No, Seriously, Don’t Try To ‘Trademark’ Coronavirus

From Law360:

A rush of misguided trademark applications for “COVID” and “coronavirus” has already begun, replaying a bizarre legal phenomenon in particularly tasteless fashion.

Trending terms from news and pop culture are routinely followed by a flood of applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, filed by opportunistic applicants who think they can lock down exclusive rights on something that’s captured the national conversation.

Only this time, it’s not a viral presidential typo or a Super Bowl moment — it’s an ongoing pandemic that threatens millions and has ground daily life to a halt around the globe.

“This isn’t about lightweight entertainment,” said Julia A. Matheson, a trademark attorney at Hogan Lovells. “It’s about people’s lives.”

As of Wednesday, more than a dozen applications have been filed at the USPTO seeking to register trademarks involving “COVID” or “coronavirus.”

. . . .

For trademark lawyers, the pattern is predictable.

Back in 2017, when President Donald Trump accidentally tweeted the word “Covfefe,” it was followed by 42 separate attempts to register it as a trademark. After the Philadelphia Eagles ran the famous “Philly Special” trick play in Super Bowl LII, 10 such applications were filed.

Just three days after the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, four applications had already been filed to register “Boston Strong” — the rallying cry for the city in the wake of the attack. Eventually, seven more were filed.

“Depending upon how you look at it, it reflects the best and worst of the capitalist ethos and desire to get rich quick from widespread trending events,” Matheson said.

It also reflects a deep misunderstanding of how trademark law works.

For starters, U.S. trademark law doesn’t simply reward whoever is quickest to file a piece of paper with the government. Applicants must show that they have a bona fide intent to use the term on a particular set of goods and services — something most “coronavirus” applicants are unlikely to do.

“It’s a get rich quick scheme, but like most of these schemes, they fail,” said Eric Ball, a trademark attorney at Fenwick & West LLP. “Trademark law doesn’t support the warehousing of marks. You have to actually use the marks to get rights.”

One other small problem: Terms like “COVID” are, for the most part, incapable of functioning as trademarks in the first place, made so by the very attribute that attracted the applicants.

By its nature, a trending term has been widely used by countless third parties. How, then, can it somehow uniquely identify an applicant as a source of goods?

Link to the rest at Law360

Red Herrings in Contemporary Crime Literature

From Crime Reads:

When plotting a tale of suspense, any writer worth her salt understands the importance of distraction—intriguing details that lead the reader down a path of uncertainty, false clues intentionally planted to mislead, and of course the phenomenon of the unreliable narrator. This is why the red herring is a staple in mystery writing. These sneaky devices can serve to ratchet up the suspense as the author gleefully provides twist and turns throughout the book.

When writers use the art of distraction, the reader remains off balance, constantly wondering if they will ever gain a sure foothold on the story. The best writers understand that red herrings are not simply shiny objects to avert your gaze—they are well-constructed traps the reader can’t help but enter, often against their better judgment.

For me, what happens in my mind while I read is just as important as what happens on the page. It’s the experience of reading a book that stays with me. The way my pulse pounded during certain scenes. The feeling of uncertainty that made me stay up later and read just one more chapter (and then one more after that, because I won’t be satisfied until I know the truth). The way the writer took me on a rollercoaster traveling through the dark, at the mercy of the treacherous track with no idea how it all will end.

Is it possible to include too many red herrings? There’s certainly no magic number, but the best writers understand how to distract in covert ways, never drawing too much attention to the false clues they’re planting. Understatement works best, and my favorite reading experience is finishing a book and then immediately having the desire to start over and read again from the very beginning, armed with the knowledge I now have, so that I can dig in and reassess everything I thought I knew.

Red herrings keep the reader turning pages, yes, but they also keep the reader wondering what the hell is actually going on. Just when you think you’d got it all figured out, another clue appears. Is this one a red herring or the real thing? These books play with the reader’s mind in wonderfully twisted ways, using red herrings masterfully and keeping the reader guessing. And second-guessing.

. . . .

The Witch Elm by Tana French

French’s masterfully plotted tales of suspense have earned her the devotion of fans, loyal readers who eagerly await her next book. The Witch Elm begins with Toby, a generally likeable nice guy, who has just been brutally attacked by burglars. He’s a bit foggy on all the details, and in need of assistance while recovering, so he moves back into the family homestead with his uncle. The place is full of teenage memories for Toby and at first the place is a comfort—until things start to get a little creepy. A skull is found in the elm tree in the garden, and so police descend onto the property and begin their investigation. Is Toby simply an innocent man lunged into unfortunate circumstances? French might want you to believe that, but as each chapter unfolds, she exposes Toby’s worst fears, using them to her advantage and laying fresh (and possibly false) trails at every turn.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Caught Mapping

From Public Books:

As I write this, Sydney, the city where I’ve set my life and much of my fiction over the past 27 years, is ringed by fire and choked by smoke. A combination fan and air purifier hums in the corner of my study. Seretide and Ventolin inhalers sit within reach on my desk. I’m surrounded by a lifetime’s accumulation of books, including some relatively rare and specialist volumes on China, in English and Chinese. This library might not be precious in monetary terms, but it’s priceless to me and vital to my work. I wonder which books I would save if I had to pack a car quickly and go. The thought of people making those decisions right now, including people I know, twists my gut.

I check the news online and the Fires Near Me app (with watch zones set for friends’ homes) compulsively. Distracted from the book I’m writing, a short history of China, I compose furious, polite, pleading letters to politicians about their failure to declare and act on our climate emergency, and their continuing support for coal. Then I try, with the aid of other apps like Freedom, to remove myself from my digitally infused physical surroundings so that I can write about place. So that I can write this. The best places for writing are those that fade from consciousness as the landscapes of the imagination take over.

Back in August, on the first day of a visit to Spain, I considered setting the start of this essay in Barcelona. Bit of a cliché, of course, how being in a new place sharpens the powers of observation. But it’s true if you make it so. It’s also a vital habit to cultivate for a novelist and travel writer. Many a beautiful notebook bought with the intention of keeping a daily journal has become a beautiful failure. But put me on a plane, and I’ll fill two pages before we even land. Do you want to know the name of every film I’ve seen on planes? Neither do I. But they’re all there. My travel journals are a continual source of wonder. All those details: Who was that brilliant and witty person I seemed so taken with? Others trigger memories that have slipped the loosely strung fishing net of my mind, which generally retains only the biggest catch, while everything else wriggles back into the sea. Recently, when in conversation, I likened my memory to a sieve, a friend objected: “It’s a filter,” he said. Nice thought, but sadly it’s not that deliberate.

. . . .

