Friday, December 2, 2011

The Iconic Cowboy: The Virginian

by Libby Sternberg

My first encounter with The Virginian was the television show of the same name back in the 1960s, the one with James Drury in the title role and Doug McClure as his pal, Trampas.

The Virginian, TV style
His pal? In the book, Trampas is The Virginian’s adversary, not his friend. 

But I didn’t make that shocking discovery until thirty-some years after the TV show, at a period in my life when I was reading absorbing old stories I’d passed over during my teen years. The first in this reading journey was Catherine Marshall’s Christy set a few decades after The Virginian, not in the wilds of Wyoming but in the equally foreign (to me) terrain of the Smoky Mountains.

Both stories have similar themes, however. They deal with questions of morality in the face of lawlessness. The heroines of both books have to reconcile their church-and-school-learned views on right and wrong with the reality of wrongdoers. The heros in both books have to actually deal with the wrongdoers. In the Virginian’s case, action involves painful decisions.

I swooned over the Virginian and his romance with the feisty schoolteacher Molly, two strong characters from opposite backgrounds. She was educated; he was not. She was at ease in society; he was not. They both shared a principled view of the world. His views, however, were put to the test, while hers were tested only by reflection.

Owen Wister masterfully built up their attraction by first building strong characters. From the moment readers encounter the Virginian, they are fascinated by him. He’s the iconic cowboy—strong, fair, a doer, not a talker. Molly, the woman he comes to woo, is equally strong, though, but in different ways. Her character unfolds with relentless drive, as steady and forceful as the train that first takes her from Bennington, Vermont on her journey west.

Bennington—I knew at least part of that journey. Not too long after reading The Virginian, my family moved to Vermont. But I made regular train trips back to my native Maryland, probably following some of the same tracks as Molly on the very first part of her fictional passage to a new life beyond her staid New England existence.

The first time I read the book I became so swept away in the romance at its core that other parts of the story remained in memory’s shadows. Only later when I reread the novel did I become aware of its historical aspects—the Johnson County range wars, the fight against corruption, the moral ambiguities involved in striving for freedom and independence.

Nothing summed up that latter theme better than the final dramatic passages in the book, involving, of course, a shootout of High Noon proportions. I don’t think I give anything away by reproducing part of the argument between the Virginian and Molly just minutes before this scene. It encapsulates the moral debate running through the book:

“I am not going to let him shoot me,” he said quietly.
“You mean—you mean—but you can come away!” she cried. “It’s not too late yet. You can take yourself out of his reach. Everybody knows that you are brave. What is he to you? You can leave him in this place. I’ll go with you anywhere. To any house, to the mountains, to anywhere away. We’ll leave this horrible place together and—and—oh, won’t you listen to me?” She stretched her hands to him. “Won’t you listen?”
He took her hands. “I must stay here.”
Her hands clung to his. “No, no, no. There’s something else. There’s something better than shedding blood in cold blood. Only think what it means! Only think of having to remember such a thing! Why, it’s what they hang people for! It’s murder!”
He dropped her hands. “Don’t call it that name,” he said sternly.
“When there was the choice!” she exclaimed, half to herself, like a person stunned and speaking to the air. “To get ready for it when you have the choice!”
“He did the choosing,” answered the Virginian. “Listen to me. Are you listening?” he asked, for her gaze was dull.
She nodded.
“I work hyeh. I belong hyeh. It’s my life. If folks came to think I was a coward—”
“Who would think you were a coward?”
“Everybody. My friends would be sorry and ashamed, and my enemies would walk around saying they had always said so. I could not hold up my head again among enemies or friends.”
“When it was explained—”
“There’d be nothing to explain. There’d just be the fact.” He was nearly angry.
“There is a higher courage than fear of outside opinion,” said the New England girl.
Her Southern lover looked at her. “Cert’nly there is. That’s what I’m showing in going against yours.”

As I reread and absorbed the themes of the story, I became newly appreciative of Owen Wister’s craft. He’d taken a real part of American history and fictionalized it. In doing so, he probably made it more real to readers than a dry examination of the facts of that time, especially of the gray shades between all those white and black hats. That’s the beauty and power of fiction—to make reality… more real.

When I decided to write a western historical, I have to admit to having The Virginian on my mind. Not the exact details of the story—no, I wasn’t interested in re-creating that. I knew I wouldn’t be able to come close to what Wister had achieved.

But I did want to place an iconic cowboy and a strong-willed, if troubled, woman in a setting where they’d both have to deal with moral questions that challenged their principled views of the world. Thus, my novel Kit Austen’s Journey was born, the tale of a woman trying to escape her past to start a new life only to realize that she cannot stop herself from falling in love, especially when the object of her affection is the archetypal western man—strong, resolute and kind.


Readers can find Kit Austen's Journey for Kindle here, for Nook here, and for other ereaders here. It is now also available in print.

The Virginian is available for free from Istoria Books. Go to our website at and look for the "Free Favorites" section

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tell Us Your "Going Home" Story

Homecomings stir our hearts. From the story of the Prodigal Son to that of a warrior returning from deployment, from a lonely lover reuniting with his beloved to a long delayed family reunion -- the act of going home touches something in our souls. Sometimes it is joyous, sometimes painful. But it is never inconsequential.

Jerri Corgiat explores this theme in her five-book family saga, Love Finds a Home. Set in small town Missouri, the series follows a generation of sisters as they navigate life and yearn for love. They search in the context of an extended family, with all the personalities and baggage, comfort and stress that go with it. But for all of them, finding love is an act of finding family, of going home.

Istoria Books invites you to share your "homecoming" experiences. Post a comment featuring a favorite memory of your own "coming home" story. Tell us what going home means to you. We will share the responses with our friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, look here; on Twitter, keep an eye on #istoriabooks.

Five contributors will win a free copy of any book on our inventory (go to our website to view our books). Please email us to let us know which book you would like to receive if you win! We will also send periodic compilations of selected entries from the blog.The contest will end October 31, 2011.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Grandmother Speaks Again To Her Grandchildren and the World

The Old Ashburn Place by Margaret Flint won the Dodd Mead Pictorial Review Best First Novel of 1935 prize, and the author went on to write numerous other books. Several of the authors' grandchildren -- Leslie S. Lebl, Sara M. Barnacle and Istoria President Matthew T. Sternberg -- worked to bring The Old Ashburn Place to 21st century readers after Ms. Flint's novels went out of print. It is now available as an ebook through Istoria Books. Below is a roundtable discussion among the three grandchildren about their grandmother and this project. Matthew and Leslie are siblings; Sara is their cousin. 

Did you read The Old Ashburn Place or any of your grandmother's novels in print?

