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 “CreateSpace”

Defining the Genre – Transformational What?

This weekend I was asked me what genre I write.  I replied: “Transformational fiction.”

“What’s that?”

I was asking for it, since I have adopted a phrase I heard from the presenter of a workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

“I write about change – people who want to help change the world and in doing so experience a change in themselves.”

I began to explain about the books I have published and in process. In A Gardener’s Tale, the mysterious protagonist empowers a young outcast to transform into an important member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, my main character is not one of the activists sued by the oil company, but a self absorbed computer programmer who takes up the struggle against the multinational in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers that he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a deep transformation. As I wrote my novels, I never realized that this was a common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued.

The discussion progressed into which social causes we each work for, and what organizations we are involved with. When we finished, I felt that he wanted to buy my book because of his newly formed connection with me. Best of all, I never felt as though I was trying to sell him anything. I was being me and, passionate as I am about social injustices, I was being genuine.

Brian Judd, a book marketing specialist, recalled in a recent CreateSpace webinar  a man who had written a children’s book about bananas. He would dress up as a banana, which naturally became a talking point.I have tried to dress up my website fit that transformational flavor: the Richard Wright quote, the request to purchase my book at an independent bookstore and showcasing non profits and causes that I support.

This urge to advance a persona behind the book and author feels right. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t genuine, but since I have been a political activist and community organizer (no I’m not announcing my candidacy for President) for most of my life, it fits.

And so I will go out into the world and introduce myself: Alon Shalev. I write transformational fiction. And maybe one day, the person I am being introduced to won’t respond: “Transformational fiction – what’s that?”

Maybe one day they will even say: “Alon Shalev? Yeah I read your novels. One inspired me to…”

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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).

Winning the Lottery

It is true that you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery and indeed there are lottery winners every week. But for the aspiring author, winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) is akin to that precious and elusive lottery ticket.

In today’s economic climate, it is a brave publisher who invests in an unknown author. Yes there will always be the J.K. Rowling out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or have a good friend in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up a literary agent. Then you need the agent to stay in the business to find you an interested publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in  business long enough to … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism pervades among the writing community. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (already better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or more significantly stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace. There is a $15,000 advance along with the publishing contract.

It is an exciting process. As midnight approaches on Sunday, thousands of optimistic writers will sit poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. A month later we will all anxiously await the first cut. We look first for our own names and then those of our friends who have also entered.

For the last two years I have reached the last 250 entries, the Quarter Finals, with The Accidental Activist (2010) and Unwanted Heroes (2011), both political fiction. Like any good lottery player, I was already dreaming of my shining literary future. Alas, I went no further and my dreams were put aside in favor of actively seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed, with The Accidental Activist coming out last year and Unwanted Heroes due this coming spring.

But this is the first time that I am entering the YA contest with an epic fantasy manuscript that I wrote with my eldest son (then 11yrs old). It is my first foray into the world of Young Adult fiction and also the world of fantasy. You can read more at elfwriter.

And once again for the next 48 hours, I will be watching the clock tick away to midnight Sunday night and begin the dream all over again.

I will keep you posted – to the bitter end – but until then, allow me to dream.

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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.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).

Transformational What?

A new member at our writer’s group asked me what genre I write.  I replied: “Transformational fiction.”

“What’s that?”

I was asking for it, since I have adopted a phrase I heard from the presenter of a workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

“I write about change – people who want to help change the world and in doing so experience a change in themselves.”

What followed was a meaningful conversation about my books. In A Gardener’s Tale, the protagonist helps a young outcast change to a central member of the community. In The Accidental Activist, my main character is not one of the activists sued by the oil company, but a self absorbed computer programmer who takes up the struggle against the multinational in order to get laid (well kind of), but discovers that he can harness his talents to help improve the world.

I have written three other manuscripts and, in each, the protagonist goes through a deep transformation. As I wrote my novels, I never realized that this was a common theme until The Accidental Activist was being critiqued.

The discussion at our writer’s group progressed into which social causes we each work for, and what organizations we are involved with. When we finished, I felt that he wanted to buy my book because of his newly formed connection with me. Best of all, I never felt as though I was trying to sell him anything. I was being me and, passionate as I am about social injustices, I was being genuine.

