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Favorite Beach Read 2019: Reese’s Summer of Promise

I’d love it if my book was the “Favorite Beach Read of 2019,” but I don’t even know where to submit it for such an honor. So I’m daydreaming with the title of this post. I hope you’ll indulge me as I tell you a little about this book and why I hope it becomes readers’ favorite beach read of the summer.

First, let’s talk about what makes a good beach read. For me, it’s something not too dark, that keeps me rooting for the characters, has a layered, not shallow, plot, and, yes, involves a happy ending. Throw in a beach location, and it’s a beach beach read!

Reese’s Summer of Promise is the first of three books set along the Delaware coast. So, beach setting–check!

Its main characters are strong, independent people. There’s Reese, who can operate a back hoe and other heavy construction equipment as VP of her father’s construction company. There’s Zack, an army man home to do physical therapy for a leg injury acquired in Afghanistan. Both start their summer “friendship” still stinging from rejection. He received a “Dear John” letter from his fiancee while in the “sandbox,” while Reese received the same breakup from her airman fiance when he was similarly deployed. So, interesting characters–check!

Reeses_Summer_of_Promise_1600x2400As to a layered plot, both Reese and Zack shy away from commitment after being deeply hurt, and they both are dealing with other challenges. Reese, along with her two siblings, is still trying to get her recently widowed father to honor her mother’s wishes and have a memorial service, scattering her ashes along the coast she loved as much as Reese does. Zack is working hard to get his leg back in shape, determined to rejoin his unit wherever they are next sent. Throw in this mix a discovery of old World War II love letters involving a soldier from nearby Fort Miles. As the summer progresses, Reese wonders if the soldier made it home alive…just as she is falling for her own soldier and learns he might be going in harm’s way once more. So, layered plot – check!

The Delaware coastline is a favorite spot for my family. We love vacationing there, especially at the “quiet resort” of Bethany Beach, where Reese lives and works. The book takes readers on a journey to this beautiful area, its bays and salt marshes, its eateries and beaches, and its history. Concrete silos from World War II still dot its coastline, and soldiers were once stationed at Cape Henlopen’s Fort Miles with guns trained on the entrance to the Delaware Bay so no enemy ships could get through to the refineries up river.

As with all beach settings, romance seems to float in with the tide, and Reese can’t resist its pull any more than Zack can, despite the fact that they both start in the “friend zone,” not intent on anything beyond a summer fling, something Reese’s best friend, Anne, urges on her, as she thinks about Zack:

“I’ve sworn off military men,” Reese said, gazing over to where Zack and his friends ambled on the boardwalk. She cringed for him—he’d given up on hiding his pain and now openly limped. They were all so intent on proving to the world they could take it—whatever “it” was. She’d spent enough time with a man like that. Sam had been full of bluster and pride, eager to show her around the base, to brag about what he did, how he helped schedule all the big transports out of Dover. No more. Swagger just hid the truth—they were human.

Then she remembered Anne was dating a military man, Gabe something, a pilot at Dover. They’d only been going out about a month.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with military men for other people,” Reese added, so as not to offend Anne.

Anne was the one snorting now, then she sat up again and returned to her more serious mood. She lightly touched Reese’s hand.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with being…intrigued by a man, military or not. It doesn’t mean commitment. It means enjoying yourself. Look, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zack was interested in you. He’s only here for the summer. What’s wrong with a summer fling? You deserve it.”

Reese’s Summer of Promise will be available soon at Amazon. The Kindle price is a bargain, so I hope you check it out and look for the next in the series after you visit with Reese and Zack. And I hope  — and daydream — that readers will find it a favorite beach read this year!

Visit Libby’s website at www.LibbyMalin.com for information on her other novels.

 

 

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Storytelling: Haves vs Have-Nots

Years ago, I read an article about the now-defunct soap opera Another World. I was a fan at the time. I’m unashamed to admit I enjoy serial storytelling, and soap operas rule in that genre, keeping plot lines and characters alive (sometimes even after they’re supposedly dead!) for years, even decades. I’ve even written a book, a romantic comedy, about a soap head writer (My Own Personal Soap Opera).