MTS: I must admit that until we started this project, the only of Grandma's books I had read was Dress Right, Dress, which I picked up shortly after my mother's death in 2002. I was interested in it because Mom was the model for one of the characters. The Flint books were always on the shelf and I always knew what they were, but they somehow seemed remote -- of another time -- and it didn't occur to me that perhaps they held meaning for me. 
LSL:  I read most of them when I was a teenager -- and didn't care for them very much.  In retrospect, that's hardly surprising, as Grandma's focus was on adult dilemmas.  I thought  then that she was too pessimistic; now I find her depictions spot-on.  
SMB: I read two or three when I was still living in my parents' home, but it wasn't until I inherited my mother's complete collection at her passing in 1999 that I read through them all. My mother read the whole cycle every year. She had been her mother's secretary and research assistant, yes, and household help, up until she went into the WAC. For her, the novels were a very real connection to her own early life and especially to her mother. After reading the novels for myself, I became interested in seeing if any regional publishers would like to republish them. Not. My mother made a scrapbook of her mother's newspapers articles, and I enjoyed reading them -- short vignettes about life in Maine.

When do you remember learning your grandmother was a prize-winning novelist? Did your mother tell you?

MTS: Mom told me about the prize early on. I don't specifically  remember when. She said that style of novel caught on in the '30s but eventually went out of style. That was the reason she gave for all the books being tightly bunched chronologically with nothing before or after. She also said the publisher had gone bankrupt, although I don't if that's fully accurate, as Dodd Mead didn't go out of business for many more years.
LSL:  Mother told us about Grandma's prize, but also that her life was difficult, despite that success, especially after Grandpa died.
SMB: As far back as my mother could remember, she recalled the clack of her mother's typewriter at night. Margaret Flint got fired up to be a writer in college. She later took a short story writing course but experienced straight rejections for years and years. Her first attempt at a novel was the big success. I suppose my mother or one of the aunts must have told me about it, but the knowledge of the prize has always just been part of my family consciousness.

Did you ever see your grandmother at work writing? Did she ever talk about her life as an author/novelist with any of you or in your presence?

MTS: I was only five when Grandma died. I remember her as a remote and severe elder, although that was probably just the perspective of a shy child responding to a much older authority figure. The only thing I remember her talking to me about was telling me to behave myself.
LSL:  My memories are similar to Matthew's.  Although I was a few years older, I was completely intimidated by Grandma. 
SMB:  My grandmother's typewriter sat on a big office desk in the corner of her living room. Although she would put away her work when we appeared, we were well aware of her work. Perhaps because we lived nearby and could drop in for many short visits instead of one long vacation each year, my recollection of Margaret Flint is very different from Matthew's and Leslie's. For my brother and sister and me, she was the "Ga-dee" of hugs and cookies. She took real interest in our doings and sayings. She read stories to us at the fireside. She definitely had high standards, in housekeeping, morals, and kid behavior, but Ralph and Beth and I knew how to fly beneath her radar. I don't mean we did sneaky things (okay, except learning how to silently lift the lid on the fudge jar). We felt it was such a privilege to be at her house that we just chose to be good. It boils down to basics, too. At that time, my parents' house did not yet have indoor bathroom plumbing, but Gad-dee had not only a bathroom with a deep, clawfoot tub and aromatic soap, but she had a lavatory just off the kitchen hallway. It was Ralph and Sara in Wonderland when we visited her. I think our relationship was also colored by the fact that there were conflicts between our grandmother and the ambitious and passionate aunts, but my easy-going mother and her ambitious, passionate mother were pals. What I knew about Margaret Flint's ongoing writing I picked up from being a little pitcher with big ears.         
Did you hear her voice when you read The Old Ashburn Place?

MTS: I don't hear her voice because I don't remember her voice. What I hear is my mother and her two sisters. We often visited Grandma in Maine in the summers. I was always attracted by the northern New England accents. Add to that the Yankee mindset, and the book brings back all sorts of memories.
LSL:  The oddest thing is not that I hear her voice, but that in her descriptions of nature, I hear my own.  I feel as if she's seeing the landscape with my eyes -- something I've never felt before.  So I wonder if I wouldn't have enjoyed knowing her as an adult.
SMB:  Like Leslie, I can barely distinguish her love for that part of Maine from my own. Being a little older than Leslie and Matthew and having grown up in the hood, I knew or knew about a number of the people, places, and situations which show up in the books. I have a feeling that as I turn the pages, my grandmother will appear as a character, as I knew her.

As you worked on the novel, can you describe what it meant to you to be involved in this project?

MTS: It meant many things on both the emotional and intellectual levels. We are preserving a literary snapshot of a time and place that meant much to the formulation of my family and which would otherwise be lost as the technology of reading evolves. We are preserving the memory of a family matriarch. As we charge into the 21st century, I didn't want the world to lose sight of that piece of the 20th century. Perhaps as I get older myself, I'm more aware of what it will mean to eventually be forgotten.  I'm not claiming that our project is a profound cultural event, just that an important era in our family life should not be forgotten. Only one of my mother's five siblings is still alive. 
LSL:  I agree with Matthew's observations, but for me, it was  just fun to discover how well-written and compelling the story was, and how fresh it felt.  I think digital publishing is going to make available all kinds of literary treasures that up to now have been confined to the far reaches of a few libraries. 
SMB: Many family members over the years have wished for this moment, when Margaret's influence as a writer would be extended.  I am thrilled that Matthew and Libby (Sternberg, Istoria's editor-in-chief) finally found the right way to do it, and did it, and included Leslie and me.
The Old Ashburn Place was published in 1936 -- the same year Gone With the Wind, Absalom, Absalom, We, the Living and other well-known novels were released. What do you think its place is in the history of literature?

MTS: That remains to be seen. Mother always said Grandma's problem was that the market changed and her style of fiction went out of style. I'm sure that's so. As was pointed out in one of the literary analyses of the book, the Depression spawned a movement to return to the simplicity of rural life. Grandma caught that wave and rode it for a while. Then America entered the post-war era and the 1950s, and society was off in another direction.  However, reading the book after all these years, I can't help but wonder if maybe we've come full circle. Maybe this view of a man (Charlie Ashburn) trying to live his life according to clean ideals while stumbling over all the barriers imposed by human nature will speak to an audience seeking to redefine values in the very confusing world of today.
LSL:  No idea!
SMB:  I second both responses. As long as humans are interested in the doings of their fellow humans, there should be readers for Flint novels.
Did the novel tell you something you didn't know about your grandmother?

MTS:  Working on the book also gave me a much-belated insight into who my grandmother really was. Because I remembered her as judgemental (again, perhaps the false memory of a small child), I always assumed her worldview was insular. It wasn't. She saw people as they were -- warts and all -- and captured them in her writing. She wrote about real people in a real world. I now see her in an entirely different light.
LSL:  I think Grandma would fit right in with the 21st century view that no subjects should be off limits.
SMB:  For me, knowing my grandmother influenced my reading of her novels. As her six children left home, she kept all their letters home. Although that collection was broken up at her passing, when her house changed hands within the family, I have had opportunity to read many of them and learn something of the adult joys and clashes that may not have penetrated a child's field of vision.

Why should contemporary audiences read The Old Ashburn Place?

