How do you start your memoir?
Some people just start telling stories from their life.
That’s one way. But it’s shortsighted.
A memoir, like all books, requires a strong idea—a thesis—that governs the book. It also requires idea development before you even begin writing. It can’t simply be an autobiography or a disjointed retelling of every story that has taught you a lesson.
Developing a governing idea helps your memoir have focus—what stories you should and shouldn’t include. It also helps you determine the structure of your memoir.
We sat down with Rob Lewis, ghostwriter of a memoir, who shared his expertise in memoir writing. In the interview, Lewis presented three questions all memoir writers should ask themselves before they start writing.
Do I Have a Story to Tell?
Writing a memoir is the craze of the day. Everyone believes they have a story that must be told. You must believe you have a story to tell if you’re reading this article. But before you start your memoir, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really have a story to tell?”
Or, “Does my story really have the potential to say something in a fresh way that will move people?”
Memoir as a genre has increased in popularity over the years. From celebrities to athletes to ordinary people overcoming obstacles—everyone, it seems, is dipping into memoir writing. There’s a problem with memoir popularity, though: people believe the everyday is extraordinary. It could be. But only if you help the reader see the extraordinary in the everyday.
When writing a memoir, you need to address whether or not you have an actual story to tell. How do you know?
A good memoir will be a story of significance. It will reveal an idea in a profound way, either through thematic exploration, character analysis, or voice and literary strategies.
A good memoir will also develop a fresh perspective on a topic. It will provide a narrative previously unconsidered, or provide additional, nuanced context to a former narrative.
Consider how your story will fit into the current narrative surrounding your topic. How is your memoir different? Why would a reader choose your memoir over another? Is there something in culture that makes your perspective particularly unique? Is yours written in an unconventional way that draws the reader in?
A fresh perspective on a written topic will spark a reader’s attention.
Remember: Memoirs are not a “regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal…but a shared discovery.”
What Is My Structure?
A memoir—like all good books—needs a solid structure. Structure keeps your story focused and moving, with the overarching theme of your book always woven throughout.
Memoirs typically follow one of three structures: chronology, thematic, and past vs. present. A chronological memoir presents a linear story. It starts at one specific date and concludes at...
“How do I know if my manuscript is ready for submission?”
You might never know fully. But careful review of your manuscript can get it closer to being publishing-ready.
Reviewing your manuscript is mostly intuitive. Of course, you need to clean up grammatical errors and make sure you write in the same voice. That’s basic. It’s what we learned in high school English.
But reviewing your manuscript is more than just cleaning up grammar. Your editing process should also review cadence, specificity, idea development, and scene development, to name a few! There are a few key areas where writers—especially new writers—tend to overlook in the editing process.
In this blog post, we share three of the many editorial mishaps to pay attention to when you review your manuscript.
The Manuscript Is Being Reviewed
Reread that subtitle above. It sounds awkward, right? That’s because the subtitle is written in the passive voice.
One of the simplest yet most important things to pay attention to when you review your manuscript is this: passive and active voice.
What’s the difference? Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives the action. Active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. The subtitle, for example, rewritten in active voice might be: She Reviewed the Manuscript.
Let’s look at another example.
Example: The ball is being chased by the dog.
This example uses passive voice. The subject is the dog. The object is the ball. The subject—the dog—is receiving the action.
Note that the passive voice is made up of a form of the verb “to be” and the past participle of another verb (“were stolen,” “was chosen,” “is eaten”).
Here’s a better way to write the sentence: The dog is chasing the ball.
See how the subject of the sentence (the dog) is performing an action (chasing the ball)?
Why do you want to avoid the passive voice? It’s not just a rule for “rule’s sake.”
An abundance of passive voice slows your writing. Makes it sluggish. Your writing will lose energy and is more impersonal. It feels indirect and evasive. Writing in the active voice, in contrast, infuses your story with vibrancy, action, and in-the-moment character decision-making.
There are times when the passive voice is more effective than the active voice. If you’re trying to write about an impersonal feeling, or evasion, or a situation when a person feels paralyzed, then passive voice is a great tool to use! Form underscores meaning.
Say you’re writing a story about a politician who wants to avoid blame for a mistake. What do most politicians claim when they mess up? They’ll say, “Mistakes were made.” This is the passive voice and it deflects blame from the politician.
As you review your manuscript, note each case of passive voice. A rule of thumb: try to eliminate most ...
“Is traditional publishing for me?”
It’s a question all writers ask at some point in their journey. And the answer depends on each individual. We interviewed Jamie Weiner, author of The Quest for Legitimacy: How Children of Prominent Families Discover Their Unique Place in the World, who has both self-published and traditionally published a book. In our interview, Weiner shared the pros and cons of his individual publishing experiences.
There’s no one right way. You might go the route of traditional publishing for one book and the self-publishing route with another. There’s no right path. But there are a few guideposts to help you make your decision on your book writing journey.
Responsibility vs. Independence
Publishing houses are like banks: they want a return on their investment, your book. Because they are in the business of producing and selling books, they have refined the process so it is as efficient as possible. While the entire process is managed for you—editing, designing, printing, and distribution—you might be surprised by the limited interaction you have with the publishing house. Yours is one of many books to be published.
Because a publishing house provides a copy editor, a cover designer, and a marketing and distribution team, you don’t have to find—and vet—a team of professionals (which, let’s be honest, we might not trust our instincts to pick the best for the best final product).
The flip side? With self-publishing you have more control over the process of the book. You don’t have to wait on a publishers release date (which can sometimes be years after you submit a proposal). You don’t have to defer to their creative process. You can control the pricing and distribution of the book. You can control the audio rights.
Simply, you have more control.
The most alluring aspect to self-publishing is your ability to control the creative process. We’ve worked with authors who have fought with their publisher on titling and cover art. One publisher wanted to replace a conceptual (and catchy!) title with a purely descriptive title (because, they said, it would be better for SEO). Another author was provided cover designs that used stock imagery. Yawn.
While some traditional publishers take your creative feedback, they won’t always. Ultimately, the final decision is theirs.
With self-publishing, you have complete reign over your creative vision. You will determine when your book will be published, what cover design looks best, how your book should be organized, the contents (references, appendices, glossaries, etc.) to be included, and more!
Publishing houses also have heavy sway over your material. Do you want to include a prologue? Your publisher might not allow for it. Or, they might demand it, even if you don’t think it needs it.
That being said, most publishing houses are open for discussion if you have concerns. In...
“Is my idea any good?” “Is this idea good enough for a book?”
At the heart of the creative journey is a good idea. And we all want to know if our idea is good enough for a book. But we have a fear that our idea might not be. That our idea is unpublishable. So, how do you know if your idea is good enough for a book?
Take a look at three of our seven questions to begin determining if your idea is good enough for a book. To read all seven of our questions, click here for our free downloadable!
Do I write regularly (or semi-regularly)?
If you write regularly, then you already know what it takes to write 1,500 words or 5,000 words. You have an understanding for the time it takes to research a topic, write the first draft, and then enter into a series of editing cycles.
Because a book is longform writing, it’s tough to wrestle with the idea of a book without ever having written a blog, whitepaper, or article before. A book requires creating and sustaining an argument over the course of (at least) ten chapters.
To know if their ideas were good enough for a book, two of our Roadtrippers actively practiced their hand at longform writing through their blogs. Blog writing allows a writer to get a feel for the length of longform writing, what is needed to write a sufficient story in a couple thousand words, and how to write a story that has a beginning, middle, and end.
One of our Roadtrippers, Alysa, has been blogging for years and has finished the first draft of her book. While book writing is different than blogging, Alysa developed her idea thousands of words in a blog. Each blog post received feedback that deepened her thinking and provided stories for her book. You can’t just drop blog posts into a chapter, but you can use the rudimentary ideas to shape your book.
Experienced writers tend to have a better feel for the kind of idea that can be sustained for more than an article or blog post. So, if you’re not writing, start today!
Is my idea based on a deep expertise?
If you have a deep expertise from years of experience, then you have most likely been sharpening your ideas for years. This expertise can range from personal finance to personal fitness to personal hobbies! And it means you have material to write on. Material that will sustain your idea for the entirety of a book.
One of our Roadtrippers recently wrote a book based on his work in the family business sector. He has thought about his idea for almost 15 years (talk about passion!). Through his years of experience and the qualitative research he conducted, he was able to sustain material for a ten-chapter book.
As an expert, you’ve likely spoken or written on your subject multiple times. You think of fresh ways to apply your expertise and connect with your target audience. Your biggest struggle will be focusing your idea more narrowly. The best nonfiction books have a narrow, specific thesis. Does yours?
