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 category “Independent Bookstore & Lit. News”

Litquake – When Literature Shakes/Shapes A City

Today kicks off Litquake, a week of literary readings, panels, workshops and talks, that has become a tradition of San Francisco. This week, there are 160+ events with 850+ authors presenting. 

The climax is a crawl around the city to famous literary landmarks with events along the way. If you are interested (and it’s not like theres Fleet Week, or a free music festival to attend), you can pick up details at the Litquake website.

Hope to see you somewhere along the hilly streets of our fair city.

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).

 

Churning Out Books in the Digital Age

The world of publishing is changing rapidly and I think, for the most part, that is good. The industry was bloated, wasteful, expensive, and an environmental disaster. The move to eBooks, the competition from those who can now publish their own works or create their own boutique publishing company, means that even the best authors need to avoid complacency.

Ready to be pulped. A shame we can’t plant them and replace the trees.

But there are inevitable side effects to this new shift.  One such phenomenon was spotlighted by Julie Bosman, in an article entitled: “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.” Ms. Bosman gathered any quotes from other sources mentioned in this post.

In the previous model, writing a book a year was considered impressive and many A-list authors struggled to achieve this level of creative input. Now, however, with an audience thirsting for more, and having instant accessibility with eReaders and falling prices, publishers are demanding more from their authors, often in the form of short stories, articles, novellas, and often as not, another full length novel.

It is all about presence on the Internet and publishers are demanding that their authors are out there. It is not just books, but a social media presence. Authors are expected to be on twitter, blogging, Google+, Facebook, giving interviews and blog tours.

“It used to be that once a year was a big deal,” said Lisa Scottoline, a best-selling author of thrillers. “You could saturate the market. But today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.”

Ms. Scottoline is now producing two books a year, doubling her writing output, and this is often fueled by a fear that readers won’t hang around waiting for the next book, but will move on to the next author.

Publishers are often demanding short stories to be published in between novels and prior to a launch, especially when a series is being produced over several years.  Lee Child, who writes the successful Jack Reacher thriller series, publishes these short stories in digital-only format.

“Everybody’s doing a little more,” said Mr. Child, who is published by Delacorte Press, part of Random House. “It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”

Apparently publishers have discovered that a $0.99 short story will drum up support for a new eBook at $12-15 or $25+ for a hardcover. Given the impulsiveness in eBook purchases (if you like one book by an author, you will drop $20 to buy several of their older books) providing a welcome rise in sales of earlier books.  

That can translate into higher pre-order sales for the novel and even a lift in sales of older books by the author, which are easily accessible as e-book impulse purchases for consumers with eReaders.

But where is the balance between asking for more from authors and seeing a decline in the quality or level of creativity from authors? And are we going to see more burn-out from our top authors? And, I can’t help wondering, whether this is why we are seeing a rise in ghostwriting?

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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).

Author Salon – Creating Community

I have written several times on Left Coast Voices about initiatives that create online communities in a win: win framework. I think that Meetup is a good example of this. I have also written about how the idea of an author’s life being a solitary one is outdated and ridiculous. If a writer chooses to walk alone this is his/her choice. There are many options today that Mark Twain never had.

A Master At His Desk

So I was excited when a colleague introduced me to Author Salon, a new initiative aimed at helping authors prepare to pitch and market their manuscripts. It is a win:win community wherein the author is able to hone their work, while agents and publishers can delve in knowing these writers have done their due diligence.

When you sign up for Author Salon there are a lot of questions about your work. Often these questions make you look at your manuscript through new eyes. This is essentially the idea, that you see it not as the writer, but as the agent or publisher.

You will need to refine your pitch, synopsis, introduce your characters, clarify the overriding conflict and examine many other aspects. You need to plan for a few hours at least and this is only the first round.

Once you have completed your proposal, it is reviewed by peers and the Author Salon staff, all experienced agents or people who have worked in the publishing business for years. You get graded as your proposal is developed and this enables the agents and publishers who troll the site to know who is holding a more finished product.

This is not a get-rich-quick or silver bullet offer. Author Salon seems to hold pretty high standards and if you have a tender ego, perhaps you had better give this one a miss.

However, if your goal is to get published, if you fear your manuscript sinking into the publishers’ ever-growing slush pile and if you are willing to do what it takes, Author Salon might just be the answer.

Slush Pile

For those interested in learning more, here is the Author Salon mission:

First, to make Author Salon a preferred source of discovery for literary agents, producers, and publishing house editors. Author Salon opens channels to professionals to keep them updated on desirable projects, and for those who wish to search, we provide detailed writer and project profiles, multiple search parameters, and lists of high-rated projects, thus enabling professionals to more quickly obtain a range of information, and in a manner conducive to productive decision-making.