MTS: As mentioned above, although the story is set a century ago, the struggle to live a clean life in the face of human frailty is eternal. Books may be changing from paper to electrons but love stays the same. Our world has gotten more "modern" and "advanced," but we would be fools to think that human nature has changed one iota. I think people are sensing that. My hope is that they will see in Charlie Ashburn glimpses of the spiritual  struggle we all still go through generations later.
LSL:  I think today's readers should read it for pure enjoyment.  It's a good story, as relevant today as it was when it first appeared.  The insight into a specific region at a specific point in time is just an added benefit.
SMB: Because they are good reads. They tackle serious issues in a forthright but compassionate way.


The Old Ashburn Place by Margaret Flint is available now for Kindle and Nook. Read more about the author and this book at the Istoria Books website and contact us at or sign up for our mailing list here (the subscription box is in the margin!).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Libby Interviews Libby
About Aefle & Gisela

by Libby Sternberg

Libby Sternberg
My alter-ego, Libby Malin, has written another book, some piece of puffery she's calling Aefle and Gisela. Aefle and Gisela--what kind of title is that? Hmmph. While I write serious fiction and young adult novels, she continues to waste use her talents to write fluffy comedic pieces. Today I interview her about this latest effort.

Libby Sternberg: Aefle and Gisela is a comedy. Why on earth would anyone want to read it when there are so many other serious books with important topics and themes out there. For example, there's my book, Sloane Hall, a retelling of Jane Eyre that has been praised by Bronte experts and that explores very weighty themes such as obsession and forgiveness.

Libby Malin: Uh, this interview's about my book, right? Aefle and Gisela?

Libby Sternberg: Of course it is. But getting back to my question, why would anyone want to read a light piece of tomfoolery that probably only produces a brief and very temporary reaction, maybe a few smiles or a giggle or two, when they can be reading more important books that linger in the mind and heart, such as my mystery Death Is the Cool Night which deals with class differences and alcohol abuse?

Libby Malin
Libby Malin: Well, actually Aefle and Gisela deals with class differences, too. And, uh, I think humorous books can have a lasting effect, as well. Anyway, in Aefle and Gisela, the heroine owns a car dealership, and the hero is a college professor. 

Libby Sternberg: So he's Aefle and she's Gisela?

Libby Malin: Only metaphorically speaking. She's DeeDee and he's Thomas. But he's a history professor whose area of expertise is an obscure poetry-writing medieval monk named Aefle and his secret lady love, Gisela. In some ways, the stories mirror each other.

Libby Sternberg: Aha. So it's a story within a story.

Libby Malin: Mmm, sort of. Mostly it's a satire.

Libby Sternberg: Couldn't make up your mind, could you? Why, that's why I stick to one theme in Lost to the World, which explores the complex questions of medical ethics during the polio vaccine trials of 1954. And, of course, the protagonist's grief over the loss of his wife. And post-war America. But other than that, it's a very clean, singularly targeted look at --

Libby Malin: Uh, could we get back to discussing Aefle and Gisela? I was saying it's a satire. A sharp satire, actually, of the Ivory Tower.

Libby Sternberg: What, ho! A satire of the Ivory Tower?

Libby Malin: Since when did you develop a British accent?

Libby Sternberg: Go on, tell us more about this satire business.

Libby Malin: "Tell us more?" -- How many alter-egos do we have here? Okay, about the satire part -- I thought it would be great fun to write a story about conformity and the courage it takes to resist it. What better place to set it than in a supposedly open-minded environment?

Libby Sternberg: Voila--the liberal arts college campus? Why, I actually think that's a brilliant idea!

Libby Malin: Thank you.

Libby Sternberg: Well, since you're my alter-ego, I can take some credit for it, too.

Libby Malin: Who says I'm your alter-ego? Maybe you're my alter-ego.

(Muffled strangling and growling noises.)

Libby Sternberg: Ahem. Isn't satire a bit on the dry and brittle side?

Libby Malin: It can be, even when it's hilariously funny. But Aefle and Gisela also has a very touching love story in it as two very different people learn to accommodate each other. They fall in love, of course.

Libby Sternberg: Of course, and so you have several things going on here at once, I see. A comedy. A romance. And a satire. You couldn't quite make up your mind, could you? As I said, I try to stick to one broad theme in my  novels. Certainly no more than two. Obsession and forgiveness in one, class differences and alcohol abuse in another, medical ethics and grief in another. And in a book I'm writing now, I'm going to be--

(More growling and strangling noises, this time much louder.)

Libby Malin: Unfortunately, Libby Sternberg was suddenly incapacitated. I'll finish the interview on my own by telling you a little about Aefle and Gisela...

Aefle & Gisela by Libby Malin is available for Kindle, Nook and other e-readers. It tells the story of history professor Thomas Charlemagne as he attempts to shed the "Timid Tommy" reputation of his past by stopping a wedding on a dare. When it turns out to be the wrong wedding, legal problems ensue that could wreck his career as the world's leading expert on a poetry-writing medieval monk, Aefle, and his secret love, Gisela, both of whom provide a template for Thomas’s own struggles with life and love.

Buy the book for Kindle here.
Buy the book for Nook here.
Buy the book for other e-readers here.

Hurry—it’s on sale for only 99 cents as part of a book launch promotion!


Libby Malin is the award-winning author of romance, literary, mystery and young adult fiction. In an attempt to thoroughly confuse her reader fans, she writes comedy under the name Libby Malin and serious fiction under the name Libby Sternberg. Her first young adult mystery, Uncovering Sadie’s Secrets, was an Edgar nominee, and her first romantic comedy, Fire Me, was optioned for film. She lives in Pennsylvania, has three children and one husband, and confesses to watching “Real Housewives” shows despite enormous amounts of culture-guilt.

Visit the author’s website at:

Some praise for Libby Malin's other comedic novels:
    • Booklist -- Malin creates a world of wit and chaos that is …smart and insightfully written (My Own Personal Soap Opera)
    • Publishers Weekly -- Malin's latest is heavy on humor… (she) coaxes plenty of laughs (My Own Personal Soap Opera).  
    • Jo-Anne Greene Lancaster Sunday News -- Fire Me ...had this reader chuckling out loud.
    • Washington Post -- The love story is charming and will be appreciated by any woman with bad taste in men who somehow inexplicably ends up with Mr. Right. (Loves Me, Loves Me Not) 
    • Publishers Weekly --  A whimsical look at the vagaries of dating... an intriguing side plot adds punch and pathos to the story...(Loves Me, Loves Me Not) 
    • Booklist -- Malin's clever debut toys with chick-lit stereotypes and offers quite a few surprises along the way. (Loves Me, Loves Me Not)

    Saturday, July 23, 2011

    Print Rights as Subsidiary Rights?

    by Libby Sternberg

    You own a business. It does reasonably well. Then the economy tanks. And what's worse, a new product appears that grabs market share from your primary source of income. In a matter of months you lose one-third of your sales. Time to cut back.

    Welcome to the world of mass market paperback publishing.

