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 “twitter”

50 Shades of Discreet

About a month ago, I sat in a coffee shop writing early in the morning, when I glanced at the screen of the man sitting next to me. He had a website with very scantily dressed women on it. I was taken aback, not by the content, but the fact he was willing to do this in a cramped coffee shop.

Boundaries dude?

Now here is a confession. I am reading 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James, the first in a trilogy that at the time of writing are #1, #2, and #3 on Amazon’s Bestseller List. I share this fact to point out that I am probably not the only one reading it. 

I have the novel on my kindle and, well, it has served as bedtime reading. Last week, I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Arc, the Cardinals and Budweiser. It also has a terrific children’s museum with a shark pool that you can toss your child in with ease. 

My journey home was long and arduous, and I soon finished my magazines, exhausted my laptop battery and turned to my kindle. In the growing darkness, I curled up against the window and read 50 Shades of Grey.

On the second flight, I sat next to a young (female) lawyer who was reading litigation books and (I suspect) not happy to sit between two middle-aged guys, one of whom was trying to make conversation (the other guy, btw). On the third flight, I was placed next to two women who were discussing their church. I was self-conscious.

There is nowhere to hide your laptop screen but a kindle has only words. It occurred to me that with the advent of eReaders, people cannot discern what you are reading. There is no visible book cover. You are in your own world, anonymous and unaccountable.

That Spreadsheet Looks Good!

I share this because I have recently read about a growing and flourishing erotic book business, spurred by short stories sold at $0.99 for the eBook. I wonder whether this has been because people are searching for more channels to explore their sexuality or because there is now a medium to read anonymously.

What excites me (bear with me) about this is the possibility that people will read books that are more risky politically. Perhaps someone growing up in a Christian family will dare to read about evolution, a gay teenager can find material to guide him/her through a turbulent journey, or an addict read a self-help support book on the train. We have seen how Twitter has played its part to overthrow oppressive regimes, how about the eReader?

But while the Internet and eReader can help push the boundaries of personal and political exploration, looking at erotic photos at Starbucks remains off limits.

Have a great weekend.

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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).

 

Who Are My Target Audience?

I recently asked readers of my elfwriter blog to help me define a target audience, a cornerstone of any book marketing plan. It occurred to me, almost two years after The Accidental Activist was published and a few months before Unwanted Heroes, that I still fumble over what my genre is and to whom I am marketing. Transformational fiction is a good topic when I give talks, and social justice-themed novels is rather a mouthful.

Twitter has offered an interesting insight into this. When looking to grow your following, you check out people who your target audience is following. Given the content of both Left Coast Voices and my social commentary orientated novels, I have looked into the Democratic Party, President Obama and Nancy Peolsi. I have also followed a number of publishing gurus hoping to attract other writers and authors.

I once wrote an elevator pitch about my writing: I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can make a better world.

If you read this ‘genre’ of novels, please take a minute and answer the following questions in the comments below:

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in a novel?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. What examples have you read of social justice themed novels? Why do you remember them?

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey. Please pass it on to anyone you think might share our interest.

 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 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).

Churning Out Books in the Digital Age

The world of publishing is changing rapidly and I think, for the most part, that is good. The industry was bloated, wasteful, expensive, and an environmental disaster. The move to eBooks, the competition from those who can now publish their own works or create their own boutique publishing company, means that even the best authors need to avoid complacency.

Ready to be pulped. A shame we can’t plant them and replace the trees.

But there are inevitable side effects to this new shift.  One such phenomenon was spotlighted by Julie Bosman, in an article entitled: “Writer’s Cramp: In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.” Ms. Bosman gathered any quotes from other sources mentioned in this post.

In the previous model, writing a book a year was considered impressive and many A-list authors struggled to achieve this level of creative input. Now, however, with an audience thirsting for more, and having instant accessibility with eReaders and falling prices, publishers are demanding more from their authors, often in the form of short stories, articles, novellas, and often as not, another full length novel.

It is all about presence on the Internet and publishers are demanding that their authors are out there. It is not just books, but a social media presence. Authors are expected to be on twitter, blogging, Google+, Facebook, giving interviews and blog tours.

“It used to be that once a year was a big deal,” said Lisa Scottoline, a best-selling author of thrillers. “You could saturate the market. But today the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.”

