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 “blogging”

When Blogging Becomes A Way Of Life

Three years ago, when I signed with Three Clover Press to release The Accidental Activist, I made a commitment to reach 1,000 blog posts in three years. This was based upon the belief that the blog creates a live and interactive platform with ever-changing content and feeds the more static website. Left Coast Voices was born.

 “The richest people in the world build networks. Everyone else looks for work.” Robert Kiyosaki

I will get there by the end of the year, but I never expected to be as enthused today as I was when I wrote those first posts. At the time, I wanted to build a platform, to get my name out and direct people to my books. I wrote extensively about multinationals when The Accidental Activist was released – this being my favorite, and about war veterans after the release of Unwanted Heroes.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

At the time, I felt like one of a few who were consistently blogging and it wasn’t long before Lloyd Lofthouse, author and mentor to me, and I were being invited to speak about blogging.

But blogging has come a long way in these past few years and it is difficult to imagine how to get heard above the noise. There are a few who build a loyal following. I wake up every morning, make coffee and faithfully read the daily Arseblog post – which provides me with more than just the latest news of my favorite soccer team. A bloke in Ireland is pounding the keyboards every day. He has a podcast once a week and is now offering a Google Hangout where he brings other Arsenal bloggers on board. And I lap it up…every day without fail.

imagesAs I approach the 1,000th post, I am wondering where I want to take the blog. I love the contributions of Tom Rossi on Tuesdays and Roger Ingalls on Thursdays. Norm Weekes chips in every month or so with a powerful message, and it sometimes has a feeling of community.

So, if you have a minute, please answer the following three questions in the comments below:

1. What do you like about Left Coast Voices?

2. What would you like to see more of?

3. Are a variety of topics a good or frustrating thing?

If you are interested in joining the team and having a weekly post on the blog, please shoot me an email at alshalev at yahoo dot com.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Thank you for being part of this exciting journey.

This post was inspired by the great bloggers at Savvy Writers. Their post includes an excellent visual analysis of who is blogging and why. They also deserve the credit for the Robert Kiyosaki quote (as does Robert, of course for saying it!). Any author would be well-advised to follow their blog for really good social media articles.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

An Imaginary Author’s Co-op

There are a lot of authors out there, a lot of books, and a lot of noise on the Internet. Each author racks his/her brain for an original idea to blaze a trail in one social media or another that will create the elusive momentum that will propel a series of book sales, of movie options, and publicity.

That’s a lot of work for one person, especially one who would prefer to sit behind a computer screen creating new characters, plots and worlds. Even more so, that comes after possibly a full time job, helping the kids with homework, paying the bills, working out…

DSCN1387I believe I spend an hour a day blogging, tweeting, answering emails (as an author). I often do this with ease; either early in the morning, during a lunch break, or after my boys are in bed. But I am giving seven hours a week to promote myself and if I had more time, I would delve into Facebook, Goodreads, redesign my website, participate on other people’s blogs and forums.

What if I spent that time promoting not only myself but also five other authors, all writing within the same genre? What if we parceled out each social media forum, not exclusively, but the person in charge of Twitter, for example, would delve deeper into how best to leverage this medium. We would all tweet, retweet, dm, and build our own twitter following, but the cross-pollination would make it six times as visible.

girl-hugging-words1

And then, we would offer extra time and focus when someone’s new book is published. We would write reviews on Amazon, on their website, interview them on our own blogs, and recommend them to friends. I recently went to a party and could have given my book-loving friend a book. She has read mine, but why not then give a copy from someone in my co-op. 

It demands honesty and trust. We are all desperate to ensure our own success and need to rein in the tempting opportunity to promote ourselves to the detriment of others. A ‘friend’ stood up at a venue where I spoke, told everyone how great The Accidental Activist is, and how it reminds him of his novel… and he then went on to pitch his own.

One of the best events I participated in was a panel set up by the historical fiction author, JoAnn Smith Ainsworth. There were four authors and we all flowed in effortlessly. We had decided that Christine London, a romance author, would be our informal facilitator, and probably no one in the audience noticed as she occasionally directed a question to an author who had been quiet for a while. The audience was considerably bigger than it would have been if it was only me appearing – there were fans of all genres.

Borders 0211

I spent almost half my life on kibbutz and when we all worked for each other the synergy was amazing. Is it possible to replicate such mutual support in the world of promotion, sales, and money?

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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.  

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Join The Party

Left Coast Voices celebrates its third birthday this month. We are approaching 700 posts, have been viewed nearly 36,000 times, have over a hundred loyal followers, and have generally had a good time, offering our opinions without annoying too many people along the way.

What I enjoy about Left Coast Voices is that we attract people with a variety of views who can articulate their opinions. You can be a liberal but here that doesn’t mean you have to support everything about our president. Just because you are excited by the potential of the Occupy movement, doesn’t mean you agree with every action.