    According to the Association of American Publishers, net sales for mass market paperbacks slid by 30.1 percent in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year. Here are the figures:

    Mass Market Paperback
    2010 YTD net sales: $264.8M
    2011 YTD net sales: $185.1M

    The full AAP story is here. (The headline is a wee bit confusing -- mass market paperback sales are not the same as adult paperback.)

    Meanwhile, ebook sales continue to climb, with an increase of 160.1 percent over the same time period last year.

    And also meanwhile, authors who had previously been published in print continue to dabble in self-publishing their material in e-book formats while new authors jump into the e-book market, forgoing the traditional publishing route entirely. add more to ponder...publishers continue to struggle with pricing in the e-book market, some of them moaning publicly about how they can't afford the lower price points e-book readers have come to expect -- usually below $5.00 with many books being offered at least initially for 99 cents.

    Let me address this latter point first. The quotes that I've seen from publishers whining about low e-book pricing usually boil down to affordability -- for them, that is. They simply can't afford to offer e-books at too low a price because they'd lose money.

    Here's a round-up of the rationale I've read from publishers on e-book pricing: It takes them X-number of steps to get a print book ready for digital release. Each of those steps costs them something. Therefore, they resent low pricing. Their worlds would be a lot happier if authors and e-publishers would get with their program and keep e-book prices higher.

    But here's the problem -- e-book pricing is not about their needs. It's about the consumer's needs. Publishers should take a hard look at what e-books are competing with. They're not just competing with other forms of books. They're competing for a consumer's disposable "pleasure" income -- money he or she has decided to spend on something fun but not necessary -- and the choices consumers face in that market range enormously. Instead of spending, say, $11 on an e-book whose quality they're unsure of, they could a) buy a bottle of wine; b) rent a movie; c) buy some music; d) get an order of those really good egg rolls they like; e) buy some gourmet cupcakes., etc. (My choices are heavy on food. Hmm...must be hungry.)

    The point is that the skeptical reading consumer (skeptical because, perhaps, of previous bad choices in the book market) sees that $11 or even $7 price tag and doesn't think "what other book can I get for this amount?" He or she is thinking "What other thing can I get for this amount that will give me as much, if not more, pleasure?"

    That same consumer then sees an array of books priced below $5, many at 99 cents, and the choice of a book suddenly moves up the list of ways to spend their disposable income.

    But this price battle leads to a larger point -- if more and more authors are taking control of their own publishing destiny by contracting with e-publishers (such as our own, Istoria Books) or handling e-publishing themselves, why don't traditional publishers consider a new paradigm, one that could save them all that money they spend on the "X number of steps" involved in digital release and actually make them some money on e-books priced for market expectations.

    Here's the rub -- this new paradigm would require them to release control of the books for the e-market to the author.

    Think about it -- authors often have the time and the motivation to get their books on the e-market. They're willing to go through the "X number of steps" themselves or to contract with someone who will. They don't have huge overheads, as print publishers do.

    Why don't print publishers license e-rights back to authors? Let the authors take control of the book's e-marketing, including pricing, and instead of taking royalties from the publisher, the author pays a small percentage back to the publisher on net sales.

    An aside: for many down-list authors, "royalties" is a foreign concept, and they're unlikely to see any from their print publisher anyway.

    Licensing eliminates all those pesky steps the publishers moan about in taking books to the e-market. It allows them to focus on print, their primary market, and just collect the checks for the e-book editions without having to hassle with the conversion and marketing of them. Yes, they'd probably cringe seeing their authors offer e-books for 99 cents. But that's part of building readership and consumer trust. Low pricing lures consumers to a product. The more consumers who buy and like a book, the higher the possibility of getting that elusive "buzz" going that publishers yearn for.

    And that brings me back to the other aspects of author-publisher relationships that are changing -- the authors who bypass print entirely, launching books themselves in the e-market. Then, if they realize some success, print publishers come along and offer a print contract. This has already happened with YA author Amanda Hocking, who was selling thousands upon thousands of copies of her e-books before she landed a print contract with St. Martin's Press. And recently, there was the case of Jon Krakauer, whose expose, Three Cups of Deceit (of Greg Mortenson's bestseller Three Cups of Tea), started life as an e-book and recently sold to Knopf for print.

    In these cases, it's as if print rights become the subsidiary rights, isn't it? The author dives into the e-book pool because of its enticing freedoms -- freedom to write what he/she wants without a print publisher's constraints or just the freedom to publish without going hat-in-hand to the Big Six in New York. But that doesn't mean authors forgo a future in print.

    Now, finally, back to the statistics that started this blog and the implications of all my points.

    For some publishers, losing a third of their market share could be devastating. Genre publishers, for example, release the majority of their books in mass market paperback. Seeing "gold in them thar hills" of e-publishing, publishers are releasing previously print-published books into the e-market. But the problem is they still need to go through all those conversion steps to reach that market, so they're loath to price their e-books at what e-book consumers want.

    More and more authors, meanwhile, don't mind taking the time to convert their own books for the e-market or releasing new ones straight to that market. Since they don't have the massive overhead of print publishers, they can offer their books at an appropriate e-book price point. Not only that, in many ways authors have become better equipped to actually sell their books to the reading consumer, a territory traditional publishers ceded long ago when they decided to focus the majority of their marketing resources on bookstores, encouraging the author to reach out directly to readers. (I've often joked with fellow authors that publishers know how to select, edit and print books, but they don't know how to sell them.)

    In this new world, publishers should consider e-rights licensing agreements with authors, relinquishing control of the e-books to the people who actually have the motivation to sell the books.

    In this new world, Big Box Bookstores will continue to fade in dominance as authors and publishers slowly learn how to find actual book readers instead of booksellers in the market.

    In this new world, selling print rights could become akin to selling subsidiary or secondary rights after an initial e-book success.

    Them's my thoughts. Now, scurry on over to the Istoria Books website and take advantage of the Gift of Summer Reading Sale -- most of the inventory is marked at 99 cents, including the first book in award-winning romance author Jerri Corgiat's Love Finds a Home series, previously published by Penguin.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Addiction, Divorce, Blindness... Romance?
    Part II of an Interview with Author Jerri Corgiat

    Award-winning author Jerri Corgiat continues her conversation about her wonderful romance series, Love Finds a Home, talking about her inspiration, research and future projects. (For Part One of this interview, click here.)

    What was the inspiration for these five wonderful romances?
    Author Jerri Corgiat
    One of my favorite childhood authors was Janet Lambert. She wrote a considerable number of Young Adult books focused on the fictional Parrish family. Hopefully I don’t get any of this wrong as I haven’t read these since I was a teen. (You know. About ten years ago. Cough.) The first book had a character named Penny Parrish. She was just entering adolescence in that book. By the time there were no longer any new books (or perhaps I’d grown up and moved on), Penny was in her forties. Ms. Lambert had written books about Penny’s siblings, about her siblings’ friends’ families, about their children…

    I was an only child. I loved being part of that family, loved revisiting all those characters, particularly since I was experiencing some issues in my home life during those years.

