Authors, Does Donald Trump Care About Your Name Change?

the-search

On February 2, 2017, the U.S. Copyright Office issued its final rule in The Federal Register about the removal of personally identifiable information from copyright registration records (PDF). That sounds pretty boring even to me, and I tend to like so-called “boring” legalese. This rule, however, contains something unexpected for our current political climate: for the first time, as of March 6, 2017 (the effective date of the rule), the Copyright Office will permit authors or copyright claimants to change their names in the online public catalog.

Not every author registers for copyright protection with the U.S. Copyright Office. As the Office explains in its FAQ:

In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Those who decide to register have been stuck with the names on their copyright registration applications, even when those names reflect the author’s assigned gender at birth, not their expressed gender now. Those names are available to the public through the Office’s online registration catalog, potentially disclosing a person’s transgender status when an assigned name does not match a person’s expressed gender. This disclosure could increase the risk that a transgender individual will experience harassment or abuse.

As the Office explains in the Federal Register, referencing comments by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and a commenter known as T. Brown:

Two commenters urged the Office to allow authors or claimants to replace their names in the online public catalog… Although it may be possible to use a supplementary registration to change one’s name, both the original registration and the supplementary registration appear in the online registration record. According to these commenters, having a transgender individual’s birth name and changed name appear in the record could jeopardize the ‘well-being and personal and professional life’ of a transgender individual, put them in danger, or subject them to ‘employment discrimination, bodily harm and/or worse.” NCTE argued that not allowing a person who has received a legal name change to replace their original name with the legally changed name may affect victims of domestic violence as well.

The Office adopted the NCTE’s suggested rule as the final rule, which states:

201.2(e)(2)(iii) Names of authors or claimants may not be removed or replaced with a pseudonym. Requests to substitute the prior name of the author or claimant with the current legal name of the author or claimant must be accompanied by official documentation of the legal name change.

So, the author or claimant must provide documentation of their legal name change, a process that varies from state to state. This step makes changing the name on a registration somewhat more complicated, but the new rule is still a big step forward for individuals who want the name on their copyright to match their identity.

Is it odd that this change from the U.S. Copyright Office happened during the early weeks of the Trump Era?

THR, Esq. at The Hollywood Reporter noted that, with the Trump Administration and Republicans in charge (remember that the Republicans included in their 2016 platform the defense of “traditional marriage between a man and a woman”):

[I]t’s somewhat surprising to see a government entity [] do something in the interest of protecting transgender individuals. [However,] it’s an obscure change to copyright rules, and to be quite clear, there’s no evidence that the Trump Administration was involved in this. To go further, we’d bet that Trump has no idea.

The U.S. Copyright Office, sitting in the Library of Congress, is pretty far removed from the Trump Administration, and it solicited comments on its rule on September 15, 2016, during the Obama Administration. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that Trump hasn’t had a chance to infect the Library of Congress with his particular brand of hateful idiocy. For example, the current Librarian of Congress, who appoints the Register of Copyrights and Director of the Copyright Office, is an Obama appointee.

Hopefully, as Trump continues his infestation of Washington, D.C., this rule will remain as it is. It’s hard to see why anyone but the author of a copyrighted work would care about the name associated with their copyright–except, of course, for that person’s harasser or abuser. In that case, maybe the Trump Administration will care after all.

What Parents *Should* Do

In Please Stop Parenting My Children, I asked others to stop providing unsolicited parenting advice, especially when that advice related to what books my children should not read.

However, right now, I will provide my own unsolicited parenting advice to families. It’s advice that I believe is not only good for families, but also good for our society and the world:

Read

By “diverse books,” I mean literature that features individuals who come from underrepresented racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as literature that features gender minorities and individuals with disabilities.

This advice is most important for those parents who live in communities blighted by homogeneity. The United States Supreme Court ended race-based restrictive covenants on real estate in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) and declared segregated schools to be illegal in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but well over a half a century later, Americans still live in residentially segregated communities and send their children to racially segregated schools. For children in this unfortunate situation, their first exposure to diversity may be through books.

Fictional playmates from diverse backgrounds should not be a substitute for real-life playmates from diverse backgrounds, but it’s a start. As research suggests, this start may well result in more empathetic children who see the value of diversity.

