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 “e-book”

Reviewing Reviews

I have a friend who is successfully establishing herself as a novelist and doing it by selling books on Amazon.com. Francine Thomas Howard is an Amazon Encore author. This means that her first book, Page from a Tennessee Journal, advanced deep into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and was selected by Amazon to publish. They were sufficiently impressed to take on her second novel, Paris Noir.

imgresFrancine is a wonderfully modest woman who attends the California Writers Club’s Marketing & Success Group to help struggling authors with her experience. She does this in a way that is neither condescending nor arrogant. She cares about other people. I don’t know how many successful authors there are around like her, but I don’t see many attending author events unless they are the main act.

Francine protests that she is not responsible for her success beyond the writing of her novels and gives all the credit to the folks at Amazon Encore. However much time and energy she invests in marketing her own books, Francine has done a great job at garnering reviews – 83 for Page from a Tennessee Journal and almost 50 for Paris Noir.

I am convinced that reviews are crucial in a world where people purchase novels on the Internet, whether e-book or tree book, without the help of a friendly bookseller or extravagant display at the front of a store. Surveying several friends I have come to the conclusion that book reviews are critical to sales on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

In particular, when it comes to new authors or authors that the reader has not read before, the reviews offered are scrutinized. Interestingly enough, people seemed more apprehensive about investing their precious reading time in a bad novel over the fear of having wasted money.

I believe that reviews are now the second most important marketing tool. The first is a good old-fashioned recommendation from a friend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influence. I find this strangely comforting.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man 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 am struggling to get reviews for Unwanted Heroes. I implore anyone who tells me they bought it to post on Amazon but most people, unsurprisingly, don’t generally write reviews. They are too busy devouring the next novel on their towering ‘To Read’ pile.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18I do not want to pressure friends because they will feel they must leave a 5 star review, otherwise I won’t car pool their son to basketball practice. I want readers to leave an honest review and generate a solid collection on my Amazon page, but I am not sure how to go about it.

Do you have any ideas how I can solicit honest reviews? Oh, and if you have read Unwanted Heroes (or any of my other books), please take five minutes and leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you hang out.


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.com.

Adopt an author for the holiday season

It’s quick. You don’t need to battle frantic store crowds.  It’s environmental. It’s not expensive … and it helps a struggling author.

Did you know you can buy an e-book and send it directly to a friend as a gift? They usually range from $0.99 – $9.99. Any Kindle book available for purchase in the Kindle Store can be given as a gift to anyone with an e-mail address. You do not need a Kindle device to send or receive Kindle book gifts, and the recipient can read their gift on a registered Kindle device or any free Kindle reading application. All you need to know is that person’s email.  You can add a personal message as well. For more details, click here.

So here’s my idea: Apart from giving a meaningful gift, you are also helping a struggling author. For less than $20 you can buy five ebooks for five different friends and introduce them to an author you know or follow. Be honest – tell them that you want to help promote this author and why – it adds something personal to the exchange.

Adopting an author has five advantages over a pet:

1) We are (generally) toilet-trained.

2) You don’t need to take us out for walks in the rain. In fact, we prefer to sit in front of a keyboard with headphone on.

3) Your guests won’t be allergic to us.

4) We don’t fight with or try to hump every author we pass in the streets. The few of us who do tend to be locked up.

5) When you bring someone home, we don’t bark at them or try and leave a mat of our fur all over them – we just conspire how to work them into that next novel.

Since you are in the mood – here are 10 other ways to help a friend who is an author.

Happy Holidays.



Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, 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).

Wanted: A New Publishing Model

The world is changing, and the publishing world perhaps faster than most other businesses. No one seems to be questioning the emergence of the ebook revolution (unlike global warming). It is now accepted that ebooks are providing an appealing purchasing option (and environmental sustainability) that is proving hugely attractive, both to young people (on techno-life support) and older people (who can either change the size of the font or listen to the book read to them).

The ease with which one can now ePublish a book, often without any financial investment whatsoever, has meant that anyone can throw up a book without honing their craft, or having their book suitably edited. Buoyed by the success of a few leading individuals, people are throwing together series’ that will hopefully build a following and declaring themselves authors.

 The problem with this ePublishing is that it is difficult to distinguish between those who have worked hard to create a good novel learning and respecting all the legitimate components and those who have not. Many books are riddled with spelling and grammar errors, plot issues, or flaws in character development. In fact, according to Penny C. Sansevieri (Get Published Now), only 1% of independent books published reach the industry editorial standards.