    When I started writing romance, the trilogy was the big deal. (Perhaps it still is; I don’t keep up with the trends.) Each of three books usually featured one of three sisters or three brothers. So, I thought, why not just keep writing about different family members and/or their friends over a span of decades? Take Me Home actually features the ex-husband of the heroine of Follow Me Home.

    There are about fourteen years of story time between the first and fifth books, so some of the youngsters in the first book, Sing Me Home, are young adults by the fourth book, Home By Starlight.

    By the way, most people like reading the books in order, but it’s not necessary. They’ll each stand on their own.

    Did you struggle to keep family relationships and history straight through all five books? How did you deal with that?
    The relationships weren’t hard to keep straight, no. These people are real to me. Keeping straight their ages—and grades of the children—requires feats of memory I don’t possess.…

    So if I lost the detailed, handwritten chart I have for this purpose, any future for this series would be toast!

    By the way, in Home at Last, I did get someone’s age confused by a year. And if  you read it carefully enough to compare it with the first two and find the error… don’t write to tell me who it is; I already know.

    All the books deal in some way with a serious underlying issue: rehabilitation after drug and alcohol abuse, troubled children, divorce, an affair with a married man, midlife crises, blindness--how did you research these topics?
    Addiction and divorce and blindness, oh, my! Wow, reading a list of the issues I incorporate into my stories can make them sound as if they’ll be depressing reads. So let me clarify upfront that they aren’t! They include humor and warmth and, above all, optimism. There are laugh-out-loud moments. How can there not be?  I don’t write perfect characters, and human nature is, simply, often quite funny.

    Now, caveat aside… for elements in my books that are outside of my ken (be it blindness or how to weave or adoption law or how to raise chickens and donkeys), I draw on several sources. 

    I read copiously, both from the internet and from the library. (Writer’s tip - I often find, for smaller topics, that children’s nonfiction books have just the right amount of information, complete with pictures.)

    I call on experts. For example, a weaver educated me on her craft for my heroine’s occupation in Home By Starlight. An optometrist and ophthalmologist, as well as a friend who had experienced serious brain trauma, agreed to interviews for the same book. For Home At Last, with its sub-theme of troubled adolescence, I drew quite heavily on a book by Barbara Bartocci called My Angry Son as well as the very impressive Ozanam organization (, whose main campus is located near where I live. They opened their doors to me and shared their mission and stories.

    I also rely on personal experience. I’m an alcoholic (soon to hit my 25th anniversary of sobriety) and, like so many, have also dealt with alcoholism as a codependent, so I have some insight into the disease and its effects, wisdom I’ve found in twelve-step programs I can share (without preaching), as well as an education obtained from my own rehab program and those of others. (Anonymity is an important part of those twelve-step programs, so I’ll add that all of the characters in my books are entirely fictional.)

    And while I supplemented with research such topics as homophobia, bipolar disorder, abandonment, suicide, disability … caring for aging parents, recalcitrant children, divorce, midlife crises, and  death…these issues have also impacted, if not myself, many people I’m close to and even more that I’m not.  It’s not necessary to look far for insight on these issues!

    Still. Even though I try to be careful, as do most authors, unintentional errors creep in, so I hope readers will forgive me any mistakes.

    By the way, I like to do this research before the first draft because some small detail may spark an intriguing plot point and there’s an added bonus of meeting many interesting people as I look for experts to question. Also, it’s far easier than writing the first draft.

    What I find so impressive about these stories is how well you deal with the serious background issues (mentioned above). You don’t sugarcoat them. Tell me a bit about your decision to handle them realistically.
    We all bring some kind of baggage into our relationships, whether we’re young or old. Of course, this baggage is the stuff of conflict and so can form the heart of a book. It seems to me that such issues naturally meld with the story of a developing or changing relationship, be it in a romantic involvement, a friendship, or between family members.

    Of equal importance, I like to capture a character’s growth at moments of adversity. It’s interesting to me how people change—and how many people rise to challenges—when faced with events outside their control. (Sometimes I wonder if any of us make major changes without a precipitating event. We get comfortable in our ruts!)

    No, I don’t sugarcoat, and as noted above, I try to be accurate—for one main reason. Many readers, including myself, deal or have dealt with some or many of these very real and often life-shattering challenges. I feel an obligation to be as sensitive and accurate to those situations as I can. I am always fearful of trivializing someone’s pain by fictionalizing it.

    I do write Happily Ever After books, though, so sometimes I’m resolving issues much more simply and quickly than happens in messy reality.

    You live in Kansas but your books are set in Missouri. The descriptions make you want to run out and book a trip to the Ozarks. Did you grow up there? Tell us about your reason for setting the stories there.
    I wish there was a place like Cordelia, Missouri, because I’d move there in a heartbeat! The Missouri Ozarks hold a special place in my heart as I spent most of my summers there from the age of ten to college, and then—after our tiny homestead (I’m talking tiny --think of the pink trailer in Follow Me Home!) became mine—the bulk of my son’s summers, as well. The poor abode finally fell apart a few seasons ago, which was actually serendipitous because the course my life has taken since then means I can’t be there as I once was. And, yes, I miss it.

    Or rather, I miss what it once was. The lake in the books, Kesibwi, is reminiscent of the Lake of the Ozarks when I first knew it, back when most of the shoreline was undeveloped and fishing resorts held sway; the resorts and large homes and huge boats were the exception, not the norm.

    Like Kesibwi is an idealized version of the Lake, Cordelia is an idealized version of a small town in the Ozarks—actually, in a larger sense, of any small town life. As a child, I visited extended family in the small town of Oakland, Nebraska. The fictional settings I created for these books sprang from fond childhood memories of these small towns, unblemished by that later loss of innocence we all experience. 

    The books were initially published in paperback by Penguin’s Signet line. You must have been overjoyed when you got word from your agent about the first book’s sale. Tell me about that.
    I was stunned. Simply stunned. I remembered sitting down hard in a chair at the kitchen table and finally saying, “Tell me what questions I should be asking, because I can’t remember a one of them.” I’d peddled Sing Me Home for over two years, trying to find an agent. Once my agent (I still have her) raised her hand, she sold it in a matter of weeks. I hadn’t expected a sale that fast, if at all!

    Are you working on anything right now? If so, would you mind telling us a little about it?
    Sure! I’m once again experimenting with a blending of ideas that grew out of my love affair with the Gothic novels of Victoria Holt and her peers long ago. It’s a little bit family saga, a little bit mystery, a little bit romance, and, as it’s set in the 1920s-1940s, it’s also historical.  One of those family-secrets-revealed books. I’m excited about it. My agent would be, too, if I’d only get the danged thing done.

    I also have some ideas for future books in the Love Finds a Home series but hesitate to commit the time until I’ve finished my current project. Perhaps audience demand will change my mind. I’m hoping readers will let me know what they think and tell me if they’d like to read more.