Second, to create a 24/7 writers conference environ utilizing a criteria-based step by step workshop approach that includes a primary and upper level peer-and-pro review process, a separate two level review by Author Salon, additional forum-based draft workshops, as well as a final top level review on the part of seasoned peers and players in the publishing business. We tell the writer what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be developed further – while they can still do something about it – and before an agent or publisher shuts the door in their face.

Third, to sustain a suitable and pragmatic work space for the nonfiction and novel writing community that combines the technical advantages of a Facebook-like environ (instant chat, site mail, video embeds, etc.) with the content approach of Publisher’s Marketplace. In other words, Author Salon provides the communication and features technology the writer community needs while enabling easy access to a backdrop of publishing news, as well as writer resource and craft content.

Fourth, to make Author Salon a trusted source of tie-breaking, valuable information on fiction and nonfiction writing, craft, publishing, and book marketing that avoids the myths and sticks only to the facts.

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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).

Amanda Hocking Joins Elite Group

Amazon.com have just announced that Amanda Hocking has joined the Kindle Million Club. She joins Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, John Locke, Kathryn Stockett, Janet Evanovich, George R.R. Martin, David Baldacci, and Stephenie Meyer.

Amanda Hocking

Amanda, together with John Locke, sold most of her books herself through self-publishing, then working incessantly to promote them online. Hocking, still in her 20’s, is now the best-selling author of 10 books, including the My Blood Approves series and the Trylle Trilogy. The latter has been optioned for movies.

When asked, Hocking paid tribute to her readers, thanking them for their support. She also praised Amazon for creating the Kindle platform. This is humble and welcoming, but I have been following Ms. Hocking’s blog, and she reached this landmark by tenacious belief and hard work.

Beautiful Covers - We share the same cover designer.

Congratulations, Amanda Hocking.

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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).

Amazon Challenges Publishers Pt.2

This is a continuation of Friday’s post, a further examination of Amazon’s new approach to woo authors.

Barry Eisler, who turned down an attractive offer from St. Martin’s Press, and is publishing his new book himself through amazon is not deterred by the claim that he is restricting his audience by only publishing for Kindle readers. Eisler states that his book will be available without DRM (digital rights management) and therefore it can be read on any e-book reader, including the Nook and the Kobo. Many of us have, in addition to publishing through amazon, also published through the successful Bay Area start up Smashwords which I discussed a while ago on Left Coast Voices.

More telling, Eisler can sell his book at a low and attractive price for a broader audience. With a traditional publisher,  a hardcover would cost $25, and astonishing in my opinion, an ebook for as much as $13. “Availability six months earlier and at half the price seems like a pretty good deal for readers to me,” Eisler added and you can see his point.

This new strategy  between amazon and authors such as Eisler, or popular author Tim Ferriss, is a hard blow for traditional publishers. They had been more than tolerant with writers such as Amanda Hocking who created their fan base outside of the traditional framework only for a publisher to step in and help both the author and publisher profit. This new strategy, however, is pulling popular writers such as Ferriss and Eisler away from traditional publishing world.

In the process, Amazon is making the rest of the traditional industry look out-dated, inefficient, and profit-driven. If they are to woo such authors, they must shorten their publication process which is glacial in comparison to Amazon. They also need to understand that their price structure is antiquated in the face of technology.

I do not think that all is lost, however. Many of these emerging authors are businessmen and women and extremely pragmatic. Read John Locke’s new book as a case in point. 

As Eisler puts it: “My objectives were to make more money from the title, to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions. If a better way comes along … of course I’m going to take it. Publishing for me is a business, not an ideology.”

The market is such that an author will take a publishing deal if it is lucrative enough. If it is not, however, they might decide to look for other options and Amazon is ready to welcome then in. The ball is in the court of the major publishers. They need to adapt fast or risk joining the dinosaurs.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Amazon Challenges Publishers Pt.1

Friday today and another story from the publishing world. Amazon.com continue to redefine the publishing world. Earlier this month they released a new line of kindles, the handheld reading devices. At the bottom end, the basic no-frills model comes at the lowest price yet of $79, while at the upper end, the Kindle Fire has color and can be used to stream movies, surf the Internet, play games and host a vast amount of apps. Apple junkies are quick to point out that it lacks many features of the iPad, but with the Fire at half the price, it has to take a bite out of iPad sales (do we have an iPad 3 coming out soon?).

But Amazon are taking other steps to dominate the book world. The features of the new Flame has techie junkies claiming that Amazon are about to launch a “Netflix for books.They already have their own self-publishing platform (Createspace) and even created a streamlined publishing platform that is solely digital based.

