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 “J.K. Rowlings”

A Look Back At Borders

There is a great article on CNN about the demise of Borders, great as in one of historical value and a look behind the ethos of the company. Although I wrote a tribute to Borders after my final author appearance there, I want to share this story. Employees talk of the pride and mission they felt working there, and the original owners vision.

A sad sight to any eyes

Truth is, I miss my Borders. There were two situated near my home and office respectively, both with convenient parking and I used to peruse when I wanted to buy books for my staff at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover. I created a tradition where I give a gift of a book to each of them that I hope will be meaningful or timely for them and I used to deliberating in a store. This year, I did my search online.

But it is my fault that they collapsed. I am the typical customer who rarely purchased a new book. I often picked up something from the bargain bins for myself or a friend, but that never paid salaries. And yes, I admit that I often used Borders to research books that I then bought used, often on Amazon.

Now I have my kindle (or I will when it gets fixed) and I am truly committed to the ebook revolution, primarily for environmental reasons. I believe the most expensive ebook that I have bought new in a while is $7.99. I bought a couple of YA books for my son (Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowlings) new and in tree book form (we are a one e-reader family), but this is not the pace that the remaining bookstores need.

Joe Gable, right, manage a 1st Borders. Robert Teicher, left, the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

Still, though I have no cause to complain, I miss the sensory experience of Borders: the clean store (and bathrooms), the color, choice, smell, armchairs, and conversations with their committed staff (read my son’s Eragon experience – he will remember that moment forever).

As I mentioned, I am firmly behind the ebook revolution, but I will miss the disappearance of the bookstore if this is their destiny. I understand that my children’s life will be more screen based, but I would like them to share this experience. And yes, I get a kick out of seeing my books on their bookshelves.

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Goodbye Harry Potter

Dear Harry,

It’s been a while and I know that it’s my turn. We saw each other back in July and I knew in my heart (and also because J. K. Rowlings sounded pretty adamant) that this would be the last time we meet. I know there is an extravagant theme park somewhere, but I’m only a few hours on the I-5 from Disneyland, and for a family on a single income, it might as well be the last stop on the Hogwarts Express.

I actually began to make notes for a sequel, a story of you ten years down the line, but you’re not my genre and just one minute of the ensuing lawsuit will probably cost more than the entrance to your theme park. And if I am honest, and I think you always knew this in your heart, that you were – well – just not my genre.

I write political fiction, holding the torch for some political injustice and you just cut right to the chase of right and wrong, of the battle between friendship and greed. We were never meant to last. But still, Harry, I need to thank you.

In a world of senseless video games, three-minute You Tube song videos, 140 letter tweets, and texting abbreviations, you made 500-page tomes not only popular, but a rite-of-passage. In twenty years time when my nest is empty (I know it will happen a lot quicker than that, you don’t have to remind me!) and I look back at my happy little family, I will remember:

– lying on the big bed reading the stories to my boys.

– the wonder of seeing my oldest learn to read and read faster and faster as he held the latest book in his hand.

– seeing my youngest struggle through two pages of Harry Potter 1 when it was way above his reading level and sighing when he saw that there are still another 318 pages.

– the excitement building up to the release of a new book or movie (I think these were the only books we bought new and in hardcover).

– the annual family Potterfest – several days of TV dinners watching the movies and then snuggling on the love seat in pj’s to keep watching ’cause dinner can only be so many courses.

– the discussions about good and evil, romance, and death.

So this is the end, Harry, the final letter. I don’t expect a reply. You always delivered in the past, but I got the message as I sat in the movie theater this summer. It’s over. We had a good run, learned a lot together, laughed, loved and cried and, well, we’ll always have the memories, Harry. I’ll think of you every time I look at the bookshelf.

And do thank Joanne when you next see her. I guess without her we would never have met.

Your Friend,

Alon

p.s.  there are many magical moments in parenting, Harry, without the use of a wand (though sometimes I rather fancy it might help!).

