Churning Out Novels

I thought I wrote fast. I tell people I can write a 100,000 word novel – a first draft – in four months, writing for an hour before work, an hour or two later in the day, and a few solid hours on the weekend. I only thought this was fast because people told me so. Other writers spent a year, two or more, to get similar output.

So I was a little surprised when I started to follow a podcast by three authors, all in the sci-fi and fantasy world. These three, along with the different guests they interview each week, publish 4-6 books a year, often keeping different series’ and even different genres going.

So I did some digging. There are many writers out there who are churning out a 50-80K novel each month … and I mean from Chapter 1 through The End and into editing (I assume), book cover design, and placements.

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Wow!

I am emotionally exhausted when I finish a novel and only once (between Books 5 and 6) did I have any desire to continue straight into writing the next of the series. Editing, sure. Marketing, okay. But the idea of churning out another 100K?

I am trying to work out what it takes to do this and, as I listened more to these authors, and even got to question a couple, I think I get it.

1. Outsourcing – these people do nothing for the production process. Everything is outsourced and they do not play a part in the process. This makes total sense except when there is no investment in the process, when the author really doesn’t care about the end product. As one author said: “My book covers are more or less the same. Only the title and book number changes. The cover artist knows what to do.”

2. Editing – when my editor returns a manuscript, there are changes suggested in almost every paragraph. I am expected to go through these comments and decide what to do. True, I accept 95% of the suggestions, but sometimes the editor writes that a scene is not clear, a conversation does not make sense, or a description is repetitive. In this case, I need to rewrite. Sometimes, the editor suggests I delete something. If I am attached to what is written, I might rewrite it much shorter or insert elsewhere (oops – don’t tell my editor!).

images-63. Strict genre adherence – in order that some writers can keep pace with production, they keep the plot tight and similar – the same highs and lows. The protagonist acts as he (usually a he) is expected, the bad guy too, and often the women are…well, behaving in what is expected of women in that genre. Now there is nothing wrong here. If it ain’t broke, why fix? Who needs a bad guy you sympathize with, a woman who kicks the crap out of someone or simply  falls in love with the bad guy and not the hero? Real life is already too complicated. There are no twists in the plot and I expect that somewhere there is a story arc written that is faithfully adhered to. No time to spend experimenting. Take no risks with the loyal readership.

4. Investment in the characters – this is something I find hard to understand. I have never understood how people can write a stand-alone novel, and walk away. I feel so close to all my characters – I worry about them, fear for them, get angry when they screw up (and especially when they have the audacity to blame me). Long after the novel is finished, I think about them, and yes, I mourn the ones I kill off.

Now there is nothing wrong with any of this. There are people who write for the art and people who write for the royalty check and that is just fine. Most of us are somewhere in between. If the quality of the book is enough for the reader to enjoy, to read effortlessly and then crave the author’s next book, then what’s wrong with that? If the genre is popular just the way it is, then this is what the reader wants. And if it sells and so do the rest of the author’s work, then that is a clear sign that what they do is right and recognized by the most important views – the readership.

But sometimes it is tough to accept. In seeking the highest standard of writing, I agonize over a scene, word choice, how a character develops. Sure I can write a first draft in four months, but it takes longer to edit, rewrite, consider feedback, and feel once the book is published, that I have done my absolute best.

I’m trying not to be critical, but the book churn must have its limitations. And, in the end, a book exists forever. If the market is swamped by mediocrity, how will the special books get noticed? Will a generation get turned off novels because they just aren’t as gripping as a video game, a You Tube clip, or an on-demand TV binge?

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And I can’t help but wonder: what does George R.R. Martin think about this?

EXCITING NEWS: Tourmaline Books are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of March though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Doing It For The Kids

Since the US elections, living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and working for a Human Rights organization, life feels very intense. Conversations are heavy and the TV follows Rachel Maddow and her colleagues. This is not lost on my teenager kids and their friends.