The fronts of buildings in Barcelona are lovely, with long, shuttered windows and balconies overspilling with flowering plants. The Catalan flag, fluttering off some balconies, proclaims the residents’ politics. The backs of the buildings are more intimate. In one apartment, a couple is rising from a siesta. The woman is putting on her bra. An arm reaches for her and pulls her out of sight for a moment. She reappears, and finishes getting dressed. The novelist in me imagines they are illicit lovers, doing what the French call the cinq à sept but from, let’s see, de la una a las tres in the afternoon. In the flat below, another woman, older, less obviously content, mops the floor, back and forth, back and forth, lost in thought, a lock of hair falling onto her cheek and sticking there. Upstairs, on a clothing rod suspended across the bottom of the window, a woman’s white slip flutters in a gentle breeze next to citrus-colored sheets and a hot pink pillowslip. In a higher window, too far up for me to see anything else, a bright ceramic plate hangs on the wall.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Amazon Deprioritizes Book Sales Amid Coronavirus Crisis

From Publishers Weekly:

As it works to meet the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products,” Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that their goods will receive a low priority until at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today and an article Amazon posted on its Amazon Seller Central website.

In the letter, sent from Amazon Vendor Central to a wide range of its suppliers including most publishers, the online retailer said that due to a surge in online orders, it is “temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products” in order to restock those items. As a result, the letter said, from now through April 5, suppliers of products that are a lower priority should expect both reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for existing purchase orders.

We have temporarily paused ordering for products that are not household staples, medical supplies, or other high demand products,” the letter said. “We have extended the shipment/delivery windows for some existing purchase orders to give you more time to fulfill the order. Please ship your products toward the end of the extended window.”

The letter closed by noting that the e-tailer is aware of the effect this will have on businesses, and is “working around the clock to increase capacity, and on March 16 announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the U.S.”

The article posted on Amazon Seller Central, which clarified that these new priorities would affect both the U.S. and E.U. markets, specified that the products to be prioritized would be in the Baby Products, Health & Household, Beauty & Personal Care (including personal care appliances), Grocery, Industrial & Scientific, and Pet Supplies categories. The company also added that “listing products in an inaccurate category is a violation of our listing policies and may result in account suspension.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Sounds of Silence – When writer’s block strikes

From The Smart Set:

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t wake up one morning to find myself unable to write creatively. For months, I could eke out a story or group of poems, but all attempts at another novel arrived stillborn, exhausting themselves after a few thousand words. My father suggested I had a form of postpartum depression, that seeing my first novel in print, and therefore out of my hands, was too much of a shock, temporarily. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this had been going on for years. 

I finished a decent draft of my novel in 2015, made revisions based on a publisher’s interest in 2017, and sold it to him later that year. The editorial process spanned 18 months, but I had plenty of downtime between rounds of edits to work on something new. A colleague inquired about just this at one point, mentioning, “I hear you’re supposed to have a draft of the next thing by the time the previous book comes out.” I smiled, nodded, and assured him I was on my way. 

That year, I even tried NaNoWriMo. 

Soon, the stories dried up, followed by the poems within a semester. I took an online “poetry salon,” recycling work I’d set aside for the lean months. For a flash-fiction workshop, I generated a few thousand words, most of them rescued from earlier failures. After spending 500 dollars on these two courses, I had yet to spur myself into action. By the time the first box of copies of my novel arrived, the climate in my mind had grown hostile to new growth. 

Around this time, I reread my copy of Richard Ford’s “Goofing Off While the Muse Recharges,” which I’d discovered almost 20 years earlier and had used as cover to justify periods of inactivity in graduate school. Bemused by his friends’ discomfort with fallow periods, Ford crows, “I have made a strict point to take lavish periods away from writing.” He defends his choice by arguing that “I’ve never thought of myself as a man driven to write. I simply choose to do it, often when I can’t be persuaded to do anything else.” Even as an MFA student with limited experience with Ford’s oeuvre, I didn’t buy this. I knew he wasn’t Simenon, Balzac, or Stephen King, but he couldn’t create Frank Bascombe as a diversion between baseball seasons. Later in the essay, he quotes Henry James’s admonition that one must fill one’s “well of unconscious cerebration,” though I doubt the famously-prolific James did so by taking off as much time as Ford does. 

. . . .

The publication process hasn’t helped. Someone who read my novel as soon as it came out tried to commiserate with me when I confessed my frustrations by saying, “given a chance, people will always disappoint you.” This has been the case more often than I would like to admit. Some of those I’d given advanced copies to, out of friendship and gratitude for their support, haven’t read it; most of the universities I attended, not to mention the one I work for, have responded with indifference; acquaintances tell me one day, animatedly, that they’re reading it but avert their gaze days later, having either abandoned it or disliked it by the end, I don’t know which. Many have responded kindly, posting glowing reviews online, but what writer remembers those in light of rejection or the revelation of unexpected petty grievances?    

Link to the rest at The Smart Set

PG can understand burnout, but isn’t sure if writer’s block is a variant or something different.

Legal writing is its own genre, one with some relatively strict rules concerning forms (how you cite statutes and cases, etc.), but litigation documents are written to persuade and, while some judges will say attempts to appeal to their emotions are a waste of time and paper, PG’s approach assumes that the judge wants to feel like he/she is doing the right thing, so PG essentially tries to show the judge a pathway to the right thing bordered with precedent, rules and statutes that assure the judge that no one will accuse her/him of ruling on the basis of emotion rather than law and fact.

(Yes, PG noticed that was quite a long sentence, but he was on a mental roll and didn’t want to stop. It may be his only mental roll for the day.)

Mrs. PG, the author who PG knows best, typically takes a bit of time off between books, but she says writing is generally good for her mental health and enjoys it while it’s happening.

PG suspects that, at least in some cases, writer’s block is related to an underlying mental illness of mild or extreme severity but he is anything but an expert on the topic.

The Pandemic Imagination

From The New Republic:

Daniel Defoe, that indefatigable hack, published Journal of the Plague Year in 1722. Writing about the bubonic plague sweeping through London in 1665, when Defoe himself was no more than five years old, he characteristically, and cannily, presented his fiction as nonfiction, an eyewitness account filled with “the shrieks of Women and Children,” blazing comets, and ghosts walking upon gravestones.  

Our experience of dread, of the uncanny forcing some of us back into our homes, and many of us into our alienated inner lives, is a little different. The pandemic of 2020 projects its power over us in real time, but unless we’re directly affected—or infected—it comes across to us in means primarily visual and textual. Eerie panoramas of deserted airports and Instagrammable tourist sites; close-ups of surgical masks in turquoise green and powder blue; images of figures in hazmat suits cleaning up our endless material spill. 

The scrolling feeds on social media and the live updates on websites pull us together and yet, in the same moment, effortlessly cast us asunder. What is the status of your passport? Do you have health insurance or do you work in the gig economy? If you have children, what kind of school do they attend? Are you in a rich country, a poor country, or in between? 

. . . .

