Category Archives: writing

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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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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Five-paragraph story: (She Loves Me) Like Jesus Does

by Libby Sternberg

Why should traveling tire you out when all you’re doing is sitting while someone else steers? He’d been on a plane for three hours, a train for two, and now was in the backseat of an Uber, and he felt like he’d put in a forty-eight hour shift at the hospital. He drummed his fingers on his knees, anxious to get there, afraid of what he’d find.

She’d understood the first time, he reminded himself. She’d checked him into a program and taken him back when he was done, even softly explaining how it wasn’t unusual for medical staff to be tempted, to cross that line into substance abuse. She knew other nurses who’d gone this way. Of course, she herself hadn’t.

She’d understood the second time, too, with encouragement and a disciplined lack of judgment. He’d actually seen her schooling her face so it registered none of her disappointment when she suspected he was using again. No rehab then, nor the time after, nor…how many more times had he slipped?

This last time…there was a coolness. A sense she was reevaluating. She’d found his stash and thrown it out, flushed it right down the toilet. He’d tried to joke with her about that not being the most environmentally friendly way to discard meds, but she’d looked at him as if if she’d given up — on herself. On trying to figure it out, figure out how to be supportive but not enabling. When he saw that look, he went to rehab on his own. Checked himself in. Pulled himself up. Prayed every day it would stick this time. Prayed she’d be there when he got out. So that he could at least say he was sorry. Just that — say he was sorry. Please…

Seventy times seven, he murmured to himself after he’d lugged his duffle from the car and stood in front of their tidy bungalow. Please, Lord, let her forgive me.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist whose latest book, Fall from Grace, has been called a “novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review. Five-paragraph-stories is an occasional series, sometimes inspired, as this one is, by popular songs. “She Loves Me Like Jesus Does” is a song by Eric Church. Video below.

Other stories in the five-paragraph series are:

 

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E-Readers or Dead Tree Books?

by Libby Sternberg

Note: This article was originally published in the Wall Street Journal on January 5, 2011 under the title “From Papyrus to Gutenberg to Kindle.” It has been updated for this blog.

When the Kindle and other e-readers first made inroads into the book market, they were treated with derision by steadfast lovers of DTBs (“dead tree books”). These readers value books as objects, not just as a means of communicating a story. Despite the Kindle’s popularity, some people still refuse to use them, loving the feel and smell of regular books. Perhaps some historical perspective can help these holdouts adjust to our new era, when electronic reading devices exist side by side with books as objects:

***
From a fifth-century A.D. Sumerian clay tablet discovered in the Euphrates delta, remarkably intact except for the salutation and signature:

“A thousand pardons for hitting young Jezebel in the head with my last note.

I am sure no one will notice the scar after it heals. You do keep your tent very dark; she will still find many suitors. (Editor’s note: It is unclear if the writer is saying “suitors” or “donkeys” here as the words are very similar in cuneiform.)

Please do not worry about the new papyrus we have heard so much talk of. The clay tablets we provide for the village elders are far more durable. They have a rich earthy smell and make for heft in one’s hands. Papyrus will never take the place of clay.

So confident am I that clay will never be replaced, that I have taken a loan from Old Fatima-mae to make some improvements to my tent. I will be able to pay it off quickly with the delivery of our next set of tablets.

But please stop using the clay to write down what you are calling ‘poems.’ It is a waste of precious material, my cousin. No one wants to read those when they can hear them round the fire at night.”

***
The following appears to be a clandestine letter written by an Egyptian scribe to his wife. Although the date is missing, experts peg its provenance somewhere between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D.:

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times: Look at both ends of the scroll to see which one is the beginning of the story. It’s no wonder that Nanatu, the Story Seller, would not buy my latest effort. You presented him the scroll with the ending first!

And no, my dearest one, I refuse to try that product they are calling parchment. It is thin and one must use many separate sheets of it, which can easily become lost. If one scroll confuses you now, what will you do with many single pieces? I can see it clearly—parchment blowing every which way in the wind like the petals of a flower during a sandstorm, and you giving Nanatu one of my stories with half the pieces missing.