This model serves no one: not the reader, the serious author, or the fly-by-nighters. The reader, even when paying only $0.99 or $2.99, can feel that their money and time have been wasted. The genuine craftsman/craftswoman can’t get him/herself noticed among the mass of ebooks, and the fly-by-nighters get frustrated because they fail to build a following and rake in the royalties.

It is a lose:lose model when it should be exactly the opposite.

Most of those writers involved are not interested (or not good enough) to be picked up by agents and conventional publishers. The time span (often 18 months in production), the lack of marketing help, and the inevitable withdrawal of books that don’t reach performance level in a few short months, doesn’t make the conventional model any the more appealing. John Locke, in his must-read book, lays it out succinctly.

JOhn Locke

John Locke

We, the authors, need to set our own boundaries and standards, to ensure that readers retain faith in the model and are willing to invest their time and money in a new author.

 One way that this can be achieved is through author coops. Authors can join together within genres, edit each other’s work, and market within their niche as a group. Each coop establishes it’s level of craft and marketing. Perhaps the group tithes a percentage of their earnings towards marketing as a group.

If there is a holy trinity of website, blog and twitter as Locke advocates, how much more effective would this be if five authors were expanding this platform in a coordinated fashion?

It would be a tragedy if the ebook revolution faltered because of lack of quality. The technology is good for all readers (except those who read in the bathtub), for the planet, and may well force the conventional publishing world to change their own way of doing business.

Anyone out there writing political fiction and interested?


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).

Help A Struggling Author

Left Coast Voices takes great pride in championing the poor, the downtrodden and the exploited. We try and keep it positive by emphasizing organizations and individual who are trying to make a difference and help create a better world.

This post is not one of them. But since it is the season of good will and many of us are considering what gifts we want to buy friends and how to put some good out in to the world, I am going to allow myself a mild dose of narcissism. Actually, I would like you to consider helping a struggling author. It doesn’t have to be me, but if you insist…

Here are 10 ways to help a struggling author:

1.     Post a review of their book on Amazon.com. This is very important and influential. Add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.

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. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

3.     Mention the author’s website or blog on whatever social networking sites you are active. Spotlight them on your blog.

4.     Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it. If it is there, take it out. Even better – reserve it. Why? Libraries track book movement. If a book is in demand in Northern California, the libraries in Southern California etc. might order some copies.  

5.     Mention their book on Goodreads.

6.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

7.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

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. Subscribe to their blog.

10.  Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This list took me less than 10 minutes. I’m sure there are many other ways that I haven’t thought of. If you can think of any, please add them in the comments below. 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 in the season of good will.


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).

Accidental Activist on Smashwords

The Accidental Activist is now available from Smashwords. I am excited about this as Smashwords is a very interesting organization. Its founder and CEO, Mark Coker, was an early visionary of the ebook revolution and recognized that with the constant technological explosion, there was room for a form of ebook that would fit any electronic format. Smashwords elegantly called their technology the Meatgrinder. I love the irony of this. One of the biggest wastes of the tree book industry is the returns policy that many large publishers offer which results in millions of books being printed, distributed, returned and pulped. Greenhouse effect, anyone?

I believe Smashwords uses more cutting edge technology.

On Sunday, Smashwords reached an interesting landmark. They have now produced an astonishing three billion words with over 70,000 books. To put it another way: “…in the last four months we averaged 8.3 million words a day. This works out to about 350,000 words per hour, 5,700 words per minute or almost 100 words per second. Can you hear the keyboards clicking?”

Yes, I can. And all this in less than four years. Smashwords have other attributes. They allow the author/publisher to set the price, and offer vouchers with discounts. They helped sponsor a program where authors offered ebooks for free to US servicemen and women serving in combat zone. I participated in Operation Ebook Drop and gave away more than 100 books during this period.

Mark Coker is a tireless crusader for the Ebook industry and you can see from his articles, countless speeches and panel appearances that he is passionate about his work and his vision.

Mark Coker often speaks in the Bay Area

I love my kindle, but i must admit that I found a flaw. As Smashwords reached it’s 3 billion word landmark, my kindle screen came up blank. I concede – this has never happened with any tree book that I’ve read. Now where is that warranty?


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).

Great News Day

Great news today out of Washington DC: We are hearing first reports of a marathon meeting between republicans and democrats. They agreed on 10 points:

1)    Democrats agreed not to raise taxes while republicans promised that everyone would pay taxes proportional to their income – no tax shelters, no acceptance of ways to ‘save’ on taxes. The additional funds raised will pay for the following:

2)    Cars which do not run on alternative energy or hybrid consumption will cease to be produced in the US as of the end of this year and cease to be imported by the end of 2012.

