Books & Book Stores

You can’t spend more than thirty-five years in the retail bookselling without developing some pretty strong ideas about the importance of books and neighborhood businesses. My wife, Elaine, and I opened Book Passage in the 1970s. And from the very beginning we’ve been battling the perception that books were in trouble and that bookstores were doomed. But we’ve never been able to take the predictions of our impending demise quietly.

For that reason, I’ve felt compelled over the years to pepper the News & Reviews, our store newsletter, with our view of things. Some of these articles have also appeared in the Here are few articles that are still timely:

Seven Questions Writers Should Ask Before Publishing

This is a reprint of an article that I wrote for on March 4, 2014

Years ago, the only way to get published was to type the manuscript, send it to a publisher, and hope for the best. But book publishing has changed significantly. There are more opportunities — and many more pitfalls. Here are seven basic questions that authors should ask themselves.

1. Is The Manuscript Ready?
Every book needs to go through at least one other set of eyes before it is sent to a publisher or an agent.  A publisher may edit a book later on, but the most important editing is done before the publisher gets it. If the manuscript doesn’t reflect your best writing, the book may never see the light of day.

Think of editing as a three-step process. The first step is you — the writer. Put the manuscript down for a few weeks and then read it again as if you’d never seen it before. Read it out loud, if necessary. Do the sentences flow? Is the research tucked away safely in a corner where it won’t slow down the reader? Pay attention to the narrative voice. With a full-length book, you’re asking the reader to spend several days with you. Does the voice behind the text sound like a comfortable companion?

The second step involves a trusted friend or writing group — trusted, as well as sensitive. There’s nothing more fragile than an author’s ego, so you want someone who can give you good advice without destroying your self-confidence.

The third step is the services of a professional editor. This editor should critique the structure of the book, offer alternatives, and suggest revisions.  If you skip this step, thinking the publisher will pay for editing later on, you may never get to that later stage. Read More →

Great Book Review!

Suspense Magazine says The Circle of Thirteen “offers an intriguing plot” that takes readers “on the ride of their lives.”  (March 2014)SM-Final-Logo - Copy

“The Circle of Thirteen by William Petrocelli

A plot that will keep you on your toes, this sci-fi/thriller takes the reader from 2012 to 2082, with a few other interesting stops in between.

“In the beginning, what seems like a ‘norm’ for a thriller book plays out; a man demanding to see his son argues with a woman bearing a restraining order against him. Although violence commences, the reader immediately knows this book is something far different than their mind expects, and the non-stop action takes them on the ride of their lives.

“In New York City, 2082, a brand new United Nations Headquarters is in the spotlight, as all the world’s leaders arrive to view the opening ceremonies of the grand building. Smack-dab in the center of the new hall stands a sculpture dedicated to the founders of ‘Women for Peace.’ The artist has done a wonderful job, profiling all thirteen women in the sculpture who lost their lives in a terrorist attack many years before. The commemoration of the work dubs this group as the martyrs who will forever depict the peace movement. But…shortly after the dedication, an explosion rocks the building.

“Heading back in time, the reader observes the action taking place two weeks before this ceremony is to be held. The Security Director for the UN building, Julia Moro, believes a terrorist group is planning an attack at the event, and is beyond frightened. She will do anything to stop this from happening, so Julia races to find the leader of the group who seems to be the invisible man. As Julia digs deeper, she finds herself stuck in a web of secrets from her own past that may just have a direct connection with the horror-show she’s trying to stop.

“This extremely fast thriller offers an intriguing plot that brings a fresh quality to the often-used terrorist angle. With such a multitude of twists and turns, this writer has doubled his efforts to make sure the reader’s concentration is held at all times.”

Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian & Co-Owner of The Write Companion


Cheers to my top-ten authors, my top-tier team, The Circle of Thirteen fans – and a drink to celebrate the New Year

The Circle of Thirteen took flight in 2013, and there are lots of people to thank.thecircleofthirteen

Let’s start with an author’s little secret: the main audience you write for is other writers. If they like what you’ve written, you’re a success. Anything else you get is just icing on the cake.

With that in mind, here are my top ten authors of the year. It’s one thing to be supportive of a fellow author, but Isabel Allende, John Lescroart, David Corbett, Sheldon Siegel, Cara Black, Laurie King, and Katherine Neville went way beyond that. They each appeared in an author event with me, and in each case I was blown away by the insight and enthusiasm they showed while discussing The Circle of Thirteen. And many thanks also to Abraham Verghese, Lisa See, and Martin Cruz Smith who warmly endorsed the book (and I have quotes on the book jacket to prove it!)

Two radio events deserve special mention: The interview with Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum on December 10 and on the interview with Liz Saint John on Radio Alice @97.3, which aired on -December 22. Both hosts were warm and gracious, and the shows were superb.

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Attention Film-Makers! The Circle of Thirteen Will Help You with the Bechdel Test

Memo to Movie Producers:

Are you having trouble with the Swedish Film Institute? Do you need to improve your Bechdel Rating by including more women in important roles in your movies? Look no further. The Circle of Thirteen provides the perfect story for your next movie script. The Bechdel system gives high marks to films with important women characters who talk to each other about things other than men during the course of the movie. Based on that criteria, The Circle of Thirteen will guarantee you an A+ on your next score card.

If interested, please contact this website. We accept all major currencies.

