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 “YA”

A Bookcase In The Digital Age

I have a steady relationship with my kindle – no I haven’t updated my Facebook status, don’t bother checking. I take it with me everywhere I go, with an assortment of books ready to read. I also have an off/on affair with my public library which truly softens the blow of having to pay taxes.

However, when I go into someone’s home, one of the first things I look at is their bookshelf. I hope there is no judgment in my peering. I feel the books tell a story, not only between their covers, but of this person’s life. It tells me what they love, loved, and maybe aspires to love.

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And it is not only other people’s book collections. When we recently moved house, one of the first areas I set up was our bookcases. It somehow made this new house our home. Wherever I live, and with whatever digital advancements yet await, I will always have the bookcase as the foundation of my house, of my identity.

So I was delighted to discover this quote from Laura Miller: 

Of course, you don’t have to buy a book to read it, but the act of giving someone a book of his or her own has an undeniable, totemic power.

As much as we love libraries, there is something in possessing a book that’s significantly different from borrowing it, especially for a child. You can write your name in it and keep it always.

It transforms you into the kind of person who owns books, a member of the club, as well as part of a family that has them around the house. You’re no longer just a visitor to the realm of the written word: You’ve got a passport.

–Laura Miller in her Salon essay, “Book owners have smarter kids.”

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I know it is not the same, but we are now a two-kindle family. Generous friends bought my eldest a kindle for his birthday. I have just loaned him a book from my device and also gifted ebooks. It is not quite the same, but for the sake of the trees, I’ll live with it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the weekend beckons and its time to curl up with a good book.

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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.  

Remembering Ilan Ramon

Sometimes it is hard to forget that Israel is such a tiny country. It takes six hours to drive from the most northern point to the southern border with Egypt. I’m told you can fit 250 States of Israel into Texas. Our population is considerably smaller than New Jersey.

So when one of us excels in something we are all proud. I remember Maccabi Tel Aviv winning the European Basketball Championship or when Israeli soldiers rescued the prisoners at Entebbe.

So you can forgive us getting extremely excited when one of our own was chosen to fly into space – to boldly go where no Israeli has gone before.

imgresIlan Ramon was chosen to join the ill-fated space shuttle payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of Columbia, in which he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident.

He was a man acutely aware of his place in history and the weight of his people on his shoulders. Ramon asked the 1939 Club, a Holocaust survivor organization in Los Angeles, for a symbol of the Holocaust to take into outer space with him. A barbed wire mezuzah by the San Francisco artist Aimee Golant was selected.

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Against all odds, or perhaps a divine act, several pages of his journal impossibly survived. Curator Yigal Zalmona said: “The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then “was attacked by microorganisms and insects. It’s almost a miracle that it survived — it’s incredible. There is ‘no rational explanation’ for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.”[

Ramon wrote on the last day of the journal: “Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space.”

An entire nation mourned the tragedy. Three days later my second son was born. Asif Ilan never knew his namesake, but he proudly tells people of the man he was named after ten years ago, a man who reached for the stars.

We remember Ilan Ramon.

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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.

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Other Side of the Street

“Oh you can’t write in more than one genre. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The man was lecturing me at a recent holiday social event. He is himself an author, not famous, but has several detective novels out. Despite my noble attempts to argue with him, his words have haunted me.

Followers of this blog know that I have three social justice-themed novels published and more on the way. I have written a sequel to Unwanted Heroes and have a framework for a third book involving many of the same characters and also based in San Francisco, the city I find so rich in novel fodder!

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

But I am also excited to be writing Young Adult Epic Fantasy. Over the past three years I have written three novels – a series – and the first was just published with Tourmaline Books. 

While I see a lot in common between epic fantasy and more activist literature, in terms of imbuing certain values, I have to admit that I often feel embarrassed revealing to someone who knows me through my social justice-themed novels and Left Coast Voices that I also write YA epic fantasy.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

I tried to explain to the man that I maintain separate blogs (elfwriter.com) and twitter accounts (@elfwriter) and that my target audiences for both are very separate – actually I am not the only one who enjoys more than one genre – but he would not hear of it.

I am very proud of my social justice-themed novels. When I give talks I begin by stating that I write novels that highlight social injustices with everyday characters who discover they can help create a better world. 

I am passionate about this and it is what has kept me writing not only the four novels I have completed, but also nearly 800 blog posts in just over two years. I know I am not alone. It is why you read this blog and why I have 19,000 twitter followers.

But I love my epic fantasy books as well. It began as a project together with my sons (I would read a new novel to them on each of our annual summer camping trips. Snuggling in my tent or sitting around the campfire have become definitive memories for all of us. Seeing my eldest cradle the first copy of At The Walls Of Galbrieth with such pride was priceless).

DSCN0193But it has become more than just a family project. As I have met more fantasy fans through the social media I mentioned, I have discovered a rich and wonderfully warm group of people. And if some are a bit quirky, well, I love it.

Writing Young Adult affords an opportunity to share values I believe important with a different age group and if I play a small part in helping create the next generation of book readers, then I am also very proud of my work.

And I will continue to write in both genres for as long as I feel inspired to do so.

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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).

 

The $0.99 Dilemma

I have a YA epic fantasy novel (I know, not exactly social justice -themed, but I have tried to drop a few values among the swords and magic) that will hopefully be published before the end of the year.

Give that is my first foray into the world of fantasy, it has been recommended that I offer the ebook for $0.99. I would receive only a 35% royalty rather than the standard 70%. The idea is that the first book is so cheap – Less than that cup of coffee you’re holding. And it doesn’t cool off as you read your way through – that genre readers will take a risk on an unknown fantasy author. The quality of the book will hopefully hook a sold readership that will buy subsequent novels in the series (there are already two more written and a fourth on the way).