It has been a tough political coming-of-age as my sons avidly watched the primaries, election and inauguration, seeing the emergence of a political entity that is the opposite of the values we have shared with them. They have friends who are people of color, female, and LGBT.

I told a friend that I am considering leaving the epic fantasy world and returning to social justice-themed novels such as The Accidental Activist and Unwanted Heroes, which I wrote a decade ago. One is about the abuse perpetrated by multinational corporations and the other about war veterans and their struggle. I have another completed draft that is gathering dust about gay rights. Her response surprised me.

She said that young people deserve the escape route that my books offer, that I sending powerful messages about the value of friendship, the abuse and responsibility of leadership, and about racism and tolerance.

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I am driven to share my values and beliefs with my children and their friends. Working with millennials for almost a decade, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to be a role model and challenge students to questions their values and those around them. For years after Hurricane Katrina, I took students to New Orleans, not just to help rebuild, but to bear witness to the stories of those who were racially discriminated against.

But my children, and many young readers of the Wycaan Master series, deserve an opportunity to grow up and enjoy their childhood, teenage and college years. I am not suggesting they should be oblivious to, or shielded from, what is happening. But they need outlets to balance this.

Opening a book, getting invested in a series, can be memorable and powerful experience. It offers readers of all ages, a chance to soar to a different land, to make friends and cheer on characters who take risks and face great challenges, a chance to dream.

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It is not just the children and young adults. I should not feel bad that I spend a portion of my time watching sport and reading fiction myself. We all need to become involved and aware – this is the greatest lesson from this election cycle and an imperative going forward – but we all need to seek balance in our lives.

So, as you look at your schedule for the coming week, why not reserve time for a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a good novel?

Alon @elfwriter.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Stuck Between A Forest and a Big Corporation.

Tourmaline Books has agreed to upload the ebook versions of the Wycaan Master series to Smashwords making it available for all tablets and ebook platforms. Up until now, you could only buy the electronic version of the novels through Amazon and read them on a Kindle app.

This decision was made as a concession to me rather than based upon any viable business strategy. Amazon offers a wonderful deal for the publisher and author to go exclusive with them – higher royalties, opportunities for exposure through various marketing campaigns, and, of course, the name of the biggest book store in the world. Varying sources have Amazon dominating over 70% of the book market.

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There is a love/hate relationship between Amazon and the publishing world and there are plenty of articles covering this. Balancing this, as mentioned, Amazon has offered a business model that helps smaller publishers and independent author. One of my fellow writers once said – If you succeed with Amazon then you will think they are great. If you are not succeeding, well, it is nice to have someone to blame.

I have written extensively about my passion for ebooks. It is easier to read for those of us who have acquiesced to reading glasses, easy to carry a library around when traveling, and being instantly able to buy the next book in the series. It also helps those who cannot pay $25 for a hardcover.

But more than this, it is a decision about humanity’s future on this planet. Hopefully, you believe in climate change, but even those who don’t usually acknowledge that we need lots of trees in order to … well breathe.

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I am not dissing the tree book. I collect signed hardcovers of my favorite authors and these books adorn every corner of our house. For a guy who suffers from dust allergies, this is quite a compromise and I love having them there.

Amazon has been nothing but good for me. It has highlighted my books on several occasions, twice leading to a huge surge in sales. However, I am wary of any monopoly. Having lived for two decades respectively in two small countries, I enjoy that there is plenty of competition in the US, that companies are forced to offer high levels of product and customer service, and that the consumer always has a choice.

I do worry that Amazon has considerable power when you are part of the exclusive program, though I do not subscribe to the many stories that circulate. One of my friends, a member of the California Writer’s Club (CWC) and a successful Amazon author, once said that Amazon has rules, and everyone who signs on, agrees to them. In her opinion, those who break the rules and are discovered are the ones who are bitter, as it is difficult to make your case. I’m not sure if this is different from any other business transaction.