Marriage_of_Mac_and_Rachel_Another_World_1975

Rachel and Mac get married on “Another World”

In the article, an Another World head writer or producer talked about the core of the soap’s storytelling. Haves vs. have-nots provided the foundation for most if not all their tales. One of the soap’s biggest stories involved the character of Rachel Davis (played by Victoria Wyndham), daughter of single-mother Ada, who villainously connives to seduce and try to marry one rich fellow after another, ultimately landing on wealthy Mac Cory (played by Douglass Watson), with whom she finds happiness (and, of course, sadness as they break up, make up and…on and on).

That story thread, haves vs. have-nots, provides a foundation for some of my own tales in one way or another. My stories aren’t always about rich vs. poor, but they almost always carry an element of upper-class vs. middle or working class, maybe because I felt those distinctions myself over the years as the daughter of two wonderful parents who worked hard all their lives (in white collar jobs) but made sure their two children went to college. I even went to a music conservatory.

Talk about class tensions. In that highly competitive atmosphere, the “haves” were those with musical pedigrees, maybe parents who played in orchestras or maybe just a lifetime immersion in classical music. Everything I knew about classical music came from those conservatory teachers at the time. In that sense, I was a “have not,” acutely aware of my lack of standing, afraid I’d trip up and mispronounce a composer’s name or, as I did one day, bring into a class a ridiculously sentimentalized arrangement of an art song, not realizing how this selection might reveal what a cultural neanderthal I really was. Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 11.10.27 AM

The conservatory was in Baltimore, my home town, which for many years was very socially stratified, with various groups living in specific regions of the town–old money in Roland Park and Guilford, ethnic whites in Highlandtown, Jewish people on the west side, steel workers in the suburbs of Dundalk, and African-Americans in the inner city.

This experience of class lines, of feeling like a “have not,” even if my family wasn’t poor, undergirds the first adult mystery I ever wrote, Death Is the Cool Night. In this novel, a troubled young conductor, Gregory, can’t remember his actions on the night his nemesis is murdered. As police investigate the crime, he wonders if he did it…or if the real killer is a charming young woman, Laura, from an upper class family, he’s falling in love with.

Throughout the story, Gregory feels his sense of being a “have not” as acutely as I did as a student at Peabody Conservatory, where the book is set.

For a few years, I tried, through literary agents, to sell this book to traditional publishers. It received rejection letters that could have read as back-cover blurbs, but no one wanted to buy. World War II-era books were not popular back then, and its time period worked against me.

So I self-published it, and even managed to snag a wonderful review from a a major trade journal that said, in part:

“Blending operatic drama, sumptuous description, and noir, Sternberg gracefully puzzles out her tormented characters’ actions and motivations…” Publishers Weekly

If you’re reading this on or around the post’s publication date, check it out here for a free read. If you miss the free days, you can still give it a try!

Libby Sternberg

 

 

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Excerpt: “In Sickness and in Health”

An excerpt from my latest novel, now available at the Kindle store….

by Libby Malin

He was making her an offer: marriage, perhaps for a short time, depending on his prognosis, during which she’d live a life of luxury and leisure except tending to him. Not as nurse or maid, mind you, but as companion and dear friend. As helpmate. As hand-holder. He’d hire nurses and maids, and all Ava would have to do was manage them. He’d expect fidelity during the marriage, and she heartily concurred. Once married, she’d live up to the vows and she’d expect the same as him.

Once married—yes, she said that. She spoke with the same level of sincerity and seriousness. She told him he wasn’t crazy, that she was the one who’d originally floated the idea, and that she wasn’t about to laugh at him for taking her up on it, especially given his current situation.

They talked, in fact, as if this were a business deal. But even so, she found herself staring at him, her heart breaking thinking of the loneliness he’d probably felt after his parents passed, and then being alone again in the doctor’s office, getting bad news.

She’d felt lonely during her DC ordeal, and she’d not faced anything as grave as this.

She, too, began to feel that her “inspiration” the night she’d arrived at the beach—to marry a rich man, and the call it had prompted her to make—was some sort of quirk of Fate, leading them to each other, if only for a short time.