3)    Non-organic produce will be taxed to pay for all toxic waste disposals. This cost will be shared between consumer and farmer.

4)    Every child in America will receive a personal laptop on entering elementary school. This laptop will have wireless capacity and come packed with educational and fun games as well as e-book capacity.

5)    Teachers will receive salary increases to a mid level company managerial equivalent, along with bonuses for working in low-income areas.

6)    Every young person who finishes high school with university grades will receive financial credits that will cover their tuition at a state university.

7)    Each freshman will receive a hand-held tablet with a yearly credit to buy academic books in electronic form.

8)    Personal finance will be taught in high school, including budgeting, the dangers of credit card abuse, and long-term saving benefits.

9)   America will no longer finance or do business with countries where basic human rights are not observed. These rights include no institutional discrimination based on gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

10) Every US citizen will have access to medical treatment without fear of bankrupcy. Every US war vet will have full access to psychological help.

This program will come into effect on April 1st, a day that will hereafter be celebrated as April Future Day. Anyone who objects to the aforementioned may continue to celebrate April Fools Day. These people will not be discriminated against, merely pitied.


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 Morning After…

Did you wake up this morning the proud, or maybe confused/intimidated owner of something small, electrical, and vaguely rectangular? Did you smile meekly while your loved ones looked on with baited breath as you pulled open the packaging and did they cheer and clap their hands welcoming you into the technological age?

And did they notice when you reached for that glass of brandy and took a gulp instead of a sip? Thousands of years in the future, archeologists will discover that man had a propensity to collect random items and leave them in their boxes. Often, they will claim to skeptical crowds, these gifts ran off of some obtuse energy source which was, no doubt very rare, since these gadgets seem to be hardly used.

Furthermore, they will note, primitive humans had a propensity to acquire the same gadget with slightly better features dispite hardly using the gadget’s predecessor.

Have another sip of brandy. Oh, I forgot it’s the morning after. Well you can always lace your cereal if you do it discreetly.

We are all entering the technological age, whether through brave adventurism, or via our loved ones desire to pull us along with them. You might as well take a deep breath and plunge in. Who knows, you might actually enjoy it.

Such things as cell phones and iPods seem to be accepted by all but a brazen few, even if the desire for the latest phone has nothing to do with actually making a call. The battle, for now, is over the e-book reader. The world (at least those of us who don’t need to worry about a roof over our heads, food at our next meal, or what’s in the water supply) is divided into three groups.

1. Embracing the technology. These people don’t just use their iPad, Kindle or Nook, they embrace it, often with an annoying missionary zest. They don’t take it out of their bag at the coffee shop or on the bus, they brandish it, like a mighty sword from days long past.

They are liable to chastise you, often in a smug, sympathetic way, as you balance your hardcover on your lap. “Oh,” they whine in true Bob Dylan style, “How many trees does a Luddite reader fell…” When dealing with these people, it can be advantageous to note that the hefty hardcover has a distinct advantage over the light, sleek screen – it is far more effective when you take a swing at aforementioned annoying individual.

2. Luddite Conviction. No way! We are already spending too much time on screens. A book is more than just words on paper. You can smell it, feel the page crackle as you move through the novel, feel the weight of the author’s perseverance as you hold his/her masterpiece in your hand… And then the classic, yet oft-doomed line: It will never catch on.

3. Dithering in the Middle. There is some middle ground. I have to admit that I love my Kindle. It is light, convenient, and I get a kick about the environmental aspects. I am also a confirmed Star Trek fan.

However, I do also miss the feel and smell of the book. I love the art of a well thought out book cover, and I also love reading while soaking in a hot bath. My bookshelves are an important part of my identity in the house I share with my family.

Some Advice for The Morning After:

Firstly: Don’t Panic! Take a deep breath and slowly unwrap the gadget and take it out of its box.

Then: Go on your computer and find either the website for the company or go to You Tube. There are some really good, simple, step-by-step videos for people like us. Remember how hard it was to drive a car when we were learning?

Finally: Have another brandy. It is the holiday season after all. And take note: if you are reading this blog, then you have already embraced the blogosphere, the cutting edge of the Internet. You are already firmly in the 21st century, dude. YOU CAN DO THIS!

Oh, and if you did receive a Kindle, iPad, or whatever, this might be a good first book to read on your gadget (couldn’t resist!).