Having said all this, I do love Smashwords. Its founder, Mark Coker, is a Bay Area legend and visionary in the book community, and unselfishly offers himself to speak at book clubs, conferences, writers groups, and CWC events. The link above takes you to articles he has written for The Huffington Post).

The technology is simple (for the low tech individual like me I mean, not the engineers who designed it, I’m sure) – the author/publisher submits a ‘clean’ manuscript, which is put through their “meat grinder” which produces ebooks compatible with all the industry ebook platforms. Given that Smashwords is from the Bay Area, I am sure it produces only gluten-free editions!

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Whether the decision to work with Smashwords will make Tourmaline Books more money or not remains to be seen, but I appreciate their flexibility to allow me to continue to expand my ebook market and make an environmental decision that supports diversity within the market. I deeply appreciate they respect my values.

The future is bright for ebooks. It needs to be. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet with literature.

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For those of you interested in my books and read with eReaders other than Kindle, the Wycaan Master series can be downloaded by clicking on the relevant book title:

At The Walls Of Galbrieth – winner of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award,

The First Decree

Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3

Sacrificial Flame

From Ashes They Rose

Calhei No More.

However you read the Wycaan Master series, I thank you for your readership and fellowship.

Happy 2017,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Return of the Writer

It has been over three months since my accident and over three months since I can finally sit at my desk, my leg at an angle that is relatively comfortable. Many people assumed that the time away from work was probably an excellent opportunity to write. It never happened: the drugs, the pain, and the depression, meant I was unable to create. Sure I could tweet and blog, and ensure that we kept the launch of Calhei No More to the rearranged schedule, but I discovered writing apparently needs a certain energy.

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Apparently? You would think that after nine novels (and a couple of others unpublished) I would know that by now, but I don’t. Writing (the creative aspect of penning new material) has always come easy for me and I find time early in the morning, late at night, on the plane, etc. I have always claimed that I can write anywhere and under almost any conditions. Once I am in a rhythm, I can produce 100,000 words in a hundred days – to quote Anne Lamott as a “shitty first draft” – and I will write most of it at my desk, which is in the kitchen shared with three other humans and a dog. I swivel my chair around and, voila, I am at the dinner table, ready to play father/husband/slave to said canine.

I was excited last weekend to sit, for the first time since the accident, without the brace on my leg at my desk. I fondly cleared the accumulated detritus and wiped down the grimy keyboard. Then I sat down and wrote a chapter in about 90 minutes – old style.

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I can’t speak for the quality of the chapter, but even if it all gets cut, the exhilaration of that time was worth it: kind of how one feels after a good gym workout, delivering a great speech or presentation, reaching the top of a summit, or any task that requires muscle or memory retention, constant practice, and focus.

There are no excuses for not writing if you want to become an author and remain relevant. I have always been skeptical of people who need their writing hut in the middle of the forest, smudged for good energy, and the moon in a specific phase, but when I sat at my desk for the first time in three months, it felt good.

Old muses flowed, writing muscles flexed and I became so happy. I cannot yet work out, walk my dog, or play tennis with my boys. That will come with patience and disciplined attention to the physical therapist. But the author in me is an integral part of who I am.

And the author is back!

Happy MLK Day to all. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Roll On 2017

Dear Readers,

This is my first blog post of 2017 and I am sitting here feeling full of gratitude and pride. Five years ago, I sat with my family drinking hot chocolate and peppermint mochas in a local coffee shop and we each wrote down our goals for the year. 

I made the commitment to spend serious time writing an epic fantasy series and building a platform to promote my work. I had written rough drafts of At The Walls Of Galbrieth and The First Decree, and my boys had an expectation that, as in the preceding two summer vacations, I would have a manuscript to read around the campfire in another six months.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth was published by Tourmaline Books in November 2012 and went on to win the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award. Now, five years later, six beautiful novels adorn the shelf above my writing desk. I admit, I occasionally peek up and wonder if they are real.

