An Unexpected Journey

This weekend, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey comes out. If you are reading this blog, you have probably been counting down along with the Mayans. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so there are no spoilers, but I am incredibly excited. I can’t wait to see it and have no doubt that I will love it, buy the DVD, change my computer’s wall paper and take my kids to eat breakfast at Denny’s…again!

imgres-2But there is something else that has me so stoked for this movie stands on the threshold of something historic: it is the induction of the next generation of epic fantasy readers. Just as Lord of the Rings ignited my generation’s interest, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon sentenced my own children to a lifetime of reading and vivid imagination, The Hobbit will take a new, unsuspecting generation on an unexpected journey.

My own journey has been somewhat unexpected. Having written a series of well-received social justice-themed novels, I have been introduced to people who are passionate to see and work for a better world. I treasure the opportunities to meet readers at book signings and author meet ups.

DSCN1387As we approached the launch of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, I sought to define my target audience and had a big surprise. To begin with, there were the 100+ who filled out my survey ­– thank you all – and I began to discover a group of passionate and richly imaginative readership.

But here is what excites me. I am meeting a large number of students and teenagers who are die-hard readers of epic fantasy. They eloquently share their love for the creation of a new world, their desire to see everyday folk transform into heroes, and to believe in universal principles such as freedom, good over evil, and the value of friendship.

My social justice-themed novels all contain a common thread: an everyday person goes through a transformational experience which empowers them to pursue justice. Swap the multinational corporation for an evil Emperor, replace the use of social protest with a special bow and arrow, and we have similar themes.

My point is that epic fantasy creeps up on you. This weekend many ingenuous children, teenagers, and parents, are going to see a hyped-up movie and experience a transformation. They may not start yielding a sword and slaying dragons, but they just might embark on an unexpected journey of reading and enter into a world that drives our imagination and defines our social values…

All because in the words of a great wizard: “Hobbits really are amazing creatures.”

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Advertisements

Where Do People Like Us Hang Out?

“Go forth and find your target audience,” I was told and I posted a questionnaire that many of you were kind enough to answer (if you haven’t, it is not too late, and I do promise to share my findings).

“Keep defining and refining it,” my mentor continued and so I have a question for you.

Where do you hang out? Where do you meet others such as you and me; those who believe in elves, dwarves, noble quests, and dragons? And please don’t tell me: Alagaësia, Middle Earth or Shannara – I’ve been there and I never saw you!

When you don’t have your nose in an exciting book, where do you meet fellow fantasy readers? Do you frequent conferences? Do you read magazines (on-line or tree form)? Are you on a social networking fantasy site, a discussion group, or a fantasy book club?

Please leave your tracks in the comments below. It will help me find companions for my journey and help others find company too.

I appreciate your help. Oh, and next time you pop into Alagaësia, Middle Earth or Shannara, would it hurt to say hi?

Finally something totally unconnected to this blog: This past week Muslims were insulted, Christians died from the violence, and Jews were blamed. We are all victims when we set ourselves apart. Sometimes it just feels easier to lose yourself in the world of elves, dwarves and dragons.

May we all learn to celebrate our differences together and share the space. There is enough room for us all. Safe travels wherever your road takes you.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Fantasy – A Pagan Conspiracy?

First a big Thank You to the 30+ people who filled out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – I am going to keep tweeting it and hopefully reach my goal of 50 responses (it makes it easy for my mathematically-challenged brain to do percentages).  If you have not had the time, please consider three minutes to answer ten questions by clicking here.

The first time I read that someone was uncomfortable with her children reading YA fantasy because of the Pagan themes running through it, I dismissed the reader as a maverick who is worried she won’t succeed in passing on her religious lifestyle to her children. But I have now seen this a couple of times.

I am sensitive to this. My first published novel, A Gardener’s Tale, follows the yearly cycle of the Pagan religion as it was (and still it) celebrated in rural Britain, and shines light on the struggle of Christianity to crush it.  While the novel was received enthusiastically in the Pagan community (their leader Vivienne Crowley called it “A beautiful and elegiac evocation of a timeless Britain and of a man of the ancient ways of the earth who brings peace and healing where the flames of persecution once burned.”), I incurred the wrath of many religious Jews and Christians.

The Pagan religion is based upon the agrarian cycle and the farmer’s connections to the earth. Being mysterious, the emergence of an earth-based religion, where there was power and magic in the earth and those who stewarded her (yes – her, another topic) were worshiped and studied.

A common theme in many books, mine included, is the source of magic comes from the earth, from nature, through animals and the elements. The Druids, so often mentioned, were a genuine religious order. The witches, millions of whom were burned at the stake as Christianity raised a frenzy of anti-women, anti-anything, were often healers who used herbs and minerals that were gifts from the earth. Even the Jedi Order harnessed an energy, the Force, from everything living around them.

Other common elements include the quest, the holy (magical) props, the connection with and reverence of nature. Most of all, however, is the power of story. All religions and spiritual practices maintain a powerful element of stories, legends, parables, a narrative history (the best selling book of all time, anyone?).

