When friends and family read your books

After I finish writing a novel, I’m excited and eager to share it with the world. I have to tamp down this excitement, though, as I go back and revise, edit, polish. Then, once again, as I’m ready to push the “publish” button or, if I’m fortunate enough to land a contract with a traditional publisher, as the release date nears, a strange shyness overcomes me.


A book I’m proud of.

I become reticent to have friends and family members read the book. I might be all hip-hip-hooray, buy-my-book on social media, wanting the world to read my story. But if I see a friend or family member weigh in with a chipper “I just bought a copy!” I’m clutched with nervousness. I have to stop myself from saying, oh, you don’t need to buy it and read it. Really, you don’t. 

That’s crazy! I know it. And part of me argues with that other Negative Naomi, saying, of course you want them to read it, silly! You’re proud of it!

As I analyze this sentiment, I think there are several reasons for it. First, sometimes I will know, because of how well I know the reader involved, that this particular story is not their cuppa. So while I’m grateful — very, very grateful — for their support, I don’t want them disappointed when they discover that my book isn’t their kind of read.

Second, though, even if my book is to their taste in storytelling, I cringe at the thought of them not liking my particular brand of that storytelling. Unlike with a stranger who buys and reads my book, these relatives or friends are people I will most likely interact with regularly. Will they feel compelled to offer faint praise? (“I enjoyed your book. It was…different.”) Will they say nothing, leading me to absolutely, positively know they hated it? Will they think less of me if they dislike it, think I’m a…fake?

Reading tastes are subjective, I know. Who hasn’t excitedly urged a friend to read a favorite book, only to be crushed with disappointment when said friend gives that book a “meh” rating? Imagine that disappointment if you’re the author of the meh.

The third reason I am nervous when friends and family buy and read my books–What if they find…mistakes in it? Not just editing mistakes  (after all; a copy editor can’t catch everything. I know — I am a copy editor.) But historical mistakes in the case of a historical novel. Or mistakes in logic in the case of a mystery.

Yes, other readers can find those things and point them out to me via email. But again, having someone in your intimate circle point them out makes you feel like a sham. (Ha! So you thought you were a novelist, did you, the inner Negative Naomi cries.)


Another book I’m proud of.

So, to all my friends and family who support me by buying and reading my books, I say, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m really happy you support me in this way, and I hope my stories are enjoyable. And I’m grateful if you keep it to yourself if they’re not!

To my fellow authors, I ask: Do you suffer from these same feelings when friends and family say they’re buying and reading your books?

UPDATE: My daughter, Hannah Sternberg, also a novelist, noted that she feels “naked” when friends and family read her books, knowing they might learn very personal things about her through her writing. I completely agree with this observation, and I’m glad she pointed it out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews, Jane Eyre, romance, Uncategorized

Embarrassing Moments in Cooking

In my family, we have an incident we refer to as “The Troubles.”

Let me revise that. We have an incident I insisted my children refer to as “The Troubles,” after relentless teasing (of me) following said incident.

It happened like this: I made a beef stew. It wasn’t very good. There were leftovers. When my husband went to grind them through the garbage disposal, a wrenching whine ensued. The problem? The beef was so tough, the disposal couldn’t break it up.

Thus began months, nay, years of “Remember when…” storytelling from my offspring designed to embarrass me. Finally, I declared we would not speak of this incident again, except to call it “The Troubles.”

“The Troubles” aside, I’m not a bad cook now. I can make a pretty good stew, in fact, and lots of other things. Even things with French names. I can bake a cake (as long as it’s a recipe such as the one on the back of Hershey’s cocoa cans), make biscuits and whip up a decadent chocolate cheese cake from an Ina Garten recipe. Sometimes my kids even ask me for recipes or how to do something in the kitchen.

Back in the day, however, before I became more confident in the culinary world, I had many a cringe-worthy moment. Like the yogurt-marinated chicken cooked on the grill that could have been called Blackened Kabobs. Or the garlic mashed potatoes with raw garlic in them that should have been called Pomme de Terrible.

smartcookie2In my defense, in any mother’s defense, when you have three kids with picky appetites, you’re on a budget, and you’re pressed for time, well, things happen. Bad things. I ended up relying on a lot of ready-made ingredients, everything from the obvious (pasta sauce) to the quick cheat (frozen Asian vegetables in teriyaki sauce).

I’ve learned a lot over the years, and most of it came from watching the Food Network. I’ve watched since Emeril was on almost every night, and now my favorite shows are The Pioneer Woman and The Kitchen.

