Friday, October 15, 2010

And So It Begins

Today, The Accidental Activist is officially launched at the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association. The tree-book is up on Amazon and the e-book will soon follow. Oilspill dotcom is being withdrawn from all outlets. Hold on to yours - it is about to become a collectors' item!

The Accidental Activist is essentially the same story. New title, new cover and the text has been raked over by Three Clover Press editors and the language tightened.

Countdown to a Novel Published, sadly neglected over the past couple of months will stay dormant. As part of the terms with Three Clover Press, my publisher, I am committed to posting every day at Left Coast Voices.

The focus on blogging as a way to bring traffic to my website and selling pages for my books is intriguing. For those authors who stay the course, the results are clear and, best of all, encouraging. You can't argue with statistics and sales. I certainly won't.

Over the past year, I have jumped from one marketing option to another. I have read in bookstores and community centers but these have been very time consuming with little return. The consignment game played with small independent bookstores is depressing. It's not their fault, but there are serious cracks in the system.

So it is an ending of sorts, a parting of ways from Oilspill dotcom and Countdown to a Novel Published. It's been a great journey, a learning experience and now both the book and my resolve as an author are more focused and more optimistic.

Hope to see you at Left Coast Voices. Leave me a comment - it's not quite a conversation over cappuccino, but let's keep in touch.

Good Writing,

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Book, New Cover!

Oilspill dotcom will be withdrawn on October 15th and reissued by Three Clover Press with the new title: The Accidental Activist.

The Accidental Activist will be launched at the Northern Californian Independent Booksellers Association's trade show on that date.

More details will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. Please click here to see the new cover. Thanks Lily for all your hard work and a great job.

Good Writing,

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day of Love

It's been a crazy ride. On Labor Day, after writing 10-15 hours a week, I wrote the magical line:

The Alliance Trilogy: End of Book One.

Eighty thousand words later, a rough draft that my eleven-year-old and I began under flashlight in the Humboldt Redwood National Park has been completed.

Of course it is still rough – I haven't even read through it fully once myself and we already found one part where a character miraculously is riding his horse, when he had left his noble steed miles behind in the previous chapter – but it has been a wonderful ride for me sharing the journey of writing with my son.

The best moment came after I wrote the final chapters alone. When he read them, I was enjoying a rare Labor Day afternoon nap, and he burst into our bedroom full of excitement.

Two thumbs up never looked so good.

In trying to write a fantasy novel, I thought I would read behind the scenes from one of the masters. Terry Brooks, as well as 19 bestselling fantasy novels, wrote a book called: Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life.

I don't know yet if the magic worked within the pages of our novel, but it certainly happened in the process. Now for the next lesson in a writing life: some serious editing!

Good Writing,

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Tribute to Professor Paul Longmore RIP

I like to think I share many connections with Professor Paul Longmore, who passed away on August 9th in his home in San Francisco. He taught at San Francisco State University for 20 years where I focus a lot of my work hours. He was a writer and a political activist. He campaigned for the physically challenged and fought the hurdles and discrimination that confronted them.

Professor Longmore contracted polio at the age of seven. He wrote his first book - "The Invention of George Washington" - over a period of 10 years. Why so long? Professor Longmore wrote by holding a pen in his mouth and using it to strike the keyboards.

Let me say that again: Professor Longmore wrote by holding a pen in his mouth and using it to strike the keyboards.

Incredibly, Professor Longmore burned a copy of the book on the steps of a Federal building, as a protest against policies that discriminated against people with physical disabilities.

The Social Security Administration went on to revise its rules and one of the amendments that allowed physically challenged authors to count publishing royalties as earned income, became known as the Longmore Amendment.

Trevor Getz, associate professor of history at San Francisco State University paid this tribute in the SF Chronicle. "He wasn't just about disability - he was an incredibly renowned George Washington scholar. It all came together when he burned his book. It was a statement about a particular view of the history of this country as one where people made equality and liberty happen."

For more on Professor Longmore's accomplishments, please refer to the Chronicle's article.

As a writer, Professor Longmore serves as an inspiration for his drive to write and overcome any obstacle, and for his tenacity for social activism. Professor Longmore passed away, but his legacy and example will live on.

Good Writing,
Alon Shalev

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Author Interview on Audio

I just heard a great interview with Terry Brooks (yes, I'm sinking into the world of fantasy) and then looked up other authors who had previously been interviewed.

Check out Meet The Authors for short and informative interviews that serve both the readers and those interested in writing.

Thank you Barnes & Noble. Your struggle to break out of the books 'n mortar mentality and take B&N into the 21st Century is tough, but I admire your courage.

So here is a plug: Oilspill dotcom is available on Nook for $3.19 (same price or lower than their competitors).

Good Writing Everyone,

Alon Shalev

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer's Over!

It went so fast. Five weeks on the road: vacation, family visits, book promotion, and work. Now it is all over and we are back into the routine of life. It has been an eventful time, but it is also a watershed. Here is an overview:

1. Oilspill dotcom will be withdrawn by the end of September. After just over a year in print, it has been picked up by Three Clover Press. They will publish the novel under the title: The Accidental Activist. It has a wonderful new cover and has gone through numerous rounds of editing, both human and computer editing programs.
The Accidental Activist will be launched at the NCIBA trade show (Northern California Independent Bookstore Association, I think!) in mid October.

Oilspill dotcom is about to become a collector's item: Hold on to your copies!

2. Blog: While this blog will remain to share my triumphs and…well triumphs, I will focus my marketing through a new blog on Word Press. Left Coast Voices will focus on politics and activism here on the West Coast. While writing entries for the group identified as potential readers, I hope to expose them to my novels and they won't be able to stop themselves from flocking to the bookstores, and e-book sources.

This is an interesting approach. Other authors at Three Clover Press are doing this with encouraging success. However, it is a lot of work. Blogs succeed with a certain formula: multiple daily entries, links, and social media promotion. It feels daunting given that I manage to carve maybe an hour slot each day to write my new novel, edit the one being read at the Berkeley Writers Group, and market the books published.

3. Social Networking: I have been focusing my social networking efforts on various author e-groups around the 'net. The idea is to offer constructive responses and leave a signature that will encourage people to check out your website and possibly to buy your books.
I will continue with this, but focus on groups that reflect my writings such as political activist groups. This is going to take a while to research and find the right groups. With the growing success that I am seeing for fellow authors myself and with Kindle, I will begin with groups on Amazon.

4. Website: It has been a few months since I updated With the new book being launched, it high time that I work on this. Please take a moment over the next month to check it out and feel free to offer any suggestions to help improve it.

5. Alliance: This is where it gets complicated. Why didn't I do all these aforementioned tasks over the summer when things slowed down? Actually they didn't really slow much, but this is not the issue. I wrote in an earlier blog entry that my son Pele and I started writing a fantasy novel together.

The reality is that I have really got sucked into this and, as with my last novel - Lost Heroes - the story is pouring out. We have written over 45,000 words in the past few weeks and there is no sign of slowing down. It is constantly on my mind and I am having a hard time focusing on anything else in my writer's world.

So, summer is over. At Hillel the next few months are intensive and I need to be totally on board for my students, staff and our stakeholders.

I've always thought sleep to be severely overrated!

Good Writing,


Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Seismic Upheavals We All Knew Would Happen (the Book Industry)

One needs to be careful writing headlines with seismic in the Bay Area -- hence the clarification at the end. We all know that the book business is suffering and that brick-and-mortar shops are closing. I am sure that most of us mourn for an independent bookstore that has nostalgic memories.

So I am not sure why I am so surprised to hear the latest news out about Borders and Barnes & Noble. I prefer to walk into an independent bookstore when given the choice, but I need to admit, I also enjoy the inevitable comforts of a parking lot, a big bargain bin of hard covers that I could never afford otherwise, the bathrooms, and the occasional amazing deal. My local Barnes & Noble even has a fake fireplace that I enjoy sitting near in winter as I write.

But Barnes & Noble has now been put up for sale. I cannot help but wonder who would want to invest in such an industry. You can only assume that they would have quite a strategic business plan in place.

Borders have already closed all their stores in the UK and apparently came close to bankruptcy in the US. Both companies have entered the digital market with the Nook and Kobo respectively, so even a change of strategy suggests a move away from brick-and-mortar.