This, too, nudged their interaction into overdrive. There was something about a possible death sentence that made everything more intoxicating, that made colors more saturated, emotions more pronounced. Why, she might even say she loved John. Loved him as a human being in need. And who was to say: perhaps she’d fall in love with him, too. She’d always liked him. Well, in that impersonal way of high school kids. But they’d not moved in the same social circles much, so she’d just not had the chance to interact with him. After the beer-soaked proposal at the pool party, she’d even crushed on him. Until she realized he wasn’t going to ask her out. She had to admit she’d found him attractive when he’d landed on her doorstep the other day. Very attractive. And if he’d taken measures to start dating, she would have responded positively.

She squared her shoulders when they arrived at the medical center in Wilmington. Step one: be that helpmate he required. She’d signed up for that task for this day. Maybe that was the way to approach all of it, just in twenty-four-hour segments, one day after another, not looking farther than evening.

The day was tedious and stressful, and if anything was going to test her inclination to say yes, it was the frustration and boredom of medical testing. The check-in and directions to the right office. The endless papers to fill out, the same ones for the radiologist as for the medical center in general. The signature on the privacy papers—yes, she agreed when John asked if he could put her down as someone the doctors could talk to. The showing of his insurance cards, the looking up of said insurance program, the checking of blood pressure and pulse, several times, once for each location they moved to, from office, to waiting room, to private waiting area of the scan area.

The sitting around sea-green waiting rooms flipping through last month’s People magazine waiting nearly two hours for a scan because there was a technical issue with one of the two machines in the medical center, and because it turned out John was, in fact, claustrophobic, and they’d had to pull him from the room, give him a Valium, and wait for it to affect him before putting him back in the schedule. Oh, and there were more checks on his BP and pulse then, too.

All of this was done, of course, with stiff smiles on their faces, little reassuring grins as if to say, “This is going okay, isn’t it? Just a few little bugs here and there, but it’s so ordinary, so normal to have these speed bumps, so comforting to feel irritated at this, this small thing…”

Although she’d done nothing but sit and read the entire afternoon they were there, she felt as if she’d run a marathon when they finally slipped out of the building and breathed fresh air. Her muscles ached, particularly those around her mouth and eyes.

“If I heard ‘Strangers in the Night’ one more time, I would have screamed,” she said.

“Your voice would have been covered by the racket I’d make heaving a chair at the speaker system,” he said, as they made their way to his truck in the multilevel parking lot.

“At least they turned off the TV,” she said. “Watching bodies being cut up in the morgue on CSI: Miami just doesn’t seem like suitable fare for a hospital waiting room, you know?”

At that, he chuckled. So did she. And the tension of the day led them to full-out laughter as the aches left them and they relaxed, and that led to him touching her arm when they reached his vehicle, and she leaned in, and he wrapped her in a hug. And they shared their first kiss.

Not bad. Not bad at all, she thought, as his warm lips pressed against hers and he deepened the kiss. She liked that he didn’t wear aftershave, and she breathed in the clean scent of his soap, something that had a tinge of coconut oil in it, she thought, reminding her of suntan lotion and the sea.

They stayed locked in an embrace, his forehead pressing on hers, for a few moments. “Thanks,” he breathed. “It really made a difference, having someone—you—with me.”

0-6She squeezed his arm. “I was happy to do it. Really.” The tedium of the afternoon lifted, the fatigue memory misting away as well. She felt good. About herself. About life. About everything. And especially about being with John. This was Fate bringing them together.

“I think I’m awake enough to drive,” he said, but she shook her head.

“Nope. I take my duties to my future fiancé very seriously. I will drive us home.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up a bit, and she thought she noticed a visible relaxing of his shoulders. Good. She was glad if she could give that to him.

They both got in, and he leaned his seat back, confirming her belief that he really did need to unwind.

She started the engine, and after a few jolts as she got used to the brakes and action of the accelerator pedal, they were on the road south to Bethany Beach.

(c) Libby Malin Sternberg 2019

Read the entire story of Ava and John’s journey to love through bad and good health by heading to Amazon and picking up a copy of “In Sickness and in Health”!

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“In Sickness and in Health”: New Novel!

