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 “reviews”

A Place for Tree Books

My latest novel, Unwanted Heroes, was released in ebook format over Thanksgiving. I was stoked. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the electronic book revolution and my Facebook status lists me in a steady relationship with my kindle. I would, I admit, consider an open relationship but no iPad came down my chimney last month – I really should ask the landlord for a chimney.

When the ebook was released and I alerted the usual suspects, I was surprised at the number of people who responded with: “Let me know when the paperback comes out.” My surprise was because many were people who enthusiastically embrace the tech revolution and could probably download and read a book simultaneously on their phone, tablet, laptop, computer, TV, and by just staring up at the cloud.

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But they choose to hold a ‘real’ book in their hands. They want the feel, the crackle of pages turning (there must be an app for that), the smell of a book (how about an ink-addiction app?). One person told me that, when buying a book by an author that she knows, it doesn’t feel right if she is not holding ‘a real copy’. For authors she doesn’t know personally, she buys ebooks.

Two months ago my family moved house and for a long time there was a great wall of boxes in every room. I realize that the point when I began to feel at home was when I was able to unpack and shelve my books. This was my identity, my stamp on the territory.

On Wednesday, Three Clover Press announced the release of Unwanted Heroes in paperback. So, all you tree book lovers, I would be honored for a place on your bookshelf.

I have also set myself a goal to garner five reviews on Amazon for Unwanted Heroes. If you have read the novel, please consider leaving a review. It is very important to me. Thank you. 

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And just for the record:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an elderly, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed abruptly surface, cementing an unlikely relationship that just might release each from the tragic pasts that bind them.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

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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).

Shopping for the Holidays? Beware the Attack of the Fanboys! – Tom Rossi

People have come to depend somewhat heavily on online reviews of products to help them make shopping choices. Whether it’s a gift or something needed or wanted for ourselves, online reviews can help us to avoid products that are poorly designed or manufactured.

They can also help us to determine whether a product or type of product will do for us what we need it to do. Will this blender crush that dirty chunk of ice that forms under my cars fenders in the winter? Will this electric shaver work on my back? Can this hair dryer double as a hot glue gun? Can i use this vacuum cleaner to enlarge my… well, you get the idea.

Websites like Amazon.com have lots of ratings that customers have posted. Some of these are painstakingly detailed. Some people seem to have lots of free time and use it constructively, maybe in hopes that someone like me won’t buy a Yugo or something. And in addition to the long and detailed reviews, some are concise and to-the-point. These can be almost as informative.

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But then come the spoilers. These come in several forms. One is the fake review: “This is the perfect thing for young couples just starting out!” or, “This book was written by a liberal and I’m sure it has liberal ideas. Therefore I’m giving it one star out of five, even though I haven’t read the book myself.”

But the most dreaded, evil entity, lurking in the reviews, is the “fanboy.” Fanboy (not the cartoon character) is a pop-culture word, and there’s no reason not to suppose a fanboy might be female, but that’s the term. Fanboys cruise Amazon and other sites, looking for negative reviews of some product or brand they are in love with. Then they rate the review, itself, as “not helpful”. It seems these little gremlins probably have multiple accounts, so that they can rate a review as “not helpful” enough times as to make it kind of disappear, especially on sites that have the highest-rated reviews at the top of the list.

Fanboys also write inane, negative comments in response to reviews, ridiculing the original reviewer. They ridicule, write five-star reviews of things that aren’t that great, write negative reviews of competing products, and generally confound the process any way they can. Some fanboys might actually be employees of a company and trying to improve its image, but it probably doesn’t work.

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“Free market” freaks tell us that, without “interference” from government safety or quality regulations, the capitalist market would solve issues of poor quality because, if something isn’t good, people will stop buying it. How is that theory supposed to work with so much dishonesty out there? Fanboys engage in the sabotage of free speech. They use lies and tricks to get people to like (or seem to like) what they like or to buy their company’s products.

What motivates this behavior? In the case of the company employee, it’s pretty obvious. But when it’s a true fanboy, who is simply in love with his Dell laptop, or his Easy-Bake oven, something else is happening.

For some people, it’s very important that their tastes and choices are validated by others. I had a roommate once who recommended a movie for the three of us who shared an apartment in college. He thought this movie was just the best thing ever, and it was, in fact, very good. But just because we knew how easy it would be to irritate our friend, the other roommate and I just said, “Meh. It was OK.”

“Just OK?!?!?! What are you, crazy?!?!?” He practically tore his hair out because we, apparently, didn’t like the movie as much as he did. And I’ve had people try to talk me into changing my taste in food, women, cars, music, you name it, and all so that they can feel validated by my agreement. Likewise I’ve received many approving, sometimes even admiring looks from people I happened to share similar tastes with, in one area or another.

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These feelings are not abnormal, but I’ll say this to the fanboys out there: Grow up! The fact that I like Guinness and you like Coors Light doesn’t make one of us better than the other… Well… yes it does. Bad example. But you get the point. Taste is taste. Let people have their own, and let people communicate honestly about things, so that they can make informed choices for themselves.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was 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 have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

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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 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).

 

A Request for Help

It’s been a good week with the interview from Frank Mondo, of the LA Books-Examiner, buoying my spirits.

I want to ask a favor from those of you who have read Oilspill dotcom. If you have finished reading it (or when you do), could you please take a few minutes to post a review on the amazon.com website.

This is becoming my main distribution channel and I need to exploit the tools they provide. I will spend the next week polishing up my amazon page to make it as attractive as possible to the casual browser.

I had hoped to focus my efforts in marketing Oilspill dotcom through the independent bookstores. I love these shops and am sad to see so many closing. A local bookstore is like…a local coffee shop (also a disappearing breed). They seem to be part of the community fabric.

However, it is not proving easy to secure readings and shelf space. These small shops have limited space, for a reading or on the bookshelf, and do not always have the staff to organize. They ask understandable, but challenging questions, like how many people I will draw to the store for my appearance. I remain (for the present) a small fish in the literary ocean.

Thank you for posting a review on Amazon. I have set a goal for 10 reviews by the end of the weekend.

Good Writing,
Alon

http://www.alonshalev.com/

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