It makes economic sense. I have invested my own money in a professional editor and an artist who is designing the cover. Otherwise, it is my time and the sweat of my loyal friends at the Berkeley Writers Group. There are hardly any costs involved after the initial set up – website overheads, promotion etc. – but no trees are being felled, replaced, distributed, returned and pulped.

As a consumer, I have found myself dismissing any fiction ebook over $10 on principle, and used to be skeptical about a book under $5, assuming the author might not be ‘good enough’ to sell his/her book at a respectable price. The latter assumption has been somewhat modified since reading a number of excellent books for less than a fiver.

Jeff Rivera wrote an interesting article: Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle?. He intervieweJ. A. Konrath, the author of the Jack Daniels detective series. Mr. Konrath is making a living primarily from his ebooks and is justifiably proud of it. He points out that he is making more from his digital books than his tree books.

Mr. Konrath sells his latest novels electronically for $2.99. With Amazon’s royalty system, he will make $2.04 off each book. He sells his older novels for $1.99. The idea behind this is that people will probably hear of his latest and read that first. After enjoying the book, they can go in and order 5 for $10. They are now packed for their vacation! Even if they order them one at a time, his books are at the price level of an impulse purchase for most people.

But I am having a hard time offering up my baby for $0.99. It seems almost disrespectful to the characters after all I put them through. The book is 95,000 words long, has been critiqued, edited, have its cover professionally designed and undergone a manicure and pedi.

But this is where the businessman/woman comes in, where the agent steps back and sees the big picture. If this is the first in a series of exciting books that a large following will invest in and root for the characters, then there should be no barriers to the reader taking a chance with the first book.

So here are three questions that, if you are so inclined, I would appreciate you answering in the comments:

1) What is your first thought when you see that a book that caught your eye is priced at $0.99?

2) What is the highest price you would pay for an ebook from an author you have never read?

3) What is the highest price you would pay for any work of fiction in ebook format?

I appreciate your guidance. Happy to hear any feedback on the topic. For more on my foray into the world of fantasy, I blog weekly at elfwriter.com and tweet with the same handle.

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).

YA Market and the E-book Revolution

I have entered my Young Adult epic fantasy novel into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My plan is if I do fall at some point to send submissions to about 20 agents and try to publish in the conventional way.

If this does not succeed, I assumed that I would then join the e-book revolution and hope to create enough splash to be picked up in the footsteps of Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath. I have read closely John Locke’s successful business model and would love to try it.

But today something hit me. Do young adults (10-18 year old) – my primary market for my epic fantasy series – read their books on e-Readers?

recently wrote: “The children’s and young adult e-book market faces special challenges not shared by the adult market, new research shows. And teens are slow to adopt e-books, in part because they do not see e-books as a social technology and they think there are too many restrictions on sharing digital titles.”

She reached her conclusion based on two online surveys commissioned by  PubTrack Consumer towards the end of last year who surveyed 1,000 teenagers and 1,000 parents of pre-teens. The details of the survey can be found here –  “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital.”

There are some interesting theories and statistics here. Firstly, youngsters are extremely social and want to share their books with friends and e-book technology is perceived as too restrictive. I thought that perhaps the teens did not have access to comfortable e-book readers. The majority has cell phones, but I am not including this. 60% of those surveyed receive technology from their parents as the latter upgrade.

makes another excellent point It is not just young adults propelling YA books like the Hunger Games trilogy onto e-book bestseller lists:

– 30-44-year-olds constitute 28 % of YA print book sales and 32 % of YA e-book sales. -18-29-year-olds buy the most YA books, purchasing 31% of YA print sales and 35% of YA e-book sales.

Making a decision to invest in the YA fantasy e-book market doesn’t look as attractive as for genres aimed at adults, but this is going to change as more young people receive the necessary devices. Also, the realization that the YA market goes not from 12-18, but 12-44 year olds make for a more encouraging prospect.

A final interesting point is that this age group is more likely to buy a book because of a recommendation on a social network.

Now, please excuse me, this 47-year-old is going to read The Hunger Games, recommended to me by my 13-year-old son.

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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).

Winning the Lottery

It is true that you can become a millionaire from winning the lottery and indeed 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 will always be the J.K. Rowling out there, but they are as rare as, well, a winning lottery ticket. Assuming you are not a celebrity or have a good friend in the industry, it is almost impossible to pick up a literary agent. Then you need the agent to stay in the business to find you an interested publisher, and then the publisher needs to stay in  business long enough to … well you get the gist.

But once a year, optimism pervades among the writing community. ABNA is the mother of all writing competitions. They accept only 10,000 entries (already better odds than the lottery) which then go through a series of rounds until two talented individuals stand alone. Or more significantly stand with the publishing folks at Penguin Group (USA), Amazon.com, and CreateSpace. There is a $15,000 advance along with the publishing contract.

It is an exciting process. As midnight approaches on Sunday, thousands of optimistic writers will sit poised by our computers, all necessary documents ready to upload. A month later 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.

For the last two years I have reached the last 250 entries, the Quarter Finals, with The Accidental Activist (2010) and Unwanted Heroes (2011), both political fiction. 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 actively seeking an agent and publisher. I did succeed, with The Accidental Activist coming out last year and Unwanted Heroes due this coming spring.

But this is the first time that I am entering the YA contest with an epic fantasy manuscript that I wrote with my eldest son (then 11yrs old). It is my first foray into the world of Young Adult fiction and also the world of fantasy. You can read more at elfwriter.

And once again for the next 48 hours, I will be watching the clock tick away to midnight Sunday night and begin the dream all over again.

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

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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).

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