Ms. Scottoline is now producing two books a year, doubling her writing output, and this is often fueled by a fear that readers won’t hang around waiting for the next book, but will move on to the next author.

Publishers are often demanding short stories to be published in between novels and prior to a launch, especially when a series is being produced over several years.  Lee Child, who writes the successful Jack Reacher thriller series, publishes these short stories in digital-only format.

“Everybody’s doing a little more,” said Mr. Child, who is published by Delacorte Press, part of Random House. “It seems like we’re all running faster to stay in the same place.”

Apparently publishers have discovered that a $0.99 short story will drum up support for a new eBook at $12-15 or $25+ for a hardcover. Given the impulsiveness in eBook purchases (if you like one book by an author, you will drop $20 to buy several of their older books) providing a welcome rise in sales of earlier books.  

That can translate into higher pre-order sales for the novel and even a lift in sales of older books by the author, which are easily accessible as e-book impulse purchases for consumers with eReaders.

But where is the balance between asking for more from authors and seeing a decline in the quality or level of creativity from authors? And are we going to see more burn-out from our top authors? And, I can’t help wondering, whether this is why we are seeing a rise in ghostwriting?

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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).

Twitter: A Tool for Writers to Create Community

After a week of twitter articles and how they can be used or prevented from using for social change, I thought I would offer a more author-directed post for the weekend. Today’s authors and aspiring authors (a few hundred A-listers notwithstanding) rely heavily on creating a social media platform, a ‘presence in the Force,’ to quote Darth Vader, who was known for his sociability across the galaxy (kind of puts world-wide web into proportion, no?).

A year ago, I wrote a coupe of posts, one of which began: “I am still struggling with how to use Twitter.” I had actually splurged $1 for a pocket-size Twitter for Dummies book at Office Depot (didn’t even write it off as a tax deduction) but never really started until December. 150 days later and I have over 10,000 followers for @alonshalevsf (and over 8,000 for @elfwriter which feed my epic fantasy blog at www.elfwriter.com).

Now I admit, I have not sat down for coffee with each of these people personally. This is only in part because i am already worried about my caffeine addicti0n. But I am having some great conversations, in a format that allows us to keep it short and tight.

Twitter is, she says, not about selling books, but provides  an excellent way to build your networks and reputation. We all know that we  sell books when people meet us, whether face-to-face or online. Here are a few of the tips that Ms. Smith recommends. To read all ten, click here.

  1. Help others by sharing information, while you gain a reputation as an expert. You can post links to helpful articles, recommend resources, offer tips and discuss other books that you enjoy.
  2. Stay on top of news and trends in your field or genre, and get ideas for your articles and blog by reading the tweets of the people you follow.
  3. Ask for help and get instant responses – things like feedback on your book title, cover design or website. It’s amazing how helpful folks are.
  4. Spread goodwill by helping your peers. Introduce people to one another, recommend other related books, or re-tweet interesting posts from people you follow.

What I like about Ms. Smith’s article is the principle: we make friends online by asking for help and helping others. This seems to be something very cozy and intimate in what is otherwise often a virtual and detached world.

I still believe in meeting over a cup of coffee to help someone who asks for your advice. But time and geographical restraints means we can reach and be reached more efficiently in the age of the Internet. We can still, however, leverage this medium to create a supportive community.

Dana Lynn Smith, by the way, is a nationally recognized book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketing Guide.

In the spirit of this article: please share your best Twitter practices in the comments below. Have a great weekend.

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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).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt. 2

On Monday we delved into the potential of Twitter as an effective tool for social change and the legal measures that some regimes have taken to curb twitter in their country. Twitter complies with any legal demand that is not restricted to unrest but covers in this country copyright infringement and child pornography.

Twitter does seek to maintain an open trail. It shares all requests for removal though a website called Chilling Effects. This website was created to advocate for freedom on the Internet and, in fact, members of Twitter’s staff are active on the website. In fact, Alexander Macgillivray, a former Google lawyer, and now Twitter’s general counsel, helped create the chillingeffects.org website while at Harvard, as well as crafting Twitter’s censorship policies.

 Twitter stated in a recent post: “One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t.”

Twitter has received praise from a number of free-speech activists who suggest that Twitter’s attempts at transparency have helped them. One such activist, Zeynep Tufekci, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was surprised to find herself praising, not condemning, the policies of an Internet company.