A week before private educational institutions in and around New York began suspending classes and moving them online, some of the students in my fiction workshop confessed to feeling “freaked out” by the novel we were reading—Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. In the book, a virus called Georgia flu—Georgia the nation, not the U.S. state—wipes out a significant portion of the world’s population, triggering an apocalypse and returning North America to the state of medieval Europe. As in England in the aftermath of the 1665 plague, a group of traveling artists move by horse and foot through the Midwest in the aftermath of the Georgia flu. They struggle for survival, of course, but in what is perhaps the most distinctive, and moving, feature of Mandel’s novel, they also privilege art, performing Shakespeare and classical music in a landscape blighted by the collapse of modernity. What does it mean that we’re reading this novel as the coronavirus spreads? I asked. That you have superpowers? a student responded.

. . . .

For Camus, writing The Plague in the 1940s, sickness was political and moral as much as physiological. His version of the bubonic plague is also fascism, the sealed gates of the Algerian coastal city of Oran, where the novel is set, an allegory of the Nazi occupation of France. Like fascism, Camus’s plague does not arrive out of nowhere. There are many signs of the impending crisis: the dead rats in factories, warehouses, and apartment buildings. “It was as though the very soil on which our houses were built was purging itself of an excess of bile, that it was letting boils and abscesses rise to the surface, which up to then had been devouring it inside,” Camus’s narrator, Dr. Rieux, writes. Yet these manifold traces are ignored by complacent authority figures until the plague has broken out and the town has to be closed off from the larger world. Within the confines of Camus’s closed town—closed and confined in ways beyond Camus’s vision, given that it is set in French-occupied Algeria but features not a single Arab character—the characters must come to terms with the relation between individual survival and collective solidarity. 

Mann, writing just before the first of the great wars that would plunge triumphant, industrialized, and colonizing Europe into despair and destruction, is even sharper in his vision and his indictment of respectable bourgeois Western society. Aschenbach, the elderly protagonist of Death in Venice, is a celebrated writer, revered in Germany. On holiday in Italy, he becomes infatuated with a teenage boy called Tadzio, stalking him around a Venice devoted to commerce, where the sweetish, medicinal smell of germicide and rumors of plague are suppressed vigorously by all those with a stake in the tourist trade. Only an English clerk admits the truth, tracing a history of the sickness that has arrived in Europe.

For the past several years Asiatic cholera had shown a strong tendency to spread. Its source was the hot, moist swamps of the delta of the Ganges…. Thence the pestilence had spread throughout Hindustan, raging with great violence; moved eastward to China, westward to Afghanistan and Persia; following the great caravan routes, it brought terror to Astrakhan, terror to Moscow. Even while Europe trembled lest the specter be seen striding westward across country, it was carried by sea from Syrian ports and appeared simultaneously at several points on the Mediterranean littoral; raised its head in Toulon and Malaga, Palermo and Naples, and soon got a firm hold in Calabria and Apulia.

Mann’s plague, though, is internal as much as external, mutating through the repressed desire that lurks beneath Aschenbach’s veneer of wealth and respectability. That desire is present in the changes Aschenbach makes to himself through the course of the novella, dyeing his hair and getting his face painted, attempting vainly to render himself more youthful and closer in age to Tadzio. Increasingly a voyeur and a caricature, someone who has brought his own kind of sickness to Venice, Mann’s protagonist is a somber reminder of the infection within, an eerie forerunner of the elite who populate today’s ruling classes.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

Change Your Author Blog into an Author Website

From Nate Hoffelder via The Book Designer:

In the “olden” days, many author websites were set up as blogs first, with a few pages tacked on almost as an afterthought. Web design was easy in that era; you put a column of blog posts on the left, and a sidebar on the right for things like sign up forms, related posts widgets, etc.

That was the era I, and a lot of bloggers and authors, got started in but that era ended about 5 years ago. Web design has moved on since then; now the column of blog posts is on its own page, leaving the homepage to serve a whole new purpose.

Homepages

Homepages are now designed with specific goals in mind. The goal will vary between sites and between industries (not everyone wants to accomplish the same thing) but almost all homepages are designed with goals in mind.

Updating Your Homepage

While it’s okay to keep your site’s homepage in the old style, if you want to switch to a new homepage, I have a few tips on how to make the switch.

The trick to designing a homepage is to understand what you want to accomplish. That can be quite difficult to do; in fact, my blog stayed in the old style for years because I couldn’t figure out how to move forward.

Fortunately for you, I have since learned not just the concept of goal-oriented homepage design but also I have figured out the questions that will help you understand what your goal is.

Organizing Your Homepage

The short version can be boiled down to a few simple questions. The first question tells you what you want to put at the top of your homepage. The second and third questions help you decide what you want to put below that.

1. What’s the one action you want visitors to take?

There are a bunch of ways to answer this question, so let me help you narrow it down. What is the one simple small act that you want your visitors to take? The answer is not “buy your books”; that is a big act. No, what we are looking for is something easy for your visitors to do so that you can connect with them.
For many sites, that simple act is signing up for a mailing list, but that doesn’t have to be your only choice.

2. What do you want from your visitors?

I may not have phrased that very well, because what I am asking is for you to define your long term relationship with your site’s visitors.
Since we’re talking about author websites, the general answer to this question is that you want them to become readers of and buyers of your books. That answer does not apply to all author sites, however, and you might find it doesn’t fit your goals. A non-fiction author, for example, might want to use their site as a springboard to paid speaking gigs.

Your homepage needs to be designed with that long-term relationship in mind, and ideally you should only include sections that support this goal. For example, visitors should be able to tell what genre you write so that, say, the SF readers know they won’t be interested in the work of an epic fantasy author.

3. What parts of your site do you want to showcase?

Your homepage should be designed with your goals in mind, but sometimes your goals are fuzzy. Sometimes you have several conflicting goals. Sometimes you have a passion project that you want to promote even though it doesn’t serve your business goals.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:
Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for March 21, 2020. How strong are the openings—would either of these narratives, all on its own, hook an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? There are two polls.

Following are what would be the first 17 manuscript lines of the first chapter.

There was a wolf at the gallery door.

Which meant it must be Thursday, which meant Bryce had to be really gods-damned tired if she relied on Danika’s comings and goings to figure out what day it was.

The heavy metal door to Griffin Antiquities thudded with the impact of the wolf’s fist—a fist that Bryce knew ended in metallic-purple painted nails in dire need of a manicure. A heartbeat later, a female voice barked, half-muffled through the steel, “Open the Hel up, B. It’s hot as shit out here!”

Seated at the desk in the modest gallery showroom, Bryce smirked and pulled up the front door’s video feed. Tucking a strand of her wine-red hair behind a pointed ear, she asked into the intercom, “Why are you covered in dirt? You look like you’ve been rootling through the garbage.”

“What the fuck does rootling mean?” Danika hopped from foot to foot, sweat gleaming on her brow. She wiped at it with a filthy hand, smearing the black liquid splattered there.

“You’d know if you ever picked up a book, Danika.” Glad for the break in what had been a morning of tedious research, Bryce smiled as she rose from the desk. With no exterior windows, the gallery’s extensive surveillance equipment served as her only warning of who stood beyond its thick walls. Even with her sharp half-Fae hearing, she couldn’t make out much (snip)

You can turn the page and read more here.

Was the opening page of House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas compelling?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Bernice bobs her hair

From The Times Literary Supplement:

Recently I began to wonder what books people were reading and talking about a hundred years ago. All I knew about 1920 was that it was the year Prohibition began. And I knew that the First World War was over, and that Winston Churchill, the War Secretary, was bombing Mesopotamia and raving in the newspaper about the “poison peril” emanating from Russia – the Russia, he said, “of armed hordes smiting not only with bayonet and with cannon, but accompanied and preceded by the swarms of typhus-bearing vermin which slay the bodies of men, and political doctrines which destroy the health and even the soul of nations”. In January 1920, Lloyd George said, “Winston has gone mad”. One thing pleased the War Secretary very much, though: a book deal. He had a contract to write a history of the vast conflict over which he had just presided, and what with serialization payments from newspapers in Britain and the United States, he was going to receive half a crown per word for The World Crisis. The pay rate was exhilarating, he told the press baron George Riddell.

So that was my working sense of 1920 – very incomplete. What other interesting bookish events went on that year? I will tell you. In May, a writer named Hope Mirrlees published a poem. It was a longish work – twenty-three pages – about a person wandering around Paris on a single day in 1919. “Paris is a huge home-sick peasant”, she wrote. “He carries a thousand villages in his heart.”

Virginia Woolf, who thought the poem was “very obscure, indecent, and brilliant”, typeset it, printed it on a small press, corrected typos, and then sewed the bindings of 175 copies. The cover said “PARIS” and “HOPE MIRRLEES” in thin red letters; its paper bore a pattern of harlequin diamonds in red, blue and gold. The book was one of the earliest publications of the Hogarth Press, of Paradise Road, Richmond – Leonard and Virginia Woolf, proprietors. “This little effusion looks at the first blush like an experiment in Dadaism”, wrote a reviewer in the TLS, on May 6, 1920, “but there is a method in the madness which peppers the pages with spluttering and incoherent statements displayed with various tricks of type. It seems by a sort of futurist trick to give an ensemble of the sensations offered to a pilgrim through Paris.” A copy went to the British Museum, where it was stamped “May 12 20”.

The poem (available in facsimile on the British Library’s website) begins: “I want a holophrase”. And then it quotes Parisian signage: “NORD-SUD, ZIG-ZAG, LION NOIR, CACAO BLOOKER”. A holophrase, in nineteenth-century philology, is a “sentence word” – a brief utterance that carries much meaning in a short space. It was a word used by Mirrlees’s companion, the Cambridge classicist Jane Harrison. Harrison gives an example of a holophrase taken from one of the indigenous languages of Tierra del Fuego: mamihlapinatapai, which means “looking-at-each-other,-hoping-that-either-will-offer-to-do-something-which-both-parties- desire-but-are-unwilling-to-do”. Paris, with its flashing holophraseology, its saffron skies and its wicked moon, its private anthology of multilingual quotations and its explanatory endnotes, was not much read in 1920. It’s now celebrated as a lost landmark of modernism, an influence on T. S. Eliot as he wrote The Waste Land in 1921, during and after his mental breakdown. I like Mirrlees’s free-verse epic better than Eliot’s, honestly – Eliot’s poetry effortfully hauls itself out of despair, “dragging its slimy belly on the bank” like the rat of “The Fire Sermon”, while Mirrlees’s world is full of sunlit buildings and manic joy – but maybe I’m just being contrary. She even quotes the historic plaques on buildings: “VOLTAIRE / EST MORT / DANS CETTE MAISON / LE 30 MAI 1778”.

Another noteworthy book from 1920 is Agatha Christie’s first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which appeared in October, advertised by the publisher as “a very ingenious detective story, introducing a new type of detective in the shape of a Belgian”. What an astonishingly skilful beginning to one of the great fictional runs of all time, and narrated by Hastings himself! “You are agitated; you are excited”, says Poirot to Hastings, early on. “It is but natural. Presently, when we are calmer, we will arrange the facts, neatly, each in his proper place.”

Link to the rest at The Times Literary Supplement

Be Resilient and Responsible

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

I woke up this morning feeling great. A week ago, I decided to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution, and pretty much everyone else is doing it, too.

But I got thinking last night of how resilient people are. Part of me would like to say that it is an American thing, but I’ve got friends in China, Australia, Europe, and Latin America—and they’re all resilient, too. Let’s call it a human thing. We can all be shocked, dismayed, and fall into the doldrums for a day or so, and then something inside us tells us that we have to get back to work.

However, I saw a message from a young writer this morning that said, “I found out that, due to the Covid19 outbreak, as of today I no longer have a job. I want to sit down and write while I’m in isolation, but I’m so worried that that is not the responsible thing to do, I can’t focus. I should be out looking for a job.”

I suspect that a lot of writers have those kinds of worries, and as I say, “Stress kills creativity.” You might find it a little tougher to write right now.

Or maybe not.  You can look for jobs electronically, and if you’re in a small rural area like mine, it will take all of an hour a day. So what are you going to do with the other fourteen hours that you’re awake?

I think of writing as an investment in myself. That’s how I make money, by investing in myself. Some projects make a lot of money, some don’t make much at all.  I wrote a short story a few weeks ago, for example, that probably didn’t make me $20 per hour. I had a lot of fun doing it, and I’d do it again in a minute. It relieves stress, gets something accomplished, and acts as an advertisement for my work, but it’s nowhere near my minimum hourly rate. Still, a lot of people only dream of making $20 per hour.

But it does bring up a difficulty that authors have: determining the worth of a project. Some writing projects have made me a lot of money. For example, years ago I wrote a movie tie-in novel. The advance for the novel was about $60,000, and I figured it would take about 200 hours to write, so I made something on the order of $300 per hour. I hoped that it might even make some royalties.

Sure enough, it made far more in royalties than anticipated. I still get small checks for it, twenty years later, and currently, I figure that I made over $2000 an hour on that project.

You see, with a novel, over its life, it can grow and dwindle in popularity around the world. A novel that doesn’t look like it’s worth much can suddenly become popular.

One friend, years ago, wrote some vampire novels that didn’t do well in the US. They sold so poorly, she gave up writing for a time, but she sold the foreign rights in Romania and became a #1 bestseller—and made millions. I’ve seen other friends do this in Japan, Germany, and the UK.

Then you have books that get turned into movies, and perhaps a book that you thought was dead twenty years ago comes roaring back to life.

So when you’re writing, you’re investing in an unpredictable future. You don’t know what you might get out of it, but you are investing in your dreams.

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

Temporarily Disabling Shipment Creation

From Publishing Perspectives:

While there probably are people in the publishing industry who—even in a life-and-death world pandemic—will not want to say that Amazon is doing the right thing, Amazon is doing the right thing in announcing that, “We are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and ship these products to customers.”

Books, along with many other product classifications, for the moment are being deprioritized.

At Publishers Weekly, Jim Milliot and John Maher reported Tuesday (March 17), “Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that their goods will receive a low priority until at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today.”

“We will let you know once we resume regular operations,” Amazon writes to its third-party vendors. “Shipments created before today will be received at fulfillment centers.”

. . . .

Describing Amazon’s new move to channel its forces toward crisis response first, Rachelle Hampton writes at Slate, “As more cities resort to drastic shelter-in-place measures and photos of empty grocery store aisles circulate on the internet, the giant e-tailer has stepped in to fill the gaps, but even it’s straining under the weight of an unprepared country. Many listings for items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper showed that they were out of stock or that delivery would be delayed by several days.”

Milliot and Maher at PW add, “The letter [to vendors] closed by noting that the e-tailer is aware of the effect this will have on businesses, and is ‘working around the clock to increase capacity, and on March 16 announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the US.’”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG notes that, in typical Big Corporate Publishing style, no mention is made that Amazon (and other etailers) is/are still selling lots and lots of ebooks to readers who are staying inside.

PG also notes that an Amazon search for coronavirus will yield (at least in the US) a link from Amazon at the top of the results to coronavirus information from the Centers for Disease Control followed by some dodgy-sounding and very recently published books about topics such as how to make your own hand sanitizer (63 pages) and instant home school (33 pages).

Katy Perry Wins Reversal of ‘Dark Horse’ Copyright Verdict

From Variety:

A federal judge has handed a big win to Katy Perry, overturning a copyright infringement verdict regarding her hit song “Dark Horse.”

Judge Christina A. Snyder issued a ruling on Tuesday vacating the jury’s verdict, finding that the short musical phrase at issue is not original enough to warrant copyright protection.

The jury had found last July that “Dark Horse” included an eight-note ostinato that was stolen from “Joyful Noise,” a song by the Christian rapper Flame. The jury awarded $2.8 million in damages.

Snyder found that the jury’s verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence in the case.

“It is undisputed in this case,” Snyder wrote, “that the signature elements of the 8-note ostinato in ‘Joyful Noise’… is not a particularly unique or rare combination.”

Snyder drew on the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness, musicologist Todd Decker, in coming to her conclusion that the jury got it wrong.

“A relatively common 8-note combination of unprotected elements that happens to be played in a timbre common to a particular genre of music cannot be so original as to warrant copyright protection,” she wrote.

. . . .

The decision is the second piece of good news in as many weeks for music labels and major acts, which have felt besieged by frivolous copyright litigation over the last few years. Last Monday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict finding that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe on an earlier song by the band Spirit.

Link to the rest at Variety

Here’s an earlier video, created prior to yesterday’s reversal of the jury verdict as described in the OP.

Authors Interviewing Their Characters

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide…Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

. . . .

Let’s introduce you to readers – who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Bree Taggert, and I’m a homicide detective with the Philadelphia PD. But I was born in upstate New York and spent my early childhood in Grey’s Hollow. 

How did you fall into that line of work?

I’ve wanted to work in law enforcement since I was a child. The county sheriff rescued me and my siblings from under our porch the night my father killed my mother and then shot himself. To me, cops have always been heroes. 

Where did you live before moving back to Grey’s Hollow?

I live and work in Philadelphia, where I was raised by a cousin since the age of eight, while my siblings lived in Grey’s Hollow with our grandparents. Growing up, I missed my brother and sister and wished we hadn’t been separated. My little brother and I have grown apart over the years. Now that I’m back in town, I’m determined to develop a closer relationship with him.   

What brought you back to town?

My younger sister, Erin, called me for help. I headed north as soon as I could.  But by the time I arrived in upstate New York, I learned she’d been shot to death. To make matters worse, my brother-in-law is missing and wanted for questioning in connection with the crime. I hate to think Erin was killed in exactly the same way as our mother. I feel guilty for not being here when Erin needed me. I must find out what happened. 

Do you think history has repeated itself? Did Erin’s husband kill her? 

I’m not sure. I hope not, but I know the statistics. Most female murder victims are killed by their significant others, a fact I witnessed long before becoming a cop. But his best friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, says he’s innocent.  Matt wants to investigate the shooting together. I agreed. I need someone to watch my back. Plus, he’s going to look into the murder anyway. I want to keep an eye on Matt and his investigation. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Here’s a link to Melinda Leigh’s books.

The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

From The New York Times:

In these isolated times, many people are inside reading, but the book business, like others, is bracing for catastrophe. Major literary festivals and fairs around the world have been canceled. Public libraries have closed. Author tours, signings and bookstore appearances have been scrapped.

As the severity of the coronavirus outbreak continues to intensify, authors, publishers and booksellers are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout. Many fear the worst is yet to come, including more store closures and potential disruptions to warehouse and distribution centers, as well as possible paper shortages and a decline in printing capacity.

“There’s no question we’re going to see a drop in sales,” said Dennis Johnson, co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based independent press Melville House, who has directed staff to work from home. “It’s unprecedented. Nobody knows what to do except hoard Purell.”

The Sydney Writers’ Festival, which typically draws an audience of 80,000 and was scheduled to begin on April 27, was called off this week, following cancellations of major book fairs in England, France, Germany and Italy. In the United States, The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Tucson Festival of Books, the Virginia Festival of the Book and The Believer Festival in Las Vegas were among the many shuttered events, which draw tens of thousands of readers and can be a critical sales venue for authors and publishers.

On Monday, PEN America announced that it was calling off its World Voices Festival, which was set to take place in early May in New York, with planned appearances by Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Jenny Slate, Elif Shafak and others.

BookExpo, a pivotal annual trade show for publishers, booksellers and librarians, is currently still scheduled to take place at the end of May at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York, according to the event’s organizer, Reed Exhibitions. “We remain optimistic that we can take the appropriate measures to see ourselves on the other side of this by the end of May and carry on as planned,” BookExpo’s director said in a statement on its website. “That being said, we will continue to follow guidelines and precautions suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

. . . .

The potential long-term effects for book retailers are sobering. Many in the industry are worried that independent bookstores will be devastated as local and state officials mandate social distancing and order some businesses to temporarily close.

. . . .

Mitchell Kaplan, the founder of Books & Books, an independent chain in South Florida, said sales have fallen at the company’s stores and cafes, and author appearances have been canceled.

“The irony of all this is that what makes bookstores so potent, our ability to be community gathering places, has become our biggest liability,” he said.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Felix for the tip.

ABA Journal: Market Spotlight

From Writers Digest:

The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine for members of the American Bar Association. With a circulation around 400,000, it’s considered the magazine for lawyers and the legal profession. As such, it’s a very competitive market with a reputation of paying competitive rates to freelancers.

The editors say, “The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.”

What They’re Looking For

ABA Journal does not review unsolicited manuscripts. Rather, the editors want freelancers to query with their resumé and published clips. They expect articles to include multiple sources and opposing points of view.

The editors say, “The ABA Journal considers queries from professional writers or from potential sources who wish to contact us regarding subjects that might be of interest to our readers.”

Estimated length and payment are discussed upon assignment.

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Many years ago when he practiced a much different type of law than he does now, PG had a regular monthly column in The ABA Journal, so he became very familiar with the topics that would interest the publication.

A few preliminary points for those who are not attorneys:

  1. The American Bar Association is a voluntary organization. Unlike the state bar associations which attorneys are required to join (and pay dues to) for the privilege of practicing law, nobody is required to be a member of the ABA.
  2. Thus, the ABA is looking for stories that will interest both its members and non-members who may be wondering if they should join.
  3. Non-members can see many (maybe all?) parts of The ABAJ online – https://www.abajournal.com/ so you can get an idea of the types of stories that have been publishing recently.
  4. Like every other bar association, mandatory or voluntary, the ABA charges dues ranging from $75-$450 per year, depending upon how many years an attorney has been in practice. The amount of the dues payment has been a sore point for solo and small firm attorneys since forever. The ABA dues payment is on top of the mandatory payment required from the state bar and the combination can go over $1,000 per year.
  5. Among solo and small firm attorneys, it is not unusual to find those who believe the ABA is relevant for attorneys in large firms and specialized practices and doesn’t have much to offer those who don’t meet that description.
  6. One of the reasons PG was offered a regular column in ancient days was because, at that time, he was in solo practice in a small town, so he didn’t fit the stereotype. Additionally, PG had learned a lot about using computers in his own practice which was not understood by the average lawyer in either a large or small firm.

So, if PG were putting together a pitch for a story to the ABAJ today, he would look for a story about an attorney who didn’t work for a large firm in a large city and who was doing something different than typical lawyers were doing.

Bar associations of all types love to tout the work attorneys do without being paid, pro bono publico (Latin: “for the public good”) usually shortened to pro bono.

Some state bar associations require that attorneys perform XX hours of pro bono work each year or give them credit for those hours against state-mandated Continuing Legal Education (which usually costs money) requirements that must be reported to the state bar periodically.

A story about a small-town lawyer who represented an indigent juvenile repeat offender, got the kid get out of juvenile detention and helped her to get into Harvard would be close to ideal.

PG has no idea about how much The ABA Journal pays for articles these days. In ancient times, he was definitely satisfied with the payment he received from them each month.

Another area that seems to be evergreen for ABAJ articles is how lawyers use computer or other technologies in their practices. For as long as PG has known anything about computers in law offices, a significant portion of attorneys have not been very good with technology. Perhaps too many humanities majors realize they’ll never make a living in their chosen field and apply to law school.

The ABA has hosted a successful annual legal geekfest called ABA Techshow for a very long time (in tech years).

Each year, great flocks of geek attorneys circle O’Hare Airport and descend upon an unsuspecting convention hotel in downtown Chicago. They call to each other and the leaders display their latest tech accomplishments for competitors and compatriates to admire.

(During PG’s time, there was no widespread mating that occurred at Techshow, but he can’t speak for today.)

Techshow provides a fertile field for finding stories about attorneys doing unusual things with their computers, tablets, smartphones, etc., in court, in their offices and on the road.

Remote, home-based publishing

From The Bookseller:

Some of what we have learnt about working at home as part of a publishing team over the past six years is true of all remote workers.

But some of the challenges and rewards are very specific to book publishing – and so glaringly obvious that they can be easy to overlook…like the fact that the majority of the publishing industry still works to produce physical objects (alongside all the digital material, reports, communications and e-editions modern publishing needs). There’s nothing remote about a hardback – it needs heft, tactility and appeal – so there are particular challenges for publishers to this new reality.

Here are the things we’ve learnt in the past six years. Often the hard way:

1 Anyone involved in creating the physical product must have access to a decent printer. Type size always looks bigger on screen than the page. And many designers seem to have weirdly good eyesight and a love for tiny text.

  1. Production checks take longer as everything has to be physical sent. Schedules are slower. And it costs way more if your team are sending things rather than walking them down to sales or editorial for sign off.
  2. Royal Mail is a million times more reliable than most couriers i.e. Hermes. In fact, if we can impart one piece of useful advice: don’t use Hermes, ever.
  3. Cover proofs are still worth spending money on. Colours are always brighter on screen. It’s a lot cheaper to do a few proper cover proofs than reprinting a whole jacket.
  4. So much of publishing is about interaction with different kinds of people and businesses. Each project involves creatives, departments with commercial agendas and teams with logistical imperatives. That’s a lot of links and tasks that can go wrong. The person who can bring all that together in a meeting may be a different person from the one who can generate momentum and decisions online. Put simply – the best remote team leaders may be different people from office team leaders.
  5. This is because working and managing remotely is a very real, very new skill. We just published a book about this called Invisible Work by John Howkins. Those who are good at it will chose teams and collaborators who actually answer emails and phone calls. Not the interesting genius who buries their head in the sand and produces something for the meeting at the last minute. Those people belong to a different workstyle (or era).
  6. It’s easier to disagree and throw your weight around on email than in a phone call, but you can’t see how it’s being received. Use the phone for anything delicate or problematic then follow up with positive notes of the points agreed.

. . . .

9. In the end you will make more decisions alone when working from home. Which can start to feel lonely. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone for input or a friendly colleague’s ear. We have got out of the habit of phoning friends and into the habit of messaging andf emailing colleagues rather than calling them. Reclaim the phone call to ensure home-alone sanity.

10. If you are working from home all the time you lose your day at home to focus. Work out the best time for the deep concentration jobs – whether its data analysis or manuscript reading. We find it easiest to do the deep stuff straight way – before we have been distracted by emails, sales figures, requests, social media. In any case, do change the space you are in if you can. And turn off wi-fi.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Coronavirus: Macmillan and PRH Ease Library Digital Book Availability

From Publishing Perspectives:

What a difference a major public health emergency makes.
As of this writing, the numbers of identified coronavirus cases in the States are rising quickly as testing–long delayed by the federal government–finally begins to come online.

The New York Times’ 1:24 p.m. ET update (1724 GMT) has at least 5,002 cases now identified in the United States, and CNN is reporting that the 100th American death has been recorded. And, of course, the most vulnerable demographic to COVID-19 is citizens in their 70s and 80s–a sector of the population that typically appreciates and uses library services.

Abruptly ending a months-long battle of wills, Macmillan CEO John Sargent this afternoon (March 17) has abandoned his embargo of newly released ebooks for libraries in the United States, issuing a short note to the news media:

“Dear Librarians, Authors, Illustrators and Agents,

“There are times in life when differences should be put aside.

“Effective on Friday (or whenever thereafter our wholesalers can effect the change), Macmillan will return to the library ebook pricing model that was in effect on October 31, 2019. In addition, we will be lowering some ebook prices on a short-term basis to help expand libraries collections in these difficult times.”

The case of the New York Public Library, as we reported Monday (March 16), reflects those of library facilities and programs in many world markets: As social distancing requirements intensify, physical library facilities are being shuttered and digital lending systems become more important.

This seems to be behind the announcement made today by Sargent–who, by the way, is seen as a hero in the national and world publishing industries for his eloquent defiance of Donald Trump in January 2018 when the White House tried to intimidate Macmillan’s Henry Holt & Company on the publication of Michael Woolf’s Fire and Fury. Calling Trump’s effort “flagrantly unconstitutional,” Sargent accelerated the publication of the book and won the admiration of free-expression advocates everywhere.

Much less happy were many library enthusiasts with Sargent’s eight-week windowing of new titles for libraries, an embargo put into place on November 1. That followed an initial hold-back of new Macmillan/Tor new titles, which started with July 2018 titles. For four years prior, major publishers in the States had provided their full catalogs to libraries without such embargoes.

Sargent’s assertion has been, of course, that making new Macmillan titles available on publication as lend-able library ebooks was creating what he described as a growing “imbalance” in the marketplace as e-borrowing’s popularity rose, costing the publisher too much in what might otherwise be sales for new titles when they might be most popular.

In Andrew Albanese’s coverage for Publishers Weekly of a January meeting between Sargent and librarians at the American Library Association’s annual Midwinter Meeting, Sargent also apologized for the impression many in the library community shared that he might consider libraries to be a problem for publishers. Instead, Sargent said, the problem was real but about the financial results of expanding e-lending on a publisher’s bottom line, not on any lack of recognition of the importance of libraries and their work.

As Albanese quoted him, Sargent said, “If you are in the state of California, you can easily own a library card for every library in the state of California, and when a book comes out that you want, you can put your name on every wait list in every county, and there are apps being developed to make that easier to do, and so that drives up the number of lends for every book in every library and that causes the amount of money per reader reading a book to go down. And that is the change that we worry about.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Writing Unlikeable Characters Readers Will Root For

From Jane Friedman:

I’m a big fan of antiheroes. A flawed character is just so much more interesting than your classic Dudley Do-Right. Anyone can like a character who makes the right choices and defends justice all the time. But that just doesn’t feel very authentic.

Can I just say it? True confessions? Traditionally heroic, always-good characters get boring.

Give me a character who struggles. Give me a character with flaws big enough to get in their way. Give me a character with complexity and baggage. This is a character that might surprise me. Perhaps not for the better—but I’ll be on the edge of my seat for sure.

I follow this mantra as much when writing my own characters as I do in my reading choices. Some—okay, most—of my characters are really rough around the edges.

But as my editor is always patiently reminding me, a lot of people don’t like unlikeable characters, on reasons of unlikeable-ness. This can be an especially perilous with female characters, whose margin for likability is even tighter than their male counterparts.

. . . .

Can an unlikeable character still inspire readers to root for them? Heck yes—but it takes a little alchemy.

Here are a few key elements to create an unlikeable character readers will still be willing to root for:

Redeemable qualities

Einstein once said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will believe it is stupid. Everyone is a genius at something. Likewise, when it comes to characters, every one has a quality worth respecting—something redeeming about them.

Elphaba was uncompromising. Dr. House was brilliant. Han Solo was charming. Redeemable traits can be found in almost any character if you spend enough time with them to understand their motives and underlying drives.

It doesn’t have to necessarily be a good quality. I enjoy Dr. House more for his wry humor at his interns’ expense than his ability to save lives—it’s just fun to watch, and I don’t have to want to hang out with the character myself to appreciate it.

If you can find and draw out these distinct qualities that make your character admirable (or entertaining), your unlikeable character will become a lot more root-able for readers in an instant.

. . . .

Action-Orientation

This was one warning my editor gave me about unlikeable characters I took especially to heart—a character who wallows and whines through the pages is no good.

A root-able character is a character who takes action. Taking the wrong action is far better than taking no action at all (see above). Action is the momentum that keeps the story moving forward—without it, it’s going to flail, and your readers are going to lose interest.

So when in doubt, keep your character moving. Then, make them wrestle with the consequences, for good or for bad.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

More Temporary Bookstore Closings

From Shelf Awareness:

Since Thursday, a range of bookstores have announced temporary closings because of the pandemic. Among them:

Powell’s Books is closing its five stores in and near Portland, Ore., through March 31, at which time the company will evaluate whether to extend the closure. Powells.com will continue operations. In announcing the change, president and owner Emily Powell said in part that “we feel that we cannot honor the social distancing guidelines presented by the CDC.”

The Strand Bookstore, New York, N.Y., is closing “for the time being” in an effort “to put the safety and welfare of our employees, our customers, and our community first.” In its announcement, the store promised regular updates and concluded, “Be safe. And we hope you find solace in one of the books on your bookshelf.”

WORD Bookstores in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J., are closed today and WORD said in an announcement to customers that it “will monitor the situation daily and keep you posted if anything changes. This will allow us to keep our staff busy and safe.” It added: “We have plenty of books, puzzles and games in stock to keep you and your family busy (including our homeWORDbound Mystery Boxes.) So please don’t be shy. Our amazing staff is ready and waiting to help you get through this.”

Riffraff, the bookstore and bar in Providence, R.I., said that it is closing, effective today, “for who knows how long.” Owners Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge described the situation as “painful and precarious… We feel a moral imperative to close Riffraff for the sake of the greater community, and are disappointed that the government has not taken a stronger response or offered any tangible assistance to small businesses. It puts the burden on us and others to decide how best to proceed.”

. . . .

Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., is closing through March 28, but “staff will continue ‘behind the scenes’ during this time, fulfilling online (harvard.com) and phone orders, recommending books online and by phone, and brainstorming creative ways to safely have our community access the books and book knowledge of Harvard Book Store and its staff,” general manager Alex W. Meriwether said in an e-mail to customers. “We feel we must do our part to ‘flatten the curve’ while fulfilling our mission–to the best of our ability during uncertain times–to provide books to our customers, in a safe and responsible manner, and to support the community in any ways that we can.”

Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass., is closing through March 29, but like many stores, will continue offering a variety of online and delivery services. “As always,” the store wrote, “we deeply appreciate your continuing support as we all move together through this difficult time. Stay safe and stay healthy.”

. . . .

Noting that the store “had a great weekend,” Books to Be Red, Ocracoke, N.C., wrote: “I thank everyone that came in to say hello and support my shop and the island. I am heartbroken to say that I am going to close my shop while we are dealing with the COVID-19 virus. Maybe this should have been an easy decision to make but it has not been. We are all dealing with fallout from the virus and we are all making sacrifices. I do hope to be able to re-open within the next couple of weeks. Thank you for understanding.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness (The link will take you to the top of the page of a newsletter, reading the particular part that PG has excerpted will require that you scroll down the page.)

PG will note that some marginal businesses can’t survive a stoppage or serious slowdown in sales. He doesn’t like to see anyone go out of business, but he suspects some small bookstores might not reopen after the coronavirus shutdown.

Stay Home, They Told Us… Diary of an Italian Editor

From LitHub:

“Stay home, if you can,” they told us in the beginning. And I could. I run a small publishing house from my home and at home is where I have always spent the majority of my time. I was not afraid. I can do it, I told myself. This changes nothing. Then the advice became an order. “Stay home!” they told us. And everything changed.

We live as if a predator roams outside. And no one knows when it will tire of the hunt and move on. Usually crowded with tourists from all over the world, the streets of our beloved Florence are now totally empty. Pigeons and doves and carrion crows, taken aback from the sudden quiet, look at each other in disbelief. Spring is coming but we know we won’t be able to enjoy it. Things we used to take for granted, like taking a walk in the park or paying a visit to a friend, have become a luxury that we cannot afford. This used to be a time when gatherings were welcome; now we are asked to stay away from each other, to be wary of anyone who comes too close. When this will be over, how long will it take before we feel safe again to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek? And where will all the homeless people go while we are busy complaining of getting bored at home?

At least we have refuge, even if it is starting to feel tighter and tighter, I tell myself as I ration food for the week: the less time we spend in crowded areas like supermarkets the better, and in any case only one family member is allowed out at a time to go food shopping and must carry a document with them stating the reason for which they have left home—if the statement turns out to be false, charges are filed.

It’s not a war we’re living through, we have everything we need: food and distractions, books, music and technology to communicate with the rest of the world. But for the past few days I have woken with a drone in my ears. I get up, drink coffee, sit at the computer, talk and downplay things with my husband, make lunch, work some more, make dinner and the drone is always there, a thin veil that separates me from what little I can still see and touch. I am a robot, performing the actions for which I was programmed. My mind attempts to establish contact with a new, static body—for now we are permitted to go out for a walk, but alone and never far from home—a body that does not do the things it once did. It’s the isolation, I tell myself. The uncertainty of tomorrow. The lack of oxygen.

. . . .

The truth is that in this funereal silence—the sounds of the city have vanished, only the bells of Santa Croce articulate my days—we now feel the full weight of our thoughts.

Link to the rest at LitHub

Florence is PG’s favorite city in all the world (Mrs. PG’s favorite as well.)

There are many other cities PG enjoys, but if told he must remain in one place for the rest of his life and given a choice of anywhere in the world (and the availability of quick transportation to visit friends and family elsewhere), PG would choose Florence.

The combination of art, architecture, history, vistas and Italians is, for PG, perfectly wonderful.

It saddened him to read the OP and sense the diminution of the Florentine spirit in this season of plague.

PG looked at some of his favorite photos of Florence and posted a couple below.

AWP in the Time of Plague

From Book & Film Globe:

This year’s installment of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, held in San Antonio during the first week of March, was supposed to draw around 12,000 creative writers to the Henry B. González Convention Center to buy books, gossip, and drink. But it didn’t happen that way. At all.

The saga might have started in 2018, when the AWP fired David Fenza from its leadership team. It might have started when that first coronavirus patient in the U.S. sneezed on a stranger. Or when tweets about other conferences’ cancellations materialized in the writing community. I really don’t know.

I can only begin with what you definitely need to hear about AWP 2020: the directors and board of AWP had no good choices this year, trying to figure out whether or not to cancel the San Antonio conference in light of the fast-spreading coronavirus. On the side of going forward, many small presses would have no operating budget for the year without the sales they achieve at AWP; on the side of cancelling, the risk of 12,000 writers bringing coronavirus back to their homes across the world is difficult to countenance. The board elected to go forward, incurring anxiety, wrath, and self-righteousness across all sectors of the community.

I’d guess, unscientifically, that at least half of the writers and exhibitors with AWP plans cancelled them. The convention center was empty. Exhibitors abandoned so many booths that presses and magazines moved around and spread out (without reprisal), and random writers sat at empty tables with their laptops. 

. . . .

I think that the cancellations of many major exhibitors (Tin House, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, W.W. Norton) forced attendees to spend more time at the tables of little presses they might not have heard of, or might have otherwise missed in the noise of the conference.

. . . .

Panels substituted most or all of their intended presenters, leading to a looser, perkier atmosphere in which anything could happen. Individual authors set up displays at empty booths, selling their books on the barrelhead. Offsite events went awry, but plucky, quick-thinking writers (ahem) saved them. We depended on our wits and the resources we could scrounge up, rather than well-laid plans, to make this conference fun and meaningful. It was kind of great.

Serious questions linger about the future of the conference, and its sponsoring organization. The leadership problem at AWP is not going away, and in fact seems to be worsening.

Link to the rest at Book & Film Globe

(PG notes [not intending to be snarky] that he skipped making changes to the OP that Grammarly suggested.)

Will the Amazon Netherlands launch this week boost Dutch book and ebook sales?

From The New Publishing Standard:

For publishers and authors outside the Netherlands it may come as a surprise to learn that Amazon finally launched in the Netherlands this past week. A surprise because Amazon launched its Kindle Netherlands store way back in November 2014.

But until last Tuesday Dutch consumers could only buy ebooks and Prime Video from Amazon NL, and needed to use other Amazon stores to get other goods.

. . . .

But now Dutch consumers, while not yet barred from using other Amazon sites, can head to Amazon for a full panoply of goods previously unavailable across 26 categories rather than just 2, and that will bring more eyeballs to the store that may then checkout the Kindle NL store.

Print books?

Sadly at this stage it appears the only print books being sold are through third-part sellers and the bestseller chart is dominated by English-language titles, while even in the Kindle store over half the top 50 bestselling ebooks are English-language.

That will reflect in part that the Dutch are very comfortable reading English-language books, but perhaps more a reflection of the lack of engagement between Dutch publishers and Amazon.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Why Do Some Characters Live On Beyond The Book?

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Why is it that some characters just don’t disappear?  The book is finished, the edits have been completed, the next work is in progress and yet… a particular character is still refusing to rest or retire or whatever it is that characters do when the writer has finished the book.

I’ve been reflecting on this, because there is still a character that is very much with me – one that just simply refuses to let me go.  To Keep You Safe was e-published in October last year and the print copy is out in March 2020.  The premise is: how far would you go to keep a child that wasn’t yours safe?

The story is of teacher Jenni, who becomes concerned that her vulnerable pupil, Destiny, is at risk of being snatched by a gang: unless she acts immediately Destiny will be lost forever.

I won’t say if it’s Jenni or Destiny (answers on a postcard please), that still stalks me silently, side-stepping me in my shadow, so that she is always, still, well, just here.  But it has left me thinking why.  Why is she still here with me when the other characters, are well, for want of a better word, simply asleep?

I know I’m not alone with characters that live on beyond the book.

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

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