Our readers think. Our writers think. 

I want to take the opportunity to thank Roger Ingalls and Tom Rossi, who have become regular partners, tying up the Tuesday and Thursday slots. My only regret is that we have not hung out more often at Jupiters – micro-brewed beer, serious pizza, and great conversation. Norman Weekes has joined us on a less regular basis, but we are grateful for his contributions. You are always welcome, Norm.

I believe the diversity of writers is what makes our little community special. You never quite know what article or topic you are going to get and who is going to agree/disagree with whom.

I feel ready to offer up a slot to a fourth person. The criteria are that you write weekly (each contributor gets a consistent day: Tom – Tuesday, Roger – Thursday) and observe the three NOs – no racism, sexism, or homophobic comments. If you wish to write on a specific theme – gender, local grassroots, food justice, environmental, occupy etc., that would be great. If you prefer to choose a different topic each week, that works too.

I will teach you the mechanical aspect of blogging on WordPress and you will find a supportive team behind you. Along with the collaborative nature, there are other advantages. Left Coast Voices has its platform and following. We feed off each others followers  – you are not blogging for your mom and best friend (though they are both very important!). If you have a book or cause to promote in your signature, you are welcome to do so.

If you are interested, let me know in the comments below. If you have something to say, we can help you say it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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 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).

 

 

 

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).

Reaching A Proud Landmark

Today, Left Coast Voices broke into the top 500,000 blogs according to the Alexia rankings. That puts us in the top 0.123% of blogs in the world (yeah, I did the math). With a great team of Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls, more people are reading the blog every day and our future looks bright.

As you might have noticed, the blog is a mix of political commentary, recognition of grassroots activism, and experiences and developments in the writing world. The latter will now be restricted to weekend posts for the near future.

If you have a moment, please share in the comments some feedback regarding the following questions:

1. What do you enjoy about the blog and what is missing?

2. Are you more interested in political commentary/grassroots activism/insights into the writing world?

3. Is there a particular issue/organization/topic that you would like one of us to cover?

One aspect that we feel we are lacking is a woman on the team. Do you know a woman who might be interested in blogging once a week, perhaps focusing on women’s issues, or just highlighting a woman’s perspective? 

So a big Thank You to my publisher, Lloyd Lofthouse, at Three Clover Press, who has been a great source of knowledge and support in every aspect of blogging. A really big THANK YOU to Roger and Tom for their weekly posts, their dedication and enthusiasm. But most of all, the biggest THANK YOU goes to you, our readership, who make our day by reading the post, adding to the comments and proving that honest debate and social activism is the most important component of a thriving democracy.

In a world where so many are fighting at this moment for the right to open debate and democracy, our freedom is something we should all be proud of. This spring, blogging has shown itself to be a powerful tool for freedom. Blogging knows no borders. Hopefully freedom of expression and debate will soon truly be a global value in a brave new world. 

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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).

The Future of Blogging

There have recently been a few articles suggesting that the blogosphere is in decline. Perhaps it is part of the five-minute attention span that seems to be evolving – been there, done that – a desire to master something, even if only superficially, and then move on.

An article in the New York Times by Verne G. Kopytoff (02/20/11) recently suggested as much citing statistics illustrating that the younger generation is moving on to Twitter and embracing the ever-expanding capability of Facebook.

At a recent meeting of bloggers, one experienced person explained how there are about 250-300 million blogs out there and how we need to strive to break into the top 0.5% of rankings. My first reactions was: Wow! I’m competing with 300 million others for your attention, never mind all the other media platforms that we turn to – websites, Twitter, e-groups, Facebook, etc.

Then I thought about it. Many blogs are set up and then discarded when the writer discovers that only his mother is really interested in what he ate yesterday, or that it is actually hard work to consistently provide content and implant all the links, tags etc. Then again, many blogs were the offshoots for future blogs. Left Coast Voices is my second blog. That means I am responsible for at least 1 of the 300 million blogs out there.

I don’t believe that blogging is the right medium for everyone. Furthermore, I don’t see it competing with Twitter or Facebook as they are so very different in content. Actually, most mediums leverage Facebook to get the word out about whatever else they are doing. There is an automatic thread from this blog that feeds onto my Facebook page.

Blogs are more active than most websites (I know there are exceptions), but I see my website as the place people go to research me and my books. My blog is a daily offering of news, organizations and people who I feel it is important to promote. Occasionally it is about my successes and failures, just so my mother knows what’s going on.

As such, I think blogs are here to stay. I think the shrinking statistics that Mr. Kopytoff offered in his NY Times article only offer so much information. Anyone can create a blog, but only a few will be disciplined/motivated/consistent enough to continue blogging.