Now Amazon are busy signing up authors for their own imprint. I have already featured authors who have learned to use the system to amazing results including J.A. Konrath and young-adult author Amanda Hocking — who made more than two million dollars by publishing her own books via the Kindle marketplace before signing a $2-million deal with a traditional publisher earlier this year.

Now there is an interesting new addition. Thriller writer Barry Eisler, a former CIA operative turned author, made his name as a self-publishing success story. However, when his sales garnered the publishing industry’s attention in a big way, he turned down a $500,000 advance for two books with St. Martin’s Press in March, and announced he would self-publish his new novel instead.

Eisler wants his independence and the most efficient model

In an NPR interview, Eisler — who has several New York Times  bestsellers which were published  traditionally — says he has come to the conclusion “that mainstream publishers simply aren’t as efficient or as useful to authors as they used to be, now that there are other options.”

“To say that publishers really care passionately about books as though they are concerned about what’s better for the world … I’m sure when they look in the mirror they feel that way. But in fact, what they care about is preserving their own position, perks and profit — that’s just what establishment players come to do over time.”

I’m not sure that this is a fair comment. The publishing houses have a right to chase profits and both publishers and agents that I have approached or been approached by, were very honest about this. If an author is going to get offended (and I’m not claiming Eisler is) when a publisher asks more about your marketing model and target audience rather than focus on the quality of your story or the message behind it, then the author also might need to look in the mirror.

Eisler was more direct, I think, in the New York Observer, when he says that one of the reasons he decided to decline the St. Martin’s deal was that the publisher was simply too slow in meeting its obligations. St. Martin’s, for example, took more than four months just to send a draft contract, “and during that time, the landscape of the industry had changed to the point where many of the terms were no longer acceptable — in part because of the explosion of e-books and self-publishing.”

Eisler also criticized legacy publishers who deliberately slow down the process of publishing a book, to earn interest on the money they would otherwise have to pay to authors. “By contrast, he said, Amazon was willing to sign a deal immediately and then guarantee to have the e-book version and the paperback version of his new books on the market long before a traditional publisher could.”

“What I care about is readers, because without readers I can’t make a living [and] I want people to read a lot. To that end, if I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that.”

Eisler’s frustrations, long expounded by authors, were heard by a opportunist giant in the book world, who is willing to listen to its authors and readers and adapt. More tomorrow.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Starving Writer

Yahoo’s Financially Fit Website recently ran a number of articles about people living on very little income. One particular story grabbed my attention.

” … we tracked down Joseph Fonseca, a writer currently living in Seattle who supports himself on $20,000 a year. Fonseca, 28, authored a first-person piece in the Washington Post over the weekend describing his “10 cities, 10 years” project, in which he moves every year and starts over in a new town. An aspiring novelist, he plans to eventually write a book about his quest.”

Joseph Fonseca - seriously committed to getting published

Most of the article deals with how he budgets and lives on such little money. You can catch that part here. But what struck me is how far we are willing to go to realize our dreams of becoming authors. I rarely go to bed before midnight and am up by 6.30 in the morning. I realize that I am extremely blessed to have a loving family and a job that inspires me, so please don’t take this the wrong way. but the drive to write and get my books out to the world is immense. Outside of work and family, I have little tolerance for anything that take my time away from writing.

I was recently told by a well-known agent that, while he liked my work and me personally, he would not work with me because I am not willing to make my ambition of being a widely-read author my only goal. I protested that I have a family and a meaning job, to which he agreed that these were all very important, but that is not what he requires of his authors. He, I realize now, would prefer me to be the starving author like Mr. Fonseca.

I hold on to my dream and will realize it while balancing my responsibilities to family and work. I will burn the clock and continue to set and pursue the goals I seek to make it work. I keep telling myself that it is good to be multifaceted. But I would love to have a beer with a guy like Joseph Fonseca, especially when he writes sentences like this:

“To retire requires having a career to retire from. My ambition is to be a writer, and I’d love to be writing into my old age, to be like Vonnegut and write until the day I die. “

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

Christopher Moore – As Left Coast As They Get

When Christopher Moore offers a book signing in San Francisco, people flock to hear and meet him. When he launched his last novel, Fool, more than 300 hundred people lined up around the perimeter of Books Inc eager to have him sign copies of their books or to exchange a word. I had gone hoping for a little chat…some chance!

But Moore didn’t become a cult hero in San Francisco because of his parody of Shakespeare (Fool) or even the book that launched him, the irreverent and hilarious tale at the first 30 years of Jesus’ life (Lamb). What has enabled Moore to gain such status here are his three books about vampires in San Francisco.