Nanatu is temperamental enough as it is. If I hear him say once more that he wants a story with a boat journey in it like the one that Homer fellow told, I will scream. Putting my stories on parchment will not make the difference; getting rid of the likes of Nanatu will.”

***
Fifteenth-century epistle from an older monk at an Alsatian monastery, Schwer-an-Bier, to another younger monk in a nearby German abbey:

“Please try harder to color within the lines, dear Frère Aefle. Your latest efforts were a strange mess of colors in odd cube-like forms that reminded me of images seen through shards of glass. But I must say at least it was better than the blurry pictures you did on the previous manuscript. That one created mere impressions, rather than a specific image. It made one feel as if one were viewing a landscape through wine-besotted eyes.

Abbot Pierre exclaimed after seeing it: Je vais chercher du bon vin à la cave. (Editor’s note: The loose translation for this phrase is: “Wine is good. Very good. Very, very good. Is it five o’clock somewhere?”) Such shoddy workmanship on your part will only feed the talk that our efforts are useless decoration and unnecessary toil, especially now that villagers are all in a fever over the printing machine you described.

Gutenberg, Schmutenberg, I say, Frère Aefle. Even your most pitiful illumination efforts are more vibrant than the cold black and white letters I’ve seen coming from his machine.

Rest assured, nothing will replace our artistic efforts. And even if Herr Schmutenburg’s device takes hold, I have been told by Friar Chuck that such ‘presses’ will still need laborers like us. He has devised a plan to work together with the Gutenbergs, something he is calling ‘the agency model,’ providing manuscripts to the presses for distribution. It is very complicated. But the important thing to remember, mon Frère, is to keep toiling away, perfecting your craft and trusting Friar Chuck and all the Abbots to look after us.”

***
Just as well-meaning scribes adjusted to papyrus and the printing press, so too have authors, publishers, readers and agents made the change to a publishing world where e-versions of books are now a must. The reading and publishing world marches onward. To paraphrase a famous playwright, “the story’s the thing,” not where or how you read it!

Libby Sternberg is a novelist whose books are available in print and on e-readers. Her latest novel, Fall from Grace, has been called a “novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review.

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Five-Paragraph Story: Written in the Sand

by Libby Sternberg

She’d seen the receipt, on top of his dresser. Maybe he’d left it there deliberately. Now she knew, and she sniffled as she threw cosmetics in her purse, her few pieces of clothing in a bag. She’d be gone by the time he got back.

When she’d met him, she’d wanted a fling, something light and fun. She couldn’t afford serious. She’d known, lately, though, that she was lying to herself about it all being a lark. He was everything she wanted in a man — sensitive, strong, creative, funny. His sense of humor was what had first attracted her to him, the way he’d joked with her when she’d served him beer at the Tap House.

She’d find a new job. Bars, restaurants, diners always needed a waitress, and she was a good one, friendly, pretty, fast and attentive. She remembered things, had practically a photographic memory, hardly had to write down orders. Swearing, she hit her balled-up fist on the dresser, causing the receipt to float to the floor. Her memory was a curse.

She couldn’t stop herself. She bent and picked up the paper, replacing it on his dresser. And then she couldn’t stop herself from investigating further. She pulled open his top drawer, and there it was, nestled among white T-shirts and gray boxers. A velvet box. The kind that only held one kind of jewelry. Her hand reached out, touched the soft cover, but then pulled back as if she’d touched a hot stove.

She’d not look at it. It would burn into her memory, and she’d weep inside whenever seeing its image in her mind. Her memory was a curse. She pulled out her phone as she left the house, calling her WITSEC contact, telling him she was on the road to someplace new.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist whose latest book, Fall from Grace, has been called a “novel for our times” by Midwest Book Review. Five-paragraph-stories is an occasional series, sometimes inspired, as this one is, by popular songs. “Written in the Sand” is a song by the country band Old Dominion. Video below. Previous five-paragraph stories can be found here:

 

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