Monday, January 31, 2011

Friends of Fiction

by Hannah Sternberg

"I never read fiction anymore. The last time I read a novel, I was in school."

I hear that from a lot of my friends. I'm sure you do too. We're all busy, and with the internet enabling many of us to work from home, work increasingly encroaches on precious reading time. On top of that, many of us spend our free time reading to improve our professional position, keep up with current events, or pursue an interest in that topic we wish we'd taken a class on when we'd had the chance. I work in media and public policy, and I confess that I've devoted large amounts of my supposedly-free time to catching up on the latest news analysis on the day's hot story, or hunkering down with weighty history or philosophy books to fill in the context of situations I'm less familiar with.

Don't get me wrong. I love to learn--my heart goes pitter patter when my eyes scan Amazon's history recommendations. I have a bad habit of collecting foreign language dictionaries (so far, my most unusual is a lexicon of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics). And with the complete works of Aristotle available, free of charge and instantaneously on my Kindle--don't get me started.

But I've noticed another current in some of my friends' remarks. "I don't have time for fiction. There's too much to learn." "I just don't find fiction as interesting as stuff that actually happened." "My class discussions just ruined fiction-reading for me."

I'd counter them by saying, You just aren't reading the right fiction.

I find a lot of people get fed up with the tired offerings of so many of the major publishers that are just trying to piggyback on someone else's trendy concept. Others find too much pretension and too little insight in the current "upmarket" or literary fiction offerings. Still others were so weary of their professors' over-analysis that they forgot how simply moving a good story can be.

To these, I'd say: reading nothing but nonfiction is like reading only the news reports without touching the analysis or opinion. You'll learn a lot, but you'll be missing a critical element: the debate, the contextualization, the connections. Fiction is like an editorial on the human condition. And, like a good editorial, good fiction combines top-of-the-line reporting (observation of the world) with thought-provoking insight. Just as much can be learned from reading good fiction as can be learned from reading history, philosophy, and a truckload of self-help books combined.

Giving my Kindle a click-through now, I find, in various states of partial completion: Thomas Paine; George Eliot; Alexis de Tocqueville; Jane Austen; the Old Testament; Aristotle; a short story collection by David Foster Wallace; J. R. R. Tolkein; my mom, Libby Sternberg's mysery novel, Death is the Cool Night; and a practical guide to daily life with Asperger's Syndrome (research for a novel).

I can say earnestly that I've learned from all of these books, not just the nonfiction ones. Sure, plenty of fiction is mindless escapism. But a good yarn can--and should--be both entertaining and (brace yourself for an over-used word) enlightening. Excitement and insight don't have to be mutually exclusive.

I suppose this is part of the philosophy that inspired me and my parents to start up Istoria--to show readers once again that there's more to fiction than tired genre-mongering or pretentious wheezing. If you long for our kind of fiction too, keep your eyes on Istoria Books. And if you're just as passionate as we are about writing that kind of fiction, don't leave without taking a look at our submission guidelines.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Okay...Not This

by Libby Sternberg

One of my favorite YouTube videos, this captures so comically the sometimes confusing signals writers get from editors and agents. As an author myself, I once had an agent who, after taking on my mystery which she claimed to love, suggested that I might want to consider...changing who the murderer was.

Changing the murderer in a murder mystery is writing an entirely new book.

At Istoria Books, we won't tell you, authors, "Okay...not this...." if we take on your book....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Waiting for Paul Revere

by Libby Sternberg

Okay, I'm no longer embarrassed to admit it. When I was a kid, I didn't fall in love with the Beatles. I wasn't a Rolling Stones fan. I didn't even care for Elvis that much. I liked really silly bands. Like, uh, The Monkees. And, well, Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Before you dissolve into disdainful laughter, let me tell readers who don't know me that I was trained as a classical singer, and in that area I'm not at all attracted to cheap imitations. Subtle Faure and Debussy songs call out to me in that field, and song cycles by Mahler and Schubert speak to my heart.

No, it's just popular music that brings out my inner lowbrow.

So, when I was a mere lass, I developed crushes not on John, Paul, George or Ringo, but on those guys in silly satin breeches and tights. Don't ask me which one in particular. I can't remember.

I used to have this girlish dream. It went like this--the band would be playing in my hometown, Baltimore, see? And they'd be driving around the city and its environs looking for their hotel or their venue or whatever, right? And whaddya know, they end up on my suburban street, and I happen to be out and about, and...

Pretty lame, huh?

That daydream brightened many a boring class, though. And it didn't seem outlandish to me, to believe that my favorite band would just happen to drive down my street. Crazier things have happened, right?

As I grew older, I let go of that dream, thank goodness, but I also came to realize that waiting-for-Paul-Revere could be a syndrome of sorts with no good end. That is, waiting for something to just fall into one's lap instead of setting a goal and pursuing it with vigor leads only to frustration and bitterness.

Setting appropriate goals (uh, meeting a popular band is not one of mine any longer) and working with all one's might to achieve them, however, leads to fulfillment and success.