But I also enjoyed the shows where a team of experts would swoop in and help some feckless eatery owners renovate and refashion their establishments. Who doesn’t love a great turnaround story?

So, that’s the inspiration for my new romantic comedy, Smart Cookie. In it, sweet but clueless Sonja Garrett signs up to have her bakery featured on an “Eats 911” show, a two-day shoot she hopes will turn the tables on her failing establishment. But she’s the one who gets more than she bargained for as her longtime love starts questioning his involvement with her business, and friends, who’d helped her in the past, now share criticisms on-air that, while true, sting. In the end, love’s baked in the cake–but it’s a shock to everyone who gets the sweetest treat.

For a preview of this book, Amazon lets you take a peek at THIS LINK. I hope you enjoy! Get a copy (check if it’s free today)! Recommend to friends! Eat some cake!

Oh, and pen a review at Amazon if you do read it! Just a quick one-sentence review is fine, but the number of reviews on Amazon can help push any book into more recognition.

Leave a comment

Filed under romance, Uncategorized

LIBBY’S BOOK CLUB: Queen Victoria

Welcome to the first in a series I’ll call “Libby’s Book Club.” (Hence the title of this post.) It will be just like a regular book club except for these things: We won’t get together except online; I will probably do most of the talking; I will occasionally (or even regularly) promote my own books.

But other than those things, it will be precisely like any other book club.🙂

First up, a question: Is anyone here as excited as I am to see the PBS British import Victoria series? Here’s a trailer and clip:

Doesn’t that look yummy? Costumes! History! More costumes! I can hardly wait. Here in the US of A, the series starts in January.

Anticipating this series sent me scurrying to my bookshelf where I pulled out and started rereading this well-worn tome: Queen Victoria by Cecil Woodham-Smith. It’s an oldie — published in the 1970s — but it’s jammed with historical goodies and covers the queen’s life from birth to the death of Prince Albert.

I’m sure there are other more recent books on Queen Victoria, but I enjoyed the slow, detailed pace of this one, which reports not only on Victoria’s history but on how that history was reported by others–what was false and what was true.

Not being a student of British history, I found the entire tale enlightening. One of the things about this story that surprised and  interested me was how she actually came to the throne–the various family intrigues that led to the daughter of the Duke of Kent becoming the monarch. Spoiler alert: the rest of the family wasn’t producing heirs or the right kind of heirs.

The Duke of Kent, her father, was an odd duck in that he was very kind to some people (his wife and his mistress of 27 years, whom he was forced to abandon in order to marry and produce an heir) and cruel to others (the many military under his command, so many of whom disliked him that he moved around to various posts, avoiding mutinies in some cases). Poor fellow died miserably, at the hands of doctors trying to treat what sounded like a bad cold, pneumonia or bronchitis. So he never saw his daughter rise to the throne, even though he was absolutely sure she would be queen.

I’m fond of this book for reasons unrelated to its content. For several years in the not-too-distant past, I would travel from Vermont (where I used to live) to Maryland to help my sister take care of our father by accompanying him to various doctor visits and the like. My sister had a copy of this book on her shelf, and I’d always pick it up and resume reading it when there, finishing it after many, many such visits. So I associate it with her warm hospitality. Years after I read it, I found a used copy in a little bookshop in Connecticut associated with a local library. I snatched it up.

So, do you have a Victoria biography you’ve enjoyed? If so, leave a comment! I’d like to hear about it!

And, while marveling at what a smart cookie Victoria was, consider trying my new book, Smart Cookie (by Libby Malin), a contemporary sweet romance with laughs as well as love. You can sample it at THIS LINK. (There — that’s the book promotion!)

1 Comment

Filed under Book reviews, Uncategorized

I write in a variety of genres. Gasp!

Years ago when I first started writing seriously — that is, trying to get novels published instead of just penning stories to be shoved in a file under the bed — I began with romance. My first published adult novel was in the romance field, a sub genre called chick lit. My agent at the time told me that if I sold that book, I’d have to write chick lit for a while, stay in that lane, in other words. I didn’t.

But first, a few words about why I chose romance. I’ve written/talked about this before, but here’s the tale again: Although I’d been a singer, gotten two degrees in music from a conservatory, no less, I’d always felt called to write. I always wrote, in fact, for my own pleasure (see above). My sister knew this, and she encouraged me to try writing romance as short story after short story of mine was rejected by magazines. I read some romances and thought, yeah, I can do this. And so it began.

