This post by Nancy Barnes, appeared as a guest post earlier this month on Patricia Fry’s Writing and Publishing News.
I am the lead editor of Stories To Tell Books and a specialist in memoirs and family histories. We also handle fiction and nonfiction, but in memoir and family history a style has arisen called "creative nonfiction" for books grounded in fact and presented using the tools of literature.
These are special books, not only because of the subject matter, but because of the unique way they are designed - usually with photos, and in some family histories, a genealogist may want to include endnotes, charts, appendixes and an index. An illustrated book is a whole different project than text-only. As a book editor and designer, I enjoy producing illustrated books because they are so interesting to look at as well as to read.
Lots of people have a dream book they know will fascinate their family and friends. Memoirists and family historians aren't necessarily writing for profit. Many of the book projects we edit, design and publish are for private printing, for limited distribution, or for small-scale self publishing. Others need our help to "commercialize" a book so that it will sell to the general public. Our specialty is to help authors - many of them first-time authors - through the whole process step-by-step, from the draft manuscript through publishing. Imagine how much easier it is to write and publish a book when you can ask your editor what to do every time you get stuck.
What is the best way to write a memoir or family history? Many beginners think in terms of chronology. But reporting events this way can be tedious, and literature has developed many devices, such as flashbacks and a story within a story, to manipulate time itself. The topics and themes, once identified, will often suggest the best order.
As always with editing, the biggest decision is what to include and what to cut. In this genre, writers really struggle with cuts. Since it really happened, it must be included, right? Not true! Ask "who is my reader, and what would they care about?" You can't fit every story into one book, so pick the guaranteed winners, the stories sure to entertain or evoke deep feelings, as well as to inform. A final writing tip: for memoirists, the best tool is "voice", so use an intimate tone to share thoughts and feelings, not just the facts.
Each month in my newsletter (you can subscribe free on my website www.StoriesToTellBooks.com) I write a column on role models for writers. By exploring these well written books and the craft of good literature, writers can influence the style of their own work in progress.
When I edit and design a book, my decisions are based on the final goals for the book. How will it be printed? Hardcover or soft? Digital? Does the author want it up on amazon.com? How many copies does the author hope to distribute? These decisions effect my design choices: the book's size, length, whether to use color, etc. These factors also determine the right publisher or printer for the book. This is where my experience really helps, as authors caught up in writing rarely anticipate what's ahead.
If you would like to know more about this type of book project, check out our website where we discuss writing, editing, design, publishing and more. While you're there, post a comment or ask a question. We're happy to help!