Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

March 16, 2020

Writer Beware in the Time of Coronavirus

My home office, with feline assistant.
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I rarely make personal posts on this blog. But, as I don't need to remind anyone, these are scary times.

My husband and I are physically fit and in general good health, but we are both 64 and he has an underlying health condition. Based on everything we're seeing and reading, we've concluded that our best covid-19 strategy is either a) not to get sick, or b) to delay getting sick as long as possible in hopes of more treatment options or at least less hospital crush.

Our social distancing began last weekend. We've completely withdrawn from face-to-face social interaction, and are ordering non-perishables and household items online. No more routine doctor or dentist visits. No more stores, library, restaurants, or gym (we're in Massachusetts, where a lot of things are shut down anyway). I'm still on the fence about careful, non-peak hour grocery shopping for fresh produce--but I certainly won't be going while shelves are bare from people's absurd panic buying (some of the same people, probably, who are still having parties and crowding into bars *eyeroll*).

Sarah, my other assistant. Kittehs are a comfort.
We're acutely aware that this is MUCH easier for us than it is for most. We both already work from home. We have decent financial resources. We don't have kids. Elderly relatives are all dead. Family and many friends are geographically distant, so we're already socially distanced there. We can still go out for walks and runs. I can still garden (one of my major passions).

So the changes to our routine are relatively small, compared to many. It's tougher for my husband than for me--the majority of my social life is online, but he is a gregarious person with a wide circle of friends, colleagues, and peers. But there's always Zoom and Skype, and he's making use of both.

For us as for many, stress and fear are daily companions. This is not the zombie apocalypse; there will be a vaccine eventually, and civilization will survive, as it survived the flu pandemic of 1918. bad will it get? How long will it last--will we have to live this way for a year? More? What will happen to friends and family? What will happen to the people who are thrown out of work by widespread (and, I'm guessing, soon nationwide) business closures? The people who have no insurance? The people in prisons and ICE jails, the immigrants packed together at the border? And what about the election? I didn't think, back in innocent December, that that could become more crucial. But, as I stand in horror before the shitshow happening in Washington, it's clear to me that it has.

These and other questions haunt me on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. I suffer from depression--have done since childhood--and one of my fears is that I'll sink into a clinical episode. I can feel that possibility stalking around the edges of everything now. I am doing my best to resist. My husband, thank goodness, is more resilient. We work to keep each other's spirits up.

At a time like this, ordinary activities--like maintaining this blog--start to feel irrelevant. But they're not. Life goes on, even in the face of catastrophe. I seriously doubt that covid-19 will put a dent in the volume of schemes and scams that target writers who will still be writing, still seeking agents, still publishing. And one of the most important strategies for resisting helplessness and depression is work, for those of us who are still lucky enough to be able to do it.

Emily: Why are you taking my picture _again_?
So Writer Beware will go on. I'll continue to be active on Facebook and Twitter. As much as possible, I'll post here as I usually do--not always weekly, but as often as I find things to write about. And I urge you to continue to email me with your questions, concerns, reports, and complaints. Please, keep the emails coming.

And: wash your hands.

Don't touch your face.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow,.

Keep your distance: 6 feet is optimal.

Stay home if you can, especially if you're sick (I know this is tough for many to do).

Check on your elderly neighbors (from a distance).

Resist panic buying.

Don't share health information unless you're sure it comes from a reputable source (Facebook, oh my God).

Be safe.

I'll be seeing you.


PT Dilloway said...

Good advice. Stay safe!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Yeah, blogging is important because it allows people to connect, in a time when we can't connect much in person. We get to share our horror, incredulity, gallows humor--and occasionally give one another relief with something comic or beautiful that breaks the tension momentarily.

Steven Arellano Rose Jr. said...

In a time that feels like the end of the world has come, it can be tempting to think our writing won't matter. But, as you said, keeping busy at these times are important. I needed this encouragement since I have been procrastinating with my writing all day today. Thanks and hang in there!

EB said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I totally get the depression thing. It can kind of sneak up on you again without your even being aware of it.