Drumroll, please… I’m announcing the release of a new novel, a sweet romance/women’s fiction with some inspirational overtones, In Sickness and in Health. It’s available at the Kindle store and will be on sale for 99 cents for a while, so grab a copy by clicking on this link! 

0-6Here’s the story: Ava Fulton moves to Bethany Beach, Delaware to lick her wounds after a DC scandal sent her into hiding. There, she decides the best way out of her problems is to marry a millionaire, and she just so happens to remember one from high school, John Baylor, now a very successful man who’d shyly tried to court her as a teen. When she reconnects with him, though, she finds he faces grim health news and she tries to be a good helpmate through his medical crises. Only after they marry and his prognosis changes does she realize she’d wed him planning to be a widow, not a wife. They struggle to make a go of their union and a new life in general, eventually heeding an inner call to something greater than either of them together.

And here’s a Q and A about the book and its characters:

Where did the character of Ava Fulton come from?

She originally came from the character of Sheila in my romantic comedy Fire Me! In that book, the heroine spends a day trying to get laid off to snag a generous severance package. She discovers she has some competition in coworker Sheila. I’d envisioned In Sickness and in Health being a sequel to Fire Me, following Sheila’s life. Something happened as I was writing, though–I kept thinking of the heroine as Ava! That name just dogged me as I wrote, and I realized I wasn’t writing Sheila at all but some other woman and her story. So I abandoned the idea of a sequel and wrote this standalone novel instead. As soon as I did this, the novel flowed more easily, the writing became a joy instead of a chore.

The first part of the novel, which you subtitle “Dying,” is about John’s struggles with a serious diagnosis. Was that hard to write?

Sadly, I think many people have experiences similar to John’s, either dealing with a serious diagnosis or being helpmates/friends to people who face such a fate. I’ve dealt with the Big C myself and know the anxiety one experiences during testing, etc. Although I’m a ten year survivor now, I do find myself writing more stories that incorporate some of those health experiences in one way or another. Maybe I’m far enough away from it now that it’s easier for me to explore as a writer.

The second part of the novel is subtitled “Living,” however. What happens when things change for John and Ava?

I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers to mention that John’s prognosis takes an upward turn…and that’s when he and Ava have to figure out how to live together! Previously they’d been focused on the possibility of him dying, of being in declining health. Once they realize that fate might not be in store, they have to do some heavy lifting in their relationship. This creates a comic moment or two as they struggle with the “in health” part of their marriage vows.

Do they make it as a couple?

Well, readers will have to read the book to find out! 🙂 They have a bumpy road, to be sure, but they do eventually find peace and fulfillment…in a surprising way. I hope readers enjoy discovering how their stories end.

Is In Sickness and in Health an inspirational?

Yes, no, maybe. 🙂 The term “inspirational” covers Christian books–fiction or nonfiction–with faith themes. In Sickness and in Health is…something in between. Like all inspirational fiction, it’s clean and sweet. No sex scenes (the curtain closes even with a married couple like Ava and John in the bedroom), no bad language (or if there is, it’s scant), but, yes, some mentions of faith. I’ve written before on this blog about how general fiction, for the most part, has mentions of faith blanched out of books, but this isn’t the way a lot of people live. Even non-churchgoers can have rich faith lives, can believe in God, and they can even pray often. So I think a book like In Sickness and in Health probably reflects more of an average person’s connection with things spiritual than a lot of general fiction, even literary fiction, does. In my novel, Ava and John start out as good people who don’t even realize they are searching for something more in their lives until they discover ways to put their spirituality into action. It’s not a preachy book at all, and I must admit I hesitated to put a discussion of this aspect of the book on the blog for fear it would turn some away. Ava and John’s faith journey actually has some comic moments in it, and, though it shapes their eventual path, it is a gentle and tender path, not a judgmental one.

This book is set primarily at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Why Bethany?

Bethany Beach is one of my very favorite places, and we go there often. It is a small, quiet resort on the many miles of coastline that make up Delaware’s eastern border, and we vacation there every summer, and visit several times throughout the year. I have several other books in the works that are set there, so watch this space for news of those novels!

In Sickness and in Health by Libby Malin is available at the Kindle store. If you read and enjoy a book, consider leaving a review. Indie authors in particular are helped by reviews. They aid in bringing books to the attention of other readers!

