Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why is Everyone Writing a Memoir?

Okay, not everyone, but a lot of people.
We tend to think of memoirs as the work of older people, but anyone can have something to say. Some people have incredible life experiences to share. Others have overcome tremendous adversity and their story proves it can be done. Still others have had more ordinary lives but want to be sure family and friends have a record of them. 
    Why not just type an essay about your life and put it out there? You can, of course, but memoir readers have expectations, just as science fiction or romance fans do.
    Your piece has to convey a story, or perhaps a series of stories tied together and concluded in some way. This usually doesn’t happen without a lot of work.
Don’t be discouraged, just be willing to learn how to present your story in an interesting way.


    When my nieces and nephews were younger, I wrote a series of humorous essays from an aunt’s perspective. Since I value relationships with them as adults, I would never consider publishing the essays – not even showing them to someone outside the family. But they were rewarding and fun to write.
Don’t avoid writing essays just because you don’t intend to publish them. Like all writing, the effort will hone skills you will need when you do write to publish.
If you want to write essays or a memoir for yourself or your family, you can prepare a paperback (using Create Space) and order (quickly) a bunch of copies for your family and then take the book off sale. The only problem with that is that the book will show up forever on Amazon, even if it isn’t available.
You can also make a dozen copies using a three-hole punch and a binder. What is most important is sharing your story or essays. The extent of the audience is up to you.
Too informal? Check out sites such as or 
     Always, always, always read the fine print. These firms are not trying to take advantage of you, but they know their lingo and you don't.


    The American Scholar published an article on memoir by William Zinsser, and republished it at the time of Zinsser’s death in May 2015.
My favorite quote from the Zinsser article is, “Writers are the custodians of memory, and that’s what you must become if you want to leave some kind of record of your life and of the family you were born into.”
In a simpler form, Reader’s Digest has an article on the topic. Wise advice in this article is, “The challenge is getting started, coaxing the story out. (Indeed, there are those who say beginning is half done.) Since there is inherent worth to the endeavor beyond public acclaim, you don’t have to be a professional writer or someone with connections in publishing to succeed. You can write it for yourself.”
There is no one way to approach a memoir, but it can’t be a rambling series of life stories. The first draft can be, because what’s important is that you get the ideas on paper without worry about what people will think or whether something is written well. After you’ve worked for a while, you can polish and add or subtract.
Classes are everywhere now, in part because baby boomers have the time to write their stories and the computers to do it.
There could be a regional arts group near you that offers memoir courses or workshops, or the community college may do so. Search for online classes -- no need to find the most expensive course.
    Once you start looking, you’ll find other writers trying to balance living life with writing about it.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thoughts on Publishing a Paperback

A paperback copy of a book signals completion in a way no digital book can. Frankly, most family, friends, and colleagues won’t consider you ‘published’ until they see a hard copy.

Besides self-satisfaction, a paperback enables you to:
  • Provide review copies to local media
  • Donate (or sell) a copy to the local library – which is also a form of marketing
  • Conduct a book signing
  • Submit a copy to the Library of Congress (via their LOC Identifier Number)
  • Adapt the print copy to large print, which broadens your audience
  • Have more flexibility with photos (which can only be so large in an ebook)
  • And …ta daa..
  • Share your book with people who don't read ebooks
 As a self-published author, your first choice is probably going to be the size of the book. The cheapest to produce is 8.5 by 11 inches, because the printer does not have to cut the paper. That’s fine for a cookbook or family history, perhaps some children’s books, but it is not appropriate for fiction and most nonfiction

When I first began self-publishing, I used the 6x9 size for regular paperbacks, but for shorter books I have converted to 5x8. I find the smaller size closer to that of mass-market paperbacks.

However, because smaller books require more pages, they cost more and you may need to price them higher. Thus, I only do the smaller size for books less than about 55,000 words.


I do the paperback, at least in near-final draft, weeks before publishing the ebook. Since you aren’t rushing to get a book published (because that guarantees errors), you have time. Your formatting might not be perfect for the first round, but that’s why you order a proof.

You might choose to do the paperback (in draft form) even earlier so that you can use it as a tool to consider revisions. If my critique group and I are happy with my (probably fifth) draft, I may format the paperback before sending the book to a copyeditor. Usually I do it after editing is complete, but perhaps before proofreading.

You have a choice for a digital or printed proof. I have a proof printed, and it arrives quickly (at least from Create Space). I can review the proof to see how it looks and spot typos. Then I fix the typos in the ebook and paperback.

The discipline of doing this also means the revised paperback can be ready prior to the ebook. Some authors may have an ebook available for preorder but make the paperback available. That way, people can write reviews before the ebook (usually the bigger seller) is formally issued.


You are the publisher, your choice is which firm to pick to print and distribute. I prefer Create Space, an Amazon company. If you think you will sell a large number of paperbacks, you can consider Ingram Spark; working with them facilitates placement in bookstores.

Ingram Spark's process is a more complex one than Create Space's, and you need to price a book higher to make the same amount of money. I've used both. Most self-published books tend to be sold in local bookstores, with the author providing the copies, and online.

An important difference between the two companies is that Create Space has no fees.

Recently, Amazon began offering a paperback option after you publish a Kindle book. Because Create Space offers more sizes and additional flexibilities, I plan to stick with them.

Some people think Amazon (which owns Create Space) will eventually close Create Space and force authors to go only through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Though Amazon is ending customer ordering through Create Space, I find it hard to believe they would fully merge paperback publishing with KDP. They are different animals.

For more information on the two firms, check the help pages on their web sites. You can also download my paper on publishing a paperback with Create Space.\
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