I am skeptical that there is an international conspiracy to revive the Pagan religion through instilling scintillating epic fantasy novels insidiously into the minds of our unsuspecting youth (now you are convinced that I am the High Priest – isn’t this how conspiracy theory works?).

However, it is not a huge leap of faith to think that those who put quill to parchment (there is probably an app for this) and write such stories do have aspirations of teaching certain noble morals and principles. I recently wrote in an interview:

“Working on the novel with my (now 12-year-old) son and seeing the potential to share my values and political beliefs while imbibing a profound love for storytelling and reading. I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

Now if that is not a declaration to take over the world

Finally, one more plug – if you have a few minutes please fill out my survey – Who Are My Target Audience – and Thank You again to those who already have.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Who is Reading Epic Fantasy?

I’m reading a series of books about marketing my novels. They each prioritize a central marketing principle: Know Your Target Audience.

I realize, being relatively new to the epic fantasy scene that I don’t know who these people are. I have never frequented conventions or even chat groups online. When I go to social occasions, I often ask people what are you reading right now, because sports and politics can only go so far – and real men don’t discuss work or family (as a new immigrant to the US that’s what I was told).

But when I ask the question, people rarely say epic fantasy. During the days of Harry Potter, the Inheritance series, and now The Hunger Games, a man could come out of the library closet because his children were reading them and he was showing himself to be an in-touch father.

So here is my request. If you read epic fantasy, please answer as many of the following questions as you have patience for.

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

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

5. What is your profession?

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

7. What do you look for in an epic fantasy book?

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

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. Who is your favorite epic fantasy author? Why?

One last favor if I may. Please pass this on to friends and family who you think might read epic fantasy and ask them to mention your name as referral. I would like to offer the first 20 people who refer 3 responders to the survey an eBook of either:

The Accidental Activist  or

A Gardener’s Tale

Thank you for your help. I will publish the results if I can get 50 responses.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Advise For Writers From The Hunger Games

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip this week’s blog post.

I actually posted this on Left Coast Voices but wanted to share this with elfwriter followers as well. There have been a number of articles gleaning lessons from the Hunger Games for their preferred audience. Apparently, everyone is getting protective about having the original idea and the others not giving credit to them. So let’s get that behind us: I had the idea for this post after reading David Berkowitz‘s article for a fundraising magazineThank you, David.

For those of you from another planet, “The Hunger Games,” is an amazing high-concept story about a post-apocalyptic society that annually sacrifices twenty-three teenagers as a way of reminding everyone who is in power.

1) Define Your Goals: Set A Few Simple Tasks: It took Katniss (the heroine) a while to decide what she needed to do in order to win (kill the others). Her mentor gave her clear first steps – get away from the Cornucopia, find water and shelter – which in turn gave her confidence and momentum. 

2) Know What You Are Writing: Heroine Katniss is the archer. Her cohort Peeta could pin Hulk Hogan. Figure out what your strengths are and play to them.

 3) Know Your Target Audience And Find Them:  Cinna, is a one of the most enjoyable characters in both book and movie. He is Katniss’ and Peeta’s stylist, responsible for ensuring that the crowd sit up and notice them. Together with Haymitch, their district’s adviser, they come up with a strategy to earn not only the support of the people, but also the all-important sponsors (media outlet or publishers for authors). What is important is that they stick to the strategy and maintain a consistent message.

4) Find Your Own Platform, And Get Comfortable With It: Katniss soon learned that the forest was her friend, using the stealth methods she had honed hunting. Likewise, she was both good and familiar with the bow as her weapon.

As authors, we often join every social media and adopt every tactic, essentially not doing much in any category. Choose a platform – blog, Facebook, etc. and consistently work through it. If you decide to go via bookstores, be consistent and follow up with every bookstore before, during and after an event.

5) Be Generous – There Is Something To Karma: Katniss had endured a tough childhood and carried the obvious scars. She was stubborn, a rebel, and uncooperative with her advisor and most everyone else. But she cared about others and this eventually paid off. Three other tributes saved her life because of this.

We are not competing with other authors. People aren’t choosing between their books and ours. Help others, share your experience, be generous with your time. People remember who stood by them and supported them. They will be there for you.

6) The Rules Change: The organizers freely change the rules in the Huger Games to suit their own goals. There is nothing fair or just, they simply want to achieve their own goals. Be ready to change tactics. If you are only selling books out the back of your car (still works for me!), and not on the Internet, you haven’t been paying attention.

7) Choose and Trust a Mentor: Haymitch, the advisor to Katniss and Peeta, was the only other citizen from their district to survive and win the Hunger Games. As a rude, obnoxious recluse who is also an alcoholic, he doesn’t really inspire.  But he made it and knows his stuff. Find a mentor and stick with them.

 

8) The Odds Are Never In Your Favor: so get over it. There is no guarantees for success.  It is not quite as bad as the Hunger Games where there are no second or third chances. Read a lot. Learn from others’ mistakes, learn from yours, and okay: may the odds be ever in your favor.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).