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Heart Condition by Libby Malin

Excerpt from “Heart Condition,” by Libby Malin, a sweet romance, part of a series set in the Bethany Beach, DE area. (c) Libby Sternberg 2019

Heart Condition

by Libby Malin

PROLOGUE

“Mr. Newhouse? Mr. Newhouse? Daniel?”

His eyes focused slowly, searching for the source of the deep voice with a slight Indian accent. Just a second ago, he’d been…somewhere.

His mind struggled through fog. He felt safe, but not well. Numb. A little queasy. Cold. Yes, cold. Refrigerator cold. That’s where he’d been—in the cold operating room. Nurses, doctors, all busy, in blue scrubs. He’d not had a sense of the room’s layout, only seeing the patch of ceiling above him as he was wheeled in. He knew there was lots of equipment there, shiny and bright, as if just delivered and still in its packing, never used. Every once in a while, a face had appeared over him, just the face. The hair pulled under a baglike net, mouth covered with a mask, gloved hands raised in the air. “Doing okay, Mr. Newhouse?” They’d told a joke…and he’d fallen asleep, out cold, before the punch line.

Seconds ago…in a bright, sterile room. Where was he now?

He heard soft bustling noises nearby, a muffled screech of metal rings on a curtain rod, a cart rolling by? He saw two figures on the right. Mom. His heart raced, a fast beep from a nearby monitor pinging it into the room. No, Mom had been gone for more than a year now. This was Sarah, his oldest sister, who looked like her.

And his other sister, Reese. And Dad. They stood by his bed. The light seemed dimmer here, softer. He blinked.

“Mr. Newhouse? Everything went very well.” The doctor, still in blue scrubs, that was who’d been speaking. Dan turned toward this voice on the other side of the bed. For the first time, he noticed the man had neatly manicured fingers, pinkish nails that looked as if they’d been trimmed by an expert as a matter of pride. That was good. A surgeon should take care of his hands….

“It went very smoothly. I’ve already explained it to your family, and I’ll be in to see you tomorrow when you’re awake.” He smiled and patted him on the arm.

“How long….” he managed to murmur, his lips feeling chapped and not connected to his mouth. “How long it take?”

“About five hours. Right on time,” the surgeon said with good cheer.

Five hours. What had they told him—three to six? So “right on time” meant less than the maximum? Why so long?

“You’re going to be fine, Dan,” Sarah said, but he heard the strain in her voice.

“The doctor said you can be back to normal real soon,” Reese added. Then, tacked on, “Of course, we told him you never were normal.”

He smiled and would have laughed…but it hurt. Or tugged. It felt strange. He was under what seemed a mountain of blankets, but when he glanced down, it looked to be only a thin sheet and covering. It felt soft, thick.

“Just rest, Mr. Newhouse. The nurses will get you comfortable and tell you what you can and can’t do. You should get into a room soon.” And then the doctor said to his family, “I’ll be by tomorrow,” as if they hadn’t heard him say the same thing to him.

The doctor left, replaced by a nurse who said, loudly, as if his hearing had been affected, “How are you feeling, Mr. Newhouse?” She looked at the latest readings on the machine connected to him, checked an IV bag.

“Like someone is sitting on my chest.” Everything he said sounded husky and deep, his voice an octave below its normal tone to a basso profundo. And it was hard to speak loudly. It took too much effort and…scared him. He was afraid it would hurt, pushing the air out of his chest.

“That’s normal. You’re going to a room soon.” She must not have heard the doc promise the same thing.

“His color already looks better,” his dad said, gruffly. He looked scared as all hell.

“Mmm-hmm. Should see a big improvement in the quality of his life,” the nurse commented. And then he heard her say, under her breath to his family, “So young…”

So young. He was thirty. But he felt one-hundred. And, despite what the doctor said, he wasn’t sure he’d ever feel normal again.

CHAPTER ONE

She kicked the pot right into the water. She hadn’t intended to, but she’d turned to adjust another plant—fragrant lavender in a cobalt-blue container—and her toe hit the little black resin pot filled with lemon-yellow daisies kerplunk into the depths of the Little Assawoman Bay. That’s what happens, Olivia, when you try to cram a yard full of flowers onto a condo deck.