Brian Judd, a book marketing specialist, recalled in a recent CreateSpace webinar  a man who had written a children’s book about bananas. He would dress up as a banana, which naturally became a talking point.

I have tried to make my website fit that transformational flavor: the Richard Wright quote, the request to purchase my book at an independent bookstore and showcasing non profits and causes that I support.

This urge to advance a persona behind the book and author feels right. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t genuine, but since I have been a political activist and community organizer (no I’m not announcing my candidacy for President) for most of my life, it fits.

And so I will go out into the world and introduce myself: Alon Shalev. I write transformational fiction. And maybe one day, the person I am being introduced to won’t respond: “Transformational fiction – what’s that?”

Maybe one day they will even say: “Alon Shalev? Yeah I read your novels.”

——————————————————————————————————-

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

 

 

Updates – An Exciting Month!

January was an important month for me. I entered Unwanted Heroes into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Oilspill dotcom into the IPPY contest. I have already written about the importance of contests in a previous blog entry (January 8th – In Search of Golden Nuggets). In addition, I listed Oilspill dotcom with a company that markets books for a commission.

My goals for February are focused on a number of specific social networking forums. I have been active in LinkedIn groups that, while I learned a lot from the other contributors, have not produced any sales (as far as I can work out).

These are the forums that I plan to work on this month.

1) CreateSpace community
With the merger of Booksurge and CreateSpace, I want to explore the CreateSpace community. This is an active forum of authors and I want to expand my online platform with a group of authors from the same publishing house.

2) Goodread community
This is a community of readers. I have already seen how authors use it to promote their books (harnessing reviews) and there is a very different group of people assembled here.

3) Smashwords Marketing Document: Read Through & Implement
I am very proud to have my ebook published with both Smashwords and iScribd, but I have not put an effort into promoting my ebook outside of this blog. The emerging ebook market fascinates me, and I need to focus on developing my presence in the e-reader world.

4) Amazon – I have purchased the book ‘Sell Your Book on Amazon’ by Brent Sampson. I plan to read through the book this month and implement his ideas. Amazon remains the most effective platform to sell my book. While I experience success (sales) when meeting people face-to-face, the options available in Northern California are steadily shrinking, and I am not succeeding in creating marketing opportunities further afield. If I am to invest time in Social Networking Media, then I need to fully exploit my Amazon store.

5) Amazon community – Amazon do a very good job creating an online community for its customers. In the same way that bookstores use different ploys to get/keep you in their store, Amazon have created a number of communities to achieve a similar goal. This is, therefore, another network where I need to develop a presence.

One of the common threads is to spread my blog throughout these networks. If I am writing my blog, I should try to promote it at each of these forums. This thought has brought me to scrutinize how I am utilizing my blog and what I want to write in it.

A friend of mine recently attended a seminar facilitated by a very successful blogger. The blogger made a number of statements including the need to blog a few times a day (everyday) and also to write passionately about whatever platform is the subject of my blog.

Countdown to a Novel Published began over a year ago as a countdown to the launch of Oilspill dotcom. After the book was published, it became a diary sharing my experiences in marketing and promoting Oilspill. I hope I have honestly portrayed my successes, frustrations and challenges.

I have purposefully avoided sharing inane descriptions about standing in line at the post office and what new protein smoothie I am drinking to increase word production. There are plenty of narcissist blogs and the airwaves are a-twitter (pun intended) with such descriptions. They are read essentially, one would assume, by loved ones, friends and helicopter parents.

Truth is, I am struggling more and more to find topics that I believe are interesting to those beyond my immediate support circle, and I think that this struggle is reflected in the lack of growth in readership over the past 2-3 months. Blogging is a time-consuming component in the little time I have to market my books. I say this while acknowledging the significance of such an investment. But if I am to be truly productive with the time I have, my blog needs to grow, in subject matter and readership.

So I am adding another goal to those listed above: to decide where to take my blog from March onwards. And I would like to solicit your honest thoughts about the direction I should take. So please, drop me a line (comment on the blog, my website, email, or over a beer – yes people still meet face-to-face). I appreciate your input.

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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