As an author, I have not had many opportunities to read at a bookstore. I find more interest at community centers, writer's meetings and political groups. I rarely sell a book through a bookstore. So I am not sure why I mourn the possible extinction of the bookstore.

There are/were two legendary bookstores in the Bay Area. Cody's was an untouchable institution and when I first came to live in Berkeley, I was surprised how when going out for a coffee with a friend, we would often spend a part of that evening talking while browsing through the shelves. Cody's was mourned by the enlightened peoples of Berkeley when it closed its' doors a few years ago, but apparently not enough to keep it open.

City Lights survives in San Francisco. It hit the headlines as a beacon for the beatnik writers who used the shop and publishing arm, and sat next door writing their works at Vesuvio. I love the store and seek an excuse to go in when I am in the vicinity. I almost always buy a book – even on my limited budget – because I don't want to see it fall. There is something immensely valuable in the history and energy amassed there. I'm sure it was like that at Cody's, but energy and nostalgia doesn't pay the bills.

Not that I understand the stock market, but I believe that one of the few companies whose stock has steadily risen over the last two years is

Is the writing on wall, the screen, and in the stock portfolio?

Good Writing,

Friday, July 30, 2010

Economic Greed or Strategic Conspiracy?

There have been numerous discussions regarding the correct price of ebooks, including on this blog (internal link). While Amazon has allowed publishers and authors to lower the price of their books, they have resisted allowing them to raise the price above $9.99.

This has generally been seen as a commitment to market penetration (helping the reader to become used to purchasing ebooks through offering an attractive price). The question is: why are so many publishers resisting?

The publishers, McMillan, recently confronted Amazon's policy and told the online giants that they planned to sell their ebooks at a higher price. They wanted to maintain the right to set the price of the book, allowing the retailer (Amazon, Nook, iPad etc.) to set their own commission percentage.

Amazon refused to accept this and actually pulled the "buy now" buttons from the pages of McMillan books (both their ebooks and tree books). While a compromise was quickly reached, the impact of Apple's iPad and their willingness to accept the agency model that McMillan and other publishers prefer, has led to an erosion of Amazon's ability to control the price of ebooks.

What puzzles me is why are publishers (and many authors) preferring to raise the price of ebooks especially given that the market is still in its nascent strange? True, they will make more money per copy, but surely they realize that they are going to sell considerably less copies.

Many authors (non A-list) are discovering that once their ebook price drops to less than $5, or even $3, given that Amazon are now offering an unprecedented 70% royalty, their sales become far more prolific. Sales of Oilspill dotcom grew when I reduced the ebook price to $4.99, and Amazon have since dropped it periodically to as low as $3.17.

Given that one assumes the publishing houses have economists with strategic experience, is their decision to raise the price above $10 simply short-term greed, or is it a subtle strategic decision to try and slow the growth of the ebook market.

I doubt I would have thought this a few years ago, but given the recklessness of financial institutions, housing and energy multinationals, doesn't it make you wonder?


Oilspill dotcom is available on Amazon's Kindle for the price of a large, fancy cup of coffee. Be warned: the coffee gets cold before you finish the first third of the book!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writing With My Sons

My annual family camping expedition is always exciting for me. It is an opportunity to spend intensive time with my sons and wife without the interruption of screens, play dates, or work.

We have seen orcas in the ocean, bald eagles in the sky, caught our first trout each, biked in the redwoods, driven boats on lakes, and much more. This year we had an experience that was particularly special.

My eldest son is 11 and loves reading fantasy. Give him swords, a quest and some dragons, and he can disappear for hours even as he sits in our living room. About six months ago, we began writing a fantasy novel, just a few pages and then forgot it in the humdrum of regular life.

During this vacation, we reread what we had written and began writing again. Our younger son (7) joined in. And now we have 12,000 words on the page (well, word document).

The book might come to nothing, but sitting under the stars, gas light on a picnic table, my sons either side of me as we rode the creative waves of writing together was truly exhilarating. We might not be an immediate threat to the masters: Tolkien, Donaldson, Brooks et al, but I will treasure what we wrote and especially the experience of creating together.

Good Writing,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Kindle for $4.99

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Promotion Strategy

I recently spoke to a group of fellow struggling authors and just adapted my notes to respond to a friends question about how to market his forthcoming book. Here is a summary of my notes:

Overall Strategy: Focus on Amazon, blogging and social networking.

1. Reviews - find 2-3 mid-level authors in your genre and ask them for reviews. Also find on local TV or radio people who have book or culture shows. Their names might not be recognizable, but their station is. These are future blurbs and important.

Find 10 people who will enjoy reading your book (not with your family name) and give them copies asking them to write on Amazon. Also once the book is up, you will hear from people who enjoyed it - ask them to review on Amazon. If you have trouble finding people, Amazon has a reviewer's program - this doesn't guarantee a good review, but guarantees that someone will read and post.

2. Get hold of The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform - Stephanie Chandler. Main thrust - a website and blog. Check out my website - I researched about 20 author websites before deciding on the website's structure.

3. Online Forums: Have a signature (see mine at bottom of post - with link to Amazon pages). Participate in online forums and every time you post, add your signature at bottom. Don't plug your book in the text, it is annoying and turns people off, but if you write an intelligent comment in a post, people will check you out. I have made a mistake of participating in too many forums for writers - my new publisher is pushing me to focus on groups that are relevant to the theme of my book - political activism for me).

4. Blog - this is very effective and requires more than a blog post to discuss it. I know an author, Lloyd Lofthouse, who has a specific and exhausting strategy and is succeeding to sell his e-books through his blog.

5. Kindle - yes you should have your book in e-book form. The topic of yes/no is exhausted and history. It costs about $200 to convert to Kindle, but is worth it. I have my book at Smashwords, which is free, and can d/load to every device out there now including iPad. I have not seen many sales there, but this might be my fault. Also, Kemble Scott swears by Scribd - I put my book up there, but also haven't seen much – again probably my fault.

My suggestion/summary:
You only have a certain amount of time during the day to promote your books. Decide on one strategy and stick to it. Kemble Scott and the guy who is blogging like crazy are good examples. I am not.

My new publisher is pressing me to:
1. Blog like crazy
2. Focus on Amazon and leave bookstores etc.
3. Comment on online forums about political advocacy on Amazon and kindle boards.

This will be my focus since he is kind of my boss now. There are 2 books about Amazon.
Sell Your Book on Amazon - Brent Sampson
Another by a guy called Shepherd that I can’t find (if you know the book, please leave the title in comments). In searching for this, I just d/loaded another ( for .99cents on kindle) and will let you know if it is any good.

Also as a general resource book:
1001 Ways to Market Your Books, Sixth Edition (1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers) - John Kramer.

Good Writing,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Amazon's Kindle for $3.19.
More info at

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 2nd: Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 2

A New Strategy.

An assertive, well-dressed woman sat herself down in the passenger seat of my car and immediately asked if she was required to pay the dollar. I replied that it was not mandatory, but welcomed. I recounted the mixed results of yesterday.

For 10 minutes we politely discussed the pros and cons of who should pay. She was extremely pleasant and non-confrontational. I was convinced that she was so concerned that she would ultimately offer the $1.

She didn't. This left me even more confused. Had we not discussed it beyond her initial request and focused instead on other topics (NPR was anticipating the fallout of the verdict form the Oscar Grant trial), it would have felt okay. But she kept me in suspense for half the trip by discussing the issue.

Oh well. The other passenger said nothing and gazed out of the window the whole way.

And so it continues … On this 4th July weekend: God bless America and the Casual Car Pool.

Happy 4th,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Amazon's Kindle for $3.19.
More info at

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1st - Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 1

And so it began.

The first day where the casual carpool, three strangers thrown randomly together with a joint aim of commuting into San Francisco in the cheapest, most comfortable and quickest way, must deal with the toll booth dilemma.

As of July 1st, the casual carpool must pay $2.50 to go onto the Bay Bridge. Who pays? The online discussion board has been contentious. Some passengers are willing to contribute a dollar. Others won't. Some will volunteer, others want to be asked. Some object to being asked as it creates a tense feeling in the car.

I have conducted my own informal survey over the last month, and my findings reflect the discussion board. One discussion got heated between my two passengers, a couple of people refused to comment.

So today was the test. Magically as we passed under the tollbooth and my Fast Track beeped, National Public Radio talked about the new rule. Perfect timing. The woman next to me offered her dollar, which I gratefully accepted. The man behind her buried himself deeper in his smart phone.