Hopefully, these books will bring us closer to someday achieving Martin Luther King’s dream in which individuals are not “judged by the color of their skin”– and I will add, their gender status, whom they love, or any other characteristic beyond their control — “but by the content of their character.”

It’s 2016, and we’re not there yet.

If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few of my favorite children’s books featuring diverse characters and themes:

I hope your family enjoys these books as much as my family has.

 

On Book Bloggers Who Don’t Recognize That They Are Self-Published Authors Too

Every now and then, I come across a post in which a book blogger explains why they do not review self-published novels. They are entitled to limit their reading material in any way they choose, and I can’t deny that there are reasons to avoid some self-published books.

However, I find it hypocritical when book bloggers have a categorical rule against reading self-published books. Don’t they realize that they are also self-published authors? As one traditionally published author and book reviewer said, books bloggers are “leeches” for whom “the Net has given … a bog to wiggle around in.” That traditionally published book snob bemoaned the proliferation of self-published book blogs, saying that attempting to read a review on one is “identical to seeking relationship advice on the wall of a public restroom.”

If self-published book reviews are so bad, then of course those of us looking for our next read should only consider the opinions of reviewers for the New York Times and other traditional outlets.

That type of unconditional rule would be ridiculous, though. Why would any reasonable person look down on a book reviewer for having the entrepreneurial spirit to set up their own blog through WordPress or Blogspot?

Sure, some self-published book reviews are of poor quality, but many are not. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out which ones are good, and their opinions might better reflect the public’s taste. As I wrote in Do Book Bloggers Need Credentials, linked above, “Book reviewers should be like most readers—normal people who may have a better idea of what the public wants to read than someone who uses words like ‘palaver’ and ‘vulgate’ (as that critic did).”

Personally, I often find the reviews on traditionally published outlets to be unreadable. Remember when Mr. AMB critiqued the traditionally published reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies?  He felt the New York Times review looked “more like the product of a quick skim of the book than an actual reading.” I have read more than a few reviews in traditionally published outlets that were far less helpful to me as a potential reader than the reviews I found online.

There’s no reason to believe a traditionally published book review is inherently better than a self-published one, and the same is true of books. It isn’t so hard to figure out which self-published books are good when many of those authors write blogs and offer excerpts of their novels for free.

The publishing establishment is a small, elitist set of gatekeepers that promote only a tiny portion of the interesting literary ideas out there. Their preferences tend to be white, male, and heteronormative, and those of us who want to read more diversely should look elsewhere for reading material. Those with an implacable rule against self-published books are missing out.

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Disclosure: I write this post from the perspective of a self-published author. So far, I’ve never written a query letter, but I might do so at some point (never say never, right?).

Fates and Furies (What On Earth Is Going On With Its Reviews?)

Fates and Furies

In this post, Mr. A.M.B. critiques long book reviews and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies:

I typically skip long reviews of books before reading the book. I assume they’re more geared towards criticism and interpretation than towards actually telling me if I should read the book or not.

I thus didn’t read much about Fates and Furies before reading it, because most of the reviews I saw were quite lengthy. Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is a story about the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, told first from Lotto’s perspective (“Fates”) and then again from Mathilde’s (“Furies”). Lotto’s tale is told primarily in chronological order. Mathilde picks up the tale at the end of “Fates” and then fills in details about the past via flashbacks and the like.

Now, having read the book and then the reviews, I wonder what on earth is going on at the major publishing outlets. For example:

  • The New Yorker justifies dumping all of the major turning points of the book with the excuse: “a novel that can be truly ‘spoiled’ by the summary of its plot is a novel that was already spoiled by that plot.” It’s a cute turn of phrase, but one that is just as meaningless as the lyrics to a pop song. The prolonged review ends with an equally meaningless admonition: “Narrative secrets are not the same as human mysteries, a lesson that novelists seem fated to forget, again and again; the former quickly confess themselves, and fall silent, while the true mysteries go on speaking.”
  • The New York Times’ review looks more like the product of a quick skim of the book than an actual reading. They conclude that the husband’s instant transformation from a privileged and libidinous playboy into an ascetic and monogamous artist was “fairly plausible, a life that might transpire in the world the rest of us inhabit.” They similarly argue that, “In later years, while [the wife] is capable of love … she isn’t notably softened by that emotion in any essential way,” which suggests to me that they wholly missed one of the key plot turnings in the book.
  • The Washington Post’s review struck me as the most reasonable one, even if they embarrassingly said the characters went to Yale instead of Vassar. I searched the book: “Yale” appears nowhere in it. A minor mistake, but the type of plain error that makes it difficult to take the rest of the review seriously.
  • NPR frames the story as, “The voice that tells Lotto’s half of the tale is dreamy. Mathilde’s is rougher, crueler. … Do we close the book believing in the purity and genius of the fated son, or with nothing but a cold and lingering fury?” I’d answer: neither. Lotto’s “purity” comes more from his extraordinarily self-absorption than from any real strength of character, and Mathilde’s “coldness” is revealed to be a facade by her devotion to Lotto and her truly generous act in helping two people who had shown her nothing but malice and manipulation.

