Award News

        The Nebula Award nominees for Best Novel are Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon ($16.00, $8.99 reprint due early June), The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow ($16.99), A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine ($18.99), Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia ($16.00), Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir ($25.99, $17.99 reprint due mid July), and A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker ($16.00).

        The Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel went to Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir ($25.99, $17.99 reprint due mid July).

        The Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback original sf in the U.S. went to Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker ($17.00).

        The Hugo Award finalists for Best Novel are The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders ($18.99), Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir ($25.99, $17.99 reprint due mid July), The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley ($16.99), A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine ($18.99), Middlegame by Seanan McGuire ($19.99) and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow ($16.99).
        The finalists for Best Novella are “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” by Ted Chiang (contained in Exhalation $25.95), The Deep by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes ($19.99, $14.99 reprint due early August), The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark ($14.99), In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire ($17.99), This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone ($14.99) and To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers ($12.99).

        The Minnesota Book Awards included Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James ($18.00) for Genre Fiction (although the press release I received claimed it was for Genre Nonfiction) and Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer ($17.99) for Young Adult Literature.

        The Edgar Award for Best Novel went to The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths ($15.99), Best First Novel by an American went to Miracle Creek by Angie Kim ($17.00) , and Best Paperback Original went to The Hotel Neversink by Adam O’Fallon Price.
        The Agatha awards included Best Contemporary Novel to The Long Call by Ann Cleeves ($26.99, $16.99 reprint expected early August), Best First Novel to One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski ($16.99), and Best Historical Novel to Charity’s Burden by Edith Maxwell ($15.99).

How’s Business?
by Don Blyly

        I was planning to do a fresh print-run of T-shirts and sweatshirts at the beginning of April. Then the government closed us down on March 28 for the coronavirus lock-down. I decided that I couldn’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on new shirts when cash was so tight and people wouldn’t be able to come in and buy them. Whenever we are allowed to re-open I’ll place the shirt order and hope to be re-stocked within a couple of weeks.