“Twitter is setting the bar as high as it can,” Tufekci said. “It does not deserve the reaction it’s getting.”

Jillian York, who is director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees with Tufekci. “Once people see how Twitter is implementing this, they will calm down.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited Twitter with being transparent about its approach to censorship but said it was too early to tell if policy would harm users.

However, many remain angry with Twitter for what they clearly define as censorship and are demanding that the new policy is dropped.

Twitter’s executive chairman received a letter from Reporters Without Borders who summed up the sentiment on the street: “Twitter is depriving cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”

And this is why Twitter’s actions, which curtail instant self-expression and communication, have led to political protests throughout the world.

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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).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt 1

I have been getting into Twitter over the past month, thanks to a workshop at a local brewery (always the best kind) by fellow Left Coast Voices blogger, Roger Ingalls. In a few months, I have steadily attracted more than 10,000 twitter followers and stream this blog to them (@alonshalevsf). In addition, I have gathered more than 8,000 followers for my @elfwriter twitter and blog.

I had originally dismissed Twitter as a platform claiming that it lacked depth. How can you have a conversation with 140 characters? I really began to reevaluate Twitter while watching its role and impact  in the Arab Spring. Suddenly this tool, as a focus for freedom of speech,  became particularly inspiring.

Twitter are well aware of this. Chief Executive Officer, Dick Costolo, refers to it as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, even named one of their conference rooms “Tahrir Square” as a point of pride at the role that Twitter played in the Egyptian uprising.

So I became somewhat disillusioned to read that Twitter are considering curbing our freedom. In what many view as an about-face, Twitter now says it has the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government legally requires it to do so, triggering outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries.

Dissidents and activists fear the new policy will stifle free speech and thousands of users are threatening to boycott Twitter.

“Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?” asked Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem.

Twitter isn’t alone in its struggle to find a way of maintaining its economic goals while considering itself the free speech platform. Facebook, Google and Yahoo all tentatively try and work around complex laws and state-imposed restrictions used to suppress dissident voices and spread the party line.

All these companies have taken down material posted through their sites because a regime felt threatened by the content or deemed it illegal.

However, Twitter insists that it remains fully committed to free speech. When Twitter removes a tweet, it no longer vanishes from the Web, like it used to. In other words, when a tweet violates the law in one country, it will  still be on the Internet in other countries.

The company will only remove tweets when there is sound legal standing in the specific country and claim this will happen only after an internal review. They will also post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed.

This creates an interesting dilemma. Tweets have a very short lifetime. They are soon buried under an avalanche of other tweets, whether from the same person or others in their following. This can often happen in under a minute and I am guessing that in a situation such as we saw unfold in Tahrir Square, it is a matter of seconds. How effective and timely can an internal review be?

More on Internet censorship on Wednesday.

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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).

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?

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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).

Protesting by Lawsuit: Politicians and Wall Street Sued – Roger Ingalls

Middle-class America has taken hit after hit for the past thirty years. It’s time to fight in a manner recognizable by the political liars and financial bullies. Perhaps we should protest by suing (en masses) congressmen, presidents, banks and related financial institutions.

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AMERICAN MIDDLE-CLASS HOUSEHOLDS

Plaintiffs,

v.

UNITED STATES CONGRESSMEN (from 1980 to Present), UNITED STATES PRESIDENTS (from 1980 to Present), ALL BANKS RECEIVING BAILOUTS (from 2007 to Present), and MAJOR CREDIT RATING AGENCIES

Defendants

CAUSE of ACTION

  1. Since 1980, plaintiffs’ wealth has transferred to Wall Street, big businesses, the rich, banks and other financial institutions due to legislation enacted by Washington politicians.
  2. Since 1980, Presidents and Congressmen have breached campaign promises and oral contracts presented to plaintiffs during election cycles.
  3. Presidents and Congressmen have created legislation favoring Wall Street, banks, big business and similar entities as compensation for heavy campaign financing.
  4. Since 1980, Congressmen and Presidents have enacted legislation deregulating the financial industry.
  5. Banks engaged in reckless business practices that caused the financial crisis starting in 2007 to present. These reckless practices had a negative and catastrophic impact on the worth of plaintiffs’ assets.
  6. Banks and credit rating agencies established relationships that enabled faux-positive grades on toxic financial products.
  7. As a result of defendants actions referenced in items 1 through 6, plaintiffs’ owned assets and ability to grow wealth have greatly diminished.