And so the assault on the last bastion of radical America has begun. Political singer, Billy Bragg, called the carpool lane, the only example of the far left (physically as well as politically). The British Empire (where the sun never set) was based upon the strategy of Divide and Conquer. I believe mainstream America has gone colonist ¬¬… right here in the Bay Area.

It is ultimately a question of values, a question of relationships, but above all, a question of how we fuse our values with money. Talk around the BBQ pit is cheap. Everyone knows what needs to be done to save the world. It is easy until you ask them to foot the bill.

I solicit people everyday for donations to the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, where I work. I tell the story, share the vision, the excitement, the inspiring results, and then when we get to the ask, I taint it by reminding them that their gift is tax-deductible. These generous donors know that. They are likely to be very savvy money managers and business people. This is what has put them in a position to donate in the first place. Do they really need the extra reminder of something altruistic?

As I sat in my car this morning, chatting with the pleasant woman who had offered her dollar, I glanced at the man in the back. He was doing a great job of being oblivious to our conversation, hunched intensely over his little screen.

I wonder what was going through his mind. Was it worth $1? For him? For me?

Have a good day,

Read Oilspill dotcom on Kindle, currently priced at $3.19

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Price of an ebook

In a recent blog post I referred to a marketing report that detailed the exploding market of ebook readers and the growth in the sales of ebooks. I just came across a draft that I had planned to share with you when seemed resistant to lowering the price of my kindle version of Oilspill dotcom from $9.99.

The basis of my argument was not just that the price was too high, but that I had another distributor, Smashwords, selling the ebook in all formats at $4.99. My kindle version of Oilspill dotcom was eventually reduced to $4.99 and actually began to sell. I have just noticed that have now further reduced the price to $3.19.

Fair enough. But this has got me thinking what exactly should the price of an ebook be? There are hardly any costs involved after the initial set up. There are website overheads, promotion etc., but no trees are being felled, replaced, distributed and returned.

For my recent birthday, friends gave me gift vouchers for Amazon, so that I could begin building a library on my newly purchased kindle. I am, now the consumer, finding myself dismissing anything over $10 on principle, and skeptical about a book over $5.

Jeff Rivera wrote an interesting article: Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle? (Apr 19, 2010). He interviewed J. A. Konraith, the author of the Jack Daniels detective series. Mr. Konraith is making a living primarily off of his ebooks and is justifiably proud of it. He points out that he is making more from his digital books than his tree books (luv the name!). I will cover this article in the future, but want to share one particular aspect here.

Mr. Konraith sells his latest novels for $2.99. With Amazon's new 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.

I love the idea of responding to the question of how much my book costs with: "Less than that cup of coffee you're holding. And it doesn't cool off as you read your way through." Not sure I'll persuade Starbucks to make my novel their Pick of the Month!

I would be interested to know what price you are willing to pay for a novel when you download to your eReader, computer, or phone?

Good Writing,

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Corner That's My Own

It is not easy finding a space to write as I share a small house with three other people who, rightfully, want a fair potion of my attention. Sure, I can go out to a café and I do, but when I am away for work or book promotion for so many hours of the week, sometimes I want to sit in my own house, and drink coffee out of my own mug.

Last week I took advantage of an Office Depot sale and bought a real desk. It is compact, but sits nicely in the kitchen looking outside to a concrete cube of a garden that my wife has softened up with plants and wind chimes.

Stephen King wrote Carrie in the laundry room, a typewriter (yes I wrote that correctly) on his lap. So who am I to complain? I'm not. I am actually sitting at the desk now, Detox AM tea in a cup, Genesis blasting from my woofer (also from Office Depot - 10 bucks but hey Genesis always sound good). The family has given me an hour to sit here and the sun is reflecting off the metallic green and red wind chime.

But a place of your own to write is important. It is sacred space with a boundary defined by your craft of writing. It needs to exist: it demands respect.

Now I know you can find this sacred space anywhere because the key component is within. Starbucks and headphones can do it. I have written some solid passages in a busy airport lounge or on the BART train during rush hour.

But I do think we need that space somewhere, defined. It is part of our character as a writer: it really doesn't need much. Above my head are my writing books. To their left is a small magnetic notice board with my writing goals for the month and some inspiration. Photos of the family are displayed, not staid portraits but scenes that make me smile. There is a modest, comfortable chair to sit on and I am ready to go.

Now, to quote the Genesis song: It’s time to Turn It On Again.

Good Writing,

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Open Letter to British Petroleum (BP)

Dear BP,

That was not nice! Isn't it enough that you've polluted the ocean, massacred wildlife, and destroyed people's businesses?

Now you have to go after me? I'm also a Brit, in case you weren't aware.

Am I really such a threat? I know, I know, the pen is mightier than the oil drill, but do you really feel so threatened by the onslaught of literature?

Oilspill dotcom isn't even about you. It could be, and I wouldn't be surprised if one day it will be, but I was having a go at McDonald's. Honest. I happen to love the rain forests as well as the oceans.

I sell most of my books over the Internet. It’s the only way. I have a full time job running a non-profit that supports students. And they will, unfortunately, all be driving oil-fueled cars in the very near future, so you could see me as a stakeholder of sorts.

Did you really have to buy up ALL the 'oil spill' search words from Google? Now all those literature lovers are going to get distracted by apologies to the tarred brown pelicans and your explanations for why BP shares aren't performing as well as one might expect.

Poor buggers. They just wanted to buy a novel to read on the beach (a tar ball-free one) this summer, enjoy reading some humor, sex, and politics. Solid summer reading that QUESTIONS THE UNCHECKED POWERS OF MULTINATIONALS!

Oilspill dotcom confronts the issue of freedom of speech and you buy up all search words to control what people see on the Internet – the final frontier of freedom – do you even see the irony?

BTW - there is also a small company down in West Chester, PA. They clean up oil spills and their business URL is I wish their business well. I hope they don't rely too much on the Internet for business referrals. Hey, perhaps you could become a client!

Your Internet Competitor,

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Birthdays - A Retrospective View of the Future

Too many bloggers fall foul of introspection. Who, apart from their mothers are interested in what they had for dinner last night and the epiphany digested with that Big Mac? Not Ronald McDonald anymore, he's vegetarian. Probably not their mothers either, through I wouldn't want to make them feel guilty by asking.

But once a year, I figure it's okay. Today is my birthday. I am thirty years old for the sixteenth consecutive year. I am excited: the stars have aligned. Today is the second day of the World Cup (I'm talking soccer - a once-every-four-years' extravaganza – you really didn't know?). England, yes I become patriotic once every four years, open their campaign against … the United States of America.

Now, since I still lack my citizenship, I will of course remain neutral. I will only wear that sleek England T-shirt (and every day during the next month until The Three Lions lose) out of obligation to Mrs. Blogger's generosity.

Friends are being coerced to come round, drink warm beer, and watch a game that they have no interest in. Friendship counts.

Watching the endless TV programs about prior World Cups is a remarkable journey into one's past. There is something about following a sport passionately that gives you an anchor in life, almost like leafing through a photo album (remember those?).

Here's a quick plug for a book that truly illustrates the intensity of supporting your soccer team. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby is a hilarious memoir of one young mans' year, as seen through his passion for our team, Arsenal, in a remarkable year. If you are a soccer fan or an Anglophile, it is a must-read lazing in a hammock during the summer. And yes, given that it is my birthday and I feel magnanimous, I forgive you America for rewriting the book about an American baseball fan. But how could you…

While I am promoting other authors, Alan Black is a Scotsman living in this neck of the woods. He tends bar at The Castle on Geary and is the author of Kick The Balls, a side splitting and irreverent look at how we parent our children, gleaned through the eyes of a Little League soccer coach in the US. He also has a new book out for the World Cup - The Glorious World Cup.

Now to the future. For my birthday, the family pooled together and has bought me a Kindle eReader. I'm stoked. Thank you Mrs. Blogger, boys, UK and US Mum and Dad.

I have wanted to enter the technological 21st Century ever since Ebooks surfaced. Honestly, I love my bookshelves, holding a book, the smell when entering the bookstore (quite a sacrifice for one who is allergic to dust), and passing books that mean something to me along to others. I am also apprehensive about reading an E-reader while nodding off in the bathtub.

