-type book of the beatniks in Paris. They found a photo that included the old man. We spent a wonderful hour together as he reminisced. It was a very special hour and one I will never forget.

That doesn’t happen at an online bookstore. Even if this gentleman had crafted a well-written article about his time in Paris, it could never compare to sitting and listening to him telling it in his own voice.

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It was a magical moment – so thank you to City Lights for still being around. I will bring my sons to the bookstore and they can buy any darn book they want!

Happy 60th birthday.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA - At The Walls Of GalbriethAlon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter. For more about the author, check out his website.

What Fathers Really Want

I would blog this on Sunday, except everyone is too busy hitting the diner or firing up the grill and anyway I rarely blog on the weekend. Father’s Day has always been a bit anti-climatic for me, coming a few days after my birthday. Given our family’s busy schedule, we tend to spread birthdays over a few days (okay weeks).

imgresI saw an advertisement for Father’s Day on Amazon. They suggested you show your undying appreciation by buying your old man either a green-striped necktie or an HD Kindle Fire. I keep thinking about this. My kids have never bought me a tie for Father’s Day, and it had better be darn special if they ever do!

Now I often wear a  tie for work: anything from a power tie (usually striped) to a Jerry Garcia masterpiece (if I can get away with it). It infers a sense of confidence and raises my self-esteem – call me shallow, but I raise money for good causes and believe I am empowering the next generation to be socially conscious. Whatever it takes!

images-5But what does the tie signify? No, not incarceration, but time in the office … away from my family – the opposite of Fathers Day!

So then I started to think about the Kindle Fire. I don’t need one. I watch movies on a TV, read my books comfortably on my old black-and-white kindle, listen to music on my phone or iPod, and type my novels on a laptop. Life is tough!

Offering me another toy that can keep me engaged with social media, TV shows, connected to the office is exactly what I don’t need. And if I do – I will buy it myself.

What I, and most fathers (moms too – but you’ve had your day) need is time: time to unwind, time to pursue hobbies and good health, and most of all, time to spend with my family. No man on his deathbed ever regretted not spending more time at the office. No man in his memoir ever mused that his commute was only three hours a day.

traffic-jamSo what do I want for Father’s Day? I want to go fishing with my kids, take the family into the Redwoods and hike, picnic, and do some archery together. Perhaps we can tickle-fight on the bed or snuggle on the couch and watch another episode of Big Bang Theory even if we’ve seen it a dozen times and know the punch-lines by heart. Better yet, Lord of the Rings for the 100-th time. It doesn’t matter, as long as we are doing it together.

DSCN0951Because what a father really lacks … is time. Quality time with his family, before they grow up and move away and become adults in their own world. It’s not about the money spent, the thought that went into clicking the mouse to purchase a gift, or the wrapping. And this is a problem for Amazon and other retailers:

You can’t sell time. If you could: you wouldn’t need to sell ties and kindles for Father’s Day.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA - At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

 

The Changing Significance of Book Reviews

With three epic fantasy novels coming out over a period of 18 months (they were written over the previous three years before you ask), I have become very interested in the issue of reviews and wrote about it a couple of months ago.

I have come to believe that reviews left on a book’s Amazon page are crucial for sales. While you do see the cover on line, it is less visual than in your hand. There is no salesperson vaunting how great the book is, no positioning next to A-list authors, and no cardboard display in the window. On the other hand, when a potential reader looks at your book page on Amazon, there are virtually no distractions: not hundreds of other books surrounding it, or bumping into someone you might know etc.

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So what so you have to look at to help you buy a book? The reviews. 

In response to last week’s post of the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.com, a friend suggested that I should be excited that Goodreads members would be putting their reviews up on Amazon, because they are true bookworms and leave considerably more thoughtful reviews.

A person recently gave me a 5-star review for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and I tweeted to see if I could find them to thank them. I was curious because it was short and not well constructed. I discovered (via the father) that it was a young teenager who had read the book and felt moved to write what was, in his mind, a strong recommendation. I was thrilled because so far I am only hearing from adults who have read my novels, despite seeing the Young Adult as my target audience. 

Vancouver-based publishing consultant, Thad McIlroy, summed it up in a Forbes article. When it comes to: “what do I read next, Amazon has become almost the only show in town:

“Despite that Amazon said it would keep Goodreads independent (like IMDB, Zappos and several other Amazon acquisitions), most in the industry will look at it as just Amazon now. Providing that service is a chief concern for booksellers who want to make it as easy as possible for readers to discover their next book purchase. Now, Amazon is the undisputed No. 1 when it comes to book recommendations. Ebook retail sites, like start-up Bookish, have long claimed that readers need a better way than Amazon for finding new books. Those claims now have little teeth; Amazon pretty much has it all right now when it comes to recommendation.”