Alex Greenwood said...

Thank you. Godspeed.

Claude Forthomme said...

Excellent advice. No need to panic and for us who live most of our lives online, it's not so bad. Really. Climate change, when it eventually starts impacting the world with flooded coastal cities, wildfires, etc is going to be far worse!

For solid information about the coronavirus, read this interview of one of the world's top experts, Prof. Peter Piot (the discoverer of Ebola):
It's a long interview (100 questions asked by TEDMED!) but it's worth the read!

MollyLikesMovies said...

I would like to recommend the comic (available on GoComics) BREAKING CAT NEWS--it's a delightful way to start things in the morning, and you can read it from the very beginning. I also recommend the Shelter Cats section of its main page, it's pretty heartwarming.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I adore cats.

I just want to say I'm thinking of you, Louise. Glad you're okay. I'm feeling particularly appreciative of all my wonderful online friends.

Becky Ross Michael said...

Thanks so much for everything you do, Victoria! Stay safe and healthy!

Laurence Raphael Brothers said...

Take care, be safe, and be certain there are writers everywhere who love your work.

widdershins said...

Take care ... stay safe. :)

Melissa Clare Wright said...

Thank you for sharing a personal post, and for keeping sending out the Writer Beware posts week after week. You don't necessarily get a lot of feedback - I know this is maybe the first time I've left a comment - but there are a lot of us reading your posts and very grateful that you're keeping us informed. It's not just that, though. It's this feeling like there's someone wise (in the know?) looking out for all us idealistic and hopeful writers. It always feels good to know you're there and making all this effort on our behalf. So... it takes a pandemic sometimes for things to be said. Thanks for all you do, all you've done. And stay healthy. :)

Stephen Parrish said...

Thank you.

Allen F said...

The beauty of the internet is I can visit almost any place from the comfort (and safety) of my recliner.

And we can write, give our alpha/beta readers a peek, get corrections from them and our editor, and even get cover work and publish without having to meet a single person face-to-face.

And if your readers buy your ebook there's no place they have to go either.

(And that Amazon payment comes monthly if you have them direct deposit.)

Keep going/writing/blogging, there are too many out there trying to make money of this latest bug.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks so much to everyone for the kind comments--and also for the many that I've gotten in email. It's much appreciated, and a nice boost in difficult times.

I keep waiting for trolls to show up, though...

Laura said...

I was just talking to another writer today about how incredibly generous you are with the information you gather and share. We both agreed that you deserve a medal.

Thank you for all you do, and be well.

Lydia said...

It's nice to get a personal post from you. I hope you and your spouse continue to stay healthy!

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Victoria Strauss said...


Wow, I cannot believe Caroline Hutton is still in business. I haven't heard anything about her since 2010.

Prior to that, I got a lot of documented complaints of reading fees, recommendations that clients use Hutton's own paid editing services, fees to include writers in a "book of business" taken to large book fairs, and submission fees of $30-60 per submission plus snail mailing expenses.

Until about 2005, the agency was called Hutton & Hutton. Later it adopted the Jones Hutton Literary Associates name (no idea who Jones is). Although Hutton herself has claimed sales, I have never been able to verify them. The agency seems to exist mainly as way for Hutton to charge fees.

Her demand for snail mail for your manuscript is a throwback to the old days (i.e., about 10 years ago) when that was the standard for submissions. Her refusal to consider email is yet more indication that she and her agency are not viable.

My advice: save your postage.

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NOBODY said...
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Frances Grimble said...

Victoria, your work really is essential right now. I do understand because in many ways, my life has not changed. I've worked at home for years, my husband is retired. We're not very social. But getting up every morning to a constant stream of really bad news is very hard. I've been enduring it since 2016 but I thought, the upcoming election would change things. Now I don't know how much a solid Democratic win can change a pandemic. Also, I am 65 and all the ageism, the "just let old people die" is really getting to me. OK, I'm not being very cheerful here . . . but I try to focus on the things I've always done and to keep my life as normal as I can. Best wishes.

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