“Hey!” A voice came from below. A male voice. A specific male. Her landlord. The one whose slow, careful movements screamed old and tired but whose tan face and sandy-blond hair whispered young and eager.

“Sorry!” she said to the unseen shouter. Daniel Newhouse was his name. She’d met him exactly three times, and each time she’d been struck by the same things: he was good-looking, serious and…weak. Or rather, frail. He’d just had surgery, apparently. She knew from calling his rental management office when he was in the hospital. A too-chatty secretary had spilled that info.

Not my problem, she said to herself. Then she yelled it in her mind: Not. My Problem.

Olivia Bentley might be a nurse, but she no longer practiced the art and science of the caring profession. She’d put aside her scrubs last year after her father had died, leaving her a sweet inheritance as his only child. Her mother had passed when she was a girl.

No more nursing for her. No more…having your heart wrenched out as you watched patients struggle. As you watched some…lose the battle.

She shook her head, and a stray lock of frizzy auburn hair clouded her vision. As she pushed it aside, she breathed deep the smell of ocean air and absorbed the stunning shimmer of this spring day on the water. Brilliant blue sky. Abundant sunshine. Sleek, elegant terns winging over the marshy grass.

Just what she needed. She stopped her deck gardening, and plopped into a lounge chair, her feet propped up. Exactly what she needed. 41922363_2001352436589756_6283387358473617408_o

But as she closed her eyes, a news reel of memories flashed through her mind. Blood. Unspeakable trauma. Doctors and nurses around tables, tending the wounded, calling to each other for equipment, blood, sutures, IVs.

“Don’t give up, Hank.”

Her eyes popped open as she tried to figure out if she’d whispered the words or just thought them.

With a sigh, she heaved herself off the chair and went inside to continue unpacking, cleaning, arranging. If she lost herself in chores, she’d forget.

***

Dan leaned against the railing of his condo sipping on a mug of coffee. He heard the sliding door upstairs as his new tenant left the deck. He was beginning to set his clock by her routine. Whenever she stretched out on her chaise, he could do a mental countdown to when she’d shoot up and start doing something else. She never seemed to stay out there for more than a few minutes at a time, popping up to head inside, as if something kept her from really relaxing. And, like him, she’d spent some restless nights there, too, coming outside when Morpheus abandoned them in the wee hours.

She was a petite, curvy pixie, the kind of woman painters from a different era celebrated, but who’d never fit in with the rail-thin looks on today’s fashion magazines.

Ever since he’d first met her—when she’d come to his Baltimore law office to sign the lease for the condo unit above his at Fenwick Island, Delaware—he’d been intrigued. Not just by her bright green eyes, kewpie-doll mouth, porcelain skin and sensual figure. Sure, he’d noticed those things, but there was something else about her, something familiar, because it was territory he now knew, as well.

No, he’d been intrigued by the way her eyes didn’t smile when she laughed or grinned. Something was off there. Nurse retiring at the ripe old age of, what, thirty? That was his guess. His rental management secretary had filled him in on a few more details, how she was “between careers” or “taking a break.” Something. But she had the rent money, and that was all that mattered. Everything else—the sleeplessness that led her to the deck at night, the inability to relax, the haunted look in her eyes sometimes—wasn’t his business.

Not my problem, he thought to himself.

No, his problem was sticking to doctor’s orders, recovering from his heart surgery, and…figuring out what to do with the rest of his life now that he’d resigned from his Baltimore law firm, sold his house, and moved permanently to what had just been his beach home in the past.

He was officially a beach bum.

And he had his own problems with finding peace.

When he heard her walking around upstairs again, he wondered at the wisdom of taking the lower condo for himself and renting out the top one. But his was roomier, with an extra bedroom and a small den. Not that he used the den much. When he was browsing the internet or emailing on his ancient laptop, he preferred sitting at the kitchen counter, where he could see outside to the gently lapping waters of the bay.

Which was what he was going to do now. Check the internet, read the news there, and maybe even Google Olivia Bentley, RN.

____________

(c) Libby Sternberg 2019  This book is finished and will be on submission to agents and/or editors soon.

 

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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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