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What excited me most is that Goodreads will add credibility to a system rocked with controversy of false or paid for reviews. Leslie Kaufman wrote in The New York Times: “Amazon has been wrestling with review fraud in the past year. Because book reviews on Goodreads are identifiable (tied to a social profile), they are harder to manipulate. This may add a new and more credible review source to Amazon’s internal reviews.”

The price for this new credibility (for authors) is a more thorough critique of our books. Goodreads members leave lower average book review scores and deeper in-depth discussion.

While these reviews, undoubtedly more useful to readers, might feel threatening to the author, it reinforces what should be obvious from the start: that the keystone of success is to produce the best possible book in terms of every aspect of our craft. Are you up for the challenge?

Finally, if you have got this far into the post and have read any of my books – fantasy and other – please take a moment to leave a short review on the book you read: an honest critique worthy of Goodreads.  

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverHeroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

Have a great weekend.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Amazon and Goodreads

The book world (whoever that is these days) was rocked last week when Amazon announced it had acquired Goodreads. Chances are, if you own a credit card, you know who the first is, but you need to be a book lover to know the second.

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Goodreads is no small start-up. It boasts 16 million members who have added more than 530 million books to their ‘shelves’ and generated more than 23 million reviews. Basically, Goodreads has emerged as the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. There are more than 30,000 book clubs within Goodreads. Founded in 2007, Goodreads is also a place where more than 68,000 authors connect with readers. It is huge. Oh, and it was created and based in San Francisco – not relevant, but I feel a need to boast, though none of the credit is mine.

“Books – and the stories and ideas captured inside them – are part of our social fabric,” said Otis Chandler, Goodreads CEO and co-founder. “People love to talk about ideas and share their passion for the stories they read. I’m incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with Amazon and Kindle. We’re now going to be able to move faster in bringing the Goodreads experience to millions of readers around the world. We’re looking forward to inspiring greater literary discussion and helping more readers find great books, whether they read in print or digitally.”

“Amazon and Goodreads share a passion for reinventing reading,” said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon Vice President, Kindle Content. “Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books and, with Kindle, Amazon has helped expand reading around the world. In addition, both Amazon and Goodreads have helped thousands of authors reach a wider audience and make a better living at their craft. Together we intend to build many new ways to delight readers and authors alike.”

“I just found out my two favorite people are getting married,” said Hugh Howey, best-selling author of WOOL. “The best place to discuss books is joining up with the best place to buy books – To Be Read piles everywhere must be groaning in anticipation.”

I must admit to being conflicted. Having lived most of my life in two small countries, I believe competitive prices and customer service in the US is so good (generally) because there is healthy competition. If the customer has one bad experience, there are always other companies out there next time.

In fact, it is not hard to put your finger on areas where bad customer service and inflated prices are  prevalent. So I am not sure how, as a consumer, I feel about Amazon and Goodreads getting into bed together.

As an author, though, I am having a problem finding a downside. I have a profile on Goodreads, but have not put any effort into it. But it does seem that participants on Goodreads are more thoughtful and less hype-driven in their recommendations. It is interesting that many authors complain about a lower star ranking offered from Goodreads reviewers. Having read my share of 5 star books that were clearly undeserving of such hype, I have to agree. I have two three-star reviews for At The Walls Of Galbrieth – both with honest and profound observations. I have no doubt they were genuine. In fact, one sought me out to share more feedback and I truly appreciate the care and concern this stranger has for my craft.

New York Times contributor, Leslie Kaufman, writes that Amazon has unearthed a few fraudulent review ‘businesses’, whereby people are making money from offering five-star reviews.  Kaufman notes that book reviewers on Goodreads are clearly identifiable through their Goodreads social profile.

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If you are not comfortable with single industry sources this merger might not seem so exciting. But as Amazon and Goodreads combine their creative energy and synchronize their efforts (Goodreads were still directing you to buy books on Barnes & Nobles nook), I have little doubt the customer and author experience will become a richer experience. 

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 2

This is part two of an article. The first can be found here.

I have taken on a cause through writing stories, such as this one, to reach out to young and senior Veterans to break the stigma of PTSD, and seek assistance.  Today is different from previous wars, and help and medical acknowledgement of PTSD has come a long way. 