Writing romance is hard. Anyone who turns their nose up at the genre doesn’t really know it. Yes, there’s a formula (discussed here), but that makes it a challenge to get right — to tell a story that’s unpredictable while satisfying the expectations of the reader.


Writing across genres is not new. Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited and satires like Scoop.

While I tried my hand at romance, I also penned a young adult mystery, which I sold to a small press. It went on to become an Edgar nominee. And then, of course, I landed a contract at Harlequin for that first romance/chick lit: Loves Me, Loves Me Not. It received lovely reviews from the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly and was translated into French, as well.

By the time it was published, though, I felt pulled to write a more serious book, a retelling of one of my favorite novels, Jane Eyre. That book, Sloane Hall, took many years to find a publishing home, eventually landing with Five Star/Cengage, a hardcover publisher catering to the library trade. This year, it was one of only 14 books featured on the “Off the Shelf” blog celebrating Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday anniversary.

During the years that I tried to get Sloane Hall published, I went through several agents and continued to write. I wrote another three YA mysteries, one a historical. And I wrote more romance/humorous women’s fiction (the term “chick lit” had gone out of fashion). One of those books, Fire Me, snagged a film option.

Over the years, I’ve jumped from serious to light, from genre to literary, from historical to contemporary.

I used to wonder if I was crazy. Or if I had an attention deficit problem. Or if I just didn’t know what the heck I was doing.

Maybe all of those are true. But even if they are, I’ve learned that you can only write the books that call out to you, the stories that won’t let you go, the tales that you really want to tell. Writing long form stories takes a lot of effort, energy and time. You don’t use those resources on creative projects for which you have little creativity to spare.

At this moment, young adult mystery no longer calls to me. Maybe it will in the future. I don’t know. I have two novels that I’ve been tweaking and polishing and shopping around.

One’s a serious book about an evangelical man who sins and tries to redeem all he’s lost by that sin–his wife, his family, his faith.

One’s a romance about a man and woman learning to love again after betrayals. It’s lighter than the evangelical story. But both have common themes: love conquers all.

Maybe that’s the theme that threads through all my books, romance or upmarket, young adult or mystery.

If I had taken my first agent’s advice many years ago, I might be a more successful writer, with readers following me through book after book in one genre. I chose a different path, and I accept the consequences with no rancor. I’m grateful just to be a published author, telling the stories I feel compelled to tell.


Filed under Uncategorized

To agent or not to agent

Actually, that headline should be: To have an agent or not to have one. That is the question. Right now, I’m answering…no. Let me share with you my observations on life without a literary agent and how I wish this aspect of the publishing business would change:

I’ve had several literary agents in my brilliant career. They each had their talents, and for some authors, they might have been perfect. But there’s only one I’d recommend out of the bunch. She and I split when I started writing things she wasn’t repping. The others…well, I’m not going to whine about them. I’ve done plenty of that already to friends. Any author who’s had a less-than-stellar relationship with an agent will be able to imagine the reasons for breaking with one.

I went into the agent hunt recently, though, because editors want to deal with agents, not authors. My heart’s not in it, however, so I’ve started querying editors directly. And, yes, I am knocking on a lot of closed doors.

As authors know, virtually all publishing houses are closed to unagented submissions. Editors won’t respond to authors who don’t have agents, won’t read their manuscripts, sometimes won’t even read their queries.

So going without an agent means an awful lot of dead ends, even for a multi published author, who has an Edgar nomination on her resume and a film option in her bank account (that would be me). In other words, when I query editors on my own, a certain amount of doubt in editors’  minds should be removed from the process due to my experience. They don’t have to wonder if I have it in me to revise a novel for publishing or if I know about how to market a book or if I understand the legalities of the business or how to put a plot together.

I also offer another reassurance to skittish editors: I tell them in my query that I use an entertainment lawyer for negotiation (same one who did my film option deal). This is to let them know they won’t have to fret about muddying the editor/author relationship with the haggling that comes over contract details.

Several editors have responded to my recent query about an upmarket commercial fiction novel and requested to see the manuscript. I won’t out them, so don’t ask who they are. I applaud them for thinking for themselves and evaluating whether to say yes to an unagented author, regardless what their imprint’s submission guidelines are.

