A Tutorial on Publishing

If you’ve ever thought of writing a book and trying to get it published, here’s a quick tutorial on how the publishing business works with steps on how to proceed from blank page to published book:

STEP ONE: Write the book. Edit the book.

If you’re writing a novel (fiction), and you’ve never been published before, you have to have a complete, finished manuscript before you approach agents and editors. Nonfiction can be sold to publishers with a proposal only (synopsis, sample chapters, outline), but fiction writers usually have to finish the whole darn thing. That means writing between 50,000 and 100,000 words of story. If you’re not up for that, you’ve chosen the wrong field. 🙂

Writing a book is a huge task, and while you don’t need a degree in literature or creative writing to do it, you should think about storytelling, about what keeps you engaged in your favorite stories (fiction or nonfiction) and how the author tells the tale. There are no storytelling “rules” (there are grammar and usage ones, though), but you should give some thought to how to wrestle your creativity into a shape that makes sense to readers and will keep them turning pages.

Once you finish writing, it’s time to edit. Look for a critique partner or beta readers who can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes to catch inconsistencies and embarrassing mistakes and offer frank opinions. Even consider hiring a professional editor to look over your work — this is particularly important if you decide to self-publish. Don’t neglect this step.

STEP TWO: Decide on the publishing path — traditional or self-publishing.

Writers today are fortunate to have available different ways of getting their books into readers’ hands. The stigma of self-publishing as “vanity publishing” has all but been erased with the advent of e-books and the ease with which one can make stories available in these formats. Here’s a quick summary of the definition of both kinds of publishing and advantages and disadvantages to each:

Traditional publishing: This is when a reputable press buys your book, edits it, contracts for cover art, prints the book, sends it out for reviews, and distributes it to retailers. In the traditional publishing model, money flows one way: from publisher to author. The author gets an advance, (usually paid in installments — one when the contract is signed, and another when the revised/polished manuscript is ultimately accepted by the editor) and if sales are brisk, the author receives royalties (a percentage of each book sale) for as long as the book is available.

Advantages: The money in the advance comes to you before a single book is sold to the public. You only need to write the book and do some promotion, while everything else is handled by the publisher. The money you receive from traditional publishers is usually much more than you make self-publishing as an unknown author.

Disadvantages:Getting a book contract is difficult and often requires first landing a literary agent (more on this later), advances for books are decent from one of the “Big Five” publishers (Penguin Random, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Harper) but small from small presses, and writers often have little control over cover art, distribution, and promotion, and sometimes see no royalties whatsoever.

Self-publishing: This is when you, the author, handle all the book-related tasks, from writing to editing to layout to cover art to printing to distributing to promoting. Phew! Those are a lot of tasks. Many authors will subcontract with self-publishing businesses to handle most of these activities, but it’s possible, with persistence and some skill, to control them yourself. A good place to start (after the book is written and edited) is with the Amazon self-publishing platform, but there are reputable firms (such as Draft2Digital) that will handle, for a percentage of royalties, layout and distribution, etc. While you don’t earn advances in self-publishing, if you handle the entire process yourself, you get all the royalties. You will end up paying subcontractors, however, for tasks you don’t handle on your own.  book_banner

Advantages: You control the whole process. You can write the book you want without pesky editors telling you to change this or that. You can choose your own cover art (paying a subcontractor for it or using the free services of platforms such as Amazon to construct your own). You decide how and where to promote. You also keep a much larger share of royalties, only giving up a small percentage of each book sale to distribution platforms such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Disadvantages: It’s a heckuva lot of work (see above) and not for the faint-hearted. You don’t earn any advances. Sales are hard. Brick and mortar bookstores usually won’t take self-published books except on a consignment basis. It’s hard to get reviewed (though Publishers Weekly has a good program, through its BookLife portal, for self-published authors). Without the distribution paths of a major publisher, you will find it extremely difficult to get attention for your book and to make a lot of sales.

A Few Words About Literary Agents

Above, I mentioned that you need to land a literary agent before you can sell to a traditional publisher. This is because almost all traditional publishers are closed to submissions except through agents.