Please ‘Take Action’ on the following suggestions; from one old warrior to others of all ages:

  • Break through the stigma of PTSD and get medical or peer-to-peer assistance now – PTSD is real!
  • Unless you are in a high-risk job, you will probably not experience the adrenaline rush and finality of your decisions as you did in combat. For me, I lived playing business games – never finding the ultimate adrenaline rush again. It is a void within me that I feel often.
  • The longer you wait for treatment, the harder it will be to handle the demons. They do not go away and can lay dormant in your soul for decades.
  • Understand it is never too late in your life to begin looking forward and achieving new objectives.
  • If you do not want to speak about PTSD with your family or friends, then hand them a brochure from the VA that explains what to look for, and why you need their support. You do not have to go into detail about the tragedies of war, but without your loved ones understanding your internal battle your thoughts can lead to divorce, loss of family relationships, destitution, or one of the rising suicide tragedies – a terrible waste of a hero.
  • Silence and solitude is not the answer! If you have PTSD you may not be able to beat it alone.
  • If you are concerned about your military or civilian job, seek help from peer resources. They have experienced what you have been through, and will help keep you living in the present, instead of the constantly looking over your shoulder to past atrocities.
  • Or call a person in a peer support group anonymously. They will not know you, but will talk for as long as you wish.
  • You cannot explain the horrors of war to someone, except maybe a PTSD psychologist, that has not experienced it – so don’t try. Seek those who peers who can help make a difference!
  • Get up off your ass and take a serious look into yourself! Accept the fact that if you have continuous nightmares, flashbacks, depression, bursts of anger, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, you have PTSD. If so, talk to someone who can help.
  • There is financial and medical assistance through the VA; which may help you avoid living a life of destitution.

Finally, let your ego and macho image go. There are too many individuals and groups today wanting to help you [A list of many of these support groups are listed on this site], or you may find yourself alone and bitter for a lifetime. The demons are not going away, but with help, you can learn to fight them and win one battle at a time.

Semper Fi!

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

The Demons of War are Persistent – Guest Post by A. W. Schade Pt. 1

Forty years have passed since my deployment as a combat Marine to Vietnam. But only several years since I acknowledged my inability to continue suppressing the demons alone. Like many veterans, the “Demons” have haunted me through nightmares, altered personas, and hidden fears. Even as many veterans manage the demons’ onslaught successfully, millions survive in destitution, finding solitude and social disconnection. Scores consider themselves cowards, should they concede to the demons’ hold? Countless live in denial and loneliness, protecting their warrior’s pride. The most vulnerable— tormented by guilt and feeling forever alone — too often choose to “end” their lives.  —A.W. Schade, USMC 1965/69

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As friends and family gather to celebrate another joyful holiday, I am often melancholy, reminded by vivid memories of lost friendships and battlefield carnage that erratically seeps from a vulnerable partition of my mind. This partition is a cerebral hiding place I concocted, decades before, mechanisms to survive in society. I unwittingly clutch at a profound loneliness as I avoid searching for memories of my youthful years. If I dare to gaze into my past, I must transcend through a cloak of darkness weaved to restrain the demons from so many years before.

My pledge to God, Country, and Marine Corps was more than forty years ago. As a young, unproven warrior, I consented to the ancient rules of war. At eighteen, like many others, I was immersed in the ageless stench of death and carnage, in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. However, my journey began much earlier, on a sixty-mile bus ride with other nervous teenagers, to New York City’s legendary Induction Center at 39 White Hall Street.

We went through lines of examinations and stood around for hours, recognizing one another’s bare asses before we could learn each other’s names. We did not realize so many of us would remain together in squads and fire teams, building deep-seeded bonds of friendships along our journey. Our initial ‘shock’ indoctrination began immediately at Parris Island; intimidating Drill Instructors scrambled our disoriented butts off the bus, organized us into a semblance of a formation, and herded us to the barracks for a night of hell! Anxiety, second-guessing our decision to join, and apprehension was our welcoming. Following what we thought would be sleep (but was actually a nap), we awoke in awe to explosive clamor, as the DIs banged on tin garbage can lids next to our bunks, yelling ‘get up you maggots.’ Even the largest recruits trembled.

 

We remained maggots for the next few weeks and began intense physical and mental training, slowly recognizing the importance of “the team” instead of “the individual.” In less than sixteen weeks we were proud United States Marines. It was a short celebration though, as we loaded our gear and headed, in order, to Camp Lejeune, Camp Pendleton, Okinawa and then the Philippines, where we continued to enhance our stealth and killing skills, before executing these talents on the already blood-soaked fields of Vietnam.