 The origin of the Bechdel Test was a line of dialogue from the great cartoonist Alison Bechdel.  It may have started as a cartoon, but it was welcomed by critics of the film industry as the expression of an important truth: women are often relegated to second-class status in major movies.

This “Test” was mainly an underground phenomenon until the Swedish Film Institute seized upon it recently and started using it to rate films. That prompted a November 7, 2013, story on NPR. That’s where I first heard about it. Entertainment Weekly picked it up about the same time, and then Cory Doctorow wrote about it on Boing Boing. All of us, however, are playing catch up to the women on Bechdel Test Talk on Yahoo video, who have been discussing this issue on a regular basis for some time.

So what is the Bechdel Test for a movie? Here’s how Entertainment Weekly states it:

Do more than two female characters have a name?

Do they speak to each other?

And, if the two named female characters have a conversation, is it about something other than a man?

Seems pretty simple, you would think. But according to the women organizing the test in Sweden, “The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction, and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,”

Opportunity, hear it knock.

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The Magical Mystery-Blog Tour

When you write a novel like The Circle of Thirteen, you open the door to a new part of the book business.

You’d think, in my case, that there wouldn’t be that much left to learn. After all, my wife and I have been in the book business for about thirty-five years as owners of Book Passage in Northern California. We’ve seen a lot, but neither of us had focused on the growing number of book-bloggers and their followers. I now realize that this electronic underground seems to have as much inimage-author-interview-175pxfluence on the success or failure of a book promotion as anything else.

There are probably thousands of book bloggers operating in the U.S. Some are big enterprises with lots of book related activities. Others seem to be little more that someone sitting in front of a computer at a kitchen table. How do they make any money? How does anyone make any money in the book business? There seem to be a few ads and an occasional affiliate fee. But book-bloggers seem to be like other book lovers, putting up with lowered financial expectations because they love books.

My consultant in New York, Wiley Saichek, told me that he would contact several book-bloggers and send them advanced reading coies of the book. He was focusing mainly on mystery blogs, but since The Circle of Thirteen is so relentlessly cross-genre he’d pitch it to other blogs as well.

If they’re interested, Wiley said, he’d ask them to do an article. That sounded great. And once we got closer to the launch date for the book, the blogs would ask me for an original article. That sounded even better. But then that week arrived – and it suddenly hit me: I was back in college, and I had ten term papers due the week before finals.

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The First Civil Rights Movement Began — in a Bookstore

2013 marks a pair of Civil Rights milestones. We celebrated both the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the Reverend Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. So this might also be a good time to give a thought to the very first civil rights movement. That’s one with a special meaning for those of us in the book business. The earliest anti-slavery movement began in London 226 years ago in a bookshop.9780618619078

The long road to freedom for the slaves in America and elsewhere would have been much more difficult were it not for the work of that first group. Their story is brilliantly told in Adam Hochschild’s 2005 book Bury The Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves.

Hochschild marks the date and place where that first civil rights movement began.

“it [was] the late afternoon of May 22, 1787, when twelve determined men sat down in the printing shop at 2 George Yard, amid flatbed presses, wooden trays of type, and large sheets of freshly printed book pages, to begin one of the most ambitious and brilliantly organized citizens’ action movements of all time.” Read More →

Who Needs Publishers & Bookstores? Just about Everyone

An idea has taken root in certain quarters that publishers aren’t really necessary any more. And for that matter, who needs bookstores? According to this facile argument, they’re both relics of the pre-internet days that get in the way of writers and readers.

Why not just write your book, post it on an on-line book service, and let readers download what they want to read? Why let publishers and bookseller stand in the way of progress?

It’s a seductive argument. has propagated the idea, suggesting to authors that they should just hand over the text file to one of its many subsidiaries and leave the rest to them. Since Amazon is now selling everyone’s needs from baby diapers to funeral urns, why not just let them handle the book business from beginning to end? The U.S. Department of Justice has bought into this argument, referring to publishers in its latest legal action as simply “intermediaries” between writers and readers.

It’s an idea, however, that ignores certain fundamental realities of the book business.

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Shopping is Political: A Lesson From 70’s Feminists

The feminist revolution of the 1970s embraced a deceptively simple proposition:  “The personal is political.” It’s a short phrase with sweeping implications. Issues that had previously been considered private matters were suddenly opened up to their wider, social implications. When a woman was defined simply as a housewife or homemaker, things like equal employment opportunities, domestic violence, child-raising, and other issues were never debated publicly. But once those questions were considered in the context of women as full-fledged citizens, the whole discussion changed.

I thought of that history when I recently heard a respected business commentator talk to a booksellers meeting about consumer purchasing habits. The point was made over and over again: “Only two things matter to the consumer: price and convenience.” It sounded plausible, but something about it rang false – or, perhaps, just incomplete.  It occurred to me that this generalization about people’s purchasing behavior depends upon them defining themselves as “consumers.” When they broaden the perception of themselves to include their wider social and political interests, they’re likely to act differently.  It’s the self-definition that’s important.Book Passage San Francisco40 AM

Women in the ‘70s began achieving political power when they stopped looking at themselves as simply “housewives” – a narrow term that others had invented to describe them. Maybe that’s true of people facing market-place decisions. In the real world they are members of a broader community with diverse values and interests. People are really only “consumers” on the spread-sheet of an economist.

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