        For the two weeks before the lock-down reached the bookstores, we saw almost no used books coming in, but the used books were going out by the grocery bag full. We almost never had more than 3 customers in the store at a time, but they were really stocking up for the lock-down everybody knew was coming. I think we could have safely continued to operate during the lock-down, but the state decided that bookstores were non-essential and closed us down, while also deciding that liquor stores were essential and required them to stay open.
        When the state closed us down, we were supposed to be able to re-open on April 11. That was then pushed back to May 4. That was then pushed back to May 18. As I write this, I have no idea when we will be allowed to let customers back into the store, or what kinds of safety measures will be required. Probably the staff will have to wear masks. Perhaps the customers will have to wear masks. Perhaps everybody will have to be checked with a no-contact thermometer before being allowed in the store. Probably there will be a limit to how many customers can be in the store at a time. We had to cancel all of the signing events listed in the last issue of the newsletter, and I didn’t even try to set up any signing events for this issue. We’ll just have to get the authors to sneak into the store to sign their books instead of having any events.
        When we found out that the state was about to close us down, I talked to the staff about their options. Almost everybody had a little over 2 weeks of sick time accumulated, and they were allowed to use that sick time to collect full pay during the shut down (which was originally only supposed to last 2 weeks). Or they could file for unemployment insurance immediately, get half their normal pay during the shut down, but still have the sick pay available, just in case they got sick and needed it after we re-opened. Everybody decided to hold onto their sick pay for future use, and I provided them with the information they needed to apply for unemployment insurance. Turns out that they made the correct decision. Not only did the shut down last a lot longer than the 2 weeks that sick pay would have covered, but the Feds were sending each of them a weekly check for $600 on top of the state unemployment insurance payment. Everybody is tired of being stuck at home and would like to be back in the bookstore, but those $600 weekly checks from the Feds means they are making a lot more not working than they will be making once the store opens again.
        When the store was closed to the public, I planned to spend about 5 hours per day at the store, accepting deliveries from the post office and UPS, working on mail orders, working on returns, trying to catch up on paperwork, etc. It turned out that the mail orders came in so strongly that I’ve actually been working 8-11 hours per day just on mail orders, seven days a week.
        There were all sorts of federal, state, county, and city plans to help small businesses, all with different rules, purposes, dollar amounts, and chances of actually getting some help. I looked over a lot of options and decided that the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan from the Small Business Administration looked like it would be really useful. The business has to apply through a bank, which processes the form, passes it along to the SBA, and eventually the SBA approves and guarantees the loan, and then eventually the bank passes along the money. The business then has 8 weeks to spend at least 75% of the money the way the government wants it to be spent in order for the loan to turn into a grant, but the 75% has to be spent for approved uses no later than June 30 (no matter when the bank eventually puts the money into your account) or it stays a loan. It took a while before I could get through on the internet to download the form. Since I’ve been with US Bank for 43 years, I tried to go through them. I had a question about how to fill in one line on the form, so I e-mailed the special portal for PPP at US Bank about this (while mentioning that I had been a customer for 43 years). All I got back was a robo-reply that they were no longer accepting applications. After a week I e-mailed again, pointing out what bad customer relations it was to not even reply to an e-mail from a customer of 43 years, and included a copy of my e-mail of the previous week. I once again got back the same robo-reply that they were no longer accepting applications. I heard a report on MPR about other businesses having similar disappointing experiences with large banks and PPP. One owner got her paperwork in early, but nothing happened. She actually managed to get ahold of a person at Wells Fargo, who told her that the bank was not even looking at any forms for businesses with fewer than 25 employees. There were reports of small businesses who switched their bank accounts to small local banks and quickly received PPP loans from the small banks. But the large banks just were not interested in helping small businesses.
        I saw somewhere, probably The New York Times, that almost every business that is signing up for these SBA loans that can turn into grants is assuming that they will be able to meet the requirements for the loan to become a grant. But the people are signing up for the loans and accepting the money before the small print has been written by the Treasury regarding turning the loans into grants. If they are all turned into grants, it will balloon the deficit by over a trillion dollars. So it is quite possible that when the Treasury gets around to writing the small print, it will be a lot more difficult to convert the loan to a grant than anybody expected when they signed the loan papers.
        A regular customer called in a mail order and we started talking about the problems with the PPP loan process. He said that the PPP and other SBA rescue loan programs were sold to the public as a bail-out for small businesses, but were actually designed to be an undercover bail-out for the banks, who will be collecting billions of dollars for processing the forms and giving the loans (which are 100% guaranteed by the government).
        Lake Street Council, one of our local business associations, made arrangements with a local accounting firm to provide free help with figuring out how to apply for the multitude of programs available. The accounting firm passed me along to a person who specializes (at the moment) in helping with PPP loans. She passed along a link to a place to fill out the PPP form online, and then it is passed along to small banks which are willing to help small businesses. The online version of the form was much easier to fill out than the paper form I had previously filled out, but I haven’t heard back about what has happened to my application or when I might see some money (with the June 30 deadline for spending 75% for approved uses getting closer all the time).
        Even if I get the loan, the banks are getting nervous about the exact terms for forgiveness and the repayment of the portion no forgiven. Banks are trying to pressure the SBA and the Treasury Department to issue standard forms for calculating forgiveness, so that different banks will come up with the same outcome based on the same numbers, as well as making it clear what evidence the borrowers will be expected to present to the banks to justify their hoped-for forgiveness.
        There was also a Hennepin County program aimed at really small businesses (20 or fewer employees) owned and operated within the county. The application period was only about a week, and once they have all the applications and determine which ones qualify, there will then be a lottery to determine who wins some help. If you win the lottery, all you have to do to convert the “loan” into a grant is to spend the money like the county wants you to and then still be in business in Hennepin County a year after you receive the money. I applied for the program but haven’t heard anything back yet. I figure that if I win the lottery, I’ll just use the money to pay a portion of my Hennepin County property taxes. But the money will be dispersed to the lottery winners after the deadline for payment of the first half of the annual property taxes.