We argued and fought amongst ourselves as brothers often do. Still, we never lost sight of the bonds we shared: We were United States Marines with an indisputable commitment to “always cover each other’s back.” Crammed into the bowels of Navy Carrier Ships, we slept in hammocks with no more than three inches from your brother’s butt above you. The sailors laughed as these self-proclaimed “bad-ass Marines” transformed into the wimpy “Helmet Brigade.” We vomited into our skull buckets for days on our way to Okinawa, where we would engage in counter guerrilla warfare training. Aware that we were going to Vietnam, we partied hard in every port. The first of our battles were slug fests in distant bar-room brawls.

Conversely, our minds were opened to the poverty and living conditions of these famous islands in the Pacific. Their reputations preceded them, but stories about the war in Japan—John Wayne movies—were not what we found. Instead, we found overpopulated, dirty cities; we were barraged constantly by poor children seeking any morsel of food. In the fields, families lived in thatched huts with no electricity or sanitary conditions. While training I experienced the horror of being chased by a two ton water buffalo (with only blanks in my rifle). Moments before, this same beast was led around by a ring in its nose by a five-year old boy. Worse than the chasing was hearing the laughter of brother Marines watching me run at full speed, trying to find something to climb.  In the tree, I felt as though I was losing the “macho” in Marine, and we were still thousands of miles from Vietnam.

In confidence, we spoke as brothers about our fears, hardships growing-up, family, girl friends, times of humiliation, prejudice, and what we planned to do in our lifetime once our tour of duty in Vietnam was over. We knew each other’s thoughts and spoke as though we would all return home alive, never considering the thought of death or defeat. We had not learned that lesson, yet. Moreover, we dreamed of going home as respected American warriors who defended democracy in a remote foreign land, standing proud, feeling a sense of accomplishment, and experiencing life, as none of our friends at home would understand. Our country had called and we answered.

We transferred to a converted WWII aircraft carrier that carried helicopters and Marines instead of jet planes. We were to traverse the coast of Vietnam and deploy by helicopter into combat zones from the Demilitarized Zone, the imaginary line separating North and South Vietnam, to the provinces and cities of Chu Lai and Da Nang. Then further South, to the outer fringes of Vietnam’s largest city, which was, at that time, Saigon.

Within sight of land, we heard the roar of artillery, mortars and the familiar crackling of small-arms fire. These were sounds we were accustomed to because of months of preparing ourselves for battle. However, for the first time, we understood the sounds were not from playing war games. Someone was likely dead. Anxiety, adrenaline highs, and fear of the unknown swirled within my mind. Was I prepared? Could I kill another man? Would another man kill me? From that point forward, death was part of my life. We would eventually load into helicopters, descending into confrontations ambivalent, yet assured we were young, invincible warriors. We were convinced the South Vietnamese people needed us; many of them did. Thus, our mission was simple: save the innocent and banish the enemy to Hell!

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 This story is continued in its entirety at www.awschade.com. On Friday, Art will share some practical solutions.

AW Schade; a USMC 1965/69, Vietnam Veteran, retired corporate executive and author of the award winning book, “Looking for God within the Kingdom of Religious Confusion.” A captivating, comparative, and enlightening tale that seeks to comprehend the doctrines and discord between and within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism. What the seeker discovers, transforms his life forever!]  Amazon:  Paperback & Kindle  http://amzn.to/JFxPyK   B&N Paperback & Nook http://bit.ly/JFy5On 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted HeroesThe Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

The $0.99 Dilemma

I have a YA epic fantasy novel (I know, not exactly social justice -themed, but I have tried to drop a few values among the swords and magic) that will hopefully be published before the end of the year.

Give that is my first foray into the world of fantasy, it has been recommended that I offer the ebook for $0.99. I would receive only a 35% royalty rather than the standard 70%. The idea is that the first book is so cheap – Less than that cup of coffee you’re holding. And it doesn’t cool off as you read your way through – that genre readers will take a risk on an unknown fantasy author. The quality of the book will hopefully hook a sold readership that will buy subsequent novels in the series (there are already two more written and a fourth on the way).

It makes economic sense. I have invested my own money in a professional editor and an artist who is designing the cover. Otherwise, it is my time and the sweat of my loyal friends at the Berkeley Writers Group. There are hardly any costs involved after the initial set up – website overheads, promotion etc. – but no trees are being felled, replaced, distributed, returned and pulped.