The Man – as funny in person as on the page.

Please don’t bother if you want to be terrified, or if you seek Stephanie Meyer romance. Christopher Moore wrote the book (excuse the pun)  on how to create characters, bind them to a city, and have people begging for more. This is why I chose to write about him during California Writer’s Week and on Saturday for my “Writer’s Corner.”

At the book launch that I just mentioned, the questions were not about either his latest book or Lamb, it was all about the books that bound him to our city, and why we claim Christopher Moore as one of our authors, even though he lives in SoCal.

A Dirty Job, Bloodsucking Fiends – A Love Story, and (after he released Fool) Bite Me, all contain three vital ingredients: a vivid city, engaging characters, and that extra ingredient – in Moore’s case, his wicked sense of humor.

With such a combination, Christopher Moore came up from Santa Barbara and conquered the heart of our fair city. He deserves his place in my California’ Writer’s Week.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

California Writer’s Week

Eight years ago, a Joint Legislative Resolution  was passed in Sacramento to recognize California Writer’s Week which begins today. The authors of note include a fine list that we can all be proud of.

Gertrude Atherton (1857-1948) Mary Austin (1868-1934)
Raymond Barrio (1921-1996) Delilah L. Beasley (1872-1934)
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) Ina Coolbrith (1841-1928)
Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) Bret Harte (1836-1902)
Jack London (1876-1916) Joaquin Miller (1837-1913)
William Saroyan (1908-1981) John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
George Sterling (1869-1926) Mark Twain (1835-1910)

But I can’t help feeling that this reinforces the old adage that the only way for an author to be successful is to be a dead author. So I want to spotlight several authors who are alive today and crafting their magic in the Golden State.

My list includes (with no significance to order) Christopher Moore, Kemble Scott, Adam Mansbach, Deborah Majors,  Matt Stewart, Seth Harwood, Tanya Egan Gibson, John Putnam and… I’m sure there are many more.

I realize as I am writing that most of them actually share something in common – they write about San Francisco, or at least Northern California. I guess this is important to me. My next three books will be based here because San Francisco is a magical city that I have fallen in love with, so I guess this makes sense, even though I haven’t connected the two in creating this list.

It's in Black & White.

Therefore, I want to share a few of my favorite local authors with you over the next week, all of whom are alive and can be met at numerous author events that they participate in. Meeting inspiring authors remains a thrill for many of us and perhaps this is a flaw of the newly consecrated California Writer’s Week, that it highlights authors from the past.

So it is slightly ironic that California Writers Week follows Litquake, a San Francisco smorgasbord of literature-related events, apparently based on the premise from USA Today, that San Francisco has the highest per capita consumption of both alcohol and books.

Whatever the reason, it is a great event. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to curl up with a good book and a bottle of wine. How I love San Francisco! Who is your favorite Bay Area author?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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).

 

A Look Back At Borders

There is a great article on CNN about the demise of Borders, great as in one of historical value and a look behind the ethos of the company. Although I wrote a tribute to Borders after my final author appearance there, I want to share this story. Employees talk of the pride and mission they felt working there, and the original owners vision.

A sad sight to any eyes

Truth is, I miss my Borders. There were two situated near my home and office respectively, both with convenient parking and I used to peruse when I wanted to buy books for my staff at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover. I created a tradition where I give a gift of a book to each of them that I hope will be meaningful or timely for them and I used to deliberating in a store. This year, I did my search online.

But it is my fault that they collapsed. I am the typical customer who rarely purchased a new book. I often picked up something from the bargain bins for myself or a friend, but that never paid salaries. And yes, I admit that I often used Borders to research books that I then bought used, often on Amazon.

Now I have my kindle (or I will when it gets fixed) and I am truly committed to the ebook revolution, primarily for environmental reasons. I believe the most expensive ebook that I have bought new in a while is $7.99. I bought a couple of YA books for my son (Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlings) new and in tree book form (we are a one e-reader family), but this is not the pace that the remaining bookstores need.

Joe Gable, right, manage a 1st Borders. Robert Teicher, left, the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

Still, though I have no cause to complain, I miss the sensory experience of Borders: the clean store (and bathrooms), the color, choice, smell, armchairs, and conversations with their committed staff (read my son’s Eragon experience – he will remember that moment forever).

As I mentioned, I am firmly behind the ebook revolution, but I will miss the disappearance of the bookstore if this is their destiny. I understand that my children’s life will be more screen based, but I would like them to share this experience. And yes, I get a kick out of seeing my books on their bookshelves.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) 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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