But I also love this planet, those disappearing tall things - trees, hate the pollution and wasted energy of transportation and storage. And I remain mortified at the archaic and unjust system of publishers over-printing, while bookstores can order large quantities recklessly and then return books to the publisher to pulp or dump in the $5 bin. Never forget: the reader is paying for this wastage, reflected in the ever-rising price of books.

So onward into the digital age. I may not hold any desire for an iPhone, but I can't wait to get tech with the new Christopher Moore book.

Now where is that on switch?

Good Writing,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

England Forever, South Africa As Well

One of my defining episodes as a teenager exploring social activism was the anti-apartheid movement. I participated by attending demonstrations, asking people to sign petitions, and I had a Free Nelson Mandela sticker on my pencil case. When people were asked to play their favorite song at youth club, I would offer up Biko by Peter Gabriel.

I am writing this blog 48 hours before the soccer World Cup in June 2010. I am excited, not just for the once-every-four-years' festival of my favorite sport, but the recognition of how far South Africa has come. In a world of hate, corruption, violence and extremism, South Africa is a beacon of what can be achieved.

The overthrow of a brutal, racist system did not spiral into the bloodshed and vengeance that so many feared. The brave and difficult decision to heal memories and move on are a tribute not only to Nelson Mandela, but to every South African who committed themselves to this part.

I am a Brit. I will support the English soccer team no matter what. But I sincerely hope that South Africa, by some miracle, have a great run in the World Cup.

They deserve it.

Good Writing,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Breaking News!

The ink is drying on the contract. My novel, Oilspill dotcom has been picked up by Three Clover Press. The book will see a new round of editing, receive a new cover, new title and new author (okay - I got carried away at the end).

The new title will be The Accidental Activist, emphasizing the role and transformation of my protagonist from a self-absorbed computer programmer to a social activist.

The cover, still not finalized, will show him staring up at the towers of corporate America. I am really enjoying working with the graphic designer and would be happy to recommend her to other authors.

One exciting aspect for me is that my book will now be available in the UK. When it first came out, the publisher Booksurge put it up on Weeks later they closed their European operations. And Oilspill dotcom was just about to storm the bestsellers list! Seriously, with the novel based upon the McDonald's libel trial that happened in London, I had high hopes of making a splash in England.

Other developments will include creating a broader Internet presence. The Three Clover Press president is a firm believer in blogging and has the experience (and statistics) to back it. In August I will launch a new blog that will cover West Coast voices who use literature and culture as a source for social justice. The blog will be on Word Press and I am already writing posts so that I can quickly make a splash.

The release date is scheduled for the NCIBA Trade Show in the beginning of October. But hold on to your copy of Oilspill dotcom. When I win the Nobel Prize for Literature, it will be a collectors item (as solid as most other investments these days!).

I'm stoked!
Have a great week,

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Better Business Model

His publisher sent a friend of mine to Seattle for two book signings. They didn’t pay his expenses, so he drove up paying for gas, lodgings and food. He sold about 40 copies of his book (very respectable considering the average amount of books sold at a signing is eight) and returned home exhausted.

It got me thinking that there must be a better business model out there for non A-list fiction writers. There are very few such authors whose publisher sets up a book tour for them with all expenses included. A colleague of mine is married to an A-list author and the support she receives sounds amazing.

But what about the rest of us?

With this in mind, I was excited to see the website of The Pantheon Collective . Here is what they say on their homepage:
Three powerful individuals have joined forces to shake up the publishing world.
Their MISSION: to empower and inspire (aspiring) authors to take control of their destinies and make their dreams come true.
Their PASSION: getting their work (and the work of others) out into the published universe.
Their STRUGGLE: overcoming individual issues (personalities, distance, interpersonal relationships, finances, day jobs) for the good of the collective, while balancing their roles as productive authors and creators.
Their OBJECTIVE: successfully launch four books in twelve months while documenting every moment both wonderful and difficult.

I wonder if we can't create such a group here? Ambitious, like-minded, committed and hungry for success. What if four authors:
- Shared a blog and were able to put out posts everyday (that's still only two a week each). They could also share and regularly update a joint website.
- Read together at a bookstore. It would be a bigger draw than just one person, and from the bookstore's perspective, sell more books. It will be easier for the bookstore to commit staff to keeping the store open that night.
- Shared a car, motel room and publicity for a 3-4 day book tour, each taking responsibility to book a venue in a city between San Francisco and LA.
- Each made a commitment to cultivate and maintain a relationship with bookstore/reporter/café owner/… and actively promote each member of the group. That would be four times the connections.

Now what if those four authors all had similar platforms: If we all wrote political, edgy, or social commentary fiction couldn't we focus on a more specific platform and readership?

It would all come down to commitment and accountability. There could be no bystanders involved. Perhaps we would sign a contract?

However it would play out, there must be a better business model for the struggling author than what we are all pursuing individually. Any ideas?

Good Writing,

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My First iPad Sighting!

What I love (and often loathe) about the Internet Age is the ability to share in real time. A number of readers commented about my blog entry when I sat in a coffee shop in San Francisco and admired the various hand held devices on show. Alas, I lamented not seeing an iPad.

In solace, I went on a pilgrimage with my sons to the Apple store in Emeryville, where we all fondled the iPads on display. But even that isn't quite the same.

I'm sitting in a new coffee shop in Berkeley: Local One Twenty Three, happily preparing my offering for tonight's Berkeley Writers Circle and I saw it. Three tables down is a woman on her iPad. She just walked past me, possibly to the bathroom, holding her precious baby, and a thrill coursed through me.

My first iPad sighting! I'll never be the same again.

Good Writing,

Friday, May 7, 2010

Oilspill / Oil spill

I am passionate about New Orleans as you will know from reading this blog. I organize groups of students to travel to Louisiana for a week of volunteering. I have traveled every year but one, and even that year I recruited students and raised money to help them make the trip. Our program, beyond hands-on work, includes meeting people impacted by the hurricanes and helping to rebuild the community.

So you can imagine how sad I am at the impending disaster to the Louisiana community if and when the BP oil spill reaches the coast, and the damage already done to the seafood industry. I listen to the stories on National Public Radio and my heart goes out to them.

My car sports a magnet on the passenger door with Oilspill dotcom in big black letters and the words: "Maybe there is a way to hold big business accountable for its actions." In the world of marketing, my book is "trending." The key words are in the news, on the web and in conversations among activists and concerned citizens.

But I feel bad every time someone comments on my car magnet and rather than lamenting the Louisiana disaster, I direct the conversation to talking about my book, in hope of the next sale. Honestly, I need the sales, the exposure, anything that can help me promote Oilspill dotcom. I want and need to make money from my writing and shouldn't feel ashamed doing so.

And yet I feel guilty highlighting my needs when perhaps I should be highlighting my passion for a community about to be consumed in its second natural disaster in five years, when it hasn't even recovered from the first.

Hillel, a great Jewish teacher, has a famous quote.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

To me he suggests a balance. So now I alternate, talking one time about my book, the next about the Gulf Coast.

But the community there needs serious help if it is to preserve its heritage, its uniqueness, and its culture. And if not now, when? Now, absolutely now. There may not be an opportunity later. If you are interested in helping, I have worked with this agency (Jewish Funds for Justice) in the Gulf Coast Area since Katrina, and I have great respect for their work.

Good Writing,

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"For The Times They Are A-changing" (Bob Dylan)

Firstly, thank you to those of you who connected to my blog (see last entry) and helped to get the blog recognized by Facebook. Not sure yet how this will affect my blog, but any exposure helps.

And thank you to those of you who offered words of support and encouragement when we heard that Unwanted Heroes didn't make the Amazon Breakthrough Novel semifinal.

Oilspill dotcom has been selling despite my relative inactivity. There is a possibility of the novel being picked up by an independent publisher. Exciting! If this goes through the book will be released with a new cover and title. It is also undergoing a round of editing.

Part of these changes will include a change of direction for this blog and that I hope to outline in the next posting. But the overall concept is to reach out to people interested in the book world, rather than just in me.

And the book world is certainly changing. I am sitting in a Starbucks on the corner of Sansome and Greenwich, under the shadow of Coit Tower. I have a meeting in another hour for Hillel. Looking around, this is a young business crowd. Though clothes are relatively formal (this is California), people are groomed and sharp.