WHEREFORE, plaintiff demands judgment against defendants as set forth below:

  1. Compensatory damages of $10,000,000,000,000.00;
  2. Cost of suit; and
  3. Such further relief as the court may deem proper.

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It would be interesting to see how the financial industry and elected officials respond to this type of political activism.

Any law professors or students out there willing to take on a project like this? Facebook and Twitter are a great way to spread the word, gather plaintiffs and get public endorsement.

Let’s send a message they understand.

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Roger Ingalls is well-traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

The Power of the Internet – SignUp

I am intrigued with the potential of the Internet to mobilize grassroots activism. My novel, The Accidental Activist, is a fictitious account of the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s. The role of McSpotlight.org, the first interactive advocacy website, was integral in enabling two young activists to negotiate the maze of the British libel laws and take on one of the most famous law companies in the UK.

Twitter and Facebook were central tools utilized in the Arab Spring and China is putting considerable resources into controlling the Internet, at least within its borders. Shi Tzu, a journalist, found this out and languishes in jail.

Today, I walked past a few young people standing at the main thoroughfare at San Francisco State University, canvassing people to sign a petition supporting an environmental initiative. It was cold and I felt sorry for them. Despite their enthusiasm. students passed them by. I am sure it was not the issues, rather the desire to escape the cold and make it on time to class.

I thought there must be a better way to do it. Guess what? Apparently there is. Allow me to introduce you to SignOn.org. This is a new initiative that came to my attention when I wrote about Whole Foods and one of their (previous) Muslim employees.

The goal is to allow busy people to create and promote a petition. Though sponsored by the (thought of) left-wing organization Move On, the service is for any citizen to create a petition.

I want to applaud MoveOn for this initiative. It is efficient, time-saving and reaching people where they have discretionary time – on-line rather than on the street. Of course, there is always the loss of the human interaction as with all social media, but in terms of practicality and effectiveness, it seems like a great service.

And the fact that SignUp can be used by those with political views that do not fall in line with the MoveOn folks is also commendable. It elevates the core values of democracy and freedom of speech that we all talk about and forget often .

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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).

Millennials – We are missing the point

The Pew Research Center has recently released a study comparing about the millennials. Since I work with college students I am particularly interested, though not surprised at the results.

Forty years ago, as the college campuses erupted in protests to the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, students held sit-ins, threw stones at police and when the National Guard opened fire at Kent State, killing four students, and the entire college system was galvanized and ground to a halt.

It is hard to imagine anything galvanizing students today and the Pew study highlights how this generation, instead of rebelling against their parents actually embrace their values. An earlier study asked the students to list their three heroes. Most included at least one of their parents.

Forty years ago, 74% of students responded to a Gallup poll agreeing that their parents’ generation was corrupt and that they felt alienated from their values. Today’s college students are Facebook friends with their parents and text them on average 10x a week. They shop together because they wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, and the millennials credit their parents as having superior values to their own generation.

Parents and children still tied together virtually

This, and similar studies, has led to considerable criticism of the millennials: that they lack values and motivation, that they embrace an air of entitlement, that they are more concerned with the latest cell phone than the headlines of a newspaper.

There are two mistakes here. Firstly, if we are going to compare between the two generations, we would have to admit that this generation has better education, opinions that are more diverse and have an inherent belief in the system. But it is the advancement of technology and social media that is shaping this generation and it is making comparisons with past generations almost impossible.

But there is a second point that we are missing. While it is easy to berate the millennials while idealizing their parents’ radicalization at their age, we forget to give credit to this generation’s parents. These are the people who, through honest and committed parenting, have engendered the close bonds with their children. By listening to their music and watching their TV programs, this generation of parents are informed about their children as no other generation ever was.

These parents are deeply committed to being a part of their children’s’ lives without offering value judgments that would push their children away. By embracing their children and joining them on their own turf (Facebook, Twitter, texting), they are engendering a sense of intergenerational acceptance that is unique and deserves credit.

Perhaps it was something that evolved during those college protests forty years ago, but today we are so focused on the millennials, we forget that their parents are still out there holding their values up for the whole world to see.

When I meet the parents of my students and see their mutual love,  commitment and comfort, it inspires me to be a better parent to my children because I see the bond between them as a cause worth fighting for. 

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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).

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