They are – because I received such amazing support from readers all over the world, it just never occurred to me to stop. Every review, every email, every comment on my elfwriter blog is immense gratification.

It has been a tough year in many respects. Many wonderful people have died. In fact, the day after Calhei No More was released, my father-in-law passed away. I know he would have taken great pride that I completed the series as promised, but I had no desire to celebrate. An election happened that has left many of us profoundly uneasy. And three months ago, I suffered a bad accident that I have still recovering from.

But I also feel profoundly lucky: a wonderful soul mate, great sons, and incredible friends. I am blessed to work for a human rights organization that strives to protect the rights of some of the most marginalized people in the world and to eradicate poverty in the developing world. It is a demanding job, but one that inspires me and provides a wonderful balance to the escapism of Odessiya, to my elves and dwarves.

The injury to my leg, which should have ironically afforded me more time to write, presented me with the first experience of writers block. It’s behind me, even if I am still on crutches, and I am back to my regular output.

Over the next year, Tourmaline Books will publish the two trilogies on various other platforms. As I write this, the first series is now available on every digital platform through Smashwords. Click on the link for each book.

At The Walls Of Galbrieth

The First Decree

Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3.

So what’s next? I am editing another novel, an adult magical realism story that I am very excited about. For more information, please click here

I will continue to reach out to readers. Your comments and feedback are an inspirations for me. My blog – Elfwriter.com – continues to attract a steady group of equally passionate and committed group of epic fantasy connoisseurs. I love your comments and the highest compliment is when you send a blog post on to friends.

Almost 75,000 people follow @elfwriter and @alonshalevsf on twitter and many retweet or favor a blog post. People often comment with their own experiences or when a post has touched them. I treasure these moments as we build a community together.

I want to thank the Berkeley Writer’s Group who, while most do not read fantasy, nonetheless offer advice and guidance each week. There is so much that can be said about a group who are simply meeting to support each other and we have done so over 500 times! I hope I was able to contribute and help them as I received their support.

A large part of my success is due to the support of a team of amazing professionals. Monica Buntin is not just an editor, but also a teacher. William Kenney, an accomplished fantasy author in his own right, designed a masterful series of book covers. I am so proud when I set the books out on a table at a conference or speaking engagement.Jeny Reulo and the folks at Fast Fingers will not compromise in their commitment to create the perfectly formatted book. cwc-fremont-book-fair-2015-v3

And my deepest thanks is to my family who suffer the author who slips into another world, where the quest to free the races of Odessiya often take precedence over the dirty dishes and the laundry whose destiny to be ironed, folded and put away into drawers often takes longer than training a Wycaan elf! 

Finally thank you to all who read my books and blog posts, who retweet and favor, who comment and point out mistakes, who offer guidance and advice, who are part of an extended family, enjoying the ride together.

Life is a journey and while we each walk our own paths, our lives are enriched when these paths entwine and interconnect.

So let’s raise a tankard or goblet to noble quests, elf bows that never miss their mark, a free Odessiya, Wycaan Masters, and most important, to good friendships around the fire, quaffing ale and smoking healthy pipe weed, and telling wonderful stories.

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Wishing you a year of health, happiness and friendship. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

Alon Shalev – elfwriter

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More is the final novel in the series and was released in November 2016.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

Today’s the Day! Calhei No More – Released!

It all started six years ago in 2010, a whim to engage my sons on a camping trip in an ancient redwood forest.

At The Walls of Galbrieth won the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award and a rollercoaster journey was set into motion.

It ends today with the launch of Calhei No More, available in paperback and e-book.

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Thank you for joining me on this epic adventure. Please leave reviews on Amazon and keep in touch – you can leave comments here on the elfwriter blog and on twitter @elfwriter, and I always respond on my email is anelfwriter@gmail.com.

