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 “B&N”

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.

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).

 

An Author’s Secret Santa

Just before Thanksgiving I wrote a post suggesting that the holidays were an opportunity to help a struggling author. I suggested giving their book as a gift and when small talk is required, promoting it (“Hey. Read any good books lately?”).

I was delighted to hear from a couple of authors who each said that they experienced sales thanks to friends either giving their books as gifts or through word-of-mouth. With all the sophisticated techniques available to market products, I find a certain smug satisfaction that experts acknowledge word-of-mouth to be such an effective tool.

So with the next set of holidays upon us, why not pitch the idea again? In addition, here are a couple of other simple ways to help your friend, the struggling author.

1. Write a brief review of the book. It doesn’t have to be more than 1-2 paragraphs. I’m certain the author would appreciate if it is posted on Amazon.com or the B&N.com website. There are other important sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari. If you know of other good sources, please leave a message in the comments below. Where do you look for information on books? Post it there.

2. Create a Wikipedia page for your friend. While authors can’t create their own Wikipedia page (without getting a “conflict of interest” badge of shame), other people can. You can.

Every author deserves a Wikipedia page, since a published book grants the author at least a modicum of fame. On the Wikipedia page, feature a short bio, a bibliography, a link to the author’s website. How encouraging for an author to discover a spike in his/her search engine traffic due to a link posted on Wikipedia. It’s kind of like having a secret Santa!

3. Recommend your friend’s website online. Link from your website, blog, Facebook page, etc. Tweet about it. When your friend writes a blog post that moves you, link to it. If your friend tweets something great, retweet it. Feature a quote from your friend’s book on your website. Or tweet the quote.

Remember when you throw a stone into a lake, it hits the water in only one place, but its waves can spread a considerable distance. I realize that many of you are living near frozen lakes right now, sorry. But maybe you can throw a stone online and give your friend, the struggling author, an extra present for the festive season.

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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

 

 

Help an Author over Thanksgiving

From Thanksgiving through December is a period of great festivities and socializing. We give gifts to our dear ones for whatever holiday(s) we celebrate. We are invited to people’s houses for dinner or a party, and often we go stay with relatives.

Now I admit that I love receiving a good bottle of wine or a special box of chocolates since these are rare purchases in our tight family budget. But I want to suggest that you look at the gift buying as a double opportunity. Provide a nice, meaningful gift, and help support a struggling author.

From this thought came a list of 10 easy ways you can do to help the author. I would like to share 3 of them that would be easy to do during this season of goodwill. Moreover, I firmly believe that what goes around comes around – when we help someone, we are in turn helped by others.

1. Buy your friend’s book, and if you enjoy it, buy it as a gift in the situations mentioned above.

2. Where should you buy the book? There has been a lot of discussion about where to buy books. Your local independent bookstore is probably struggling to survive. If it is important to you that such businesses survive, now is as good a time as any to patronize them. This is also good for the author as the bookstore will often order 2-3 copies.

The same actually goes for both Barnes & Noble and Borders. They are struggling and closing stores. Also when one store orders a specific book, there is a good chance that other branches in the region might buy it as well – you could start a chain reaction (pun intended!).

First choice: the independent bookstore nearest you (that will help your friend get her book into that store on a regular basis). Second choice: a chain bookstore like Borders or Barnes & Noble (if they start selling the book locally, they might buy books for more stores in the chain). Third choice: the author’s website (the author makes the most money when selling direct). Fourth choice: buy direct from the author. Fifth choice: Buy from Amazon.com (preferably from the link on the author’s website).

3. Recommend your friend’s book. If you like the book, recommend it to friends. Blog about it. Tweet a review or mention. Share a note on Facebook. Recommend the book to your book group. Post a review on Amazon.com, and other reader social networks. People do read them before making a purchase.

Word-of-mouth remains the most effective form of marketing. So when you are standing at that family get together by the fireplace with Uncle Moe, swirling your wine glass and trying to think of something you have in common beyond shared genes, how about this for a great conversation starter:

My friend just wrote this great book…” And you never knew that old Uncle Moe’s friend at the golf club has a son who works for Random House and is looking to discover the next John Grisham to impress his boss and save his job.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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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

 

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