Thousands of people write memoirs every year. How do you make your memoir standout from the crowd? Here’s so advice from masters of the genre on how to make sure yours is a good one.
Novelist Suzanne Berne’s book Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knew chronicles her search for meaning in her family’s history. The experience is one that is familiar genealogists and family historians. It might also be a cautionary tale they would be well to examine. At the heart is her grandmother, Lucile, who died of cancer in her early forties. However, her father, a very young boy at the time, always believed that his mother had abandoned him. He said, “We were told she was gone. No one ever said where.” Berne decided that her missing grandmother was "the Rosetta stone by which all subsequent family guilt and unhappiness could be decoded.” She set out to unlock the family secrets by discovering what she could about Lucile’s story.
Two of my new clients need me to perform OCR on their books. OCR, you say - is that like CPR? Sort of. OCR, or optical character recognition, can save the life of a book that would otherwise die in this digital age. It allows us to scan hard copies of books, one that are not already on a computer, and to transcribe the text into a word processing program like Microsoft Word. Then the text can be edited and designed just like a modern book.
“Why are you still publishing print books?” a woman at the Tucson Festival of Books asked. “My friends tell me that everything is going to be digital.” That’s a legitimate question; so we had a friendly debate about the relative merits of digital and print books. As you know, at Stories To Tell we design both print and ebooks, but I don’t expect that print is dead or it will ever go out of style. Here are some reasons for a printed book.
Today we have a collection of great ideas from around the web to help you market your self-published book.
Elmore Leonard said, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” That’s easier said than done. Well-written genre novels are often described as “page-turners.” Learning how to build and maintain momentum means choosing what to leave out, because that keeps the readers turning pages. I love a good mystery. Nobody writes them better than Michael Connelly. The Gods of Guilt, the latest in his Michael Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) series, is a wonderful example of omitting what’s unnecessary to maintain the novel’s pace.
600,000 to a million new titles will be published this year, and far fewer than 1% of them will ever find their way onto bookstore shelves. 800,000 books are currently available for Amazon’s Kindle. The upshot? In this crowded marketplace, readers won’t find your book unless you help them. How can you work toward that goal? Even as you’re writing, you can get started on building your audience. Begin early if you can, six to eight months before your book’s publication date, to lay your foundation and build some momentum. Here are some of the steps you can take in advance.
Point of view is not something family historians are likely think about. After all, you seek to collect “true” stories. Then, when you’re ready to write, you review what you have gathered, and you tell the story - from your own point of view. What’s the downside? The result can be more like a report than a story. Instead, consider switching your point of view around. Look at events from the point of view of the people you are writing about. How did they feel about what was going on in their lives? What were they thinking about as the events you describe unfolded? We know that much of the drama of history comes from decisions they made. So, what would they have considered before deciding to take the action they did?
Writing can be a serious business, but sometimes you just need a laugh. College Humor’s video sketch, Obama’s Young Adult Novel Plan, is guaranteed to give you one. Enjoy!
Writing a memoir or family history can be tricky, because you know a lot – even too much – about your subject. Some of the story you know as fact, some you can only speculate about, and then there are your personal feelings. What’s the best way to tell the story? Researchers and authors sometimes see themselves as reporters, telling about events as they actually happened. But if you are mostly concerned with exploring the emotional and psychological experience, these aspects of life are harder to report, much less to document. Should you write a factual memoir or family history, or would a fictionalized account be better?
Genealogy is not a topic that often hits the pages of the New York Times, except when the business pages report on companies like Ancestry or My Heritage. Today’s op-ed piece Your Ancestors, Your Fate by is one that should generate wide interest, especially among those interested in genealogy and family history. According to the author, researcher Gregory Clark, “To a striking extent your overall life chances can be predicted not just from your parents’ status but also from your great-great-great-grandparents.” University of California, Davis economics professor Gregory Clark is the author of The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. He and fellow researchers began with a simple question: what is the reason for a person’s upward social mobility, or lack of it? Clark reported that,” …my colleagues and I estimate that 50 to 60 percent of variation in overall status is determined by your lineage. The fortunes of high-status families inexorably fall, and those of low-status families rise, toward the average — what social scientists call “regression to the mean” — but the process can take 10 to 15 generations (300 to 450 years), much longer than most social scientists have estimated in the past.”
There are more authors out there today than ever before, and many of that growing number of authors have never published a book before. Unfortunately, these inexperienced authors can be fleeced by unscrupulous companies who disguise themselves as publishers. Publishers Weekly reported that there were 347,178 books published traditionally in 2011. Bowker put the number of self-published books in 2012 at 391,000. “Currently, authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year,” according to Seed Magazine. As these neophytes search for a publisher they are targets for a variety of schemes to rip them off. One thing which makes them vulnerable is a lack of understanding of today’s publishing universe. There are two clearly defined and legitimate publishing models, situated at opposite ends of the publishing continuum.
Would you like to write in a crisp, concise, vivid style? Who wouldn’t? A new app called Hemingway allows you to see how your writing measures up to Papa’s standard. Ernest Hemingway, the king of powerful, spare writing, has influenced generations of writers. He crafted his Nobel Prize-winning novels based on four rules he learned as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star: Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative. Brian Clark of Copyblogger adds a fifth rule Hemingway confided in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” You can use the app in two ways: Hit the Write button and create a new piece of text to evaluate. Hit the Edit button and plug in a piece of existing writing.
Are you are a family historian working to transform your research into a book? You want to make sure it is one family members will enjoy reading. Here are six things to keep in mind.
Your family history is unique. So why would you want a cookie-cutter template? At the RootsTech Family History and Technology Conference, a number of people came to our Stories To Tell exhibit and asked, “Do you have software or a template to create books?” We didn’t, and we don’t ever intend to make a book according to a template. A template-based book, compared to a custom book, is like a child’s paint-by-numbers kitcompared to a real, original work of art. We don’t offer templates, but a lot of people do. For example,ancestry.com’s My Canvas promises, “Family History Books auto fill with your family group sheets, pedigree charts, and timelines using Ancestry.com records.” Others offer lists of questions to answer which would generate some book text, and there are publishing packages to create family histories. These packages suggest that if you just point and click, you have a book. Ease of use is often a good thing, but what if something important is lost? The function of a template is to mass produce items in the same shape and pattern. Your family may be special or unusual people, but your book won’t be.