Literary agents perform the following tasks:

  • they help you polish your book if they think some tweaking will make it more marketable;
  • they identify and submit to appropriate editors who might be interested in the type of story you have told;
  • they negotiate a contract once a sale to a publisher is made;
  • they work with subagents to sell ancillary rights (film/TV/foreign, etc.)

As with traditional publishers, the money flows one way in an agent/author relationship: from agent to author. Reputable agents do not charge fees. They are paid when you are paid. They take a commission, 15 percent, of your sale. If they manage to sell ancillary rights, they usually get 20 percent, which they split with the subagent involved.

Landing a good literary agent is difficult. They don’t take on any client. They look for clients who are marketable, who have stories they think they can sell. They have personal likes and dislikes, and they often specialize in certain genres (fiction, nonfiction, romance, YA, sci-fi/fantasy, etc.).

You need to do a bunch of research before querying agents, to determine if they are right for you. A simple way to start is to go to a bookstore, look at books similar to yours and glance at the “acknowledgments” page. Authors often thank their agents there. Make a list of these agents as the start of your search.

You can also research agents at websites such as www.agentquery.com or the subscription site www.publishersmarketplace.com

Once you identify agents who might be right for you, go to their agency websites to find out how they prefer to be queried. Some want email queries only. Some want email queries with the first chapters and a synopsis attached. Some use submission portal sites.

STEP THREE: Promote your book.

Whichever publishing route you take, promoting your book will be one of your responsibilities. Yes, traditional publishers will help if you are published through them. Their marketing teams will get your book reviewed, and they will try to get you featured in publications, on blogs, and on television and radio, but most authors only get book reviews out of these efforts and little else (unless you have a “platform” – a job or topic that gives you a higher profile). In fact, I’ve often thought that the best promotion a traditional publisher can do for you as an author is to get your book in as many stores as possible, and to get it placed cover out (not spine out) on shelves or on “new releases” tables. Those efforts cost money, by the way. The publisher pays for that “real estate” in stores.

The promotion you can do on your own includes the following:

Construct a website. Readers like to look up information on authors, so consider putting together a website. Some authors use free services (like this wordpress blog!). Some contract with web designers to put up attractive pages that include info on the author, his/her book(s) and more. This doesn’t have to be extravagant, though. The goal is to provide readers with some quick info about you and the book(s). Keeping it simple — and possibly free — is fine.

Construct an Amazon author page. Amazon allows authors to post biographies and links to their books. Take advantage of this service. It’s free.

Contact local media. Traditional publishers won’t be familiar with your local, small-town newspaper or local talk radio, so you should either suggest to your publisher they send your book to those media outlets or simply do it yourself, with a nice cover letter asking if they’d consider reviewing it or having you on-air as a guest, with a press release announcing its publication (with a headline promoting your local connection: Ourtown Resident Publishes Fantasy Novel).

Seek reviews from family and friends. Once your book is on e-tailer sites like Amazon, ask family and friends if they’d read it and post a review there. Be aware, however, that Amazon doesn’t like to post reviews from people with obvious connections to the author. So if all your reviewers in the family have your same last name…their reviews might not make it onto the site.

Identify book review blogs and respectfully request a read and review, as well. Sometimes, book blogs will also feature author interviews or have authors as “guests” for a day. You can offer a free copy to the bloggers to give away to a lucky reader in some sort of contest the day the review or blog post appears.

Do book signings. Look at signings as a way to get more publicity. Send a press release out to regional media about the signing. It gets your name in the paper and possibly online, on air, with the title of your book. Sometimes, a signing will be the “hook” upon which a local paper hangs a story about you and your tome.

Book signings aren’t likely to generate a ton of sales at the stores involved, though, so the publicity (getting your name and book title further into the public eye) is a better goal than actual sales at the signing. A Barnes & Noble staffer once told me that the average number of books an unknown author sells at signings is…three. So don’t think of book signings as a way to sell huge numbers.

Look for speaking opportunities. If you’ve written nonfiction or a novel with a current event/special topic focus, look for organizations at which you could talk. Local clubs are often on the lookout for speakers, and they might even let you sign and sell some of your books after your presentation.

There are lots of other little things you can do (I’ve been known to take copies of my books on vacation to leave in rented condos!), but the overall goal is creating that elusive “book buzz.” To me, book buzz means that enough people have heard of you and your book that they start thinking they better buy it! It takes an enormous amount of promotion to get to that sweet spot, though, so don’t be disappointed if you can’t quite reach it.

STEP FOUR: Enjoy being an author

Few writers become best-sellers. The vast majority of books in stores today are written by authors who have “day jobs,” who don’t support themselves by writing books. Becoming a best-seller is part skill and part luck. It can hinge on many things outside your control. So, don’t think you’re a failure if you don’t hit those “top ten” lists.

You’ve told your story, written a book. You’ve accomplished something big and difficult. If your audience is small, you still can be proud and happy to be sharing your tale with those who are interested.

And who knows? Maybe that next story you’re so eager to tell will be the one…that propels your book to the top of the charts!

Libby Malin Sternberg is a novelist who has sold to traditional publishers (Harlequin, Dorchester, Bancroft, Five Star/Cengage, Sourcebooks) and who has self-published. Her books have been reviewed by Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post and more, and one of her novels, Fire Me!, was bought for film by Fox Studios. She was an Edgar finalist for her first novel, a YA mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ridding the world of bad holiday songs, one fa-la-la at a time

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a seasonal hit from 1944, was recently banned from a Cleveland radio station because its lyrics tell the tale of a woman who keeps saying no, while a man just doesn’t listen, overriding her objections, even pouring her a drink with questionable contents. To be honest, this song always creeped me out as I imagined a slick player using any excuse to entice an attractive woman into staying the night. There never seemed to be a doubt in my mind he’d dump her in the morning.

animated-christmas-wallpaper-27But, speaking of dumping, maybe the reevaluation of that holiday song’s appropriateness could lead to a discussion of other odd seasonal hits that should take a trip to the “No Play” zone.

For example, surely PETA can be nudged into declaring “Dominick the Donkey” an offensive paean to the abuse of animals. Forcing Dominick to show an obese old man in a silly red suit up through the treacherous mountain trails of Italy must cause animal lovers everywhere to shudder in horror. Get that donkey back in the crèche where he belongs.

Animals play a role in another seasonal tune that perhaps should be discarded, the one about bullying. Yes, I’m talking “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” (Note, I’m focusing on the song here, not the film, which has received its own critiques lately.) Why should poor bullied Rudolph have to prove his worth by leading the rest of Santa’s hoof-footed, antler-wearing dunderheads through the night? He should have dumped them all and let them see how they fared on their own, if they’re so sure of their navigational and game-playing skills. They only loved poor Rudolph once he could be of use to them. But he had value from the beginning, without heroic acts. I’d like to hear this verse tacked on at least: “Then one snowy Christmas night, Rudolph went away. He thought that with his nose so bright, he’d find another sleigh.” That would be a sweet piece of anti-bullying karma.

Here’s another one to put on the off-air roster: “Jingle Bells.” Any old version of this chestnut includes a verse about a Miss Fanny Bright getting in the sleigh, things going pear-shaped, and the riders getting “upsot.” After that, I think the lyricist might have had a tot too many because a subsequent verse has the rider lying in the snow, discovered by a neighbor who ignores him, but, what ho, he still sings the praises of the one-horse open sleigh. There even seems to be a reference to using a whip on the horse. (“Crack, you’ll take the lead.”) C’mon, PETA. Where are you when we need you? I could do without that ear worm every day of the season.

Speaking of ear worms, maybe we should reevaluate Wham’s “Last Christmas,” a story of re-gifting gone awry. First, the singer gives his heart to his love, then she gives it away, so he retaliates by giving it to “someone special” this year, even as he confesses to being tempted by the old love who’d re-gifted his heart in the first place. If he does that, though, won’t his new “someone special” be singing “Last Christmas” next year and we’ll all be trapped in a kind of Groundhog Day of holiday love song loops? Even though this song’s peppy tune has a lot to offer, its message confuses with so many plot points between “Last Christmas” and this year’s.

Finally, one I think we can all agree must be preserved for the ages: “Momma got run over by a reindeer.” This is an epic tale of great faith and deep family feeling summed up in its refrain’s last line: “You might say there is no such thing as Santa, but as for me and grandpa, we believe.”

We can certainly all rally around that heartwarming message.

Whatever your holiday song likes and dislikes…I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

 Libby Malin Sternberg is a novelist whose novel Fire Me (by Libby Malin) was recently hailed by Publishers Weekly as an amusing tale of a woman who finds herself and love while trying to get fired.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Paragraph Short Story: Marry Me

by Libby Sternberg

In summer’s long farewell, on a warm day that smelled like tea, she made her getaway. October’s beach still scorched from the sun’s baking it all day, but the bubble-thin edge of tide on her toes felt tepid, dampening the chiffon hem of her dress. A deep sigh of relief oozed out of her. Then she turned from the horizon. She wiped her face with a tissue, kept her sunglasses on, strode into the rental office and picked up her key with quick nods of agreement when asked if she had been at the resort before. Yes, she had. She knew the drill.

A few moments later, she unlocked a second-floor condo door, threw her bags on the master bedroom bed, all except one which she stashed on the kitchen counter. After a trip to the bathroom, she rummaged through the kitchen tote, poured herself a whiskey, strode to the deck, slid open the door, and plopped onto a wicker chair staring at the sun-glinted manmade pond.

After she’d guzzled the two fingers she’d poured, she took her glass back into the kitchen to get another. But first, she detoured to the bedroom where she removed at last her backless white wedding dress, a sporty look for a garden ceremony. She pawed through her duffel and found shorts and a tee and squirmed into both in a few seconds’ time.

Then it was to the deck again with her drink, this time drawing her knees up against her chin as she stared at the pond and then at her phone. Why didn’t he call?  Surely he’d fly off his damned perch of indecision now. She’d stood outside the window of Gus’s hamburger joint and looked at him as she had a hundred times throughout grade school, high school, and her college years, each look a question: Do you want me?

Someone knocked at her door.

These five-paragraph short stories are part of a series, usually inspired by songs. This one was inspired by Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me.” 

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SHORT EXCERPT: My Own Personal Soap Opera

My Own Personal Soap Opera (by Libby Malin) is up on Kindle and the serial fiction app Radish now, revised and updated! Below is a very short excerpt. Let me set the scene:

Frankie McNally, head writer for the New-York-based (and failing) soap opera Lust for Life, is about to head into a press conference to explain why the show isn’t pulling a jewel thief story line even though a real thief is imitating it in the city. She’s interrupted by Luke Blades, an actor on the show who recently broke his leg, triggering a rewrite of his character’s (Donovan Reilly) story arc, which will have to be further rewritten as he takes a sabbatical to do an off-Broadway production of Hamlet. Meanwhile, Frankie’s often-absent administrative assistant Kayla tries to help Luke, while Victor Pendergrast, nephew to the soap heiress whose company sponsors the show, tries to help Frankie. Phew! Got that?

EXCERPT FROM MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA BY LIBBY MALIN (copyright Libby Malin Sternberg 2018):

The press conference would have started okay, thought Frankie as perspiration beaded on her upper lip, if it hadn’t been for Luke crashing it. As in literally crashing. Just as Mary had finished the introductions and Frankie had started repeating to herself, “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay, just ten minutes, that’s what Victor said, try not to pop the buttons on your blouse, don’t breathe too fast, but don’t forget to breathe,” Luke had entered the back of the room and stumbled over a microphone wire.

Ka-boom. All control vanished as reporters scrambled to help him.

“Luke!” An anguished cry from the doorway stopped them all in their tracks, as a redheaded angel of mercy swooped into the room to tend to the fallen actor.

That’s no angel of mercy, Frankie realized, squinting at the gal. It was Kayla!

Kayla?

She’d changed her hair color and was dressed in a white skirt and blouse with a white scarf around her neck.

What the…?

“We should help,” Frankie mumbled to Victor, before rushing through the gaggle of news reporters to see if Luke was okay.

Not only was he okay, he was holding court.

“Can’t comment for sure on the Hamlet thing,” he said, dusting off his leg as Kayla helped him with his crutches. “But should have an announcement soon. The show’s been great about it so far. Don’t anticipate any scheduling problems.” Then he looked up at Frankie and smiled. “Right?’

Frankie blushed with rage. Dammit. He’d deliberately sabotaged the press conference so he could get his Hamlet job on the record along with her promises to accommodate his time off. She’d look like Scrooge the distaff version if she said anything other than “How proud we are of our top actor, Luke Blades.”

Someone was sticking a microphone in her face, waiting for an answer.

“Uh…”

Victor stepped in. “The character of Donovan Reilly is currently a key component on the show,” he said. “We’re sorry we can’t have Mr. Blades stick around, but he needs to get checked out after this latest fall.” There was no missing his emphasis on Luke’s show name, and the meaning was clear. Donovan Reilly would stay. Luke? Hmm…

With a strength that looked both heroic and yet effortless, Victor grabbed Luke’s good side and glided him from the room. Frankie scurried after, unwilling to stay by the lectern without him.

In the hallway, Victor didn’t hold back.

“I don’t know what you thought you were pulling in there,” he whispered harshly, “but I’ll deal with it later.” Then he more clearly articulated his earlier statement: “Donovan Reilly will be in many stories to come. Whoever plays him.” He let go of Luke’s arm. Kayla rushed to stand by him, her face a mask of worry.

“And what are you doing here?” Frankie asked. “In that getup?” She pointed to Kayla’s outfit and hair.

“She was auditioning for a part,” Luke said, not hiding his anger. “She’s only a temp, after all.”

“Wha—” Frankie tried to compute this. “Only a temp?”

Kayla nodded.

“For two years?” Frankie asked, thinking back to when Kayla came onboard. Why didn’t she know this? The boss should know this. And she was the boss. Why did she have to keep reminding people about that? And what about the—

“Auditioning?” Frankie asked. “For what?” At least this explained the woman’s constant absences, her lack of dedication to her job, her “studying” at her desk.

“For the role of Florence Nightingale,” Kayla said defensively, stroking Luke’s arm. “In a play directed by Mishka Palonovitch. Luke told me about it.”

Frankie looked at Luke, who shrugged and said, “My agent passed it on.”  My_Own_Personal_Soap_Opera_1600x2400

“We don’t have time for this, Frankie.” Victor looked at the door to the room where the press conference was set up.

But Frankie was undeterred. She’d get to the bottom of this. Kayla was an aspiring actress…

“Is this the guy directing Hamlet, this Mishka Palomino—”

“Palonovitch,” Kayla repeated slowly as if Frankie herself were slow. “He won a Tony last year for War Songs.”

When Frankie registered a blank, Luke said, “The musical set at Walter Reed Hospital. All the soldiers are in wheelchairs. Big dance number at the end of act one.”

“So you both want to run off and do stage work with this comedic genius,” Frankie said, disgusted.

“Comic?” Kayla matched Frankie’s disgust and raised her one. “War Songs is a very moving tragedy about the perils of modern life as seen through the eyes of the wounded warrior. I find new levels of irony and insight every time I see it. I cry each time, too. Reviewers say—”

Frankie held up her hand. “Save it.” She glared at Luke. “If you’re so interested in stage work, buster, maybe Donovan Reilly isn’t such an integral part of the show.”

“Frankie, we’ll deal with him later.” Victor grabbed her by the arm, but she shrugged away.

“And as for you,” she said to Kayla, “if you’re interested in acting, why didn’t you tell me? I could have arranged an audition for Lust.” Well, maybe, maybe not. But hell if Frankie would look less than magnanimous.