In publishing, it's easy to live variations of the waiting-for-Paul-Revere syndrome. You wait for the right agent to say yes, the right editor to offer a contract, the right marketing plan to make you a bestseller. You wait and wait and wait. Years pass while you wait, always thinking that Paul (the contract, the breakout novel, the perfect marketing plan) is just around the corner.

In the world of ePublishing, however, a lot of that waiting can disappear. You can offer your books directly to the public yourself, or you can work with an e-publisher such as ours, Istoria Books, to make it happen.

But you don't need to sit there anymore, waiting for your dream to come true.

Istoria Books is now open to submissions -- read our guidelines below or find them on our website at We only publish fiction (most genres) and want to see good stories, well-told.

Stop waiting...start submitting! We want to hear from you!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Istoria Books is now open for author submissions. We are an ePublisher looking for good fiction, and we're open to unpublished as well as published authors, agented or unagented. Authors whose print rights have reverted to them and who are looking for an ePress to handle the challenges of selling in the digital book world will find a welcoming home in Istoria. Here's what you need to know:

We only publish fiction - no nonfiction at the present time - in the following categories:
  • literary/upmarket
  • romance (but not erotica)
  • women's fiction
  • inspirational
  • mystery/thriller
  • sci-fi/fantasy
  • young adult

Istoria Books is looking for good stories, well-told. We want stories that give readers a reason to turn the pages, to keep reading. Whether it's because the yarn itself is so compelling, or the characters so fascinating or the writing so transcendent--our readers will come to expect a reading experience that propels them through a book.

We're very open to creativity that isn't bound by normal genre limitations. If your romance is told from the hero's POV, we'll still look at it. If your young adult novel features a college-age protagonist, we'll consider it. If your women's fiction book puts romance way on the back burner, we're open to it. If your inspirational involves a sinning protagonist, we'll still take a look.

Our main questions when looking over submissions will be these: Is it a story I want to keep reading? Is it a story I want to hear this author tell? Good stories, well-told--that's what we're looking for.

Send your queries to: We will accept queries from unagented authors. Authors should only query about completed manuscripts. In the subject line of the email, write: "Query" and the genre your story fits into. In the body of the email tell us the following:
  • category of story (see list above)
  • brief summary of the book (one paragaraph, if possible) including a rough word count
  • your writing credentials, including any that are relevant to the subject of the book
  • contact information

Istoria Books does not pay advances but splits royalties with authors. Istoria Books edits and formats manuscripts for the various digital platforms, and provides cover art, as well as distribution to major book etailers. In addition, Istoria Books provides marketing support.

Check out our website at

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kindle Peering

I confess.

I'm a book spy.

What avid reader isn't? When I'm on the Metro, though I may be squashed so tightly I can't free a hand to fish out my book and hold it in front of me (or, at least, not without elbowing a few little old ladies in the face, a price other riders have found worth paying), I can still take pleasure looking down the car at those privileged to sit, and peer over their shoulders to see what they're reading. I can invent games, awarding points for the number of Stieg Larssons in attendance. My heart always jumps a little when I see one of my abiding loves, like Jane Eyre. Some people read their morning prayers on the Metro, in English, Arabic or Hebrew. In my non-Istoria job, I work in media and public relations--and in Washington, DC, it's always interesting to see what paper or magazine someone chooses to read.

Once, when I was a teenager and my family took a trip to the beach together, my mom (Istoria co-founder Libby Sternberg) beckoned to me conspiratorially. She whispered to me, "I really want to find out what that woman over there is reading. Just walk by and see if you can see the cover." For us, book-spying was a fun beach activity, like volleyball or boogie-boarding. I mean, all those people, all those books! Think of all the quirky things people decide to read on the beach when they finally cut loose from the work world and get down to what really entertains them. Book-watching is just a subset of people-watching. That day, after making several unsuccessful, nonchalant circuits around the other family, I finally walked up to the woman my mom had pointed out and asked, "What are you reading? My mom and I are dying to know." She answered with an enormous smile.

Book-spying can bring people together. If the mp3-player revolution isolated people in public places, encapsulating them in the bubble of their earbuds, book-spying gives us the chance to learn something about each other again. In the movie 500 Days of Summer, Zoe Dechanel's character talks about the seredipity of meeting the man she fell in love with: "What if I hadn't gone to that coffee shop that day? What if I hadn't been reading Dorian Gray, or he hadn't noticed?"

Kindle-bashers and other critics of eReaders claim that eReaders will do to book-spying what mp3 players did to music-listeners in public places: isolate us further, deny the opportunity for that glimpse into someone else's tastes before meeting them. These critics clearly have little dexterity. eReaders may not display a cover on the outside of the device to show the world what you're reading, but a surreptitious glance can often reveal the title on the screen's header. I have happily been both the agent and subject of Kindle-peering. I've even struck up Metro conversations as a result of Kindle-peering. In fact, Kindle-peering adds an extra layer of challenge that many veteran book-spies will find intriguing. After all, any amateur bookspy can snatch a glance at a paperback cover held up for the world to see. Finding out what that cute girl in the coffee shop is reading on her Kindle might involve actually buying her a drink and talking to her.

Post a comment here and tell your favorite book-spying or Kindle-peering story. Be sure to leave your email address, and you'll get a free coupon for one download from Istoria Books!