Bay Area Book Events for October and November

dragonclrHear Ye! The October book boom continues, even as November events poise to leap into the Bay Area literary arena.

If you were hoping to catch Irish writer Colm Toibin’s appearance at the Mechanics’ Institute, too late–it came, it went, it sold out. Here’s the good news: tonight, October 29, A.C.T. opens the latest stage version of Toibin’s novel The Testament of Mary, now titled Testament, starring Seana McKenna as the mother of Jesus.

Also tonight is Martin Amis at the Mechanics’ Institute in conversation with Elizabeth Rosner about his new book The Zone of Interest.

This coming Saturday, November 1, Sisters In Crime (NorCal) partners with Books Inc. at Opera Plaza for its Fall Authors Showcase. Ten SinC members will read from mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense, et al. they’ve published since June. Stop by Books Inc. at 600 Van Ness from noon to 2 PM on Nov. 1 to enjoy food for thought, food for munching, good company, and intriguing plots.

wine & wordsWednesday, November 19 is the Indie Publishers’ Working Group’s gala year-end publishing party and panel discussion at SF’s Mechanics’ Institute Library. Four authors will talk about New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers and Writers, followed by a Q&A and an opportunity to look at and buy books by various MIL members. Come celebrate the group’s fourth and final anniversary with books and ideas, wine and snacks, from 6 to 7:30 PM in the 4th-floor cafe and meeting room, 57 Post St. (near Montgomery station).

Good-By Kindle Unlimited, Welcome Back iTunes, Smashwords, et al.

Emerald CityWhen Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited $9.99-a-month book subscription program in July, we decided to give it a whirl. For three months (the required minimum sign-up), most of our e-books were sold exclusively on KU. Results? An uptick in profits, but not enough to re-up for. As of this weekend, Boom-Books can be purchased on Smashwords, iTunes, ARe/OmniLit, and Kindle Limited, as well as the nonexclusive $8.99-a-month book subscription service Scribd, with Kobo, Nook, and others soon to follow.

Several factors besides money influenced the move. First: the ethical dilemma. More than one author has admitted: I hate Amazon, but I use it. So does economist Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman, though, doesn’t just hate Amazon. He fears it, and believes it should be reined in: “, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.”

Random House first edition (1967) of the Marshall McLuhan classic.Second: the practical dilemma. Amazon already has taken a controlling position in the book industry (as Krugman notes). The question is less Will the company achieve a monopoly? than What can be done about it? and, of course, How much does it matter? We already know that

  • the tech revolution has whacked publishing like a tsunami;
  • the medium is shaping the message, in too many ways to list here;
  • as Peter Brantley pointed out years ago, the nature of 21st-century publishing is being determined by tech people, not book people.

If Amazon were reined in, would that bring back a Golden Age when a book is published for its content and prose quality rather than the author’s celebrity, and readers get suggestions from well-read bookstore clerks instead of from algorithms? Unlikely. What it probably would bring is the fast rise of Apple, Google, or some other online rival.

apple pythonSThat said, we would rather continue publishing as an ant in an arena of clashing titans than in an empty street loomed over by a single Godzilla.

One Amazon innovation we find particularly disturbing is the honey pot. Perhaps inevitably, electronic publishing has shifted the definition of terms like royalty and even book sales from literal to metaphoric. Amazon exploits this shift by paying its exclusive authors not a fixed percentage of their books’ earnings, but a share in a pool of money established by Amazon. If you as an author enroll a book you’ve written in Kindle Unlimited or KDP Select (Amazon Prime), you get a payment whenever a subscriber borrows your book (KDPS) or reads past the first 10% (KU). Those exchanges between producer and consumer are not, strictly speaking, book sales. Your customers only “own” your book for as long as they stay in the program, i.e., continue to pay Amazon’s monthly subscription fee.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s payments to you come from a discretionary fund which is not related to your book’s earnings. So far, the amount has been carefully kept above $1.50 per “borrow.” You might call these payments earnings, or bonuses, or (if you’re a cynic) bribes. Bottom line: Amazon has been investing $2-3 million a month to induce authors and small publishers to supply its subscribers with books. Most of the big publishers refuse to participate, so Amazon has to stock the pond somehow.

tunaBut what will happen once it’s full? The lure can be snatched away at any moment. Given that Amazon’s enormous revenues so far haven’t made it profitable, the company may well follow the same strategy as it did with audiobooks: once enough books are in the pipeline, change the payment structure. Amazon started by acquiring the entire vertical chain of audiobook creation and distribution, including buying Audible from Apple. Then its ACX production arm declared: From now on, instead of a 50-50 split, we’re taking 60% and giving you 40%. ACX users fiercely protested. Amazon predictably ignored them.

Serendipitously, as this blog “goes to press,” today’s Digital Book World has published Kobo President Michael Tamblyn’s “32 Notes on Amazon-Hachette-IndyAuthors,”kobo-nyc a series of Tweets warning of exactly the scenario we’ve just described. As we noted here last November, Kobo has acted on its convictions: in partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and others, the IndieBound program lets readers buy e-books from Kobo online through their favorite independent bookstore, with a share of the proceeds going to the store. Next time you’re thinking of buying an e-book, check it out!



A Magical Crack in Time

Moonalice-vignetteby CJ Verburg

I first met San Francisco almost 50 years ago, and it was love at first sight. I was young; California seemed as far away as Venus. My parents were determined to keep us apart. As soon as I got out of college and earned enough money for a plane ticket and a room at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline Residence, I took off for the Promised Land.