Kayla’s reaction was anything but grateful. “Thank you, but I’m not ready to settle yet.”

“She’s done some small parts off Broadway,” Luke explained.

Settle? Kayla wasn’t ready to settle for Lust? Red-hot rage lit up her body and her voice as she turned to face Kayla. “You’re not willing to settle for acting on a daytime serial?”

“You see, this is exactly why I didn’t say anything,” Kayla said, her tone sweetly condescending. “I knew you’d offer to help, and, as I said, I’m not really interested in your kind of work yet.”

Inside, Frankie was an erupting volcano of hurt, anger, and outrage. Kayla, the secretary—the very bad temporary secretary, at that—thought her art was too good for Frankie, that her art was better than Frankie’s art. What was the world coming to?

“I… I…” Frankie sputtered, unable to give voice to the cauldron of indignation choking her throat.

“Come along,” Victor said through clenched teeth. He grasped her arm and wouldn’t let go. “We have more important things to do.” He steered her toward the press conference door. She called out over her shoulder, “Lust for Life is moving and touching! Just as moving as any dancing wheelchair farce that that Mucho Parmigiano can come up with! Just as good! Just as touching! Lust for Life is art, too! Damn good art!”

This last bit carried into the room as they entered, triggering the first question from a reporter.

“Ms. McNally, is that the reason why you’re not pulling the thief story, because you’re unwilling to sacrifice your artistic vision for public safety concerns?”

Frankie bumped Victor out of the way, rushed to the lectern, grabbed the mike, and leaned forward, causing the top two buttons on her blouse to pop open.

“Let’s get this straight, bub,” she seethed at him. “Art doesn’t rob people. People rob people!”

Check out My Own Personal Soap Opera at the Amazon Kindle store or on the serial fiction app Radish!

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Funny Ain’t Easy

My Own Personal Soap Opera, a romantic comedy about a head writer for a failing soap opera based in New York, will hit the e-shelves soon. I’m re-releasing this romp of mine (written under the name Libby Malin) after having had the rights reverted to me from its original publisher, Sourcebooks. I enjoyed going through this novel again, after some initial reluctance. Believe it or not, many writers have a hard time revisiting their works. You’re afraid you’ll discover that what you penned…is crap. It’s always a relief when you find otherwise. A low bar, I know. But that’s part of the glamorous author life.

As I went through the book again, though, I found myself reflecting on how writing comedy is hard. Visual gags, for example, are a bear to describe because if you use too much language, too many words, you kill the joke before you get there. And clever dialogue can sound like just that and nothing more, something that might win you an A on a Clever Dialogue Writing Test but won’t earn you a laugh, chuckle or even smile from your readers.

To me, comedy tests a storyteller’s skills more than writing drama. Moving people to smile or laugh takes the perfect combination of talent and knowledge, intuition, command of language and more. When I hear a reader say they laughed out loud at my romantic comedies, I’m thrilled. I’d be happy if they smiled a lot.

“…a world of wit and chaos that is so smart and insightfully written…you get happily lost in the fun.”

Booklist on My Own Personal Soap Opera by Libby Malin

My Own Personal Soap Opera is a smile kind of book, but like most comedies, it has an underlying story that’s more serious than fun. The protagonist Frankie McNally, a head writer on the failing soap opera Lust for Life, comes from a working class family. Raised by a single mom because her father ran off to join the “revolution” (become a hippie), she managed to get into an elite college through scholarships and landed in New York City where writing jobs led her to the soap opera she and her mother used to follow when she was growing up.

My_Own_Personal_Soap_Opera_1600x2400Even though she’s an accomplished woman, Frankie can’t seem to shake the chip on her shoulder about not fitting in to the more literary and sophisticated circles she now moves in. Her story is one of haves vs. have-nots, how the history of a have-not can impact her approach to life even when she moves into the “haves” category.

It’s a story arc that actually colored a famous soap opera back in the day: Another World. That soap followed a have-not, Rachel, as she tried to cunningly make her way up into the world of the haves, eventually landing a wealthy husband, Mac. I remember reading an article about that soap’s head writer/creator who talked about that story arc and how it never failed to generate more plots. How true.

Some of the most talented storytellers, of course, manage to weave wry comedy into even heartbreaking dramas. That’s one of my writing goals that I believe I’ve yet to achieve. Maybe some day I will. In the meantime, my writing life is divided between the lighthearted fun of books by Libby Malin (My Own Personal Soap Opera, Fire Me, and my earlier Harlequin release, Loves Me, Loves Me Not) and the serious offerings, written by Libby Sternberg (things like Sloane Hall, Death Is the Cool Night, and Lost to the World).

If I could figure out how to marry those two writing personas, I’d be a happy camper.

Watch for the release of My Own Personal Soap Opera within the coming month, but meanwhile, for a funny summer read, try Fire Me!

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Paul Revere and the Raiders, Fire Me, and Me

To demonstrate what a crazy dreamer I am, this story:

When I was a preteen/teen, I had the usual crushes on bands. Music wasn’t my main attraction. It was their look. So what’s not to like about a band whose members dress up in 18th century costumes? Yes, I was a Paul Revere and the Raiders fan. Don’t hate me.

During that time, I cherished this daydream: The Raiders would be on tour. They’d stop in Baltimore for a performance. They’d decide to take in the sights while there. They’d drive out to my suburb and get lost. On my street. And their car would break down. In front of my house.

That never happened — God loves me — but it does show what a cockeyed optimist I could be, how outlandish my hopes could be, how far my overactive imagination would take me.

As I grew older, I could see quite clearly that no band would likely land on my street while touring the Baltimore area. I lived in a suburb where the most interesting sight might be the new drugstore (open on Sundays!) at the top of a hill.

If I became more practical, I still couldn’t shake some of that wild optimism, which often manifested itself in a simple question, whispering in my mind: Why not?

Why not give that idea of mine a try? Why not become a writer? Why not try to get my novels published? Why not try to grab attention for one of them that I thought would be great movie material?

Even crazy optimists have to overcome inner fears, so it took a while before I did end up becoming a writer, getting novels published, and…landing a film deal for my humorous women’s fiction book Fire Me. And the road to that deal is probably as circuitous as the one that would have deposited band members on my doorstep oh so many years ago.

Fire Me was the “options clause” book in a contract I had with Harlequin. Their Red Dress Ink imprint published my first adult novel, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, and, like most book contracts, my deal with them specified they had the exclusive option to buy the next similar novel I would pen.

That novel was the story of Anne Wyatt, who goes into work one day intending to hand in her resignation but changes course when she learns her boss will lay off someone by the end of the day. So she tries instead to earn a Worst Employee of the Year award in order to snag the generous severance package that goes with a layoff.

My terrific Harlequin editor looked over my proposal and suggested changes, which I made. I submitted it again. And it was rejected. Unbeknownst to me, the Red Dress Ink imprint was shutting down. (I’m grateful for her suggestions, though, which enhanced the story.)

By now, I was moving on to other writing projects, but I couldn’t give up on the idea of this book, which I believed held great appeal. Between agents, I posted its rights were available on an industry subscription website, Publishers Marketplace.

Within a short time, I had a call. From a Hollywood agent. She asked if the property was still available. Why, yes, it was.

Fire_Me!And the rest is history. Well, ten years of history. That woman believed in this  project as fiercely as I did, so when she left the agency, she kept in touch with me. She shopped Fire Me around, and found a home for it at a respected production company. After that company’s option ran out, interest sprang up from another, and the book ultimately ended up at Twentieth Century Fox.

Options give companies the exclusive right to consider a project for film. They don’t guarantee a film. Last year, however, Fox bought the film rights outright, one step closer to actual production (not there yet!).

As to the book itself, Sourcebooks bought its rights and published it in 2009. Book rights reverted to me, though, this year. So I’m releasing it again, after an update and revision, this spring, excited to have it on the book market once more.

Paul Revere and the Raiders never came to my door, but I feel blessed, nonetheless, for preserving the crazy dreaminess of that preteen girl who could envision such a wild idea happening. Now I’m using that same sense of optimism to guide me through this new release of Fire Me, hoping it finds new readers who are amused and moved by Anne’s tale, which is ultimately a story of a woman finding her own dream and asking: Why not?

 Fire Me by Libby Malin will be released on Kindle this spring, in paperback this summer.

 

 

 

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Easter Music

For the church music director, the two big holidays of the liturgical year — Christmas and Easter — are fraught with peril. Expectations are high, and there’s often a dizzying array of pieces to choose from. Finding just the right selections for a choir’s capabilities, though, can be a challenge.

During the few years I served as a church music director a long time ago in a galaxy far away, I well remember how happy I was to have found a sweet set of Renaissance pieces with little percussion instrument parts that I knew my volunteer choir could handle for Christmas. And I also remember my disappointment when they thought the pieces odd and not at all what they associated Christmas sounds with! Today when I look back at that Christmas, I smile broadly. I sing in a volunteer church choir now, and I know our own director puts up with similar grumblings from us about this or that piece.

unnamed-2Although the Easter preparation includes all the Holy Week music, I always found Christmas music preparation the most anxious and the heaviest work load. Choir would prepare about twenty minutes of music to be sung before the service, then have an anthem ready for the service itself. It all had to happen on that one  night.

Holy Week, at least, is broken up into more, oh, digestible pieces. There’s Maundy Thursday (with a rehearsal ahead of the service), Good Friday (with a rehearsal ahead of the service), and Easter (with a rehearsal ahead of the service). So, while you’re preparing a full slate of musical selections, you don’t have to do them all at once on one night. You have the chance to refresh your musical memory, to go over problem spots, before each service.

When I sang in a professional choir at a church in Baltimore, Holy Week services varied little from year to year, but the music was transcendent. We sang Maurice Durufle’s sublime rendition of “Ubi Caritas” each Maundy Thursday, and Antonio Lotti’s eight-part “Crucifixus” each Good Friday. Several years in a row we sang William Byrd’s lovely and difficult (rhythmically) “Haec dies” on Easter itself. (Links are below.)

On Maundy Thursday, the organist would switch off the organ at a certain point, and it wouldn’t be heard again until a powerful,  improvised introduction to the Gloria at the Saturday Easter vigil. Until then, we sang everything a capella — hymns, chants, anthems. One of the basses was tasked with giving us pitches softly, using a pitch pipe.

All of that unaccompanied singing created a solemn and somber mood, making the exuberant sounds of the majestic organ all the more wonderful at the Easter vigil — it was as if you were hearing the organ for the first time, bringing you, in a small way, into communion with those who, on that first Easter, found brightness after silence and darkness.

That same kind of exuberant joy shines through the reintroduction of “alleluias” after the forty days of Lent, during which they go missing. At my current church, the rector occasionally, during his Easter sermons, would proclaim the Easter “Alleluia! The Lord is risen,” look at the choir and know, without doubt, we’d enthusiastically reply, “The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!” with no  prompting.

This year, our choir’s Easter anthem was “You Are the New Day,” a piece with a pleasant undulating melody and warm harmony, and words that sometimes…seem as odd to me as those Renaissance pieces I chose years ago must have sounded to that choir. The composer of “New Day” apparently wrote the piece after experiencing personal difficulties and acutely fearing nuclear war. So some of its lines have a whiff of apocalyptic warning.

Was there grumbling in the choir stalls? I won’t tell. 🙂 But I will say that we sang with all the joy in our hearts and discovered this piece has special warm meaning for our rector and his wife. Since this is his last Easter with us before retirement, it was a musical gift I’m sure everyone in the choir was happy to offer them and the rest of the church.

Ubi caritas by Maurice Durufle

Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti

Haec dies by William Byrd

Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest novel, Fall from Grace, has been called a “novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review.

 

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