And if you have years...
“Should I find a writing coach? Do I need a coach?”
It depends. Are you stuck on your thesis? Do you struggle with structuring your book? Do your thoughts lack clarity or depth?
If you’re struggling in your writing journey—and haven’t found the answers online or in a class—consider investing in a coach. An effective coaching experience will help you make progress wherever you’re struggling. And, hopefully, propel your journey forward so that you can find an agent or land a book deal or publish your piece.
In this blog post, we share insights into why you should find a writing coach.
What Is a Writing Coach?
A coach is a person who is involved in the direction, instruction, or training of a team or individuals. Coaches offer customized learning experiences that are tailored towards the needs of the individual they are working with.
The key word is “tailored.” A tailored experience helps you make progress on your specific writing goals. A coach builds on your strengths, yes. But they also are hyper-focused on helping you improve in specific areas of weakness.
While an effective writing coach has an editorial background, they are NOT your editor. Coaching demands you do the work. You do the writing. And to be honest, not all coaches make great editors.
Some coaches offer more editorial direction than others as part of the coaching experience. But a pure line edit or copyedit? You would need to ask in advance if they will provide that also. You’ll likely have to pay an extra cost.
What Do Writing Coaches Help With?
We already established that a writing coach is focused on helping you achieve your writing goals. But they can’t steer you toward success if you’re not specific in what you want.
Writing coaches can help with a variety of things: your target audience, sharpening your idea, improving your structure, setting daily or weekly writing goals, strategies to help deal with writer’s block, developing your book’s positioning, how to develop a platform, how to promote your book, and more.
What do you specifically need help with that?
The more specific your goals, the better the coaching experience will be.
A coach will also help you deal with your self-doubts. They will remind you why you’re writing the book and what your strengths are. While a coach should be realistic and offer you advice rather than constant compliments, they should also be your supporter.
An effective coach tells you what needs improvement while also celebrating your accomplishments when you make progress. Maybe you hired a coach to help you refine your thesis, for instance. An effective coach will acknowledge the elemental good thinking about your idea development but push you for more specificity and nuance. They’ll ask tough questions, forcing you to consider angles you wouldn’t ask on your own.
What Can You Expect from a Coach?
Once you answer the...
“Why do I need a social media following?”
The simple answer: Because agents and publishers want you to have an established following. They want to know how you will reach your audience when it’s time to promote your book.
We recently spoke with Natalie Papier, owner of Home Ec.-Op and soon-to-be author, about how she grew her Instagram following from a few thousand to over 130,000 in a few short years.
Natalie shared four tips on how to grow your social media following that you can immediately start using to grow your own following today.
Establish Your Content
To grow your social media following, find your tribe—and understand the content they’ll gobble up.
Snoop around Natalie’s IG account, and you’ll see that she serves up exactly what her audience wants: delicious images with plenty of behind-the-scenes details and tips on how to design from the heart.
Not to mention she seasons all her posts with a dash of authenticity—making her approachable—someone with whom you’d want to have a coffee date with. (We all know that social media is called “social” for a reason.)
Your expertise may not be design, like it is for Natalie, but you can learn from her strategy.
First, determine what your audience wants and lean into your experiences and hard-earned wisdom. Provide some inspiration, along with some how-tos, and maybe even a thought-provoking question to engage your audience.
Natalie speaks about what she knows best and shares her triumphs while also not being afraid to share her failures. This is where the magic happens on social media: when you show your humanity. It gives followers something to connect with on an emotional level. And connection is the key to getting people to share your content and come back for more.
Natalie built her following by posting regularly, posting to her IG Stories daily and her account a few times a week. Of course, “regular” is different for each person. The important thing to remember is that if you’re not posting regularly, your content is buried by those nasty algorithms.
Content is prioritized that is liked and shared. And the only way to get likes and shares is to post engaging content regularly. It’s a virtuous circle.
It can be scary committing to regular posting (we recommend three to five times a week at the least). You might wonder if you have enough to say. Some people tackle this problem by creating an editorial calendar. Plan ahead (even write the posts in advance) if you fear you won’t be able to come up with the content in the moment, like Natalie does.
There are plenty of online resources (such as Hootsuite) that provide calendars with prompts on what to share. That way you’re never stumped.