Nowadays “music, love, and flowers” is a cliche, but in the early 1970s it was a multifaceted miracle. Flowers welcomed me from a bitter East Coast February to mellow SFO. I found a studio apartment in a pre-quake building a block from Ocean Beach, complete with Murphy bed, oriental rugs, and a silk-upholstered armchair. When I walked down the street (often barefoot), I exchanged smiles with everyone I passed. On Saturday nights I sat in vast smoke-hazed halls drinking in one psychedelic band after another, watching Da-Glo frisbees sail from hand to hand while neon-bright oil drops pulsed on a giant screen.

MagicBusIn many ways San Francisco has become its own museum, or Disneyland. Discoveries that were revolutionary when I arrived–bell bottoms, peace signs, tie-dyed T-shirts–are symbols marketed now to tourists. Over the years, bands split up; musicians died; political radicals became professors. Pedestrians stopped smiling at each other. Drivers started honking at other drivers. Rents shot up.

Yet in its wizened heart, this is still the City of Love. Every once in a while a crack appears in its 21st-century Silicon veneer, and the old San Francisco seeps or bursts through like Pele’s lava. This past weekend was one such breakthrough: the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the late Warren Hellman’s gift to musicians and music-lovers. For three days, the leafy midsection of Golden Gate Park overflowed with bands and fans–a lavish buffet, and all free. Taking Hellman’s generosity one step further, local band Moonalice live-streamed much of the festival, so that you could hear and see it even if you couldn’t be there.

Moonalice-sign-croptTonight Moonalice popped up again with a free set in Union Square. The irony of listening to gritty old rock-&-rollers playing in the lavish shadow of Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, and Williams-Sonoma (I kid you not) was outweighed by the magic of the music–and the ghosts it called up: tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, gray-bearded men toking on aromatic Js, time-ripened girls wafting in long wavy hair and skirts. And the children! A two-year old bobbed in his mother’s arms; a three-year-old jumped ecstatically up and down. Four- to six-year-olds made up their own moves. As always, every child felt the music throbbing inside like a communal heartbeat, and had to dance.

When Moonalice rippled out a rambling hommage to Bob Dylan, many of us sang together on the chorus, but in my mind the challenge twisted:
Waiting to find out what price
We have to pay to be able
To go through all these things twice.

Thank you, Moonalice. Thank you, Warren Hellman. Thank you, San Francisco.



October Olio: Law, Literature, & Love

by CJ Verburg

hall-of-justice-san-francisco“In San Francisco, the DA’s office, criminal courts and city jail are located in a Stalinesque seven-story structure at Seventh and Bryant that is modestly known as the Hall of Justice.” — Sheldon Siegel, Special Circumstances


I had the good fortune to meet Sheldon Siegel at my first Sisters in Crime meeting a few weeks ago. Good fortune because (1) I enjoyed talking with him, and therefore (2) I picked up his courtroom drama Special Circumstances–a gripping read, especially since (3) I was obliged to spend yesterday afternoon in that very Hall of Justice.

Siegel’s character is on trial for his life after being falsely accused of murder. I was on trial for $238 after being falsely accused of running a Stop sign. Hardly comparable, but oddly parallel. What strikes you upon stepping into those marble corridors is that the leitmotif is not Justice For The Accused so much as Convenience For The Employed. The lawyers buzzing around Traffic Court gave the same reassurance to the police officers they were cutting deals with as Siegel’s protagonist gives his client: We’ll get you out of here as quick as we can.

Not having a lawyer, I was the next-to-last defendant in the courtroom to get out. Experienced perpetrators know that hiring a lawyer jumps you way up the priority list, and strongly inclines the officer who accused you to request a dismissal. Are the scales thereby tipped heavily in favor of the guilty? I can’t answer that, but I know I got lucky in being assigned to a judge who truly was committed to justice. Of course, once all the pleas and dismissals were negotiated by the hundred or so lawyers, officers, and defendants in his courtroom, only five of us were left for him to try. We were out of there by 3:30.

1booktoberfest2014Much more elevating was last Friday’s fourth annual Booktoberfest at the Mechanics’ Institute Library. For one night, the third-floor reference library became a feast, where a capacity crowd browsed samples of locally produced beer, wine, munchies, and (of course) books. With UC Berkeley Extension as the event’s main sponsor, local literary organizations from Litquake to Zyzzyva (see below) staffed tables with information and giveaways. 2booktoberfest2014Meanwhile, in a nearby classroom, almost two dozen member authors gave three-to-five-minute presentations of their work. The impressive roster included novels, memoirs, chronicles of adventures, even an app. Kudos to librarian Taryn Edwards who masterminded this delightful “Buy Local” celebration–which originated with the motto, “Put the PUB back into publishing.”


luxy-bannerLast and certainly least is the news from Mark Morford at SFGate of a new dating service called Luxy which touts itself as [sic] “TINDER MINUS THE POOR PEOPLE.” Is this for real? The San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Rebecca Rowe wondered that, too. Rowe quotes ‘the (poorly copy-edited) website: “Our members include CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, millionaires, beauty queens, fitness models, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes, doctors, lawyes [sic] and successful people, juast [sic] name a few. . . . The average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.”’

Prank or not, Rowe notes that ‘actual people are signing up for it.’ Morford adds that Luxy may be most useful as a filter, to help users ‘weed out exactly the type of human you want nowhere near your world: entitled, vacuous, vain enough to think an app like this is exactly what they need but cheap enough to believe it should be free (Sign that Luxy is bulls–t No. 27: Any real dating app for rich people would cost $500 a month and ask for your dental records and two years’ of tax returns).’

For a different angle on the love-and-commitment question, see yesterday’s SFGate post by Tony Bravo. According to a recent survey by the Daily Mail and Jezebel, ‘half of all married women have a backup husband in mind.’ And, no–nobody asked what married men have in mind. Some lids are better left unlifted.