It has been fun and sometimes tortuous – characters have a habit of not doing what they are supposed to. Writing has entered my DNA and there are various projects in the pipeline, so please keep following the blog or sign up for my newsletter (4-5/yr) here.

A big thank you to Tourmaline Books for keeping the faith, to my editor Monica Buntin, cover artist William J. Kenney, and the folks at The Fast Fingers who set the internal book matter. We’ve been together a long time and I have only reached this wonderful stage with your help and partnership.

Thank you to everyone for your readership and fellowship, your feedback and enthusiasm, and your willingness to join the Wycaan Masters to create a better world for themselves and their people. Hoping we can do the same for each other – perhaps there is not such a gap between fantasy and reality – and maybe there never should be.

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five more novels in the Wycaan Master Series – all released by Tourmaline Books. Calhei No More, the final book in the series will be released November 15, 2016. It will all end on the Plains of Shindellia.

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+ 

Letting Go: The Relationship Between Author and Character

It was always going to feel strange: the excitement of a new novel being launched together with the knowledge that this is the end of the Wycaan Master series. But somehow, it feels even more surreal than I had anticipated.

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My knee accident and operation along with the subsequent rehab was obviously never anticipated, and I thank all of you for your wonderful healing wishes. I am an active, sports-loving man, and have no idea how to sit around and wait for seven pieces of my knee bone (patella) to slowly reconnect. In desperation, my wonderful staff at AJWS bought me a two months’ subscription to Netflix and had to explain to me what binge watching is and why it is especially okay in my situation.

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Still it is hard not to feel guilty if I’m not working hard for those who pay me a salary or if I am not busy writing a next novel, editing the latest manuscript, and in this case, promoting the launch of Calhei No More which is next Tuesday.

Next Tuesday! At The Walls of Galbrieth was written in 2010. Seanchai, Rhoddan, Ilana, Sellia and Shayth have been in my life for six years now. I have laughed with them, cried, feared for their future, and between us, got quite annoyed at some of their decisions.

I watched an episode of Westworld yesterday (cable, not Netflix), in which a character said being a parent is about knowing when to let go. I’m dealing with this as a parent of teenage boys – I would rather they remain young enough to snuggle in our tent in a redwood forest as I read another manuscript to and for them – but now I realize I need to step back as well with the Wycaan Master characters.

Westworld, without giving anything away (and I have barely began to watch), is about artificial intelligence. A theme park has been created and people pay to interact with the very real robots (hosts), but the really fascinating part is the relationships that seem to surface between the team who created, maintain, and upgrade the hosts, and the robots themselves.

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It seems impossible not to get attached to the characters of a book much less a series where you created the character and have helped it evolve and grow. When I killed off a major character early in the series I cried. I didn’t, at the time, think it particularly strange to shed a few tears, but crying each of the 20+ times I edited and rewrote the scene and subsequent consequences borders on the traumatic…for me, the author (many of you made it very clear how you felt too…!).

I believe the relationship between character and creator is sacred in as much as it is unique. Those of you with a more religious perspective might connect this to the Creator and humanity, which brings us to the question: is being an author a vain attempt to play at being a deity? Let’s leave that for another time.

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But I never expected to care and agonise so much for the characters I created throughout the series, and it feels as though I’m failing as a father when Calhei No More launches next week, when I finally let go of my creative offspring and close the last page.

Whatever my feelings, Calhei No More will be released and you can pre-order the e-book here. The page for the paperback will be here, but I’m not sure when it goes live (usually a few days before launch to iron out any issues). Pre-ordering will bring attention on Launch Day and tempt Amazon.com to help promote more – so it is a big help to me.

Thank you again for all your good wishes and for your support of the Wycaan Master series. Do remember, I love hearing feedback and really appreciate any reviews you can write on Amazon for any of the novels.

Until November 15… For better or worse, it all ends on the Plains of Shindellia. See you there.

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).