Get the Conversation Going
Natalie’s great strength is her ability to connect with her audience. One of the primary ways she does this is by asking questions at the...
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “published author?” Do you imagine a writer who has published a book? Or a writer who has published an article in a magazine?
Most writers dream about traditionally publishing their work. They want their words to be shared on a grand scale. But traditional publishing isn’t necessarily the best route for your writing.
In this blog post, we will teach you how to reframe publishing, and share how your writing can improve with a new mindset.
Traditional Publishing—Why Writers Desire It
Traditionally, publishing refers to the creation and distribution of printed works, like books, newspaper articles, and magazine features.
When writers imaging being published, this is most often what they envision. A byline proves they credibility. No doubt, traditional publishing is a form of external validation. There is something fulfilling about being selected by an external publisher. While we might believe that a traditional publisher will provide a larger audience, the truth is there are many authors who publish non-traditionally with much larger audiences. They’ve built large audiences from faithfully publishing regularly in non-traditional ways, like blogging, posting to social media, or podcasting.
The flip side it true, as well. There are many writers who publish traditionally and are never read. There writing simply isn’t good (yes, even bad writers are published traditionally).
A writer can feel like they’re “part of the elite few” if they traditionally publish. But remember it’s just a feeling.
The Imposter Syndrome can never be solved through external validation, though. It is something most writers will struggle with the entirety of their writing lives.
How to Reframe Publishing—Why You Need to Change Your Mindset
A good writer needs a purpose bigger than simply “being published.” And as Stephen King said, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” So, how do you find your purpose? One way is to reframe your views on publishing.
The word “publish” comes from the Latin word “publica” which means, to be made public. If we focus on this definition, then publication can include submissions to digital magazines, presentations via webinars, and even posts on social media.
In each of these cases, you become the publisher.
Isn’t this why we publish? Because we have words we want to make public? Words that can influence, educate, or tell a story?
Reframe your desire to publish and you will have a better understanding of why you write.
Why We Publish—The Benefits of Non-Traditional Publishing
When you reframe publishing, you can take a more active role in your publishing life.
Depending on the source...
When you’re writing a book, two questions first-time writers most often ask are: How do I land a book deal? and How do I market it so it is read?
We sat down with Robin Zachary, author of Styling Beyond Instagram: Take Your Prop Styling Skills from the Square to the Street, who shared her roundabout path to landing a book deal and how she plans to promote her book to increase sales immediately following its release and also in the years to come.
In this blog post, you will learn the best approaches to land a book deal, and how to market your book to increase book sales.
All You Need is a Connection
Publishing houses receive dozens, if not hundreds, of manuscript submissions a day. Their process of elimination is brutal and quick. And if you don’t make an immediate impression, your manuscript will be rejected. The rejection doesn’t mean your book is “bad,” it just might not be a good fit for a particular publisher, as Zachary found out.
At a conference for creatives, Zachary attended multiple workshops and seminars with published authors who shared their experience getting published. Most of them said, “The publisher found me.” Zachary wondered, “What about the rest of us?”
Later at the conference Zachary sat down with a publisher who expressed that her book idea wasn’t “publishable.” Tough words. So tough, Zachary decided she likely would self-publish the book and use it as a teaching tool.
But things quickly shifted when she had a chance meeting with an acquaintance at that same conference. Zachary shared her idea, and her friend said, “That sounds like a book the publisher of my book would be interested in!” A few weeks later, Zachary’s friend reached out for a book proposal she could pass on to the publisher.
Often the best way to land a book deal is through a connection like this. It’s a warm introduction. The person acts as a proxy for trust.
That being said, you also should be looking to ways to nurture relationships and support people you know. Give without the expectation of gaining. You just never know when you might receive a gift in return.
Attend a Conference
Many people attend conferences and writer’s workshops with the expectation that they will find an agent or land a book deal with a publisher. But often these workshops are intermediate steps to landing a deal. View these gatherings as opportunities to learn from other people’s experiences, learn more about the industry, make connections, and share your unique ideas.
You might not land a book deal, but you’ll create valuable relationships—that might pay off like they did for Zachary. You never know who might have a connection!
Market Your Book to Your Ideal Audience
While you’re writing your book, you need to begin to think about how to market your book to increase sales. In fact, even as you write your book you should be...