It is, however, early. Another hour before they must enter their offices and cubicles. Time to unwind, read a book or newspaper. But as I look around, I feel a thrill. An elderly gentleman with graying curly hair has the large kindle. I remember reading how older people are buying the bigger model, the 9.7" version (don't be impressed, I looked it up). They are not techno-geeks, but enjoy the option for bigger font.

Near this man, someone has another white tablet, but I can see it is different. Perhaps it is the Barnes and Noble nook. A woman with a bright read umbrella has a matching device, which I can't help laughing at. Did she really color coordinate her accessories? Was this the Sony Reader? Alas, I never saw an iPad, which would have rounded off the experience. Still last Thursday, after a meeting at the Boudin café in the Stonestown Mall, I had slipped into the Apple shop and fondled one of their new, shiny devices. Quite a thrill.

The world is changing. And I am excited about the change, excited for the environmental impact, for no longer having to schlep books in your bag, the ability to lower prices and therefore make more books more accessible. I am also upset that the book I have been carrying around for the last week, brought brand new, is now creased and bent.

But I haven't bought a device. It is partly financial, partly that I am sure the models in a year's time will have ironed out the kinks, but also that I love holding a book and browsing a bookstore. And I love the bookshelves in my house (and other peoples). It is hard to explain. Financially, while I do buy books, I also lean heavily on the public library to satisfy my literary thirst.

Still the times are changing and I am feeling the pressure to change with them. So here is my question:

Do you have a kindle, nook, sony reader or iPad (or another model that I am not aware of)? Please let me know if you do, when you use it, how happy you are with it and whether it has really replaced the physical page.

Also, do you take it with you into the bath?

Good Writing,


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

ABNA - not quite...

I heard today that Unwanted Heroes didn't make the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinals. I guess reaching the final 250 (out of 10,000 entries) is still an achievement, so I won't be too hard on myself – now where's that bottle of Jameson?

Good Writing,

Alon Shalev

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Next Blogging Level

Dear Friends,

To get this blog recognized on Facebook's Networked Blogs and receive more exposure, I need people to:

1. go to and 'validate' me - no I can't cut your parking expenses but I will be extremely grateful.

2. sign up as a 'follower' on the right side of this page. I need 2 more people...

I would really appreciate if you could take a few minutes to do either (or both) Have a great weekend,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Ebook Developments & Updates

As the ebook market continues to expand, new battlegrounds are opening up throughout the market. Here are two interesting articles:
1) Jim Milliot explains about one such battle between two giants, Amazon and Penguin, in Publishers Weekly at this link
2) Michael Stackpole then takes everyone to task regarding the percentage that the publishers and distributors are taking from ebooks at this link.

By the way, if you are in the writers business, you would do well to keep an eye on Michael's blog.

My ebook update is less dramatic than the great wars being played out, but at least I'm involved…somewhat.

Kindle - the ebook provider of has reduced the price of Oilspill dotcom (ebook version) to $4.99 for a limited period. I don't know for how long this sale will continue, but it brings it into line with my other e-outlets.

Smashwords - have signed a deal with Apple that will make them distributors for the iPad. I am i-excited about this. Smashwords have done a great job positioning themselves (and us, the authors) with Sony, Barnes & Noble's Nook and just about everyone else.
I am also proud of the fact that the next soldier to rake advantage of Operation Ebook Drop, and download my novel for free will be the 50th soldier to do so. Know someone deployed in a combat zone? Please refer them to my website for a link to this great program.
Finally last week, Oilspill dotcom was accepted for Smashwords' Premium Catalog. This has many marketing advantages for me, but is also validation of the level of my work.

Scribd - nothing much happening with my book through Scribd. I suspect that I am not utilizing it properly. If you use Scribd, please drop me a line and offer some advise.

In fact, I would love to hear from anyone who is seeing success with their ebook. I'd be happy to share your secrets (with your permission of course) and in doing so promote your book on my blog.

Viva La Ebook Revolution!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Making a clown out of Ronald McDonald

April 1st, 2010

I came across the following post yesterday:
April Fools? Group Calls for Ronald McDonald’s Retirement
Written by Free Audio Books - Free audiobooks on March 31, 2010 – 11:13 pm -

A nonprofit consumer rights group argues that Ronald McDonald is hardly a good example to children and, in fact, has played a leading role in the country’s current epidemic of obesity and diet-related diseases, says Corporate Accountability for International.

Now the group says it’s time — long-past time, perhaps — the clown packed up his over-sized shoes and messy red wig and retired.

“McDonald’s, and its iconic clown, is not only the face of the epidemic: it is the engine behind it. No corporation has done more to hook kids on unhealthy food,” said Stacey Folsom, spokeswoman for Corporate Accountability International.
SF Gate

Truth is, Ronald McDonald is no stranger to controversy. In the McLibel trial (rumored to be the real story behind my latest novel, Oilspill dotcom), one of the defendants shared his rage at the clown appearing at a birthday party and at a public school event. When the verdict came down, McDonalds lost the point that claimed they advertise to children.

However, my favorite anecdote was when the original Ronald McDonald went vegetarian. Of course, McDonalds took him to court and attempted to force him to eat his words. They did succeed in preventing him from ever donning his McMakeup again.

Thank you to all who congratulated me on reaching the final 250 entries of the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Please do click on the link and leave a comment, review etc.

Good Writing,

Monday, March 29, 2010 announces...

Unwanted Heroes moved into the last 250 entries (Quarter Final) of the 2010 Breakthrough Novel Award.

You can download the excerpt through Kindle (you can download straight to a PC or Mac) and leave comments or a brief review. Apparently the reviewers (chosen by Penguin Books) do look at what people are writing about the entry.

I'm so excited!


Friday, March 26, 2010

Stephen King just told me off!

Stephen King just told me off!

He did! There I was sitting in my car, coffee perched next to me as I negotiated the commute from SF State back to the East Bay, and Stephen said there are only two things a serious writer needs to concern himself with: writing and reading.

He then went on to tell me that if I succumb to watching TV every night, in my case, Star Trek or Seinfeld reruns, or The Daily Show, instead of either refining my own craft by writing or learning from those who have mastered it by reading, I am not being serious about being a writer.

He dismissed my claims that I don't have time (hey, I get up at 6am to hit the gym and get to the office by 9am … and, and the kids go to bed at 9pm … and, and I need to sleep a good six hours … and, and, and …)

He then embarrassed me by discussing a number of great novels that all fiction writers should read. I hadn't read any of them, and I couldn't even write them down as I was driving.

I should have seen it coming. I know Stephen King very well, though I've never met him. I listen to On Writing every year. I've read the paper version, though nothing beats hearing the master telling it in his own uncompromising dialect.

Worst of all is that I know he is right. I know that I need to read. Whenever I share my work with others, they often ask if I've read such and such, and I invariably haven't.

But I will. In fact, last night I went to bed at 11pm and read for half an hour. At least, I think I did. I fell asleep at some point … and when I woke in the morning and got back in the car, Stephen King was waiting for me. He talked about other things, but somehow, I am sure he knew.

Oh by the way, if you haven't already read it and wanna be a writer, do check out On Writing by Stephen King, book or audio. And yes, I've read it, a couple of times!

Good Writing

Kindle Ebook News

Found this blog entry that I hadn't posted.

Oilspill dotcom on Amazon's Kindle has seen its price reduced. It is now about $8 - keeps changing. Since signing up for Smashwords, I haven't sold an ebook on Amazon. I was rather hoping that with all those people who received a Kindle for Christmas that I would see a spike.

I hope to have another ebook announcement in the next week.

Good Writing,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"How to Sell a Million Copies of Your Book."

Of course I clicked! What do you expect! I assume I would be offered a book or audio tape with all the wisdom needed. I wasn't. Instead I clicked into a blog post by R.W. Ridley ( The part that really got me thinking was as follows:

If you want to sell a million copies of your novel, all you have to do is rewire culture. Easy, right? Here’s the rub. In large part, readers don’t buy books, they buy authors. In order to give yourself the greatest opportunity to make your book a cultural phenomenon, the author has to become a cultural phenomenon first.
Your personal brand has to ignite the same kind of passion you expect your art to ignite. That’s where web 2.0 and your online persona come in. This medium – blogging, social media, web videos, etc. – this is where the reader in 2010 and beyond is going to get to know you. This is where the cultural shift begins.
Your personal brand has to be bold, be consistent, and be authentic. And as the builder of your personal brand, you have to carry on in the face of self-doubt and outside ridicule. Not everyone is going to connect with you. Accept it. Embrace it. Move on. Not everyone who connects with you is going to buy your book, but they will do something more important. They will spread the word about your personal brand. Over time more and more people will be exposed to you and your book, and – we’re back to the golf analogy – with persistence, practice and luck – the cultural shift will take place, and you will sell a million copies of your book. By the way, for those of you who are disappointed to still see luck as part of the equation, I happen to believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so you can make your own luck.
Remember, your book won’t sell a million copies. You will sell a million copies of your book.