    And, dipping into a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, I’m also contemplating a creative format for a nonfiction book on alcoholism, codependency and recovery. The trick there is finding something that hasn’t already been done—and done well—umpteen times before me.

    The Love Finds a Home series by Jerri Corgiat follows the extended O'Malley clan in Cordelia, Missouri as they confront both life and love challenges. Books in the series include:

    • Sing Me Home-- Lil O'Malley falls for the children of rehabilitated country star Jonathan Van Castle before he has a chance to try to steal her heart.
    • Follow Me Home -- When Alcea O'Malley Addams's husband betrays her, luxury and self-worth go out the window...until an old flame comes into town, leading her to reevaluate her past, her value and her future.
    • Home at Last -- Marigold (Mari) O'Malley returns home to lick her wounds after a big-city career sinks under the weight of a relationship with her boss. Her broken heart begins to mend when she reconnects with a bad boy from her past who teaches her how to trust and take chances at the same time.
    • Home by Starlight -- Widow Patsy O'Malley remains fiercely independent until a broken ankle  and an itinerant musician (from Jonathan Van Castle's band) both knock her off her feet.
    • Take Me Home -- Florida Jones thinks she has the perfect fiance and the perfect life planned until a car accident results in injuries that threaten her sight. An unlikely helpmate guides her to recovery, where she ultimately "sees" the love that is most important in her life.
      eBooks You Want to Read at Prices You Want to Pay

    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Abso-Damn-Lutely, Romance Deserves Respect --
    Part I of an Interview with Author Jerri Corgiat

    Jerri Corgiat is the award-winning author of five romance novels in the Love Finds a Home series. Originally published by Penguin's Signet line in paperback, they are now being released with great pride by Istoria Books. (See end of post for descriptions, or visit

    Jerri Corgiat
    Part One of the interview, about writing, publishing and life in general, begins below. 

    Did you always want to write romance or women’s fiction?
    No! In fact, I was actively avoiding romance because I knew it wouldn’t earn me my rightful place on Oprah. Not that I’m shallow. 

    I’m chagrined to admit I was a snob. I had a very skewed idea of what romance writing was. I hadn’t read any romance novels after I’d gone through the so-called bodice rippers of the early 70s, never dreaming what a wide spectrum “romance” had grown to cover.

    Anyway, the universe had something different in mind for me, as the universe is often wont to do, also to my chagrin. I got this idea for a love story, and despite my attempts to dismiss it, it wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally broke down and started writing it after reading an interview with bestselling romance author Kathleen Eagle in a monthly Borders’ flyer. The title of the article? I Never Intended to be a Romance Writer. She’d struggled with similar issues as she wanted to be known as A Serious Writer. I don’t think anyone would doubt her books have merit, and she’s certainly experienced some serious success with them. What was good enough for Ms. Eagle was more than good enough for me…

    Just don’t ask me how long it then took me to tell anyone I was writing a -- gasp -- romance.

    Your books were classified as romance, but, to me, they have a whiff (or more than that!) of women’s fiction to them. What do you consider them? What do you think is the difference between the two genres?
    Whenever I see this topic raised, I sure wish they’d all just be classified as “good books!” But, sigh, books are no longer thought of in quite those simplistic terms—at least not by publishers and booksellers.

    I’d say romance has its primary focus on a romantic, monogamous relationship; women’s fiction has its primary focus on some passage or event in a woman’s life and may or may not include a romance, too. That sounds simple, but even with those definitions, I often can’t, well, categorically say a book is a romance with women’s fiction elements or women’s fiction with romantic elements. It’s a spectrum – I can only recognize those that fall on one end or the other. The rest is a matter of opinion!

    Yes, the Home books land somewhere in the middle. In fact, although there are plenty of highly successful authors who went before me with similar works, writing a crossbreed presented a major hurdle in finding an agent for Sing Me Home, although Sing Me Home is definitely more a traditional romance than the other four.

    It’s an unfortunate fact that if print publishers can’t put a label on the spine of a book to identify where it should be shelved in a big box store—and so find the appropriate audience—they aren’t very interested in buying it, if they’re interested at all.  Unfortunate, because I’m absolutely positive that a large number of excellent books have been rejected only because it wasn’t easy to pinpoint a target audience.

    Do you think romance deserves more respect from the writing community?
    Abso-damn-lutely. And not just by the writing community but by critics as well as the general reading public. Far too often, romance is dismissed as soft porn or as the pejorative bodice ripper or, even sans sex scenes (like they don’t appear in other genres?), as so much fluff.  Yet romance spans the spectrum of all other genres: sci fi, mystery, suspense, historical, romantic comedy, fantasy, inspirational, family saga, series... name any other type of book, and there will be a subset of romance.   

    Romances can be dramatic or comic or both, told in first or third person, be rapid-fire page turners or linger on delightful prose.  People display complete and total ignorance of the genre when they throw them all into the same box.
    When anyone exhibits contempt for romance, I find it amusing to ask them what movies they’d name as favorites. Rare is even the man who does not include a romance among them… Gone With the Wind. Notting Hill. Jerry Maguire. Titanic. Casablanca. When Harry Met Sally. The Wedding Singer. Something’s Gotta Give. Like Water for Chocolate. Water for Elephants…  It’s more difficult to identify movies that have no romance than those which do.

    When did you start writing?
    I can’t remember not writing; I did stories and poems and letters—lots and lots of long, long, loooong letters where I exaggerated excerpts from my life. It probably scared people to see my return address appear on the envelope. (Hmm. I still do this. Peruse the archives at  I started my first novel—the one I titled My Learning Curve, which was ultimately consigned to the trash can to spare humanity—in the fall of 1998. I finished the first incarnation (there would be several others) of Sing Me Home, the first book that sold, sometime in 2000.  There was definitely a learning curve! 

    Here's an easy question--who are your favorite authors?
    Holy moly! Easy question? No way! I read all over the map, and I have an impatient, internal editor. Despite the fact that she’s only one, subjective opinion and not any All-Knowing Authority, she’s grumpy and picky about what she likes. If she’s still nattering away, pointing out flaws or, worse, dozing off  by the time I hit page 50 of any book, then I move on. Any author who gets past her is thus a favorite: someone I’d recommend. As for prioritizing those "favorites," I just couldn’t do it.

    There are so many excellent authors and such a cornucopia of books and wide variety of readers... Pretty cool situation, if you think about it.      

    Is there any one book you’ve read that influenced you (in life, writing) the most? 
    A book called Building Your Field of Dreams by Mary Manin Morrissey. Close second: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I spring from a New Thought mentality.

    What was the hardest part of writing the Love Finds a Home books?
    It involved writing books. 

    Seriously, my husband and I were talking the other day about why I frequently procrastinate with writing. Yes, I enjoy it, much as anyone enjoys any job they love, but if it was a friggin’ breeze, I’d have no trouble getting and keeping my rear in the chair. Writing a book is not easy!

    (Don’t believe me? Try it!)