And it is okay for someone to discover that Facebook or Twitter offers a better platform for whatever they are trying to achieve. It is legitimate for high-school students to experiment with blogging and then give it up . I salute them for trying.


I believe we are still in the early days of social network platforms. New ideas will emerge and millions will experiment with them. Only a small percentage will continue to exploit and develop them. As long as we don’t put too much credence in statistics, I am fine with this.

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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).

 

Finding the Time to Blog

I recently spoke to a group of writers and outlined why I blog and the strategy behind it. External and internal links were interesting, book sales generated from blog drew a question or two, but what people really seemed to want to talk about was how I found the time to blog every day.

I was surprised. I thought people would ask more technical questions or where I look for ideas, but the whole issue of time management seemed to have struck a chord. And I am not sure why this surprised me. I have a full-time job that often demands time beyond the 9-5 Monday to Friday, young children who are still fleetingly young enough to enjoy their father’s company, creeping blood pressure that sends me regularly to the gym, and a wife who is incredibly understanding and supportive.

I want to suggest a few best practices that help me, though I need to admit that I find juggling everything into 24 hours to still be incredibly challenging.

1. Know what you want to write before you sit down to blog. I allocate an hour a day to blogging which includes writing, research, finding links and pictures, adding tags and categories. I rarely fit this into the allocated hour, and never would if I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to write. When to think about it? The shower, the commute, on the treadmill… When NOT to think about it? When helping your child with their maths homework, when your partner wants to talk, when the Golden State Warriors are blowing a 20-point lead (it’s your fault!).

2. If you are at your computer during (um) work and an idea comes to you, take a minute to open a new post and write in a few words. It will make it so much easier when you do sit down to blog – you will come off the starting line sprinting.

3. Keep it brief. People don’t want to spend too much time reading, and if they do, then you provide them with links.

4.   When you are blogging, you are not reading email, checking the soccer results, or multi-tasking. You are focused and running against a clock.

5. Find a quiet place to write, somewhere where no one can distract you. In my little house, my desk is by the kitchen table – the one we eat from, the one the children use for their homework, the one where any guest not watching TV is going to gravitate to. I rarely can creatively write at my desk. It explains my caffeine intake and why entrepreneurs think they can open a coffee-house on every street corner in Berkeley in the midst of a recession.

Like I said, I am not exactly the perfect example. I am posting every day and have been since October, but I also haven’t been writing. My last two novels were both written in an intense period of time (86,000 words in 100 days, 91,000 words during the summer). I am desperately missing the creativity of writing the story. I have two books ready in my mind, one a sequel to Unwanted Heroes and the other is a sequel to the fantasy novel I wrote with my eldest son.

I guess that sleep is just overrated. Still, I love my family, my job, my writing, and even the gym (at least once I’m there). I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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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

Find Me An Author Making A Living From E-books!

So there I was at a party to celebrate the season of goodwill and I get cornered by Scrooge (it’s okay –  he doesn’t have time for blogs). He is a businessman in the City and when I told him about my books, promptly asked what my marketing strategy was. Without waiting for an answer, he launched into a rather unflattering (and unfortunately rather accurate) analysis of the book industry and its bleak future.

When he stopped to inhale, I waxed lyrically (a combination of enthusiasm for my blogs and a very good glass of Merlot) about the e-book revolution and my publisher’s strategy of focusing on blogging and selling mainly e-books.

Thoroughly bored with me after about three sentences, he waved his hand and challenged me. “Get back to me when you find a fiction writer who is not already a best selling author and is making a living from selling e-books.”

Then he walked away, and I was left counting the hours before I could leave the party, get the kids to bed and fire up my laptop.

Blessed be the Goddess Google. I found someone. Thank you to Galley Cat, four writers who claim to have the “first word on the publishing industry.” Whether true or not, I am in your debt for this interview with J. A. Konath.  Since I am only going to summarize the interview and gloat, click here for the full interview.

J.A. Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels series, his main protagonist is a Chicago cop who “chases seriel killers and other loonies.”His books are fast paced, with plenty of action, dialogue, and humor.

And yes, he has successfully built a career, which means a living wage selling his e-books, including outselling such successful competition as James Patterson.

“Unfortunately, the print world is flawed. The business model–where books can be returned, and where a 50% sell-though is considered acceptable–is archaic and wasteful. Writers get small royalties, little say in how their books are marketed and sold, and simple things like cover and title approval are unheard of unless you’re a huge bestseller.”

He also doesn’t want to put the time needed into self-publishing as what he really enjoys is actually writing. I hear you, sir!

Now down to business:

Mr. Konrath is averaging about 180 sales a day through Kindle. He also brings in royalties via the Nook, iPad and through Smashwords (a ‘meat grinder’ that prepares e-books in most major publishing formats).

With the royalty rates at 70% from Amazon and Konrath’s e-books selling for $2.99, that means he makes $2.04 per sale. This adds up to $134,000 a year. I tip my hat to you sir!