——————————————————————————————————

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).

Would You Pay To Meet An Author?

The average amount of books sold at a book signing is eight! When you take into account the luminaries such as Stephen King, John Grisham, J.K. Rowlings et al, then there are some very sad and frustrated bookstore staff and authors. When Christopher Moore launched his novel Fool in the heart of San Francisco, people lined up around the store and outside waiting for him to sign a copy of this or any other of his hilarious novels. There were a few hundred easily. It was a good night for Books Inc.

But many stores are getting tired of the publicity, room preparation, staff time etc. all for a handful of people. According to the New York Times, some independent bookstores have decided to charge admission (often a gift card that can be redeemed for the author’s or another book). Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel highlighted this in a recent article after the Boulder Book Store in Colorado announced in April that it planned to charge $5 a person to attend store events. In the same month, local Menlo Park bookstore, Kepler’s Books, began to charge a $10 gift card as admission for two people. if the customer bought the book at the store prior to entering the event, the fee was waived.

Alon Shalev speaking in a Barnes & Noble

One of the few advantages that the brick-and-mortar bookstores have over their online competitors is the ability to bring authors and readers face-to-face. 

Here are some reactions from the field (taken from the aforementioned NYT article):

“There’s no one right now who’s not considering it,” said Sarah McNally, the owner of McNally Jackson Books in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. “The entire independent bookstore model is based on selling books, but that model is changing because so many book sales are going online.”

Is there still magic in meeting an author?

“We don’t like to have events where people can’t come for free,” Anne Holman, the general manager of The King’s English Bookshop, an independent store in Salt Lake City, said. “But we also can’t host big free events that cost us a lot money and everyone is buying books everywhere else.”

Bookstore owners say they are doing so because too many people regularly come to events having already bought a book online or planning to do so later. Consumers now see the bookstore merely as another library — a place to browse, do informal research and pick up staff recommendations.

“They type titles into their iPhones and go home,” said Nancy Salmon, the floor manager at Kepler’s. “We know what they’re doing, and it has tested my patience.”

Heather Gain, the marketing manager of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., said “We’re a business. We’re not just an Amazon showroom.”

Ouch!

Ann Patchett was interviewed while on her three-week book tour for her new book, “State of Wonder.” She was appearing at  such an event at Kepler’s. She understood the bookstores’ problem, but worried that this wold exclude those who can’t pay for a hardcover book such as  students or the elderly. “I wouldn’t want the people who have no idea who I am and have nothing else to do on a Wednesday night shut out,” she said. “Those are your readers.”

Alon Shalev speaking in Oakland

Publishers aren’t happy either since they often pay for the author to travel to the bookstore. If the bookstore is charging entrance, shouldn’t it at that point pay the author or publisher for the appearance?

Customers seem willing to pay when they know the author (and are probably going to buy his/her book) and some are willing to pay to support the independent bookstores.

“You get a real sense of community …” one said. “You get an intellectual community that gathers around books, and that can only happen at a bookstore.”

Others however have questioned this: “Who would the money go to? Not to the author?” he asked. “That’s terrible.”

What do you think? Are the independent bookstores just cutting off one of the only advantages they hold over the online stores? But if most of us do move over to Ebooks, will that spell the end of our local independent bookstores? And then, what else are we missing out on?

——————————————————————————————————

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).

A Better Chance Than The Lottery

True, you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery. Also true that 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 are the J.K. Rowlings’ out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or know someone in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up an agent. Then that agent needs to stay in the business and find a publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in the business and … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism gets the better of us writers. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or rather stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace.

It is an exciting process. At midnight on January 24th, we all sat poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. In a month’s time 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.

Last year. I reached the last 250 entries. 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 seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed – I have nothing to complain about. But that didn’t stop me this year watching the clock tick away to midnight and begin the dream all over again.

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

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

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: