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Margaret Maron, RIP

“I knew from childhood that I wanted to write,” said Margaret Maron in her acceptance speech to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, in 2016, “and I felt that I had a facility for words, but I also felt that I had nothing to say. It was the mystery form that gave me freedom to write and it was the form that later gave me the freedom to speak out on issues that were important to me as a citizen of North Carolina.”

Margaret Maron passed away this week at the age of 82. While her fiction “changed the landscape of the mystery genre—moving it away from the mean streets of urban America to the main streets of the country’s small towns,” she also was a generous person who believed in community and championed new writers.

“Along with her writing skills, Margaret was graced with a green thumb and culinary prowess that she liked to share,” writes Sarah Goddin, former General Manager of Quail Ridge Books. “She and her husband Joe were known to generously drop bags of pears and blueberries by the store when they had a bumper crop.”

Margaret is best-known for her Deborah Knott mystery series, which, by featuring a “young woman with one foot in the agrarian past and one foot in the urban present,” explored women’s changing roles in Southern society. Through her fiction, she tackled issues such as changing attitudes toward sexuality; race relations; and the environment.

“We’ve watched our part of the state move from mostly farmers to mostly commuters,” Margaret said, “and we’ve used our words to document those changes‐to celebrate the good, to spotlight the bad, and yes, to mourn for some of the losses.”

Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into sixteen languages. In 2004, she received the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for best North Carolina novel of the year. In 2008, she was honored with the North Carolina Award for Literature, the state’s highest civilian honor. In 2013, she was named a Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America for lifetime achievement. She has served as president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the country’s leading organization devoted to mystery writers and the success of the genre, and perhaps more importantly as both a founding member and a former president of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to encouraging and promoting women crime writers.

Just last week, the NC Literary Map, NC Literary Review, and NC Writers’ Network hosted the NC Quarantine Literary Tour, which offered readings about fictional NC locales by inductees of the NC Literary Hall of Fame. Cindy Brookshire—a Johnston County writer, just like Margaret—read about Margaret’s fictional Colleton County, where her Deborah Knott mystery series takes place. There might be no better way to honor this fine writer, whose genuine interest in people, sharp eye for detail, and passion for justice transcended genre, than to reflect on the way she wrote about the place she lived almost her entire life.

To hear Cindy Brookshire read about Margaret Maron’s Colleton County, click here (Cindy’s reading begins at the 20-minute mark).

NC Quarantine Literary Tour – Video Posted!

Carole Boston Weatherford © NCLR

On Thursday, February 18, the North Carolina Literary Map, NC Literary Review, and the NC Writers’ Network hosted the online NC Quarantine Literary Tour: a mountains-to-sea virtual journey to fictional places created by some of the state’s most accomplished authors.

The archived video of that event can be viewed here.

The NC Quarantine Literary Tour featured nine places created by NC Literary Hall of Fame inductees in and for fictional works:

So if you missed the tour that took folks to places that weren’t really even there the first time, now you can travel to those same places on your own time!

Godspeed.

Triangle Area Freelancers Offering “TAF Talks” in Place of Write Now!

Typically in late spring, the Triangle Area Freelancers hold their annual Write Now! conference in Raleigh. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TAF will not host an in-person conference. Instead, TAF will offer a series six moderated conversations, via Zoom, with prominent writers, editors, and other industry professionals under the banner “TAF Talks.”

The first TAF Talk will be Tuesday, February 23, with veteran stand-up comic Gary Gulman. Gary will discuss his writing process, what all writers can learn from stand-up comics, and much more.

The second TAF Talk will be Tuesday, April 13, featuring award-winning science fiction writer Nancy Kress, who was the Fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest for 16 years, and who will be the Guest of Honor at the 2021 World Science Fiction Convention in August.

Triangle Association of Freelancers is a nonprofit organization serving independent nonfiction and fiction writers in the Triangle region of North Carolina. Founded in 2003, TAF is committed to educating, mentoring, and promoting both aspiring and established writers by connecting them with fellow writers and the vital resources and services available to them. TAF advocates for fair compensation of writers and content creators, as well as the ongoing professional development of those in the writing profession. To those ends, TAF hosts monthly meetings featuring guest speakers presenting on a diverse array of topics, and (typically) presents an annual writers conference each spring.

TAF Talks are a special perk for TAF members only, but dues are just $20 per year, and membership includes monthly meetings with guest speakers; all TAF Talks; and more. Here’s the link to join: https://tafnc.com/join-taf/#join.

Visit the Triangle Area Freelancers at www.tafnc.org and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

How to Sell Your Books and Support Indies

There’s an old saying that nothing sells books like more books. Meaning, the more books you publish, the more books you sell. When people read one of your books, hopefully they go back and read your earlier books.

Here at the Network, it’s our policy to always link a book title to the book’s listing on Indiebound.org, wherever it appears, whether in a blog post, conference webpage, front-page article, or e-mail. (In Book Buzz, we link both to Indiebound and Amazon, because some authors prefer it, and ultimately, we serve at the pleasure of our members….)

IndieBound, an initiative of the American Booksellers Association, is a “local first” shopping movement and a network of hundreds of independent bookstores dedicated to making the world better, one independent bookstore at a time. From a book’s product page on Indiebound, readers can see what local bookstore might carry it. If a bookstore isn’t carrying it, that store can certainly order it. Linking to Indiebound feels like the best way for us to support local businesses across a wide geographic area.

Over the past year, many have been linking to Bookshop.org, an “online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.” Figuring that convenience is the main reason people buy books on Amazon instead of from their local independent bookstore, Bookshop.org creates “an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support bookstores at the same time.” Readers can purchase books on Bookshop.org, and, through an affiliate program, a percentage of their purchase goes to local indie bookstores.

As authors, it behooves us to make sure all our backlist titles are available on Indiebound.org, as well as Bookshop.org, if possible. After all, nothing sells more books like, say it with us, “more books.”

To see if Indiebound is listing one of your books, just search for the title on Indiebound.org. Note: the search function is not very forgiving (although it’s improving), so we suggest searching by title. If that pulls up too many results, you can try searching by author name, but be aware that if you write under Aida Rhodabook, but search for Aida G. Rhodabook, your name might not come up.

If your book isn’t listed, here’s how to add it.

First, read this. Then go here. From here, you can edit details for a book that is already listed or add your book to Indiebound using a very simple form. You will need your book’s dimensions and shipping weight which, and we hate to say this but, if you don’t have handy, also are listed on your book’s page on Amazon, so you can just copy and paste. (Amazon won’t mind. We promise.)

It may take a couple days, but assuming everything is done correctly, your book will eventually appear, and you can start linking to your book’s page on Indiebound instead of Amazon.

Now, both Indiebound and Bookshop automatically list books distributed through Ingram. However, Indiebound doesn’t necessarily list all backlist titles, for whatever reason (likely low sales). And Indiebound will list books that aren’t distributed through Ingram, but you may have to add them yourself (see above).

Bookshop, however, only lists books that are distributed through Ingram, which isn’t a big deal for many authors, but for those authors who publish using Kindle Direct Publishing, there doesn’t appear to be a way, yet, to have their books listed on Bookshop.org, even if they sign on to Amazon’s Expanded Distribution System (which they should!). This is most likely because Amazon is A) the main competitor for indie bookstores and distributing books published by your competitor feels icky and B) Amazon gives booksellers less favorable sales terms than Ingram.

To see if Bookshop lists your book, just to go www.bookshop.org and enter the title in the search bar. If it doesn’t appear, you can see about getting your book distributed by Ingram.

Support those indies folks: both as readers, and as authors. Nothing sells books like more books, and as authors, we want our books listed everywhere they possibly can be….

 

 

SIBA Announces 2021 Southern Book Prize Winners

From our friends at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance:

ASHEVILLE: The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is pleased to announce the winners of the 2021 Southern Book Prize. The Prize, representing southern bookseller favorites from 2020, is awarded to “the best Southern book of the year” as nominated by Southern indie booksellers and voted on by their customers. Winners were chosen by popular vote from a ballot of favorite bookseller “hand sells” in fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature, making each Southern Book Prize winner a true Southern reader favorite.

2021 SBP Children’s Winner:
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James (Illus.)
Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2020
“This book is exactly what we need in the world right now. Uplifting black boys that they are beautiful and can be anything they want to be! A wonderful book!” –Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA

 

 

 

2021 SBP Fiction Winner:
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
Hub City Press, May 2020
“Intimate and, at times, heartbreaking, Sickels has written a powerful novel that turns the wonderful trick of creating unique characters and telling under represented stories to delve into the universal themes of family, of coming home, of what it means to simply be.” –Land Arnold, Letters Bookshop, Durham, NC.

 

 

 

2021 SBP Nonfiction Winner:
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey
Ecco, July 2020
“This is an incredibly personal and obviously painful story but it is also one that is well crafted, beautifully written, and unforgettable. Trethewey demonstrates once again that she is a fierce and fearless writer who is one of the best we have working today.” –Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, MS

 

 

 

The Southern Book Prize, formerly known as the SIBA Book Award, has been awarded annually since 1999. SIBA launched the public ballot in 2019 to encourage stores to engage their customers in the important question of what books deserve to be called “the best Southern book of the year.” For more information, visit the Southern Book Prize home at The Southern Bookseller Review: https://thesouthernbooksellerreview.org/southern-book-prize.

2021 PEN America Literary Award Finalists

Each year, the annual PEN America Literary Awards bestow $350,000 to a variety of books across genres. They’ve announced this year’s finalists. Categories include:

  • PEN / Jean Stein Book Award – book-length work of any genre ($75K)
  • PEN Open Book Award – book-length work of any genre by an author of color ($10K)
  • PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection – eponymous ($25K)
  • PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel – also eponymous ($10K)
  • PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry Collection – ($10K)
  • PEN Award for Poetry in Translation – for poetry from another language into English ($3K)
  • PEN Translation Prize – for book-length translation from any language into English
  • PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay – for a collection of essays ($15K)
  • PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award – literary excellence on scientific subject ($10K)
  • PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography – ($5K)
  • PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction – ($10K)

A House Is a Body: Stories by Shruti Swamy, published by Chapel Hill-based Algonquin Books, is a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection.

Vievee Francis will serve as a judge for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. Vievee taught the session “Ars Poetica: Developing a Personal Vision” at the NCWN 2016 Spring Conference.

For the full lists of finalists in each category, click here.

Winners will be celebrated at the virtual Literary Awards Ceremony on April 8, 2021.

You May Want to Check on Your Books on Amazon

By Charles Fiore

It had been a while, years even, since I checked the status of my books on Amazon. When I finally took a look recently, I saw a lot of strange things. These oddities were easily resolved, but I thought it might be worth sharing what I found—and how I fixed it—in the off-chance it’s been a while since you checked your own books on Amazon. If you haven’t looked recently, you might want to.

The same thing was happening with two of my books, so I’ll just share my experience fixing issues with one, my novel Green Gospel, published by Livingston Press in 2011.

When I searched for the novel on Amazon, the paperback product page appeared with a list price of $920.99 [sic]. While I found that somewhat flattering, let’s be honest: not even my mother would pay a thousand dollars for one of my books.

It also showed a pub date of January 1, 1642. Again, I’m old, but I don’t predate the founding of The College of William and Mary (est. 1693).

My first thought was that perhaps the book was now out of print; publishers sometimes pulp remainders for tax purposes. But Livingston got back to me right away and assured me Green Gospel was still in print and available for sale at the reasonable price of $10 (after a decade, hey, a bit of a discount may be warranted).

So, I checked up on my products. Amazon offers an “Author Dashboard” that allows authors to easily update all of their books in one place. To access your own Author Dashboard, go to https://author.amazon.com/home and sign-in (or create an account). From there, you can “claim” the books you wrote so they all appear together on your dashboard.

I wasn’t able to fix these issues from my dashboard; my products were showing correct prices and pub dates on my dashboard, but not in my Amazon search results. So I reached out to customer service, here. They have an option for speaking to someone on the phone, and I asked for a rep to call me. They called me back within minutes.

With another of my books, my issues was resolved within an hour. The customer rep removed the bogus product page that showed the bad price and pub date, and now when I search for the book, the correct version with the correct price and pub date appears at the top of the search results.

With Green Gospel, it’s been more of a process. After 24 hours, the correct product now appears in my Author Dashboard and on my Amazon Author Page. However, searching for my book on Amazon still turns up the bogus product page with the inflated price. For my other book, the rep needed help from his supervisor to make it right; I may need to call back to fully resolve this issue with Green Gospel, and politely ask the rep to take it higher up the chain.

All this begs the question: why is this happening?

In both cases, independent bookstores, certified “Third Party Sellers” on Amazon, had posted these bogus product pages for my novels and, because they were trusted Amazon sellers, their product pages were getting prioritized in the search results. In a just world, the actual product pages would come up first, but we all realize by now that, despite this e-commerce behemoth’s many advantages, and disadvantages, justice doesn’t appear anywhere on Amazon’s mission statement.

What happens is, these indie bookstores list all of their stock on Amazon. So they tend to crank through their available inventory when listing it for sale online. To save time, instead of listing each book they carry by the book’s ISBN—which would be the sane and ethically correct thing to do, even if it took more time—they just assign an ASIN to each individual book and then, because ASINs require pub dates, they make up any date they want—Jan 1, 1642, for example.

Of course, this practice is terrible for authors and publishers. If someone reads my third novel, and likes it enough to want to go back and read my first, I want them to be able to find my first novel new for the publisher’s listed price of $10, not used for $1,000 from some online-only bookstore. Even if this reader buys it for a grand, I certainly don’t see any of that extra $990 above sales price, and neither does the publisher. Only the bookstore would stand to profit, after whatever cut Amazon takes.

Sadly, this is a wide-ranging practice, and I know that I am not the only author who’s dealt with this over the past year or two.

The only piece of the puzzle I haven’t figured out is why these third-party sellers listed my books for such a high price? My guess is that because Amazon works entirely on algorithms, and every product on Amazon has its own product page, the algorithm favors product pages with the highest listed price (and favors third-party sellers with high ratings). So a product page for Green Gospel listed at $1,000 from a highly rated third-party seller would come in way higher than its real product page, which lists the book at $10.

The third-party sellers figure, hey, best case scenario, someone is gullible enough to pay that; worse case scenario is they open the product page, click on “Bronze Classics,” the name of the third-party seller, and even if they don’t buy my book, they might buy something else from this retailer who shows a five-star, 96% satisfaction rating over the past twelve months.

It’s nefarious and bordering on illegal, in this author’s opinion, but no matter how much I encourage folks to buy my books from indies, plenty of people still prefer to buy their books on Amazon. Which as a reader and customer, honestly, I understand. As authors, though, we can’t ignore it or assume best practices. And we need to make sure our products are showing up on Amazon in a way that benefits our publishers and ourselves—the actual creators of these products. At any rate, unfortunately, in today’s literary ecosystem, keeping an eye on your books on Amazon is now a necessity.

Still, I’ll keep encouraging everyone to buy from their local bookstore. Because really, that’s the best answer, in the end.

North Carolina Humanities Announces New Mission

From our friends at North Carolina Humanities:

Crowd attending North Carolina Humanities’ 2019 John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities ceremony honoring North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green. The award is an example of how NC Humanities connects diverse people and spurs dialogue.

CHARLOTTE—North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit serving North Carolinians for nearly 50 years, today announced completion of a rebranding effort to reflect its dedication to bringing together people of every walk of life and sparking dialogue.

The organization has shortened its name to North Carolina Humanities to put the focus on “humanities” — everything that makes us human, traditionally with an emphasis on culture, history, literature, philosophy and more. At the heart of the rebranding is a new, modern mission: to connect North Carolinians with cultural experiences that spur dialogue, deepen human connections, and inspire community.

“We envision a North Carolina enriched by the humanities and equipped with empathy, understanding and respect,” says Executive Director Sherry Paula Watkins.

“People nationwide still are grappling with the effects of a global pandemic and how to confront the realities of racism and discrimination,” Watkins says. “North Carolina Humanities can be a unifying force by providing meaningful cultural experiences at a time when we need connections more than ever.”

North Carolina Humanities delivers programs, offers grant funding, connects diverse people and spurs dialogue in a number of ways. For example, the organization:

  • awarded over $637,000 in relief grants last year to assist 60 museums, libraries, historical societies and other cultural organizations in North Carolina sustain jobs and humanities education during the pandemic.
  • funded a statewide African American Military and Veteran Lineage project by the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, including a documentary, In the Face of Adversity, with African American veterans of World War II sharing their stories of serving during the era of segregation.
  • is touring across North Carolina the Smithsonian Institution’s “Water/Ways” exhibit about what water means culturally, socially and spiritually.
  • is preparing to tour the Smithsonian exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.”

The rebranding also includes an extensive redesign of North Carolina Humanities’ website and a new, quilt-inspired logo that represents the stitching together of North Carolinians’ shared stories. A new tagline—“All together, amazing.”—reminds people we are together in our humanity.

A catalyst for the process was the “Can We Talk?” community program North Carolina Humanities presented with Queens University of Charlotte in 2019 that helped participants talk to one another gracefully despite different political views or cultural perspectives. That led staff and board trustees to think about how North Carolina Humanities could be more actively engaged in bringing empathy to the forefront of their work.

“With the rebranding, we transform ourselves as an organization to meet the challenging environment in which we live,” says Nancy A. Gutierrez, chair of North Carolina Humanities Board of Trustees and dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“As North Carolinians all, we strive to create opportunities to come together. We share so much, even if our backgrounds, race, professions and political affiliations differ,” Gutierrez says. “The humanities are about connecting with people. The humanities matter.”

Poetry as Public Peace Offering in UNC’s Pit

Photo by Maris Ava Cruz | The Daily Tar Heel
Ben Goldman, a former UNC student, reads poetry in the Pit on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Goldman is pictured here reading works by Billy Collins.

On the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill is a sunken courtyard known affectionately as “The Pit.” A public ampitheatre of sorts, The Pit is used for impromptu performances, speeches, and more. Student organizations post notices on The Cube nearby.

“Legend has it that you will see all of Carolina’s 30,000 students pass through The Pit within 24 hours,” offers UNC’s website.

Now, the Pit is being used as a megaphone by a young literary citizen named Ben Goldman, aka “The Pit Poet.”

A recent profile in The Daily Tarheel noted the Pit Poet began reading poetry publicly in the spring of 2020. Most people walked past as he read; some, including his future girlfriend, stopped to listen. But according to him, his goal was not to be heard, but rather to offer something positive to the cosmos in an arena where he’s seen men preaching “very hateful things.” He wanted to turn that hate to love.

“I think people move too fast and don’t spend time looking at simple things,” Goldman said. “I’d like to be a simple thing and be loud enough to hopefully grab people’s attention for a second.”

The Pit Poet has built a community of sorts, as other readers join him from time to time. Besides the philanthropic angle, they’ve found that reading poetry has helped them gain confidence in everyday life and be more accepting, in general. Plus, it’s a pretty non-threatening way to introduce poetry to people who might otherwise find the genre “daunting.”

“I really just want people to be more fearless in what they enjoy,” Goldman said. “I want people to not be afraid to paint their face.”

For the full feature in The Daily Tarheel, click here.

UNC-TV Now PBS North Carolina

Recorded in 2019, “The Literary Landscape” featured (right to left) NCWN Executive Director Ed Southern; NCWN trustee Dr. Margaret Bauer; Daniel Wallace; and the late Randall Kenan, an inductee of the NC Literary Hall of Fame

What’s in a name?

UNC-TV launched in 1955 as only the second non-commercial educational television station located south of Washington, D.C., predating PBS by some fifteen years. For more than half a century, North Carolina’s only statewide public media network has provided quality educational content and services of consequence while connecting North Carolinians with each other, the world, and endless possibility.

As of January 12, UNC-TV is now PBS North Carolina, part of a rebranding effort that better encompasses the networks’ digital offerings while still firmly rooting it within the UNC System and the Tar Heel State at large. The station delivers free educational programming to more than 12 million households and serves as the go-to source for emergency news and information, in partnership with NC’s Department of Public Safety.

Our favorite program has always been “NC Bookwatch,” a local, literary public television show that has been hosted by D.G. Martin since 1999. As part of PBS North Carolina’s expanded digital offerings, “NC Bookwatch” will offer recordings of past panels and conversations with literary lights around the state. You can catch these panels Sundays at 3:30 pm and Tuesdays at 5:00 pm, or you can watch them online now:

January 17 and 19: NC Bookwatch Special: Traveling NC
Authors Anne Fitten Glenn, Stephen Compton, Steve Miller, and Brent Martin talk NC history and culture from their specific focus, and share ideas of where people can go to best see and experience those diverse topics. Filmed on location at the Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem in 2019.

January 24 and 26: NC Bookwatch Special: The Literary Triad
Poet and professor Joseph Mills (UNCSA) has published his first short-story collection—Bleachers. Novelist, poet, and professor Valerie Nieman (NC A&T) has released a mystery called To the Bones. English professor Jacob Paul (HPU) is out with his new novel—The Last Tower to Heaven.

January 31 and February 2: NC Bookwatch Special: The Literary Landscape
We take a look at the growth and impact of the literary arts industry in NC in a discussion led by Ed Southern and featuring Dr. Margaret Bauer, Daniel Wallace, the late Randall Kenan.

February 7 and 9: NC Bookwatch Special: Appalachian Reckoning
Jeremy Jones, Ricardo Nazario y Colon, Kristin Squint, and Meredith McCarroll talk about the book Hillbilly Elegy. The four authors are just a few of the writers who came together to respond with a book of their own—“Appalachian Reckoning”—edited by Meredith McCaroll, who hosts this discussion.

For more about PBS North Carolina, and a full list of programming, click here.