I liked Fates and Furies, not least because the pacing is indeed “propulsive,” as the book’s back cover says, but I’d recommend it with the caveat that “people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” It’s not for everybody. The prose is highfalutin, the main characters are so deep in the rarefied world of the arts that they’re not relatable, and the book over-reaches with the abundant references to classical tragedies and comedies, the parenthetical comments presumably from the Greek choir, and the excerpts from Lotto’s plays. In a word, the book is pretentious, but at least the author runs with it.

 

Two Lovely Berries: Thank Yous & An Apology

Two Lovely Berries_Cover August 2014I usually have no trouble blogging about a variety of topics, from sloth mating to dinosaurs, but I’ve had “bloggers’ block” when it comes to discussing my creative writing. As some of you have noticed (I’m looking at you, Miss Alexandrina), I don’t blog much about Two Lovely Berries, my New Adult novel, or my current WIP, which is progressing steadily. I just find it easier to talk about other people’s books.

Still, I wanted to take a moment to say THANK YOU to the readers who have given Two Lovely Berries a chance, including those who have mentioned it on their own blogs:

(1) Monika from A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall:

(2) Roy from Back on the Rock:

(3) Katie from Words for Worms:

  • Two Lovely Berries by A.M. Blair (Aug. 28, 2014): “I found the story engrossing from the start. Books that focus on interpersonal relationships sometimes turn a corner into a weird introspective place, but I thought Two Lovely Berries stayed grounded firmly in reality. Everything was realistically portrayed, and even the dramatic bits avoided abject melodrama. Tales of infidelity, workaholics, family violence, and sibling rivalry all blend together with refreshing glimmers of humanity that make the whole thing just work.”
  • Double Vision (An Idiosyncratic Lit List) (Aug. 29, 2014): “[A]fter reading Two Lovely Berries last week, I’m inspired to talk about twins in literature… (1) Nora and Aubrey Daley from Two Lovely Berries by AM Blair: Oh these girls! They knew they’d never be the dress-alike-and-live-together-forever kind of twins, but they didn’t see all the crazy that was coming their way. Sharing identical genetic codes doesn’t guarantee a strife-free existence!”

Finally, I wanted to apologize to those who have asked me when the paperback will be available. While self-publishing saved me time up front—I never wasted a minute on writing a query letter, for example—it’s challenging to be the only one responsible for publishing the book. With such little time to devote to creative endeavors lately, I haven’t been able to finalize the paperback yet. It doesn’t help that my perfectionism gets in the way of approving the proofs. Honestly, I don’t know how any of the self-published authors I’ve come to know and love manage to do it all.

HarperCollins’ Win Is a Big Loss (And Not Only For Readers)

Kindle Julie of the Wolves (2)

Have you tried to download the e-book version of Jean Craighead George’s Newbery Award-winning Julie of the Wolves recently?

Well, it hasn’t been available in the U.S. since last April, when I was lucky enough to download it to my Kindle.

Between October 2011 and April 2014, Open Road Integrated Media sold the e-book version after offering George a 50% royalty that HarperCollins, the publisher of the paper versions, refused to match. Instead of paying George a fair royalty for her work, HarperCollins decided to pay its lawyers a very large sum of money to fight for the right to control the e-book version of Julie of Wolves on its own terms.

