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 “Young Adult”

48 Hours After Veteran’s Day

Two days have passed since Veteran’s Day. It is a well-meaning attempt to show those who put their lives at risk to defend our freedom that we care and appreciate their sacrifice. Perhaps it moves a few, most likely those who have better adjusted to their past and control their present. But for those still fighting a war inside their heads, those who struggle because of a physical wound, who are denied the benefits and help they deserve, it might just be another day full of hollow rhetoric.

We are a society that believes in the need to defend itself, that we must be the biggest, best armed, and one of the better trained. We define this concept of defense in our own way. One key strategy is that we keep the field of conflict far away from mainland America. Whether you agree or not, it defines the 1st and 2nd World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. We fought our enemies far away from here. As a Brit whose father fought the Germans, and whose mother carries the scars of the Blitz, I can understand that. Hitler was on our doorstep even if he never crossed the English Channel.

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I can live with this principle and am willing to pay my share of the bill for financing our defense (taxes). But this social contract, which is held with those who serves, demands that we take care of them when they return and cannot smoothly reabsorb into society.

I have written a number of times about this embarrassing and inexplicable injustice, both in this blog and in my novel, Unwanted Heroes. In Israel, a country that lives under a far greater (proportionally) financial commitment to pay for its military, everyone serves in the army. This fact is probably why it is a given that a soldier, wounded inside or out, will receive whatever help s/he needs. It is, quite frankly, not an issue, and this is probably why I was so shocked when I came to live in the US and found homeless war veterans on too many street corners.

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A country that refuses to take care of those citizens, who have most earned that care, cannot be expected to build a moral and principled society. If we give our young people the message that it becomes everyone for themselves, then that is how they will behave. The consequences are fewer taxes gathered, more crime (street and white-collar), and a general erosion in respect and self-respect.

Our soldiers must be held up as the first line of defense for a society that is under attack…from itself. I don’t believe, in this technological age, that there is any rational explanation why a veteran must wait up to two years and more for their claims to be dealt with.

It is the result of a selfish society that doesn’t care, and has become numb to the needs of anyone outside of their social circle. We are failing our soldiers and failing the millennial generation who are watching, learning and judging.

We reap what we sow and we need to become responsible farmers before it is too late. It is 48 hours after Veteran’s Day and time is running out.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?

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When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

The Changing Significance of Book Reviews

With three epic fantasy novels coming out over a period of 18 months (they were written over the previous three years before you ask), I have become very interested in the issue of reviews and wrote about it a couple of months ago.

I have come to believe that reviews left on a book’s Amazon page are crucial for sales. While you do see the cover on line, it is less visual than in your hand. There is no salesperson vaunting how great the book is, no positioning next to A-list authors, and no cardboard display in the window. On the other hand, when a potential reader looks at your book page on Amazon, there are virtually no distractions: not hundreds of other books surrounding it, or bumping into someone you might know etc.

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So what so you have to look at to help you buy a book? The reviews. 

In response to last week’s post of the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.com, a friend suggested that I should be excited that Goodreads members would be putting their reviews up on Amazon, because they are true bookworms and leave considerably more thoughtful reviews.

A person recently gave me a 5-star review for At The Walls Of Galbrieth and I tweeted to see if I could find them to thank them. I was curious because it was short and not well constructed. I discovered (via the father) that it was a young teenager who had read the book and felt moved to write what was, in his mind, a strong recommendation. I was thrilled because so far I am only hearing from adults who have read my novels, despite seeing the Young Adult as my target audience. 

Vancouver-based publishing consultant, Thad McIlroy, summed it up in a Forbes article. When it comes to: “what do I read next, Amazon has become almost the only show in town:

“Despite that Amazon said it would keep Goodreads independent (like IMDB, Zappos and several other Amazon acquisitions), most in the industry will look at it as just Amazon now. Providing that service is a chief concern for booksellers who want to make it as easy as possible for readers to discover their next book purchase. Now, Amazon is the undisputed No. 1 when it comes to book recommendations. Ebook retail sites, like start-up Bookish, have long claimed that readers need a better way than Amazon for finding new books. Those claims now have little teeth; Amazon pretty much has it all right now when it comes to recommendation.”

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What excited me most is that Goodreads will add credibility to a system rocked with controversy of false or paid for reviews. Leslie Kaufman wrote in The New York Times: “Amazon has been wrestling with review fraud in the past year. Because book reviews on Goodreads are identifiable (tied to a social profile), they are harder to manipulate. This may add a new and more credible review source to Amazon’s internal reviews.”

The price for this new credibility (for authors) is a more thorough critique of our books. Goodreads members leave lower average book review scores and deeper in-depth discussion.

While these reviews, undoubtedly more useful to readers, might feel threatening to the author, it reinforces what should be obvious from the start: that the keystone of success is to produce the best possible book in terms of every aspect of our craft. Are you up for the challenge?

Finally, if you have got this far into the post and have read any of my books – fantasy and other – please take a moment to leave a short review on the book you read: an honest critique worthy of Goodreads.  

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Have a great weekend.

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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.  

Interview at Author Spotlight

I recently interviewed with James Moushon at Author’s Spotlight.

First things first. Do you have another book on the horizon? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease.