        We have been receiving most of the new titles when expected, but some have been officially delayed (sometimes by several months) and some just show up later than the on-line release date information indicate that they should arrive. For example, Penric’s Travels by Lois McMaster Bujold had a release date of May 5, and I had a lot of mail orders for which Penric’s Travels was the last item keeping me from shipping the order. Although I ordered directly from the publisher, I was also watching the website of the national book wholesaler, since they usually receive their shipments a week or so before my shipment arrives, so that they can start filling orders for smaller stores that can’t meet the minimums for doing business directly with the publishers. On May 5, the wholesaler was still claiming May 5 as the release date but hadn’t received any copies. The publisher’s website still claimed May 5 as the release date, but showed that my order had not yet been invoiced. So I called customer service and found that customer service was closed down while everybody worked from home. I had to send my query to a customer service e-mail address and hope that somebody would answer it from home, apparently without access to the company computer system. About 9 hours later I received a response, telling me that customer service was not capable of providing any information about any particular title, but they were aware that their warehouse was way behind schedule in shipping books, but I was invited to send my query again in a week, at which point they might or might not be able to give me more information. I passed this information along to Lois, and she said that she had received her author copies a few days before, so it was printed. But she says she normally gets her author copies 3-4 weeks before the book reaches the bookstores. A week after the release date, the wholesaler still hasn’t received it and the publisher’s website claims the book is “not yet published”. Things may be even stranger with The Shaman of Karres (Witches of Karres #4) by Eric Flint and Dave Freer, same publisher, same release date. While I received the advance reading copy of Penric’s Travels months in advance of the scheduled release date, I received the advance reading copy of The Shaman of Karres a few days after the scheduled release date. But the publisher and the national book wholesaler are still claiming a release date of May 5, even a week after that date, but no sign of the book.
        Most of the prices are still the same as when we ordered the new titles, but we had several books that were ordered at $17.00 show up priced at $19.95. Several warehouses have closed or significantly reduced the pace at which orders are processed (social distancing leading to fewer workers being allowed in the warehouse at a time). The largest book printer in the U.S. filed for bankruptcy in April, but that was not related to coronavirus and they are still printing books while trying to reduce their debt load. Barnes & Noble closed over 500 of their stores, the largest bookstore chains in both Canada and the U.K. completely closed down, and well over half the independent bookstores in the U.S. were closed down by state lock-down orders. I strongly suspect this has resulted in most publishers trimming the size of the print-runs on their new releases, which will make it more difficult to get re-stocked on titles that sell quickly when stores are allowed to re-open. At the Uncles, I’ve been processing the new books as they come in, pulling older titles from the new release areas to make room for the new titles. For the hardcovers and trade paperback new release areas the titles received after the lock-down have already pushed off almost every title we received before the lock-down. If this continues much longer, the new titles received just after the lock-down began will be pushed off the new release displays without ever being seen by customers.
        We check just before the Newsletter goes to the printer to see if the price or release date has changed since we first entered the data, but we have less confidence than usual that everything will arrive as expected this period.

        About a week after the lock-down forced the Uncles to close, I was in Uncle Hugo’s working on mail orders while waiting for the mail man and UPS to make their deliveries when I noticed activity at the Sheraton Hotel across the street. A sign company sent a giant cherry-picker to remove the Sheraton sign from above the fourth floor on the front of the building, and then to remove the Sheraton sign from the fourth floor at the back of the building. The next day Ecko and I walked past the front of the building, and all identification had been removed from the front of the building at ground level, and no lights seemed to be on in the lobby or the check-in area. The parking lot was almost empty, but that had been the case for several weeks. (The bar/restaurant had been forced by the state to close several weeks earlier.) Around back the trash dumpster had been removed. A couple of days later, the old blue Sheraton shuttle bus showed up in front of the building, painted all white with no signage on it. I contacted John at the nearby Safety Center (although he had been working from home for a couple of weeks due to the lock-down) to see if he knew what was going on. He checked with some people and got back to me. There was a new owner of the building, and he had decided that the Sheraton franchise fee was too high, but hadn’t yet decided what he was going to do once the lock-down ended.
        The Sheraton building had been built by The Ryan Companies, which also bought all of the old Sears complex and redeveloped it. The Ryan Companies continued to manage it (very well) for about 12 years, but they sold it about 3 years ago, and things started to slowly go down hill. Now the party that had bought it from Ryan has sold to somebody else, and we’ll eventually see how that works out. There was a guest room on the second floor where pillows and bedding had been piled up partially blocking the window for about a month and a half, which has now been cleaned up, and there were a couple of guys trying to clean up litter in the bushes on the patio about 6 weeks after the signs came down. But there is no indication of when they will try to re-open. I feel sorry for anybody trying to re-open a hotel under current circumstances.
        But out in the hotel parking lot, there are still 3 large black Suburbans with dark tinted windows still in the same parking spaces they have occupied since at least last fall. So I guess the Men in Black are still on duty somewhere.
        Next door to the Uncles, the dental clinic has been closed even longer than we have been. I’m not sure if they closed when the state banned “elective surgery” (which includes teeth cleaning and other dental procedures) or if they closed a few days earlier, but they’ve had people working on some remodeling inside the building for the last few days. I think the ban on “elective surgery” was lifted a few days ago, but so far the clinic hasn’t re-opened.

        During normal times I usually go to a batch of places that offer carry-out within about a mile of the store to pick up lunch for myself and any of the staff that wants something from the same place. Since the lock-down, I’ve been stuck in the store between 10 am and 3 pm, awaiting deliveries, packing mail orders, and being available for phone calls to Uncle Hugo’s, so I have been living on microwave food instead of supporting the local restaurants. I am so tired of chicken pot pies and hope that my favorite local restaurants are still open whenever the Uncles are allowed to re-open to the public.