    Author Jennifer Lawler recently said, “Every time I finish writing a book, I wonder how I did it and why I’d want to do it again. And then amnesia sets in.”  That is so true.

    Your books were published before the e-book revolution started, so publishing has changed since your first sale. What advice would you have for writers trying to break into the business today?
    Run for the hills!

    Okay, seriously. Big discussion for little space, but I’ll give it a try:

    If you haven’t finished a manuscript, don’t worry about it now. You can’t sell what you don’t have. Besides, with the rapid changes taking place in the industry, whatever you decide now is not likely to apply later.

    If you already have a manuscript ready for market, you have a difficult decision to make.

    Print publication still garners advances, often good (and sometimes even stellar) advances. So that’s guaranteed money with distribution into all or most major outlets (some publishers are much better than others).

    On the downside, print publishing contracts are difficult to get, and it can take months—even years—to land one. That doesn’t mean give up, if that’s your goal. I had a stack of agent rejections three inches high before I made my first sale. Maybe that last query didn’t do it—but it might be the next one.

    Also a consideration: royalties on ebooks in print contracts (yes, print publishers will want both rights) tend to be onerous: small royalties and no end in sight for rights reversion (which is an issue I won’t go into here, but it’s an important one).

    With epublishing, by contrast, while you’ll eschew any advance, you’ll start collecting a percentage of sales—in a timely manner. (Believe me, there’s little in the traditional publishing world that’s timely.) And those sales can be the gift that keeps on giving: No books need go “out of print.” On the internet, books can live forever.

    Independent epublishing is an easy nut to crack. Format, upload, and voila! You’re a published author. But therein also lies its thorniest problem. Most readers lack the patience to sort through the multitudes of available ebooks. Instead, they are increasingly relying on sites like and to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

    I find this exciting—readers are becoming the gatekeepers instead of traditional publishers.

    But getting the word of mouth to rise to the top in a crowded field is also tough. It’s always been hard; now it's even more so. (And if any author had this mastered, we’d all have stopped writing long ago and made our fortunes presenting seminars—to other writers.)

    So that’s where the new breed of independent epublishers comes into play, with their editorial staff who are selective about which authors—new or established—they’ll represent. 

    I’m treading into these waters via Istoria, my ebook publisher. I know the principals of this company, know their dedication and professionalism and zeal where promotion is concerned. (A zeal that’s as lacking as timeliness in the traditional publishing world.)  I’m betting my books that someday in the not far distant future, readers will recognize the Istoria brand as one they can depend on for a good book.

    For Part II of this interview, click here.


    The Love Finds a Home series by Jerri Corgiat follows the extended O'Malley clan in Cordelia, Missouri as they confront both life and love challenges. Books in the series include:
    • Sing Me Home-- Lil O'Malley falls for the children of rehabilitated country star Jonathan Van Castle, leading to a marriage of convenience while he fights a custody battle ... and eventually fights for her heart.
    • Follow Me Home -- When Alcea O'Malley Addams's husband betrays her, luxury and self-worth go out the window...until an old flame comes into town, leading her to reevaluate her past, her value as a woman and her future.
    • Home at Last -- Marigold (Mari) O'Malley returns home to lick her wounds after a big-city career sinks under the weight of a relationship with her boss. Her broken heart begins to mend when she reconnects with a bad boy from her past who teaches her how to trust and take chances at the same time.
    • Home by Starlight -- Widow Patsy O'Malley remains fiercely independent until a broken ankle  and an itinerant musician (from Jonathan Van Castle's band) both knock her off her feet.
    • Take Me Home -- Florida Jones thinks she has the perfect fiance and the perfect life planned until a car accident results in injuries that threaten her sight. An unlikely helpmate guides her to recovery, where she ultimately "sees" the love that is most important in her life.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Film/TV Markets for E-Books: Discuss

    by Libby Sternberg

    E-publishing is rocking the book world, opening up new markets for authors and publishers, shaking up traditional publishing's approach to readers. Much cyber-ink has been spilled on this topic, so I want to briefly touch on a subject that I haven't yet seen addressed.

    That is, how to sell film or TV rights to e-books.

    And the answer is: dunno yet. It's evolving. But I firmly believe there's a new business model here waiting to be shaped into a successful venture. I'd enjoy a discussion of this topic, so weigh in, fellow book lovers.

    First, let's review how film and TV rights are usually handled in the DTB (dead tree book) world.

    An author sells her Novel That Will Last Through the Ages (NTWLTA for short -- oh heck, let's just say, "Novel") to Publisher A through Literary Agent Z.

    Publisher A does all its publishing stuff--editing and proofreading the book, choosing a cover, typesetting, laying out the pages, alerting bookstores to its imminent release, and even, on rare occasions, trying to actually sell the book to consumers.

    Agent Z, meanwhile, sends out word to her agency's subsidiary agents that the Novel is available. Agent Z will often find herself pitching the Novel to these subsidiary agents as if she were pitching to a publisher. The subsidiary agents in the film/TV side of the biz aren't necessarily interested in every project that Agent Z's firm has to offer. They want "high concept" or "action-packed" or whatever Hollywood thinks is hot at the moment. Nonetheless, let's assume that Agent Z is a whiz at elevator pitches and manages to get film/TV agency interest from Big Agent H (for Hollywood).

    Big Agent H (BAH, for short) manages to get a film option for the Novel.

    Much rejoicing occurs in Author's home. Much champagne-cork popping (inexpensive champagne). Huzzah!

    Back at the offices of BAH and Z, smiles abound, but few Snoopy Dances of Joy. The reason--a film option doesn't involve a lot of money unless the property's a bestseller. The big money's in the actual sale. So this means BAH and Z are splitting down the middle enough money for a nice dinner out in a five-star restaurant. And they both know that while many books might be optioned, few make it into film. (Which is the origin of the old saying, "Many are caught, but few are frozen." No, wait, that's fishing industry wisdom.)

    But in our scenario, Novel does make it into film! A Big Star and Studio pick up the option, buy the film rights, and before you know it, the Author is remodeling her kitchen, planning beach vacations for her family, and going to the spa twice a week with the proceeds, as well as photo-shopping her online author pictures on her website.

    BAH and Z now pop their own bottles of champagne, do the victory dance, and use their proceeds to put down payments on new cars.

    Let's take this little story template and place it over the e-publishing model. We have to skip over the first few steps, though, because in the e-book world, some authors go directly to self-publishing on their own or to e-publishers (such as Istoria) that don't require agent-submitted works.

    There is no Agent Z, in other words, in the e-publishing model. Without Agent Z, it becomes difficult to snag BAH. Many BAHs will actually say "bah" to authors approaching them out of the blue with a book not published traditionally or not a megaseller or not represented by a variation on Agent Z.

    But what if that were different? What if film/TV agents started trolling the e-publishing world for good stories that matched the talents and goals of their other Hollywood clients (directors, writers, producers, actors)?