Back in the day, when I first entered the publishing world mumble-mumble years ago, some of the big houses were still open to unagented submissions. Being unagented meant you’d be waiting a heckuva long time for a read even when an editor said the magic words, “send the manuscript.” But it didn’t automatically mean “no, sorry, won’t even take a look.”


A book I self published after having my rights reverted from the publisher

The turning point in houses closing their doors to unagented submissions came during the anthrax scare, when white powder was being mailed to various places. Then, one by one, the big houses started building walls to keep out unagented authors.

Only a few imprints remain open today to the unagented — mostly “category” romance at Harlequin imprints, or some small publishing houses.

I wish it weren’t so. Maybe because I’ve bounced around this biz for those mumble-mumble years, I’ve become somewhat cynical about the whole submission process. I’ve come to the jaded opinion that there are maybe a dozen (or fewer) agents whose submissions are read quickly, even immediately, because they have a reputation for backing winning horses.

The rest of the agents are clamoring for attention, trying to get editors to read manuscripts after a conversation or just a damned good cover letter. And, lately, from stories I’ve heard, even good agents seem to be having trouble with that, getting timely access for their clients’ works and timely responses to the read.

In today’s world, I can self-publish it if no one bites on my new book. This change in the industry, where big publishing houses have a lower share of the market than self-published and small press-published novels, is part of the digital/Amazon revolution. Amazon recognized that authors are customers, too. Some publishers are catching up to that changed paradigm.

I hope at some point all editors will evaluate for themselves whether to read unagented material.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Did I turn it off? Did I?

I have stick-straight hair, so, naturally, I curl it, using a curling iron. If the electricity ever went out for extended periods of time, I would become a stranger to friends and family.

Since I use the curling iron every day (sometimes more than once in a day), I regularly confront the existential question: Did I turn it off?

Before heading out to the store, hand on the garage doorknob: Did I turn off my curling iron or will it eventually burn down the house while I’m gone, leaving me to confront a smoking heap of ash when I return?

Or, two blocks from home: Did I turn it off and unplug it?

Or, staring at my husband over a candlelit restaurant table: Did I really turn it off? Really? Am I absolutely certain?

I’m sure anyone who’s used an iron, a stove, an oven, a coffeemaker or any other heat-producing appliance can relate. I’ve stopped backing out of the garage to go check on the curling iron’s status. I’ve turned around before leaving our development to come back and check on the curling iron. The curling iron must feel very loved with all the attention it gets.

And although 99.9 percent of the time, I did, in fact, turn off and unplug the thing, there is the occasional, very, very rare moment when I didn’t, which just affirms my obsessive need to double-check its status.

Over the years, I’ve tried to develop strategies to remember if I unplugged the thing.

I’ve looked at it and waved the plug in front of my face, thinking that visual image would surely stick in my mind.

Result: When the memory of that action comes back to me, I wonder, but was that just now or…yesterday?

I’ve stared at the plug and said out loud: “I unplugged the curling iron.”

Result: But was that just now or…yesterday?

I’ve stared at the plug and said out loud, using different accents: “Ja, ja, I unplugged ze curling iron, bien sure, n’est ce pas?”

Result: See above.

I’ve sung, in operatic tones: “I’ve unplugged the CURLING iron! It is in my hand, you see! Rodolfo! Alfredo! Siegfried! Ah! AH!”

Result: See above.

The curling iron unplugging. It is driving me crazy.


My hair. And a tiara.

So here’s my latest tactic: I tell my husband I unplugged it. Then, you see, the responsibility is shared. I can ask him later, “Did I unplug the curling iron, dearest one?” And he can answer, “Yes, you told me you did, my sweet, and I carefully listen to every dulcet word that you utter.”

Or, more likely, “I dunno.”

But if my husband isn’t around, I still have to deal with this anxiety, which I have labeled Anxiety About Appliances’ Remaining Good and Hot. Or AAARGH, for short.

I am now going to start using a tip from my oldest son, who suffers from a similar affliction–remembering if he turned the heat back in his apartment before leaving.

He snaps a photo of his thermostat.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. Snap a photo with my phone of the unplugged curling iron.

If I can remember…




Filed under Uncategorized

Wish you were here…

My mother and father were wonderful people. I was blessed to have them. But, like most kids, I feel that blessing most acutely now that they are gone.

My mother passed away at the age of 63 when I was 33. Elizabeth Beatrice was her name, but she went by Bea.

Thirty-three years should have been adequate time to get to know her, but as time passes, I realize that I was just beginning to comprehend who she was as a person, not just as my mom, and to relate to her as an adult…when she was gone from my life.

