Changing the World, One Book at a Time

Donna Levin
California novelist and author of California Street (Simon & Schuster)

Readers and contributors alike to Fox and Hounds have strong, well-thought out opinions – and plenty of ideas. Ideas from election finance reform, to motivating their neighbors to take public transportation, to improving our educational system and to ending road rage – any of which would make Planet Earth a more comfortable address.

What if you are one of those people with an idea, and it is an idea that requires more than a hundred characters to explain? Maybe even more than the 420 characters allowed in a Facebook post?
You might just want to write a book. If your idea is good enough, the book will write itself. If the book is good enough, it will sell itself.

Sorry. Not even close. First of all, writing a book is really, really hard. And then, no matter how the good the book is, finding a publisher can be difficult. After that you have to promote it.

But wait – that’s the publisher’s job, isn’t it? No. It will largely be up to you.

Don’t kill the messenger (at least not yet), because the news gets better. This is California, land not just of dreams but of people who want to help you make those dreams a reality, and here’s where the San Francisco Writing for Change conference comes in. While the majority of writers’ conferences are aimed at fiction writers, this particular conference is targeted specifically at non-fiction authors who want to affect the world in a positive way, but who have little first-hand experience with the publishing world.

Writing for Change was founded by Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, also founders of Northern California’s oldest literary agency, and this year it will take place at the San Francisco Hilton, on November 13th and 14th (with an "All About eBooks" preconference on November 12th).

In the spirit of its motto, "changing the world, one book at a time," the conference seeks to improve the lives not just of would-be authors but of their future readers, through books that encompass "business, politics, technology, spirituality, personal development, health, social issues, law, environment, culture, international relations and more."

Two titles will illustrate the dramatic range of books that have emerged from previous conferences. At the 2007 conference Kirk Boyd met Jeevan Sivasubramanian, Executive Managing Editor at Berrett-Koehler. That meeting led to the book 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together (a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller for four weeks, which lays out a plan to create an enforceable agreement of human rights around the world. The year 2048 will be – not coincidentally – the 100th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s an ambitious goal, but boy, do we need it now.

Cami Walker started a movement of her own with her book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. At age 33 Cami was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her disease progressed faster than it does for most, and she was soon walking with a cane. Her doctors predicted it would be downhill from there.

Her spiritual advisor, an African medicine woman named Mbali Creazzo, advised her that rather than "feed her disease" with worry or self-pity that she "give away 29 gifts in 29 days." Two karats diamonds need not apply: a Kleenex to an unhappy friend or the simple act of cooking dinner for the husband who had been caring for her for so long was all it took.

Fourteen days after beginning Creazzo’s program, Cami stopped using her cane. On a Today Show interview a year ago, she said that she had had three MRIs that showed that her disease had stopped progressing. (In the interviews she tells her story in more detail.)

Cami wanted to spread the word. She attended the Writing for Change conference in 2008, where she met agent Rita Rosenkranz as well as DaCapo Press editor Katie McHugh who acquired her book, which became a NYT bestseller.

Be it sci-fi novel or presidential biography, though, every book worthy of even its tiny space of Kindle memory changes something, because as readers we will come away feeling a little different about ourselves and the world we live in.

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