We all remember our high school research papers. Twelve or so pages of regurgitated facts, figures, and quotes. And completely devoid of voice. To describe them as boring would be an understatement.
Nobody really teaches you how to not lose your voice in your research. They just teach you how to cite research.
That’s a problem for authors of nonfiction writing in particular, who must find a way to use research to support or apply their idea. Because a book isn’t the research. The book is a unique idea.
When writers spend hours researching for their projects, the temptation is to include every single quote and study that supports their argument. Or, to use long, cumbersome block quotes that interrupt the narrative flow.
Quite simply, too much research can overpower your voice and lose your reader.
We sat down with Melinda Moyer, author of How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting—from Tots to Teens. As the title suggests, Moyer’s book is science-based and research-driven. Yet Moyer artfully maintains her individual voice—even in the midst of research.
In this blog post, we share two tips on how to not lose your voice in your research.
Reframe Your Research
Unless you’re writing a PhD dissertation, research is best when it is buried. That means, as a writer you incorporate the ideas into your own voice, rather than simply reporting what others have discovered, often through long quotes. Allow your voice to weave all the ideas (and voices of other writers and researchers) together.
How do you do this?
Start by collecting nuggets of research that relate to your idea. Create documents labeled by subject/idea matter, and drop quotes into the correlating subject documents. You might put the same quote into more than one doc, as you wrestle with how to best use the research. Sometimes, the research will pop up more than once in your writing. That’s fine, too. If it’s an important idea, it might demand revisiting.
Once you have written down the quotes verbatim, rework those nuggets of wisdom with your own words—in a way that the average person will find interesting. You become the translator of information that might be too dense for the average reader.
The key is to not simply regurgitate direct quotes. Through reframing the research, your voice will remain unique and present in your text.
Break It Up with Story!
To keep your reader’s attention, you need to continually tap into the reader’s emotion. One way to do this is through story. Stories bring to life the research by applying it or illustrating it.
Check out Moyer’s article ‘I Had Never Felt Worse’: Long Covid Sufferers Are Struggling With Exercise. She starts her article with a personal story. And then connects this story to her research. In a research-dense article that could be boring and overwhelming, personal stories allow your voice to...
“I have a manuscript, but is it ready for submission?”
Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s no magical formula for what will catch an editor’s attention. Sometimes editors just follow their gut.
But with years of publishing experience under our belt, we know a few things about what manuscripts catch the attention of editors—and which ones are trashed.
Check out our 8 must-dos to get an editor’s attention.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road—Writer’s Guidelines
One of the most basic yet important steps is to follow the guidelines established by publishing houses. Guidelines are your guide in getting one step closer to being published. This is a step you can’t skip, but aspiring writers often bypass.
Publishing houses have varied and strict guidelines on how to submit material. Before you submit a manuscript, research the houses you want to reach out to. Determine whether there is a specific word count, a letter to be included, or other necessary guidelines to be completed before submission.
If you have a personal connection who can get your work in front of an editor, you may be able to bypass this step. If not, your writer’s guidelines are your first step to making the connection!
Publishing houses have their own niches. And they have a definitive audience in mind whom they want to serve. This is true for magazines and book publishers. It’s important that you recognize what stories the publishing house is interested in. Figure out what they want. If you don’t have material that fits into the house’s niche, don’t waste your time on a submission.
If your material does relate, then think about the audience the house wants to serve. Ask yourself: “Who is their audience? Is my manuscript a good fit for this audience? Do I have an expertise that would benefit their ideal audience?” Make sure your material provides some sort of value to their audience. And in the pitch letter (if they ask for one), make sure to reference your understanding of their target audience.
Hook ‘Em to Win ‘Em
Editors are drowning in unsolicited manuscripts. If you want yours to be the one that pulls them up for air, you have to hook them. Your first sentence/paragraph of your manuscript must breathe some energy into the editor—at the very least, make them think “This is fresh! And they can write!”
Editors have limited time. They scan the first paragraph and might skip to the conclusion. But they typically will not read the middle. You don’t have time to build up to some dazzling insight or prove you have writing chops.
One caveat: when writing your opening, stay away from clichés—ideas and phrases. Clichés reflect unsophisticated thinking and writing. Find a unique angle on your subject.
Also, create some tension that demands the editor’s attention.
If you’re looking to pitch an article, do some...