The fact that Mr. Ridley posted a picture of a mean-looking gorilla as his profile picture, certainly suggests that he is not an author to mess with!

But I think he is right. I've made most of my sales of Oilspill dotcom in the first few months when I was extremely active – out there marketing myself like crazy. When I met people and told my story, when I looked them in the eye and shook their hand – I sold my book. Sales on, Smashwords and iScribd all tend to follow some public exposure.

So in the next few months I will try to get out there more, expose myself (you know what I mean), shake hands and tell my story.

Here's to selling the one millionth copy!

Good Writing,

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Moment of Appreciation

Wade Mayer, who manages an excellent blog called Inviting Conversations: Intelligent Dialog Connecting Thoughtful People, posted a question on our LinkedIn Writer's group. He asked whether we put our family events on our business calenders. In sharing my response, I realized how strongly I feel about the challenges facing achieving excellence in my work, my writing and my parenting.

My response:
Always! The challenge of maintaining a work:life balance is the most difficult juggling act I face. I love my job and my writing life, both hopefully impact others to create a better world. Raising two young boys that they might become a positive force for change and sharing quality time with a life-partner who makes me a better person, demands just as much attention.

I am learning to live with the fact that I cannot promote my novels that are already published, edit the current completed manuscript, and write the next novel. All this while holding down a full-time (and wonderful) job, and being a meaningful influence as my children develop, as well as being a supportive life-partner.

But it's hard. I've been struggling with the usual winter coughs and colds for too long. No time to slow down and let the body recuperate. In the words of Jack Kerouac:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh..."
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

And I wouldn't want it any other way!

Final word: I am speaking at the Californian Writer's Club on Sunday (March 21), at 2.15 p.m. in the West Auditorium of the Oakland Main Library at 125 14th Street near the Lake Merritt BART station. Enter directly from Madison Street between 13th & 14th Streets.

Love to see you there.


Friday, March 12, 2010

With Respect to the Classics

I have just read A Catcher in the Rye, and finished listening to the third Lord of the Rings on audio book during my daily commute. At the same time, I am editing Unwanted Heroes and making some changes for the next printing of Oilspill dotcom. To help me with the latter, I am consulting various guides to self-editing, receiving invaluable feedback from the Berkeley Writer's Group, and drinking a lot of wine (when someone tells me that a passage is lucid and flowing, I silently thank the Grape Goddess).

But reading my own work and trying to fit it in to the rules: plot-driven, show-don’t-tell, no repeating words, no adverbs etc. etc… I can't help wondering what were the rules for Salinger, Tolkien, Dickens, or Hardy?

Let's face it. These guys have made it. They are the immortals, the literary gods, forever a part of history. We admire and envy them.

Most authors want to write bestsellers and make lots of money (okay, at least I'm being honest) and we all want our books to be read after our deaths and in centuries to come, enabling us to join the immortals. The question thus stands: do we write for today or forever? Do we sacrifice quality (if indeed that's what it is) to become a hit today?

Kill your babies! Another golden rule of self-editing. But I love my babies. I see their worth, a rich tapestry woven of detail, a clear memory engraved forever. What fantasy reader doesn't have a clear succinct picture of Middle Earth engraved in his/her mind? That comes from reading (and sometimes toiling) through pages of rich description. Some die-hard fantasy followers have even written Elven as a second language on their resumes .

Still, I am no Tolkien, but every time I press on the delete button, I feel I have left behind a friend, a painful step forward of a yet unfulfilled journey.

Good Writing,

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What's in a Name?

A flurry of activity: the Amazon Breakthrough contest success, some public readings and exposure, has led me to an exciting junction. A small publisher is interested in republishing Oilspill dotcom. I am excited. I will benefit from their experience, their "legitimacy," and open a recognized channel to placing my book in bookstores through their distribution. I am also stoked – happy to receive 'recognition'.

However, there are two issues that I need to deal with.

1) The Title
They want me to change the title, to find something that gives a clearer picture of what the book is about and also that is easier to remember by association.

I have to admit that after I thought about it, I realized that my loyalty to the title is based upon the myriad of marketing tools that I have invested in: bookmarks, magnets, postcards, my website, magnetic signs on our cars. The title of the novel came to me naturally while I was writing Oilspill dotcom and it stuck.

So I'm reaching out to you. Please make suggestions for a new title. In particular if you have read my novel. If you haven't, here is my pitch:

Oilspill dotcom is a political courtroom confrontation wherein a multinational corporation tries to silence two young activists, who level the playing field using a new emerging tool: the Internet.

It is a fictional drama that closely parallels the McDonalds libel case, which captivated England through the 1990’s.

The world can be changed, one pixel at a time.

If we choose your suggested title, you will receive an autographed copy of the new (titled) book, and my gratitude.

2) The Cover
I struggled with the cover for Oilspill dotcom. The publisher, Booksurge, had sent me several mock-ups of a cover that I had (passionately) not liked. By the time we settled on the current cover, I was quite attached to it.

But it needs to change. I am looking for a graphic artist to work with. If you know anyone, I would appreciate the referral.

Good Writing,


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Speaking on Sunday - Two Worlds Connect

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Books & Bagels event at the Jewish Community Center (1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley). The event is free and features – well me and the carbs!

It's always interesting speaking at a Jewish venue. As the director of San Francisco Hillel I speak at various Jewish venues around the Bay Area. Part of my job description is networking and reaching out to students, donors and potential stakeholders.

When I promoted my book at the Jewish community's annual Bookfest, I felt very aware that my two worlds are intermingling. I met many who knew me as the Hillel director and presented another side of myself.

Prior to that event, I had felt uncomfortable mixing the two worlds. But as I spoke with more people, a mental bridge began to connect them. As a Hillel director, I am deeply invested in prioritizing social justice in the Jewish campus agenda (taking students to help rebuild the Gulf Coast, volunteering at Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank). As an author, I write to promote a better world, to highlight social injustices, and help create Tikkun Olam – a better world.

I don't know if I will mention my Jewish world when I address the group tomorrow at the Jewish Community Center, but if I do, I will feel increasingly comfortable with the developing interconnection.

If you are around Berkeley tomorrow morning (10.30), I'd be happy to see some familiar faces.

Good Writing,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Exciting News!

Just announced online - my new novel Unwanted Heroes has made the 2nd round of the Breakthrough Novel Award. A long 2 weeks for the next round! There were 10,000 entries in the first round.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Cute 3 minute movie

Love this insight into the world of publishing:

Good Writing,


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Day

An old lover, a flame from the past, memories. A touch so familiar, a well of emotion long forgotten. Yeah, I know my wife is going to read this, don't worry.

Today has been quite a day. My youngest had his birthday party and 10 seven-year-olds were initiated as Pokemon trainers on a concrete parking lot in West Berkeley. My wife and I got to spend some quality time together, and a chick-flick and wine await us as the kids settle down.

But something else happened. Somewhere between cleaning the dishes from supper and putting the boys to bed. Something special, something vibrant and exhilarating.

I finished writing Unwanted Heroes last April, ten months ago. Since then, Oilspill dotcom was published and promoted, and Heroes is going through endless editing. Ten months…

Ten months since I sat opposite a blank page (well word document to be precise) and let the story flow. I have been worried that I might not be able to get back in the groove. I'm told it's like that for every writer. Full-time authors split their day between promotion of what is published, editing what is completed, and writing something new. They never want to run the risk of not having that unchecked creative flow.

But for the vast majority of us, writers who hold down a full-time job, support their partners and families, and who consider themselves lucky to carve out an hour or two a day, there is no way we can fulfill all three of these tasks.

Especially writing something new. When I wrote Heroes, I wrote 80,000 words in three months. I wrote every day, didn't go to the gym, didn't watch my favorite TV shows. Oilspill dotcom was at the publishers and I just had to respond to questions and decisions. I did nothing but focus on writing Heroes and it was EXHILARATING!