When the royalty rate for Amazon switches to 70%, I’ll be earning $2.04 on a $2.99 e-book. That’s $134,000 a year. I also plan on uploading three more e-books this month, which I expect will sell well because fans are anticipating them.

Konrath suggests that offering books for the price of a cup of coffee makes them impulse purchases and therefore so attractive. As a Kindle owner on a tight budget, I can testify that I am willing to buy a book by an author I don’t know for $3-5.

The challenge is how to make your books stand out from the masses. Konrath has tried the conventional route of reading in bookstores and conferences and no longer believes this is the right way to develop a visible writers platform and fan base. He is also focusing on his blog and website, as well as staying active on social networks.

Thank you, Mr. Konrath I am now armed and ready for the next skeptic I meet at a party!
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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 www.alonshalev.com


And So It Begins…

Today, The Accidental Activist is officially launched at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. The tree-book is up on Amazon and the e-book will soon follow. Oilspill dotcom is being withdrawn from all outlets. Hold on to yours – it is about to become a collectors’ item!

The Accidental Activist is essentially the same story. New title, new cover and the text has been raked over by Three Clover Press editors and the language tightened.

Countdown to a Novel Published, sadly neglected over the past couple of months will stay dormant. As part of the terms with Three Clover Press, my publisher, I am committed to posting every day at Left Coast Voices.

The focus on blogging as a way to bring traffic to my website and selling pages for my books is intriguing. For those authors who stay the course, the results are clear and, best of all, encouraging. You can’t argue with statistics and sales. I certainly won’t.

Over the past year, I have jumped from one marketing tactic to another. I have read in bookstores and community centers but these have been very time consuming with little return. The consignment game played with small independent bookstores is depressing. It’s not their fault, but there are serious cracks in the system.

So it is an ending of sorts, a parting of ways from Oilspill dotcom and Countdown to a Novel Published. It’s been a great journey, a learning experience and now both the book and my resolve as an author are more focused and more optimistic.

Hope you’ll become a regular here at Left Coast Voices. Leave me a comment – it’s not quite a conversation over cappuccino, but let’s keep in touch.

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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 www.alonshalev.com

 

Summer’s Over!

It went so fast. Five weeks on the road: vacation, family visits, book promotion, and work. Now it is all over and we are back into the routine of life. It has been an eventful time, but it is also a watershed. Here is an overview:

1. Oilspill dotcom will be withdrawn by the end of September. After just over a year in print, it has been picked up by Three Clover Press. They will publish the novel under the title: The Accidental Activist. It has a wonderful new cover and has gone through numerous rounds of editing, both human and computer editing programs.
The Accidental Activist will be launched at the NCIBA trade show (Northern California Independent Bookstore Association, I think!) in mid October.

Oilspill dotcom is about to become a collector’s item: Hold on to your copies!

2. Blog: While this blog will remain to share my triumphs and…well triumphs, I will focus my marketing through a new blog on Word Press. Left Coast Voices will focus on politics and activism here on the West Coast. While writing entries for the group identified as potential readers, I hope to expose them to my novels and they won’t be able to stop themselves from flocking to the bookstores, and e-book sources.

This is an interesting approach. Other authors at Three Clover Press are doing this with encouraging success. However, it is a lot of work. Blogs succeed with a certain formula: multiple daily entries, links, and social media promotion. It feels daunting given that I manage to carve maybe an hour slot each day to write my new novel, edit the one being read at the Berkeley Writers Group, and market the books published.

3. Social Networking: I have been focusing my social networking efforts on various author e-groups around the ‘net. The idea is to offer constructive responses and leave a signature that will encourage people to check out your website and possibly to buy your books.
I will continue with this, but focus on groups that reflect my writings such as political activist groups. This is going to take a while to research and find the right groups. With the growing success that I am seeing for fellow authors myself and with Kindle, I will begin with groups on Amazon.

4. Website: It has been a few months since I updated www.alonshalev.com/. With the new book being launched, it high time that I work on this. Please take a moment over the next month to check it out and feel free to offer any suggestions to help improve it.

5. Alliance: This is where it gets complicated. Why didn’t I do all these aforementioned tasks over the summer when things slowed down? Actually they didn’t really slow much, but this is not the issue. I wrote in an earlier blog entry that my son Pele and I started writing a fantasy novel together.

The reality is that I have really got sucked into this and, as with my last novel – Lost Heroes – the story is pouring out. We have written over 45,000 words in the past few weeks and there is no sign of slowing down. It is constantly on my mind and I am having a hard time focusing on anything else in my writer’s world.

So, summer is over. At Hillel the next few months are intensive and I need to be totally on board for my students, staff and our stakeholders.

I’ve always thought sleep to be severely overrated!

Good Writing,
Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

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