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 “independent bookstore”

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).

Independent Bookstores – Looking for Ways to Survive

Last month, more than 500 independent bookstore owners got together for a conference to discuss creative ways of generating more income. Julie Bosman covered the event in the New York Times.

What was clear was a consensus that just selling books wasn’t going to be enough. Even the giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble are struggling. There were optimistic voices:“We know now that in the world of physical book selling, bigness is no longer viewed as an asset,” said Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, which has independent stores in South Florida, Westhampton Beach and the Cayman Islands. “It’s about selection and service and ambiance. Now we’re finding a situation where the marketplace is getting back to reality.”

But there were also calls for changing the rules. “We have to figure out how we stay in the game,” said Beth Puffer, the director of the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan. “You have to rethink your whole business model, because the old ways really aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

There was a lot of focus on taking the bookstore to the customer and harnessing websites, social media, and even selling e-books.

Matt Norcross, the owner of McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., led a workshop on creating a store Web site and market both tree and e-books. The chosen host seems to be Google, perhaps seeking a bigger ally to fight Amazon.com. So far, they seem to be struggling to get their names out there on the web.

Naftali Rottenstreich, who is an  owner of Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, N.Y., said it it would be a huge challenge to accustom customers to the idea of buying books online through the independent bookstores.

“The mindset right now is, that’s Amazon or that’s Barnes and Noble.com,” he said. “There’s a transformation that has to take place, and I think it will happen in time.”

The idea is difficult. Their customers are willing to pay more for the privilege of perusing in an intimate environment, with staff that are familiar or them. The online idea loses all of this.

Other ideas include adding wine bars, cafes, and selling other products such as toys, baked goods or gourmet products.

Last October, I heard a lot of fear at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association conference. While I am sure there was fear aplenty at this conference, there seems to be a strong desire to adapt and survive.

Do we really want our Main Streets devoid of a bookstore? What does this say about our values and what message is it passing on to our children? Or is Main Street even going to be relevant to the next generation’s buying experiences?

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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

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

 

 

Green Apple Bookstore

When my wife and I used to live in Israel, we would come to California every few years to visit her family. We’d drive up to San Francisco for a few days and do the rounds: Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Cable Car, and The Green Apple Bookstore.

Now it is not like you couldn’t buy English language books in Israel, even used books. In the later years, we even had something called the Internet and this neighborhood bookstore called Amazon. Yet somehow, we found ourselves drawn each visit to this special bookstore and would inevitably leave with bags of books, worried about our luggage weight restrictions.

I was always mystified why Green Apple had this effect on us. It is a store filled with, um, books, and has the same smell as most bookstores (especially the small, cramped independent ones). Now, five years into living in the Bay Area, when I find myself in the Outer Richmond neighborhood, I can’t help but pop in.

Recently I caught up with co-owner, Kevin Hunsanger.

AS: What value does your bookstore provide for the local community?

KH: In addition to offering a welcoming space to freely browse, to meet with friends and to engage in spirited dialogue, Green Apple also regularly hosts author events of all types, both within the store and off-site, in venues ranging from grade schools to dive bars. We also have a very active used book buy counter where folks can turn their unwanted tomes into cash or trade; if we can’t use the material, customers have the option of feeding the free box, an area directly in front of the store where anyone can have books for free.

AS: Who is the most inspiring author you have met? Why?
KH: I have met hundreds of authors in my nearly two decades of work with Green Apple, but the one most inspiring would have to be Dave Eggers. He has an international celebrity that rivals the most popular rock stars, yet he consistently donates his time, money and imprint for a wide variety of causes in a most unassuming manner. Then of course, there was that one lost weekend with Nick Tosches, which began with clandestine Absinthe and ended with my car being totaled – but that’s another story altogether.

AS: What community events or campaigns has your bookstore been involved in?
KH: Green Apple has regular 20% back to schools weekend fundraisers; we donate boxes of books to The Red Cross; we donate gift certificates to various charitable causes for auction. But the campaign that we’re most proud of was 2008’s ‘Give a kid some credit’ year, when we gave each 4th grade student in SF Public Schools a $10.00 gift certificate, no strings attached! We issued about 4000…

AS: If you were to retire tomorrow what would you most miss from your work?
KH: Without a doubt I would miss our customers and wonderful staff most.

Finally, many in the book industry are extremely apprehensive of the ebook advances. I want to share with you the response of the Green Apple’s staff. Click here (www.greenapplebooks.com) and look under videos (at the time of writing it is in the top right corner of the home page) for the 10-part Book .v. Kindle series. Then sit back with a glass of… and enjoy the show!

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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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