I never wavered. The book just wrote itself, spewed out of me (excuse the artistic verb, but it's accurate), in less than a hundred days.

This evening, Valentines Day, in less than an hour, I wrote my prologue and first chapter. First draft, extremely rough, but I am feeling that high again. Tomorrow is Presidents Day. I am home with my boys, but I'll get 90 minutes before my wife goes to work to slink off to a café and write. Hopefully Chapter Two.

Happy Valentines Day to those of you with a loved one, a soon-to-be loved one, or a story waiting to be told.

Good Writing,

Friday, February 12, 2010

January was an important month for me. I entered Unwanted Heroes into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and Oilspill dotcom into the IPPY contest. I have already written about the importance of contests in a previous blog entry (January 8th - In Search of Golden Nuggets). In addition, I listed Oilspill dotcom with a company that markets books for a commission.

My goals for February are focused on a number of specific social networking forums. I have been active in LinkedIn groups that, while I learned a lot from the other contributors, have not produced any sales (as far as I can work out).

These are the forums that I plan to work on this month.

1) CreateSpace community
With the merger of Booksurge and CreateSpace, I want to explore the CreateSpace community. This is an active forum of authors and I want to expand my online platform with a group of authors from the same publishing house.

2) Goodread community
This is a community of readers. I have already seen how authors use it to promote their books (harnessing reviews) and there is a very different group of people assembled here.

3) Smashwords Marketing Document: Read Through & Implement
I am very proud to have my ebook published with both Smashwords and iScribd, but I have not put an effort into promoting my ebook outside of this blog. The emerging ebook market fascinates me, and I need to focus on developing my presence in the e-reader world.

4) Amazon - I have purchased the book 'Sell Your Book on Amazon' by Brent Sampson. I plan to read through the book this month and implement his ideas. Amazon remains the most effective platform to sell my book. While I experience success (sales) when meeting people face-to-face, the options available in Northern California are steadily shrinking, and I am not succeeding in creating marketing opportunities further afield. If I am to invest time in Social Networking Media, then I need to fully exploit my Amazon store.

5) Amazon community - Amazon do a very good job creating an online community for its customers. In the same way that bookstores use different ploys to get/keep you in their store, Amazon have created a number of communities to achieve a similar goal. This is, therefore, another network where I need to develop a presence.

One of the common threads is to spread my blog throughout these networks. If I am writing my blog, I should try to promote it at each of these forums. This thought has brought me to scrutinize how I am utilizing my blog and what I want to write in it.

A friend of mine recently attended a seminar facilitated by a very successful blogger. The blogger made a number of statements including the need to blog a few times a day (everyday) and also to write passionately about whatever platform is the subject of my blog.

Countdown to a Novel Published began over a year ago as a countdown to the launch of Oilspill dotcom. After the book was published, it became a diary sharing my experiences in marketing and promoting Oilspill. I hope I have honestly portrayed my successes, frustrations and challenges.

I have purposefully avoided sharing inane descriptions about standing in line at the post office and what new protein smoothie I am drinking to increase word production. There are plenty of narcissist blogs and the airwaves are a-twitter (pun intended) with such descriptions. They are read essentially, one would assume, by loved ones, friends and helicopter parents.

Truth is, I am struggling more and more to find topics that I believe are interesting to those beyond my immediate support circle, and I think that this struggle is reflected in the lack of growth in readership over the past 2-3 months. Blogging is a time-consuming component in the little time I have to market my books. I say this while acknowledging the significance of such an investment. But if I am to be truly productive with the time I have, my blog needs to grow, in subject matter and readership.

So I am adding another goal to those listed above: to decide where to take my blog from March onwards. And I would like to solicit your honest thoughts about the direction I should take. So please, drop me a line (comment on the blog, my website, email, or over a beer - yes people still meet face-to-face). I appreciate your input.

Good Writing,

Sunday, January 31, 2010


It's out. I drove past the Mascone Center in the heart of San Francisco the morning that Apple held their launch. During my lunch break, I surfed for a video about it. I have been waiting as have many.

Barnes & Noble brought out their Nook earlier than planned to get a head start. Amazon, home of the Kindle, announced that they are sweetening the pot for authors who publish with Kindle. Those authors, myself included, who have their ebooks published in multi-formats have been licking our lips in anticipation – well, drooling to be absolutely honest.

It's no secret that the book-reading world is divided between those who see the Star Trek future, saving trees and waste, and those who still enjoy the feel, touch and smell of the printed page. Or as one woman in my LinkedIn group said: if I can't take it into the bath, I'm not interested. Truth is, I've dropped a couple of books into my bathwater in my time and they don't fare too well. Still they don't cost $200-400 to replace either.

As previously mentioned, I'm on the fence. I love the new technology, but enjoy the sensual experience of the book. I also love my bookcases and feel they are a reflection of me and a statement to my children.

Still, I certainly desired a handheld instrument when it took me 28 hours to fly from New Orleans to San Francisco last weekend having just finished reading two great books.

Back to Apple. You just knew that they would raise the bar. The Nooks, Kindles and about a dozen other ebook pads are all very similar. The iPad, however, is more of a tablet computer, offering movie, photos and music options. Its touch screen is also a plus and there is an ergonomic touch keyboard. One negative comment that I have heard, thus far, is that the screen has a high resolution, necessary for movies, but possibly not so comfortable for book reading.

One last comment. J.D. Salinger passed away this week at age 91. I have to confess, I've never read 'A Catcher in the Rye' (it was never big in the UK where I grew up) but have read various articles about the author and the book. Over the last few days I have been asking friends if this was a coming-of-age novel for them. While the answers are varied, the fact is that people clearly remember reading the book, its story and where they were when they read it. I can think of no greater compliment for an author.

I’ve read that Salinger, though initially hungry for success as an author, had great difficulty dealing with the success and publicity that ensued. So many of us writers dream about achieving the level of fame that he reached. I doubt that many have given much thought to how we would cope with it.

If I had an iPad, Kindle or Nook, I could just download Catcher in the Rye and read it. As it is, I have ordered it from the library…electronically!

Good Writing,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From New Orleans to San Francisco

I am currently concluding a week of volunteering in New Orleans with students from our San Francisco Hillel. A lot has changed: my first time here we gutted as many houses as we could to allow the residents to received their insurance and begin the long rebuilding process. In my second year, we helped build drywall and roofs to those who could only afford the materials but not the labor. This year we have been helping to establish a community garden in the Lower 9th Ward, the hardest hit area. Whereas in the past we were helping to rebuild the physical, this year it felt like we were helping to heal a community.

One surprising aspect this time is that we keep meeting people living in New Orleans who were linked to the San Francisco Bay Area. I feel there is an indefinable link between two cities that just don't comply with the American norm.

The piece below is from Unwanted Heroes. I wrote it after my first trip here.

Chapter 2: The Fog Rolls In
I love San Francisco. Yeah, I grew up in London with fog on the Thames, but I don’t recall locals stopping to admire it.

Other cities share similar traits to San Francisco; Rome has hills, London has immigrants and culture, and Paris the artistic mystique. But San Francisco has all of this and it’s not thrown in your face. It just is.

I lean over the rails on the Embarcadero and stare out at the looming Bay Bridge, gray and partially veiled by early morning fog. Next to me stands a metal woman, eighteen feet high, a creation welded from hundreds of recycled pieces of junk. She holds hands with a child about six or eight feet tall, and together they stare out to sea.
The metal woman lacks the elegance of the Statue of Liberty. That’s what makes San Francisco special; it works without pretentiousness. I’m told that the metal mother and her child stand at the Burning Man festival in the desert. Fire courses through her body and out of her hand into the child.

We could do with the fire right now. I shiver as I watch wisps of fog on the water. It’s very early and I must open the coffee shop. Despite the cold, I love this hour of the day; the city slumbers, but is not asleep. It’s simply preparing itself for the onslaught. In two hours, tens of thousands of people will spew out of the BART and MUNI public transport tunnels. Others will stubbornly drive in, searching for elusive and pricey parking spaces. The more enlightened drivers have recruited two passengers from the casual car pool pickup points scattered around the bay, thereby avoiding the bridge tolls and utilizing the carpool lanes. The passengers, for their part, get a free ride into town.