        Back before the lock-down, there were other problems. For every issue of the newsletter I first send the latest update of the mailing list to the printer. Their computer plays with the data and generates a report for me and the post office of what it will cost to mail the newsletter. Then I have to drive out to the bulk mail center to drop off a check before the printed newsletter shows up at the post office. For years you’ve been able to use a charge card at local post office stations, but they refuse to accept charge cards at the bulk mail center. For purchasing postage on the internet for mail orders, I can use either charge cards or direct transfer from the business checking account. So a few years ago I asked why I couldn’t do a direct transfer from the business checking account to the bulk mail account instead of wasting about 2 hours each issue driving out to the bulk mail center to hand over a check. At first I was told that the post office was considering allowing that. Then I was told that there was a test program to do that, but they advised me to avoid it until the bugs get worked out. Recently I’ve been told that they have opened up the direct transfer program to anybody who wants to use it, but still recommended that I avoid it until the bugs get worked out.
        When I went to the bulk mail center for the last issue of the newsletter with the documentation of the postage amount due, I asked the clerk how much was already in the account so that I wouldn’t write the check for more than necessary. He looked up the information and said, “This is strange. It says you are overdue for paying $240 for an annual mailing permit.” I agreed that this was strange because the post office had told me several years before that I no longer needed to pay the annual fee because the documentation of my mailings was so good. He looked over the records, agreed that I had not paid the annual fee for several years and that I was still qualified to have the annual fee waived as long as the documentation of the mailing continued to be so good. Looking over the last several mailings, he could see that I still met the standard to not pay the annual fee. I told him that I would pay the fee if necessary to avoid a problem with the mailing. He told me that everybody there knew that the software was buggy, and that it kept asking for fees that were not owed until somebody went in to correct the setting. He talked me out of paying the annual fee, assuring me that there would be no problem. A week later I was notified by the printer that they had taken the newsletter to the bulk mail center, and the post office refused to accept it.
        The next morning I spent about 45 minutes trying to get the phone number for the bulk mailing center, so I could try to find out what the problem was without wasting 2 hours driving out there again. Every time a post office employee gave me a phone number, it turned out to be wrong and whatever post office employee I ended up talking to would search on their computer to try to find the correct number. Nobody could provide me with a correct number, so I finally drove out to the bulk mail center, only to find that they don’t open until 9:30 am. Fortunately, I had a book along to read, and eventually got inside. I explained what was going on to the clerk (a different one from the previous visit). He looked at the account and told me that everybody there knew that the software was buggy. He assured me that I did not owe the annual fee, and apologized for the person who refused to accept the newsletter, because that person should have looked at the account and realized that I did not owe the annual fee. He talked me out of giving him a check for the annual fee and told me there would be no problem when the newsletter was brought back to the bulk mail center.
        I headed back to the store, but about 10 minutes before I got there the manager of the bulk mail center called the store to say that they would not accept the newsletter until I dropped off a check for the annual fee. I called him back and discussed the situation with him. He said that both of the clerks I had dealt with were wrong, that there were no bugs in the post office software, and that I did owe the annual fee, but that it was “impossible” for him to tell me why I owed the annual fee. I drove back to the bulk mail center and talked to a third clerk, this one out in the warehouse instead of in the front office. I went through the whole history of this mess, and she did some research on the account. What she finally came up with is that the previous printer had always claimed that I was exempt from the annual fee, and that made me exempt from the annual fee. When I had to switch to a new printer last fall, the new printer failed to claim that I was exempt from the annual fee, and therefore I was no longer exempt, and there was nothing that anybody could do about it. Other than not claiming I was exempt, I was doing everything perfectly to remain exempt. So I paid the fee, as the manager came over to introduce himself and once again told me that it was “impossible” to explain why I was no longer exempt.
        A few days later I received an on-line customer satisfaction survey from the post office with regard to my recent experience with the bulk mail center. As you might imagine, it was very negative. There was a place to check if I wanted them to contact me, so I checked it. A couple of days after that I was contacted by a guy whose job is to profusely apologized for anything the post office screws up, while claiming that there are no problems with the post office (the only problem is with post office employees, not with any of their systems or policies), and he did his job with great enthusiasm. He assured me that there are never any problems with any of the post office software, only with clerks who haven’t received enough training (not that lack of training is a problem with the post office). He also assured me that I could set up direct transfer from my checking account to my bulk rate account, and there was no reason to delay doing so because nothing ever goes wrong. I looked things over, but the coronavirus mess came along before I could fight my way through the procedure, so I’ll be driving out to the bulk mail center again in about a week to drop off another check.