    What if these BAHs decided that traditional publishing isn't the only place to find great stories, and instead of relying on the Agent Zs of the world to "screen" out the undesirables, BAHs will find other ways to mine the rich motherload of great storytelling that has opened up in e-publishing.

    Sure, it will be challenging for BAHs to figure out how not to waste too much time sifting through material that's not suitable. Currently, as pointed out, they rely on Agent Zs to do that for them, for the most part. Instead of relying on others' judgment of material, they'll have to start relying more on their own.

    But the payoffs could be higher since they won't be splitting a commission any longer. They're handling the film/TV rights as a completely separate entity.

    I hope some film/TV agents start considering a new model. Like a lot of other aspects in e-publishing, it will require a more pro-active approach -- going way beyond what might ordinarily land on their desks through the efforts of Agent Zs.

    • Check it out: the 99 cent Lunch Reads collection at Istoria Books -- two short stories per volume.
    • Watch for: the upcoming Love Finds a Home romance series by award-winning author Jerri Corgiat!

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Editing Tips: Telling Your Story Your Way

    by Libby Sternberg

    Before putting on the Editor-in-Chief hat at Istoria Books, I edited books for a couple other publishers. I still edit for one of them on a freelance basis.

    My editing experiences run the gamut from full-blown line editing, where I make substantive suggestions for changes, to copy editing, where I correct grammar, check facts, and straighten out continuity problems and the like.

    Here are some random observations on how to edit your own manuscripts in order to ensure your readers "get" your story, told your way. These suggestions include both the substantial and what might seem like the picayune (and, yes, I, as a writer, have made some of the mistakes mentioned myself):

    1. Heed the red lines: When I first typed the line above, I misspelled "picayune." Blogger was helpful enough to underline my mistake in red, alerting me to my error. Most, if not all, word processing programs do the same. Don't ignore these--fix them. You don't need to fix them during your first pass when you're on fire with the passion of creating something wonderful. But surely you can and should correct these mistakes during revision. Often, you'll find these red lines showing under compound words that aren't really compounds -- "voicemail," for example, is not one word, and the little red line tells me so. Why is this important: a few misspellings here or there aren't going to sink your chances of having your manuscript acquired if you've written a gangbusters story. But once your precious work is in the hands of editors, you want them to catch the important stuff--maybe when you said Sally's eyes were blue on page 5 and green on page 75, or maybe where you inadvertently put eight days in a week or forgot that your protagonist's mother is deceased so she can't make an appearance late in the story. The point is, the more you ask an editor to fix, the more chance there is that the editor will miss something important while catching all the little problems. Sure, it's the editor's job to capture all those mistakes, but do you really want to take a chance on having something important slip by because you've left so much to tidy up?

    2. Keep track of time, characters and family relationships: This rule is important for the same reason as the one above. The more you ask an editor to fix, the more chance there is she'll miss something else important...or the more chance there is she'll change something in a way you don't like. Sure, you'll probably have an opportunity to okay the editor's changes, but why set yourself up for the back-and-forth with editors that might create tension as well as more mistakes (the more keystrokes, the more possibility for error)? When you are in the revision stage, keep a notepad handy and jot down things such as how many days you account for in the book, whenever you mention a specific day ("on Saturday, he would go into town..."), and character descriptions as well as the preferred spelling of their names (unless you want the editor to choose among several different spellings you use). It's far better for you, the author, to fix these things the way you want them fixed, rather than having an unknown editor suggest changes when deadline pressures allow for little flexibility.

    3. Don't clutter the manuscript with names your readers don't need to know: Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, you shouldn't find it necessary to name all characters in your book if they don't play a pivotal role in the plot. So, for example, if your heroine goes for a haircut, you don't need to tell us her hairdresser's name is Sue unless she has a conversation with Sue, (all those "the hairdresser said" lines would get tiresome) or unless Sue is going to show up in some way later. When you name characters, readers subconsciously try to remember them, not knowing if they'll be crucial to the story later on. When you clutter the manuscript with unnecessary names, you clutter the reader's mind with unnecessary information. Keep them focused on the story and the characters you want them to care about.

    4. Similarly, don't throw in a bunch of back-story about secondary characters unless it's critical to something in your story: Does your reader really need to know that Sue, the hairdresser, is married to Al, who owns a shop on Main Street that sells custom-built cabinetry? Not unless this info relates to the plot or the tone in some critical way. Sure, it's good for you to know secondary characters' back-stories if you're writing dialogue for them or having them interact with your protagonist. It keeps them real in your own mind, and you're more likely to write them as real people and not caricatures. But your reader doesn't need to know all that information.

    5. Avoid the info dump: If you're writing a historical, you might get excited about all the interesting factoids you're coming across concerning the time period and characters you're dealing with. It's a great temptation to write long paragraphs that begin something like this: "In the year blah-blah..." -- sharing those fascinating facts with readers but not in a way that advances the story. It's okay to sprinkle these facts throughout the book, but be careful not to slip into a nonfiction approach to writing fiction.

    6. In historicals, be careful of your language: Not every word we use today was in the lexicon back in the day. You might be surprised, in fact, at how many words and terms we use regularly today simply weren't around or in common usage even 80 years ago. There was a wonderful scene in the BBC television series Downton Abbey, set in 1914, when the Dowager Countess mentions a character saying something about his "weekend." Weekend, she commented, what on earth is that? For members of her class at that time, it was a foreign concept. If in doubt, look it up. You don't need to be a purist--after all, you're writing fiction, you will be using contemporary spellings of words, and you are setting up an artifice where characters might express themselves in contemporary terms so today's readers understand and sympathize more easily--but some words jump out at the reader as anachronistic.

    7. Do you really need that accent? Having a French character continually use "Z's" for the "th" sounds is not only tiresome, it's a bit lazy. It means you've not tried any other way to communicate the different tone of that particular person. I once edited a book where the author included a Central American woman whose "voice" was vividly conveyed. Every time she "spoke," I could hear her gentle accent. Yet not once did the author use a wrong spelling to convey her accented pronunciation. He did it with sentence structure and word choice. Someone for whom English is a second language might use more formal words--for example, automobile for car, occasionally. If you can convey an accent with these techniques, it keeps the manuscript cleaner and more readable.

    8. If you put a gun on the mantel in Act I, someone has to fire it by the end of the story: I'm paraphrasing the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. What he means with this advice is that if you include something or someone that is capable of having a dramatic impact on the story, your readers will keep waiting for that impact to occur. They'll keep one eye on that gun on the mantel, in other words, throughout the story. So, for example, if a secondary character appears whose ex-husband is about to be released from jail after serving time for domestic abuse, the reader will reasonably expect that sinister character will have an impact at some point. If you're not going to use that big "gun," don't include it unless you want readers distracted throughout their read as they wait for the "big bang" that never comes. They might even feel cheated if they don't hear it.

    Okay, those are my "rules" in a field where there really are no rules. But these are suggestions that might help your story have the impact you're hoping it will have, without readers distracted by small mistakes or big disappointments and without editors changing things in ways you don't like.
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