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


Even Glen Beck Stands Aside

Self published Author Takes #1  Ranking on Amazon

David Malki has taken his self-published anthology Machine of Death to the top of the Amazon Best Seller list. Malki’s sci-fi offering knocked Glenn Beck’s recently released Broke off the pinnacle.

Malki couldn’t find a publisher to pick up Machine of Death, so he did it himself and vigorously promoted through the web. As a special incentive, he offered a free e-book to go along with the paper version.

There are only about 200 authors who are apparently living off their book sales – the A-listers we call them. But David Malki has shown there are other ways. If you’re not an A-lister then you have to promote yourself. You need a strategy and you need to stick to it.

If you are following this blog, you are part of my strategy. Hope you are enjoying the ride and thank you!

Have a great weekend.

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




Economic Greed or Strategic Conspiracy?

There have been numerous discussions regarding the correct price of ebooks, including on this blog. While Amazon has allowed publishers and authors to lower the price of their books, they have resisted allowing them to raise the price above $9.99.

This has generally been seen as a commitment to market penetration (helping the reader to become used to purchasing ebooks through offering an attractive price). The question is: why are so many publishers resisting?

The publishers, McMillan, recently confronted Amazon’s policy and told the online giants that they planned to sell their ebooks at a higher price. They wanted to maintain the right to set the price of the book, allowing the retailer (Amazon, Nook, iPad etc.) to set their own commission percentage.

Amazon refused to accept this and actually pulled the “buy now” buttons from the Amazon.com pages of McMillan books (both their ebooks and tree books). While a compromise was quickly reached, the impact of Apple’s iPad and their willingness to accept the agency model that McMillan and other publishers prefer, has led to an erosion of Amazon’s ability to control the price of ebooks.

What puzzles me is why are publishers (and many authors) preferring to raise the price of ebooks especially given that the market is still in its nascent strange? True, they will make more money per copy, but surely they realize that they are going to sell considerably less copies.

Many authors (non A-list) are discovering that once their ebook price drops to less than $5, or even $3, given that Amazon are now offering an unprecedented 70% royalty, their sales become far more prolific. Sales of Oilspill dotcom grew when I reduced the ebook price to $4.99, and Amazon have since dropped it periodically to as low as $3.17.

Given that one assumes the publishing houses have economists with strategic experience, is their decision to raise the price above $10 simply short-term greed, or is it a subtle strategic decision to try and slow the growth of the ebook market.

I doubt I would have thought this a few years ago, but given the recklessness of financial institutions, housing and energy multinationals, doesn’t it make you wonder?


Oilspill dotcom is available on Amazon’s Kindle for the price of a large, fancy cup of coffee. Be warned: the coffee gets cold before you finish the first third of the book!

On The Cutting Edge

I’m feeling good, stoked in fact, on the cutting edge. This week I filled out my forms and uploaded my publishers’ Oilspill dotcom files to Kindle. Today I entered the Star Trek dimension – beam me up Scotty!

Only a few weeks ago, I saw a Star Trek Next Generation episode in which (Lt. Commander) Geordi La Forge, the engineer, was preparing to travel to a convention on Reiser (surpassed Hawaii back in the 22nd Century for most popular business convention destination). He told Data (the android) that he planned a few days vacation and recounted the books he had uploaded as he tapped his pad (a Staff Fleet-issued 24th century Kindle).

So I am stoked. It is not often that a Trekkie can reach out where no person has gone before (well, a few hundred thousand perhaps) and enter into that technological plane.

I believe in the e-book. There is no justification for us to cut down forests and then wonder about global warming. The transportation of books, the warehouse, the garbage generated from paper and ink, and all the other related resources that could be saved if we all went wireless.

I do, however, have to admit that I don’t own a Kindle. Furthermore, even if I did (and the male techno-envy part of my ego wants one), I think I would have a hard time completely relinquishing the written book. Touch, smell, even looking at the collections on my shelf as they passively collect dust, these sensory experiences are all part of an overall experience beyond the screen.

But I am excited, even if slightly hypocritically so, that Oilspill dotcom is now available from Kindle. It’s nice to be a part of the future. Now I’m going home to curl up with a good hardback book, The Accidental Billionaires, which I’ve just purchased. I can’t wait to hear that virgin book spine crack!

By the way: did you know that the iPhone has Kindle accessibility too? Not only that, but let’s say you were reading a book on Kindle, for the sake of argument – Oilspill dotcom – and had stopped on a specific page. Then later on that day you had decided to access it via your iPhone, the phone would ask if you wanted to pick up where you left while reading on the Kindle. Cool – Capt. Kirk never had that kind of accessibility!

Good Writing,


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