I do. I actually wrote three Young Adult epic fantasy novels in consecutive years, so the second, The First Decree, is due out in March. The first – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – came out in 2012. They are stand-alones, but follow on from each other. The third has yet to be edited and begin all the publishing process.

The First Decree-hi resolutionI have also completed a manuscript that follows on from my latest social justice-themed novel, Unwanted Heroes, but I think my publisher has a few more authors in line before they get to me. My writer’s group is critiquing it now.

You have a great following on Twitter. (Over 20K followers) How important are the social media relationships that you’ve formed to your writing success?

I actually have 20K followers on @elfwriter and just less than 20K on a second twitter account – @alonshalevsf – that focuses on my social justice-themed novels. Writing in two genres really needs separate social media platforms, so there is also a blog for each – leftcoastvoices.com and elfwriter.com

There is an absolute connection between the relationships created from the blogs and twitter and my readership. My whole marketing strategy is based upon offering a genuine value and connection between author and reader. Hopefully, people become regularly engaged with me through the blog and twitter and therefore are already invested when each book comes out. 

Not only that, but the cover designer, editor and interior formatter for the epic fantasy novels all came from either referrals or directly as followers of my blog and twitter. They are amazing people and I am so grateful to have such a supportive team. The physical beauty and quality of the books, exterior and interior, are all due to them and I am in awe of their commitment.

Do you do book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? If so, when is your next place where your readers can see you?

I do, but a knee operation has held me back the last few months. I did a virtual book tour in November 2011 and a series of reading this past spring when Unwanted Heroes was originally coming out. I am putting together several in Northern California now for this spring and will put the details on my website

While this isn’t a marketing priority I do cherish the interactions with readers and fellow writers. There is something richer in the face-to-face conversations.

You have real good book covers. How does your cover development process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

The artist, William Kenney, designs my epic fantasy covers. I send him a couple of paragraphs about the plot and what I envisage on the cover. He produces some sketches and solicits my feedback. The end result is always far better than anything I imagine.

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front CoverIronically, with my social justice-themed novels, my publisher Lloyd Lofthouse, encourages me to be involved. In fact, the cover for Unwanted Heroes is from a photograph I took in San Francisco’s Marina District, overlooking Alcatraz. This is based on a scene in the book.

Have you create a book trailer for any of your books to promote your books online?

No, but I am excited by the medium. I do think that the book trailers I see are either excellent or bad – there is little middle ground. I would need to outsource and it is a question of finance. I also think that given my market for fantasy is Young Adult, it becomes an even more compelling marketing tool.

You run a non-profit organization that provides education and support for Jewish students in San Francisco. Now rewarding is that? Do the students give inspiration in your writing? 

The students definitely inspire me for the social justice-themed novels. The SF Hillel Jewish Student Center is very social justice-orientated and we volunteer with different organizations in San Francisco. I was very impacted by all that happened around Hurricane Katrina (I had just arrived in the US) and have organized and taken groups to New Orleans ever since. 

All these experiences produce interesting and fascinating people and conversations – in the writing business, we call this novel fodder.

Has the advent of ebooks changed anything in your writing, getting the book to your readers and the relationship with your readers and fans?

It hasn’t changed how and what I write. An author has a responsibility to write the best book possible. There should be no compromise on quality. As you might read between the lines, as e-book production has become cheaper and more accessible, there are people who are churning out books and not investing in an outside editor or formatter. Even if someone is paying $0.99, they should not be reading a book littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. It is a question of pride in the craft of writing. 

Having said all that, the opportunity to sell books cheaply (book price, delivery, production) means that books can be sold for under $5. This gives the new or struggling author a great opportunity. Who isn’t willing to spend the price of a cappuccino and take a chance on the book by a new author? 

Finally, it puts pressure on the more established authors. John Grisham writes social justice-themed novels. His e-books cost x4 the price of mine. He now has to offer x4 the experience to satisfy our shared target audience. By the way – I love John Grisham’s novels and have all of them on my bookshelf.

Does being from Israel present any unique selling and marketing situation? Do you publish your books in other languages?

Actually I was born and bred in England and my first two novels (A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist) are situated there. Since a lot of my stories come from personal experiences this has a bigger influence – in fact the protagonist from Unwanted Heroes and the subsequent novels is also British. 

There are scenes that happened to me in Israel. For example, there is a scene in Unwanted Heroes in which a war veteran tells of the time he was in Israel for Soldier’s Remembrance Day and compares it to how we recognize Memorial and Veteran’s Day in the US. 

I have a small following in the UK but I am not aware of other countries. I would love for my books to be translated into Hebrew, for my own satisfaction rather than financial potential. Israel is a very small country and my target audience is probably reading in English anyhow. 

There are apparently two people in Scandinavia who buy all my books. I don’t know them, but definitely appreciate their loyalty!

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Do you belong to any author support groups? Do they help with writing, marketing and the publishing process?

Absolutely. I have facilitated the Berkeley Writer’s Group, a weekly critique group, since 2006 and we learn so much from each other. I have no doubt that my novels are considerably better for the feedback that I receive. 

I am also a member of the California Writer’s Club and attend their monthly meetings. Again, I have the opportunity to network with other writers and accomplished authors. At this club, a small group meets an hour before the regular meetings to discuss marketing. We teach each other different forms and techniques and help each other when people get stuck.

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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).

 

 

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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