One of my children remarked once that I don’t talk a lot about her, and I decided this is a disservice to them and to her, that I’ve not shared more about the grandmother they didn’t get to know.

So, here then are some memories of my mother:

Mom BeaFirst, she was beautiful. She came from a family of redheads, and, like her mother and some siblings, she, too, was a ginger. Ginger is an apt way to describe her hair, because as she aged it went from deeper reddish hues to a strawberry blonde shade that hairdressers envied — what dye did she use, they’d ask her. She had blue eyes to go with that gorgeous natural hair. (As an aside, pictures never really captured her hair’s real shade; her hair sometimes photographed darker than it actually was.)

She was born and raised in a small town in Indiana, with a German-born mother and a taciturn father (Nanny and Pop-Pop to their grandchildren). She had two younger sisters  (Lillian and Helen) and an older brother (Alvin).

She married my father in World War II, when he was stationed in Indiana. I asked my aunt Lil to help round out my picture of Mom, and here are some memories she shared with me:

She was very private about her inner feelings. I remember when she brought your dad to meet us. They were a handsome couple, he in his uniform, and she in a snazzy black dress…A lot of guys in service came to Anderson to the various night spots. The Boat Club was one of the nicer ones with dining, dancing, drinking. It was a whirlwind courtship, but that happened all the time in wartime…We liked your dad right away as he was very personable.

The other morning, I was remembering how she and Alvin would argue, trying for top position in the family, two redheads. He used to say all of his sisters were smarter than he was, but I knew Bea was the smartest of all…

Your mom was a lot like our dad, quiet, but when he had something to say or tell you, he was very succinct or blunt. So was Bea, but then she would surprise you with something witty. At her eighth-grade graduation, when Father Scheetz asked her if she was going to follow in her brother’s footsteps, Bea deadpanned, “No, I’m going to make my own.”

Her footsteps took her away from Indiana to Baltimore, my father’s hometown, where she raised my sister and me in a suburban split-level that felt like a castle to us. She was, like many women of that era, a stay-at-home mom. Once my sister and I were in school, she would get together regularly with some friends of hers for luncheons. She had a set of dishes for those gatherings — clear glass triangular plates with an indentation for a tea cup in the corner.

I remember she and Dad went to a fancy dinner event one year, maybe a New Year’s gathering, for which she bought a new long dress, something pink, I think, and chiffon. But what I most remember is she got a parking ticket when picking it up, and she told us not to tell Dad. I did, of course! She wasn’t angry.

She was devout — I remember praying the rosary in our old row home living room with her, and she encouraged our devotion to Mary during the month of May, when we would set up little shrines to the Blessed Virgin on our dressers.

Mary Ann, Libby, and Bea Malinoski.

My mother with me and my sister

When we moved to the split-level on a December day in the 1960s, she’d packed all the Christmas gifts in the station wagon, drove us what seemed like a world away (it was only a few miles, it turned out) through snowy streets, and the first thing she did in her new kitchen was make chocolate chip cookies and hang curtains.

She was sometimes unhappy — our dad had a volatile personality (later, I realized I might have inherited it!), but she loved going to the movies, theater, reading. And she loved her girls, wanting for us all the happiness in the world. She encouraged my singing and was immensely proud of me, once traveling with me to New York when I finaled in a singing competition. I think she wanted me to step out of my shy shell more when I was younger.

When I was 22, I spent the summer at the American School of Music in Fontainebleau, France. It was my first time away from home (my sister and I were commuter students during our college years), and, since it was before the age of email, I have a treasure trove of “aerogrammes” and letters on onion-skin paper (back in the days when the weight of an overseas letter was an important determination for expense) that she and other family members sent me. It’s touching to hear how she and my sister would read my letters to them aloud to each other.

Looking over them now, I hear her voice, as she gives me the details of everyday life — the movies she and “Daddy” went to, some troubles she was facing at work (she’d taken a job after my sister and I entered high school), friends of mine she contacted on my behalf, news of clothes purchases — a steel-blue pantsuit, a safari jacket for my sister —  my sister’s life with her new husband…little details, yet so much more. In between the lines, there is a boundless well of love.

“We had a terrible storm last night,” she wrote in July of that summer, “electric was out for five hours. Daddy wants me to set all the clocks but leave one on Paris time…”

My guess is she did so, happy he’d suggested it.

I love you, Mom. Wish you were here. Happy Mother’s Day!




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized