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 “California Writers Club”

An Author’s Code of Practice

Earlier this month I gave a workshop for the California Writer’s Club on Transformational Fiction and exploring fiction as a tool to change the world. It was a great session with a group of committed and serious writers all of whom provided insightful material.

At the end, I shared the following takeaway, though not part of the actual workshop, I believe it touches on many of the challenges that writers face. I would like to encourage people to create their own code of practice and hang it in full view from where they sit to write. If you do write your own, please share it with us.

THE SERIOUS WRITER: 9-FOLD CODE OF PRACTICE

These nine tips are inspired by the teachings of Stephen King in his book On Writing. The credit is his, the honor to pass it on is mine, the opportunity is yours.

1. Write Every Day

No excuses. None. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but write the next day. If you can, set a consistent time of the day, but either way, this is a daily practice like anything else for which one strives for excellence. If you can, dedicate a place in your house purely for writing. When you are there, do nothing else. Don’t wait for inspiration. Write, write, write.

2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.

King recommends that you crank out a first draft (don’t stop to edit or contemplate) and then put it in your drawer to let it rest. You need to transition from creator to editor and a break helps build the correct perspective.

3. The Ten Percent Rule.

When you revisit your text it’s time to remove all the superfluous words and sentences. Kick out the clutter and your message gains clarity and power. King advises to cut by 10%. Tough to do, but you won’t regret it.

4. Sacred Space.

This is a profession, a business. If possible, have your own physical place to write. Treat it like an office desk. It should be clean, uncluttered, but you should own it. Just entering and sitting down, puts everything else out of your mind. If you can’t have a physical space, create a mental one. I have certain playlists on my iPod and wear headphones. Kids? Yeah, they are in the house somewhere.

5. Shut Up And Listen.

King has a professional network to back him up. Most of us use family, friends, writers’ groups, and other networks. Solicit honest, constructive feedback – compliments are nice for our ego but don’t advance our manuscript. You don’t have to take every piece of advice that every person suggests. But you do need to listen and consider.

6. Read a Lot.

When you read, you learn. It might remind you of what you should be doing: a cool technique, style or voice. Sometimes you learn what not to do. There are always lessons to learn. Read (or listen to it – the audio is brilliant) Stephen King’s On Writing annually. You won’t get bored.

King reads his own book - v. powerful to listen to.

7. Network.

Writing is only a solitary art if you want it to be. Meet writers at writers’ groups, clubs, conferences or online. Support others and you’ll find support (no leaching). Proclaim that you are a writer. Some may smirk, but you’ll discover new friends and contacts, often unexpected.

8. One-third:One-third:One-third.

Allocate your time to thirds: 1. market what you have published (or plan to), 2. edit what you have written, 3. write your next book.

9. Enjoy and Believe.

It’s the only sustainable way.

10. Deliver More Than is Expected. Always.

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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 Debate Continues

Last month I posted about an author making a living  from selling his fiction through e-books. A friend of mine sent me an update about J. A. Konrath from Henry Baum’s excellent blog about self-publishing.

“Amazon Encore is going to release Konrath’s next novel digitally and in print. AmazonEncore is “a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate.”

While there is much discussion around the self-publishing route, I think the reality is in the effectiveness of marketing and promotion. For the traditionally published author, there is still a lot of work to do to sell your book and see royalties, even more so perhaps than a self-publisher as you see far less money per book sold. Since publishers only really market their A-list authors, any struggling author regardless of how published needs to have a marketing strategy.

Promoting your platform and books can, for the self-published author be more than just royalties. It can also be about creating enough noise to be picked up by a bigger publisher. This is what happened with Konrath and, the fact that it is Amazon picking up the author adds a whole new dimension.

Some shameless promotion – a friend of mine from the California Writer’s Club is Francine Thomas Howard. She is also a recipient of the Amazon Encore with her novel Page From a Tennessee Journal. It is a historical novel dealing with racial tension in the south. Hearing Francine read makes it very memorable.  And I’ve just heard that Amazon Encore have signed Francine’s next novel, Paris Noire.