As a consumer, I have found myself dismissing any fiction ebook over $10 on principle, and used to be skeptical about a book under $5, assuming the author might not be ‘good enough’ to sell his/her book at a respectable price. The latter assumption has been somewhat modified since reading a number of excellent books for less than a fiver.

Jeff Rivera wrote an interesting article: Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle?. He intervieweJ. A. Konrath, the author of the Jack Daniels detective series. Mr. Konrath is making a living primarily from his ebooks and is justifiably proud of it. He points out that he is making more from his digital books than his tree books.

Mr. Konrath sells his latest novels electronically for $2.99. With Amazon’s royalty system, he will make $2.04 off each book. He sells his older novels for $1.99. The idea behind this is that people will probably hear of his latest and read that first. After enjoying the book, they can go in and order 5 for $10. They are now packed for their vacation! Even if they order them one at a time, his books are at the price level of an impulse purchase for most people.

But I am having a hard time offering up my baby for $0.99. It seems almost disrespectful to the characters after all I put them through. The book is 95,000 words long, has been critiqued, edited, have its cover professionally designed and undergone a manicure and pedi.

But this is where the businessman/woman comes in, where the agent steps back and sees the big picture. If this is the first in a series of exciting books that a large following will invest in and root for the characters, then there should be no barriers to the reader taking a chance with the first book.

So here are three questions that, if you are so inclined, I would appreciate you answering in the comments:

1) What is your first thought when you see that a book that caught your eye is priced at $0.99?

2) What is the highest price you would pay for an ebook from an author you have never read?

3) What is the highest price you would pay for any work of fiction in ebook format?

I appreciate your guidance. Happy to hear any feedback on the topic. For more on my foray into the world of fantasy, I blog weekly at elfwriter.com and tweet with the same handle.

Have a great weekend.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Save a Cow, Save the Planet

A while ago, I suggested that obesity and wrong food production is the core to our sinking economy. It seems to have resonated with many people and I feel a need to explain myself. In the first of two articles, I want to focus first on the effects on our planet and then on our economy.

However, allow me to begin with a disclaimer: While I was vegetarian or vegan for most of my life, I am not now. It is something I struggle with regarding my own health and have been eating fish for a few years. I have also been known to eat rather than cry fowl.

It’s not just the remains of the animal dead on our plates, but the energy and resources involved putting them there. As John Vidal, a reporter for The Observer in England, and the author of the McLibel case that The Accidental Activist is based upon, once said: “It’s time to think of waste as well as taste.”

When we look for major ways to lower the impact we are having on the earth, where to cut energy, and become sustainable, eating less meat seems to be one of the clearest and most attainable. Note that I said “eating less meat” and not becoming vegetarians. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes of the veggie movement has been this all-or-nothing approach, meaning that those not ready to make such a radical switch are likely to dismiss it.

But there is a more telling reason to cut meat consumption. With a billion hungry people and three billion more mouths to feed in the next few decades, this argument is far bigger than being nice to animals. People are dying of starvation, our planet is exhausting its ability to feed us, and we have the knowledge and technology already to turn this around.

If we really want to reduce the human impact on the environment, the simplest and cheapest thing anyone can do is to eat less meat. Vidal says: “Behind most of the joints of beef or chicken on our plates is a phenomenally wasteful, land- and energy-hungry system of farming that devastates forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, depends on oil and coal, and is significantly responsible for climate change. The way we breed animals is now recognized by the UN, scientists, economists and politicians as giving rise to many interlinked human and ecological problems, but with 1 billion people already not having enough to eat and 3 billion more mouths to feed within 50 years, the urgency to rethink our relationship with animals is extreme.”

Millions of hectares of trees have been felled for cattle ranching in the Amazon. Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Vidal lists 10 environmental concerns that curbing the meat industry would help turn the situation around.

1. Global Warming

2. Land Use

3. Water Supplies

4. Deforestation

5. Waste Management and Harmful Chemicals

6. Ocean pollution

7. Air Pollution

8. Pathogens from animals making humans ill.

9. Depleting the Oil Supply

10. Other Costs – This tenth point is what I will focus on in my next post. There is so much environmental information available now, one needs to make a conscientious effort remain uninformed!

The average American consumes about 200 pounds of meat a year – that is about 1/2 lb a day assuming that everyone eats meat. We don’t. About 7.3 million Americans don’t eat meat at all, while just fewer than 23 million eat a vegetarian-inclined diet. I am not sure what this means, but I doubt they eat vegetarians who are known to be lean and bad tempered when someone sticks a fork in them.

How does this effect our economy? That’s for another post.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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