In a dubious opinion last March, which I discussed in The HarperCollins Lawsuit: Keeping Authors Aboard as Traditional Publishing Sinks, the Southern District of New York proclaimed HarperCollins the winner. As I summarized in Julie of the Wolves: An E-Book My Children Won’t Read Until They’re Older:

I disagree with the district court’s analysis of the 1971 George–HarperCollins contract because the terms of the contract (1) gave HarperCollins the right to publish the novel in book form (as defined in 1971); and (2) reserved to George all other publishing rights. Plus, even if the 1971 contract included e-books (back when there was no such thing as even a household computer), HarperCollins breached the contract by insisting on a meager 25% royalty instead the 50% royalty referenced in the very same sentence of the 1971 contract they claim gives them the e-book rights.

Eight months later, on November 6, 2014, the Court gave HarperCollins injunctive relief that prohibits Open Road from publishing Julie of the Wolves, in addition to $30,000 in damages and a little over $7,000 in costs.

What the Court did not give HarperCollins, though, was even one dime of the more than $1 million it requested in attorneys fees (which was only 70% of the fees that outside counsel charged to HarperCollins in connection with this case!) because Open Road’s position, while unsuccessful, wasn’t “objectively unreasonable.”

As the Court explained:

[T]he mere fact that the Court was able to interpret the contract as a matter of law does not mean that the contrary argument was clearly unmeritorious or patently devoid of support. Our reticence to characterize the losing position as objectively unreasonable is informed by the fact that this dispute arose in the context of a developing, and still somewhat uncharted, area of copyright law.

I’d certainly say that Open Road’s position wasn’t “objectively unreasonable” because, as I’ve previously explained, I would’ve decided the case in their favor!

So, who are the winners and losers here?

Well, the losers include readers and traditionally-published authors, because the Court has allowed a publishing corporation to hold an e-book for ransom by refusing to honor the terms of its own agreement with the author and leaving the author powerless to take the work to other publishers. However, that control comes at a hefty price for the company: well over a million dollars in outside counsel fees.

In the end, it seems that the only real winners here are the lawyers who have everything to gain from litigious corporations willing to pay high attorney fees to ensure their “right” to nickle and dime authors.

Congratulations, HarperCollins, for spending a million dollars to throw one of your own authors to the wolves.* You suck.

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*So to speak. This analogy might not hold up for those who have actually read Julie of the Wolves!

**For the Nov. 6, 2014 Memorandum and Order, see here (PDF).

Great Moments in Literary Criticism [Citation Needed]

Citation Needed from Annotated Persuasion ebook

Though I’ve always appreciated Jane Austen’s wit, I was surprised to hear Mr. A.M.B. chuckle only moments after he’d opened an e-book version of Persuasion. This is my husband’s third Austen, after Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, both of which he thought were funny and insightful (and who says Jane Austen is only for girls who want a boyfriend?!).* As it turns out, though, his laughter had nothing to do with the text: it stemmed from an amusing citation in the introduction (see the image above). “Another great moment in literary criticism. I suppose I prefer candor to citogenesis,” he explained, knowing that he can’t really expect perfection from a 99 cent e-book.

However, the leftover “citation needed” wasn’t as odd as the fact that the e-book was attributed to only Jane Austen. She definitely didn’t write that intro! To find out who did, we turned to Google.

What we learned is that this exact line (see image above) actually appears on the Internet in a few places, including on Wikipedia (see image below). My guess is that the people behind e-book lifted the entire introduction section from Wikipedia, right down to the amusing “citation needed.” It seems to be just another example of Internet-fueled plagiarism and copyright violations (here’s Wikipedia’s page on whether you can lift their content).**

Copied from Wikipedia Persuasion Entry

Amusingly, this e-book version is even described on Amazon as being “unique” because it has an “exclusive Introduction.”

amusing descriptionSo, Mr. A.M.B. paid 99 cents on Amazon for the Wikipedia page added onto Jane Austen’s out-of-copyright work (which he could’ve otherwise downloaded for free). Inexpensive e-books are great, but consumers have to be careful. It was suspicious that e-book was marketed as “annotated” without clearly listing who annotated it.

It’s easy to get sucked into a scam when it only costs 99 cents.

Have a great weekend!

*For Mr. A.M.B’s thoughts on these two novels, see (1)  Jane Austen Isn’t Just for Mothers and Daughters (So Says My Husband); and (2) More Reasons Why Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice Isn’t Just For Girls Who Want a Boyfriend.

**Even Jane Goodall has been accused of lifting content from Wikipedia.