The only thing for certain in this business, is that nothing is certain, and nothing is going to stay the same.
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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

 

Left Coast Authors: Kemble Scott

I have already shared my love for San Francisco on this blog. It is a city of so many different aspects: a city that can be described as eschewing the alternative. There is nothing more alternative, more San Francisco than SoMa, the novel.

I first met Kemble Scott when he addressed the California Writers Club about his astonishing success as an ebook author. He was one of the first authors to be sold by Scribd. He is a generous man who is happy to offer advice to other writers in a friendly and humble way. He edits the SoMa Literary Review that helps promotes writers in the Bay Area.

Since his book was anything but mainstream, he found it difficult to attract reviews. So he came up with this great idea to post short clips on You Tube of the different areas that the book explores. The 25,000 views helped create a following so when the book was launched it went straight into the Bestseller lists. Here is Chapter One. Be prepared – you will probably want to check chapter 2, 3 and so on.

SoMa, by the way, is South of Market area. During the dot com era, suddenly wealthy young people moved into fashionable lofts in a neighborhood that was known for the darker side of life. Many of the side streets are named after the prostitutes that frequented them.

It remains an area of contrasts – one street boasting trendy clubs and organic grocery stores, while another is dark and used to sell drugs. Living and cruising the neighborhood are people who are pushing the limits of social norms, in terms of sexual practices and lifestyles.

Kemble often mentions his writers group as a source to keep him real. When he told his group that people advertise in Craigslist’s Bay Area ‘roommate wanted’ section to meet prospective partners, two members of the group admitted that they had found their partners in this way.

SoMa can be hard reading. What keeps you involved is the knowledge that these fictional characters exist, and exist in our city. It is the story of desensitized people who are searching for sensation, and they need to seek this in ever increasingly challenging and dangerous ways. It recognizes that this generation is overloaded with choice, with communicating through screens multitasking and absorbing images and data.

Kemble has another similar novel that challenges our views of sexual practice. The Sower, like SoMa, is really well written, with characters that stay with you long after you finish the final pages. His writing also helps paint another layer in the many textures of the San Francisco tapestry.

Here is Kemble’s speech to Google employees.

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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

 

The Drive To Write – Transformational Fiction

Al Levenson, Past President of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writer’s Club, asked me a while ago to write why I wrote. I pondered the question for a couple of days and wrote nothing. Then it just all came gushing out:

I write, first and foremost, for myself. I love the rush I feel when the story flows, when I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the thought process, when the characters leave the computer and shadow me at work, in the gym, at home. I love it when I am transported into their world. For a short time I am someone else.

But I also write because I hope to help create change in the world. I strive through my writings to highlight social and political injustice, and to inspire personal activism. My novels all include characters who have transformed themselves, taken on multinational corporations, overcome great personal challenges, and in my next book –  stood up for the homeless and war veterans. At a writing workshop, I think it was at the excellent Santa Barbara’s Writer’s conference, I heard the facilitator try to launch the term – transformational fiction. It never caught on in the writing world, but it spoke to me.

So I want to promote the San Francisco Writing Conference for Change. It is being held on November 13-14, and is organized by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen , icons of the San Francisco literary community. I recently heard them speak, not for the first time, at the California Writer’s Club. These people have truly learned to fuse a passion with a business that is instilled with values.

Finally, if I’m truly honest, I write to stand out. I want people to see me as a person with something to say, to be enthusiastic about my stories, and for my sons to show their teachers and friends my books and say proudly: “My Dad’s an author.”

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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

 

A Moment of Appreciation

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer’s group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I love my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world. Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel. All this while holding down a full-time (and wonderful) job, and being a meaningful influence as my children develop, as well as being a supportive life-partner.

But it’s hard. I’ve been struggling with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate. In the words of Jack Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Final word: I am speaking at the Californian Writer’s Club on Sunday (March 21), at 2.15 p.m. in the West Auditorium of the Oakland Main Library at 125 14th Street near the Lake Merritt BART station. Enter directly from Madison Street between 13th & 14th Streets.

Love to see you there.

Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

Authors Helping Authors

Yesterday I participated in the first marketing meeting for members of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. At the end of the meeting, we all passed around bookmarks, postcards and other such promotional materials. The idea, based upon the Business Network & Referrals (BNI) model, was for each of us to get acquainted with each other’s work, and pass on the literature to someone we think might be interested.

During the meeting, many of us had to fight the urge not to promote our own work or share pitches. It was quite challenging. After all, we were all there because we are highly motivated to promote our books.

I hope we can create a culture within the group of giving time to helping other authors within the group. This sounds obvious, but we never seem to have enough time in the day to promote ourselves, let alone others.

There are, however, a number of ways in which to do this. If every member of the group did one small thing each day to help promote another group member, then we would discover we are each receiving a lot of help.

Authors generally, if they are not on the A-list, need help from others. So let’s try and create a culture of helping each other. Here is a list of 10 ways we can do this.

1. Post a review of someone’s book on Amazon.
2. 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.
3. Mention their website or blog on whatever social networking site you are active.
4. Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it.
5. Mention their book on Goodreads.
6. Again on Amazon – add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.
7. Spotlight them on your blog.
8. Attend their book readings. Ask questions that make them look good and/or authoritative. Answering questions from someone you know helps the author relax and build confidence.
9. Link your website and their website.
10. Enter their book into a fundraising raffle as a prize.

This list took me less than 10 minutes (and it’s almost midnight – not when I am thinking clearest). If you can think of additional ways, please let me know and I will add them to the list. This is all about win:win. In the middle of a recession, and a ruthless industry that is in involuntary transformation, win:win is something we could all do with.

Good Writing,
Alon

ALON SHALEV’S HOME PAGE

Death to the Publishing Industry: Long Live the Publishing Industry!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the pitfalls of an author receiving a large advance. Despite the feedback I received, I am still convinced that the up-and-coming author would be better off rejecting a $20K advance and asking the publisher to invest that money in book promotion. And yes, I am still waiting for a publisher to test my resolve!

But there is another principle, another cornerstone of the publishing industry that I wish to vilify: The Principle of Returns. In any other industry, the shop can return a product to the manufacturer if it proves defective or damaged. A bookstore can return a book if…it doesn’t sell.

Where is the responsibility? Your average big bookstore will stock around 100,000 books in their store, while taking responsibility to promote only a few. Why should they put any effort into selling any but a select number, when they always have the option of returning the books and receiving a full refund? Barnes & Noble, I understand, are taking a lead in responsible book ordering and trying to find a more sustainable model.

This has two major effects. Firstly, there are way too many trees being cut down unnecessarily and energy being wastefully expended on production (I admit that I have not yet felt a desire to purchase a Kindle or other electronic reader, despite being a fervent environmentalist and Star Trek fan – where do you think the idea came from?).

The second issue is that such a policy is blatantly discriminatory to the smaller and independent publisher, who can often receive a book returned a couple of years later. Such business practices are strangling the smaller publishers and creating a fearful environment of huge corporations that base their decisions exclusively on the bottom line.

Last month, I attended a talk by Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing, a small independent company, at the California Writers Club (Berkeley branch). Ms. Cook spoke about how they often receive returns up to four years after ‘selling’ a book.

But what most annoyed me was Ms. Cook’s account of a recent booksellers’ conference to which several workshops focused on teaching booksellers how to improve a returns instead of payment strategy in. Certainly booksellers who hadn’t previously considered returns as a legitimate and productive business tactic, may well have left the conference thinking why not?

Like Ms. Cook, I am left pondering: why did they not offer workshops on, perhaps, how to promote and sell a book?

I have heard rumors that there are a number of well-placed people in the industry who want to abolish the returns policy, and that they are exploring the idea of creating a publishing house that will not work on this premise.

I have no idea where this stands, and have to admire the courage of anyone in this economic climate who would consider leaving a secure job to set up a new business while challenging one of the sacred cows of the industry, even if it is time to put that cow out to pasture.

Good Writing,

Alon

Btw – I am five days away from holding a copy of Oilspill dotcom in my hands.

Also thank you to those who offered feedback about my website (http://www.alonshalev.com). I really appreciate your input.

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