Walking down Mission Street, I see Clarence, a huge African-American, dressed in a shiny black suit. I can’t tell if he’s awake behind those big black sunglasses until he raises his saxophone to salute me. The shiny instrument gleams, even in our fog-filled streets, and Clarence lets rip a short riff to announce: The barista has arrived!

Clarence stakes his position very early in the morning. There are more street musicians than ever these days and, with only a limited number of prime spots, Clarence must claim his territory. But at this moment, he plays only for me and I feel like a king. Clarence knows I don’t have money to throw in his open sax case; perhaps he’d feel insulted if I did.

But later, around 9.30 when the herd is safely corralled into their office cubicles and Clarence’s muscles are aching, he’ll come and rest in The Daily Grind. When I think Mr. Tzu, isn’t looking, I leave a cup of coffee on Clarence’s table. I used to mutter under my breath that some jerk had changed his order after I’d already poured his cup and there’s no use in waste. After about the fortieth time, I figured Clarence had picked up on my ruse and I just put the steaming cup on his table.

No thanks, but I know the gesture is appreciated, just as I appreciate Clarence playing for me as I pass in the early morning. He’ll sit for an hour or so and then slowly move off. I know little of Clarence, but he’s part of my life; another strand that weaves this urban tapestry called San Francisco.

Two weeks ago, some students entered The Daily Grind, their clothes covered with ‘New Orleans’ insignia. They were excited and boisterous as they passed Clarence at his regular table. From the way Clarence eyed them, I thought that their intrusion annoyed him. But I was wrong.

"Hey! What’s with th’ shirts? Whatca y’all doing with New Orleans?"

A young woman, blonde, thin and tanned, excitedly explained how they’d just come back from a week helping to rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. "You should’ve seen the damage that hurricane did," she concluded.

"Ain’t no hurricane that did that gal," Clarence growled. "Weren’t no nat’ral disaster. Don’t let ’em bull ya’. The hurricane would’ve done some damage, but if those levees had held, if those bastards had built ’em like they should, well, ain’t no one have died there. My grandma’s house waz swept away, broke her it did. Such a proud w’man."

Clarence rose and moved heavily to the door, but then turned. We all watched him. He spoke now in a softer tone. "But I thank y’all for going down there t’ help. It’s import’nt ya’ all show ya’ care, that some’n shows they care."

We saw the tears as he turned and left leaving behind a heavy wake of silence. I couldn’t stop myself. I nodded to Tabitha to cover for me and followed him out of the café.

He stood on the corner of Mission and Spear caressing his saxophone and let rip the most beautiful, soulful jazz I have ever heard. He wasn’t playing for me that time; he wasn’t even playing for San Francisco. I could almost see his tune rolling out of the bay along with the fog and making its way to the Gulf.

When he finished I approached, not knowing what to say. We stared at each other.
"I’m so sorry," I whispered. "I-I’m so sorry."

I spoke with Mr. Tzu, the coffee shop owner, later that day. I had an idea and from that week, every Friday at lunchtime, Clarence would play in The Daily Grind to a packed audience. Big jars were scattered around the tables with labels: All Proceeds to New Orleans Relief Projects.

And as the music touched our customer’s souls, the jars filled: because San Francisco has a heart, and that heart was bleeding for a sister on the Gulf Coast.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Venting Emotions

I am part of a LinkedIn discussion group and found myself involved in a thread that has got quite emotional. Good. It shows we care. I want to share with you one of my responses - I didn't mean to pour so much on to the page, but I think it is quite revealing.

Thanks for the compliment. The thread has already mentioned the essential advantages of PoD, and I largely agree with them. I want to mention some areas not covered, and again, this is my personal opinion.

1. A writer needs to write. S/he needs to develop his/her craft. S/he needs to tell the other stories that s/he has to write. Once you have finished your novel, had it edited, and sent it out to 50-60 agents, you need to think there comes a point when you must move on.

You can then put that manuscript on a shelf to gather dust, or you can put it out there. On the shelf seems pointless to me - it gives you nothing and has you stagnating. I think it is preferable to PoD the book and gain experience in the inevitable promotion and marketing world.

If I had not Pod'ed Oilspill dotcom, I would not have begun to build my author's platform. In the 6 months since the novel came out: I built a website that I am proud of (, maintain a modest blog, have spoken at 8 forums, been interviewed/mentioned in 5 newspapers/magazines, entered 5 competitions ... all while holding a full time job and being an involved father to young children.

I believe I am more confident, more professional, and building a reputation (in Northern California, at least) because of these actions - and I have learned a lot. A few weeks ago, I met with two people in the hope of addressing their group. One said that they couldn't agree as they haven't read the book. His colleague responded that he had read it and gave me a great verbal review. He had heard about my book from a friend who had been moved by my Veterans Day blog entry.

2. I am not convinced that placing my novel in every bookstore is going to result in sales, so there's little point complaining about it. There are thousands of books in any store (100,000 in the average Barnes & Noble). I believe people often buy the author as much as his/her book (assuming they've never read anything from the author). If you are charismatic, funny, profound, whatever, you will sell. People want to take a piece of you home with them (please don't tell my wife). If you have not published a book (no matter which way) you have nothing to sell them.

3. A final comment. PoD, ebooks, consignments, advances - the industry is in flux and will take a time to work itself out. I do not believe books are going away, but neither do I think we yet know where the industry is going. An author/writer needs to write, needs to develop. S/he cannot stand still and wait for the rest of the world. Furthermore, I believe (hope) that in the future, the fact that you have put yourself out there and have a fan base, will be a plus when a big publisher considers picking you up. Your website, blog, appearances etc. are testament that you can go the distance with the right backing.

4. A final, final point: You have to love what you do. If you are not proud of your website, blog, pitch at parties and spontaneous meetings and, above all, if you are not proud of your books, then maybe you shouldn't be here. It's okay to complain a bit (who doesn’t?), but if it is paralyzing your progress, you have a serious problem.

Sorry this is so long. Thank you for reading.
Good Writing,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Search of Golden Nuggets

Firstly, a big thank-you to the twelve people who offered feedback and helped me with my synopsis for Unwanted Heroes. I submitted my entry to the San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest and am particularly excited. This is the first time that I have shopped Unwanted Heroes and I am eager to see how it is received.

I also entered Oilspill dotcom for the Stanford University/William Saroyan International Writing Prize.

In helping prepare my synopsis, a number of friends asked why I am putting so much time into writing contests. In the 19th Century, people came to California in search of gold. In a riverbed of pebbles they sought the elusive golden nugget. The nugget in itself was of great value, but it also offered the hope that the discovery would lead to more nuggets nearby.

The world of literature has become crowded. The advent of the computer has shortened the discipline and time needed to create a book. As a medium of expression, it has become accessible to all and fills an important void to many. The expansion of publishing channels to include cheap and readily available models of publication has added to the amount of books being published. The e-book revolution is still in its nascent stages but will open more accessible platforms to publish a book. Weblit is another new idea catching on fast.

So how can a golden nugget shine among the pebbles? How can it find a way to catch the attention of the gold-digger (the reader) bending down over murky waters?

In a world of mass advertising, if you have the money to allow newspaper and billboard promotion, TV, web, and radio, there is a clear route. The only barrier is having a marketing budget the size of a house purchase. For the A-list authors, this remains the easy and obvious way. When Dan Brown's new novel recently came out, we all knew about it, whether we follow his work or not. Someone spent big bucks getting our attention. My nurturing wife, ever sensitive to her family's needs, planned the camping site during our summer vacation to be near a bookstore thus enabling my eldest son and I to purchase the final Harry Potter novel the day it came out - and we booked our trip about four months earlier.

But the mid-lister and emerging author both need to get creative. We need to find alternative ways to harness media attention, to plant our books into people's consciousness and onto their bookshelves.

Book contests are one way of shining among the pebbles. The contest provides legitimacy to the level of the author's writing, a stamp (or more likely a sticker) of authority and hopefully helps the media take note. When the consumer hears that a particular book is a prizewinner they are impressed. When approaching bookstores, speaker engagements and agents, it is a strong line on your resume.

Finally, it is imperative that the writer believes in his/her ability and this needs to be sustained and legitimized. Having your pebble remaining in the sieve when all others have been thrown back into the river of rejection, having a miner hold it up to the sun, bite it (did they really do that without dental coverage?) and whoop for joy knowing that this discovery might change their lives -- what more can an author dream of?

Good Writing,