Saturday, July 2, 2016

"Memoirs..." from WRITE YOUR BOOK WITH ME

“Where you stand depends on where you sit,” because the information you have will differ from what others have and what you have at stake will differ also. The memoir is particularly subjective.


A memoir is a story about your life, as you saw it, as you understood it. It is less formal than an autobiography or a biography. It tells the truth, not necessarily all the truth. Reasons for writing a memoir include:

1. Self-understanding: Some facts will speak for themselves. Some will need interpretation. Some will reveal what was unclear to you then. Some will give you more insight into yourself and those who influenced you.

2. Explanations to others: Your audience can be your spouse, your family, your friends, neighbors, colleagues, even the world. You had reasons for the choices you made. Explain them. You learned from the outcomes. Share those lessons. You may want to take credit or accept blame. Do so.

3. History: You will not be available forever to tell the stories that deserve to be told. Your memoir lives on. You may choose to add some leaves and blossoms to the bare branches of your family tree. An occasional knot-hole or broken limb may deserve mentioning and explanation. A bad apple may fail to make the grade.

    4. Thanks. You want to thank publicly and at length those who have enriched your life. Our memoir thanked those who have saved my wife’s life and helped keep her alive.
    Money? Writing a memoir is buying a ticket to a lottery. You need to WHIP up an audience:
          Write well;
-       have a Hook;
-       offer Insight;
-       promote via a Platform.

I gave away more copies of my Ting and I memoir than I sold, despite having some fine reviews at

A downside to memoir-writing is the loss of privacy entailed. In her book Writing the Memoir, Judith Barrington described the conflict the memoirist faces in choosing between privacy and openness:

As soon as I started to write about my own life, I understood that to speak honestly about family and community is to step way out of line, to risk accusations of betrayal, and to shoulder the burden of being the one who blows the whistle on the myths that families and communities create to protect themselves from painful truths. This threat was like a great shadow lurking at the corner of my vision, as it is for anyone who approaches this task, even before the writing leads them into sticky territory.

I was molded into a pursuer of truth by my times. Active in the early feminist movement and shaped by the consciousness-raising that insisted on scrupulously examined lives, I was challenged in my 20s to take a second look, and then a third and fourth one, at the facts of my life….
By demanding our “loyalty” in the form of silence, some of the people we are closest to have coerced us into collaborating with lies and myths. We cannot, however, respond to this coercion by rushing angrily into print. We must examine our responsibility as writers to those we write about, even while holding fast to our truths.

You will be praised by some and resented by some.

British author Victoria Twead (2013) penned a very favorably reviewed 40-page work, How to Write a Bestselling Memoir: Three Steps To Success. Her three steps are: write, publish, and promote.

·      She recommends using a pen name, rather than your own, unless you are a celebrity. If your book becomes popular, you may not want the attention on yourself and your family. Then again, you may find it useful.
        Short, punchy titles sell better than long ones. Your subtitle can explain the possibly puzzling title. She cites Eat, Pray, Love, an exceptionally successful memoir. Include a keyword or two, to help your reader find you on the Internet.
·      Map out your timeline on a big sheet of paper and start filling in details. You may have the book itself start at a dramatic part of your life rather than your youth. Plan where you will finish, too.
      First chapter is most important, as those who sample the book will start there.
      Last chapter will leave final impressions with those who might write reviews.
      Chapter lengths:  a matter of taste, but about 2500 words (10 pages) suits her well.
   Tell the truth, not all of it. Change names as seems wise. Alert the reader to that.
       Make every word count.
       Keep paragraphs short.

      Use cliff-hangers to keep readers intrigued. Describe event, but leave consequences for later chapter, with some recap.
   Dialogue “is the perfect tool to build characters and develop them.”  It is “easy to read and increases the pace.” Unfortunately, you rarely know it with accuracy in retrospect. Final punctuation occurs within the quotation marks, and each new speaker gets new paragraph.
      Vocabulary should be varied. Use synonyms. Twead favors using a thesaurus, but other authors have maintained that if the word is not in your usual vocabulary, eschew it. “Never try to be too clever by using unfamiliar words.” Be alert to too much repetition.
        Proofreading requires great care. Print out the material. Go line by line with a ruler. Get friends and family to help proof, if you can. Pay a pro if need be. “I am always horrified by the number of typos that are found by the professional when I thought I’d checked every word meticulously….typos still appear in even the most professional, traditionally published books.” Life goes on. Some are appalled.
        Size matters: Twead finds 50,000 to 100,000 words best, in terms of reader acceptance. “…between 75,000 and 95,000 words is probably ideal.”

    Traditional: The publishing house pays you, takes the risk, calls the shots, edits, proofreads, promotes a bit. You book may make it into bookstores. To get there, you will need an agent, query letters, the whole rigmarole, which she describes. Readers of my book, WYBWM, are not likely to take this route.
    Self-publishing:  You do the work, get most of the profits, if any.
    Vanity press: Also known as “subsidy” press, they will do much of the work, publish almost anything, and promote it minimally. Twead dislikes them intensely. I have been happy with Outskirts Press.
    Independent press: Unlike subsidy or vanity press, they do not charge the author and are selective. Twead likes her Ant Press.
    Front cover: Want a stunning one: colored background, large font, and simple design, professional. Twead gives technical details for ebook and paperback book covers.
    Back cover: Your blurb, or teaser, is crucial, the hook to catch the reader. Write in third person, set scene, create curiosity. Add praise from others, if you have some. Awards? Bio?
    Front matter: I cover this elsewhere.
    Text format: Details for those who are self-publishing.

50 Promotion tips: Includes distribute free review copies early, have a website, start a blog, Facebook, answer comments from others, Tweet on Twitter, join Google+, participate in forums, Shelfari, Goodreads, Librarything, giveaways, visit local bookstores and see if they will let you hold a signing, contact local papers and radio stations, collect email addresses, start a newsletter, get business cards, write articles and press releases, make a two-minute video, tailor your email signature, create flyers and bookmarks, offer to speak, donate books to local libraries and charitable groups, sell at flea markets, rent a billboard, print on favors like mugs, and “…the very best way to sell books is to write another.”

    Victoria Twead’s book sells for $4 as Amazon Kindle ebook and $8 as a paperback.


Excerpted from my recent opus, Write Your Book with Me, pubished by Outskirts Press and available from online booksellers like and See also my coruscating writing-coaching-editing web site

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