Book Creation

How to Write a Memoir: Do's and Don'ts

Memoirs are among the most powerful books on the market in terms of their ability to positively affect their readers. The basis of memoir writing lies in an author with a story worth telling, whether about an accomplishment or struggle. But while memoir authors often have many life lessons to share, it’s important that they don’t stray into the more prescriptive world of self-help writing.

Follow these do’s and don’ts, and you’ll be well on your way to writing a memoir that can compete toe-to-toe with the best on the market. 

Tell a Story

DO THIS: Establish a story arc. Even though it’s a story about your life, it still has to have some of the elements and structure of fiction to make it compelling. Consider how you will tell your story based on what elements you’re trying to emphasize. Remember, you still need character development, a compelling struggle, and a resolution.

NOT THIS: Include every detail of your life in your memoir. If you’re focusing on your relationship with your siblings, don’t put unnecessary details in about your college years or your European vacation with friends unless it relates directly to the story.

Show Don't Tell

DO THIS: The inspiration needs to come from the story. If you’re writing an inspirational memoir, it’s the story, the characters, and the action that should incite emotion. When you read an amazing memoir, it’s not uplifting because the author is telling you it is; the inspiring nature of the book is written into the story.

NOT THIS: Tell the reader why the story is inspiring. Don’t say things like, “In overcoming my illness, I finally realized how strong I was.” Show your readers how you felt, and let them infer from your storytelling the lessons you learned. This is an important distinction between self-help and memoir, and a key place where authors unintentionally blend the two.

Highlight What's Unique

DO THIS: Find your hook and emphasize an element of your story that makes it unique and marketable. Telling about your struggle isn’t enough. Research comparable titles and figure out an angle for your book that is new and different from what is already out there.

NOT THIS: Write a very broad book about overcoming a difficult situation. For example, instead of a book about addiction, write a book about beating alcoholism with your supportive, madcap Southern family at your side.

Writing a self-help book? Learn what makes it different than a self-help book here

Writing for Your Audience

“My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

I’ve read many books, ideas, proposals. A small, but shining few are good, and there is a significant trait that define them as such. The authors know who their audience is, and they write for that audience. Knowing your core audience is essential.

I am the first to admit how deeply personal putting words to paper is for me. It has always been subject to my interests, my thoughts, my ideas, my passions. I write because it fulfills me.

Most authors don't write for money or fame (or “fortune and glory,” as pulp fiction screen star Indiana Jones would have put it), but because they have a honest love of what they do.

Understanding the Basic Sections of a Book

Does the foreword belong before the preface? When do the page numbers start? What’s the difference between a preface and an introduction? If you need answers to demystify the front matter of your book, read on.

Books are generally divided into three sections: front matter, principal text, and back matter. Front matter is the material at the front of a book that usually offers information about the book. The principal text is the meat of a book. Back matter is the final pages of a book, where endnotes, the appendix, the bibliography, the index, and related elements reside. Though the front matter may not be as sexy as the main text or as information packed as the back matter, it’s an opportunity for authors to set the tone for their readers’ experience.

How to Effectively Pitch Your Project

Any chance you have to get in front of agents or publishers and tell them about your book is a precious opportunity, no matter how brief the encounter. Don’t waste it. Make the moment memorable (for the right reasons) by crafting a series of brief, targeted talking points about your project.

Qualities of a Good Pitch:

  1. It’s brief: A good pitch starts with a single sentence, known as a logline or hook. Prepare one or two additional sentence-long talking points about your project based on the book’s synopsis.
  2. It gets to the guts of your book: By boiling your pitch down to a single sentence, you are forced to get to the heart of the story or message. The hook should be the book’s compelling central idea and will be used to sell your idea again and again.

How to Get Feedback on Your Manuscript

Writing a book can be a lonely experience, and you don’t want to completely isolate yourself during the writing process. It’s important to get feedback, especially while you’re developing an idea. Not only does this help motivate you, it also helps you catch issues and address concerns on the front end rather than trying to overhaul a manuscript after it’s already complete.

Book Printing: How to Avoid a Printing Disaster

Going to press is exciting. Lots of hard work is behind you, and the finished book is close to becoming a reality. But as you print your books, you should be aware of potential complications. Consider the printing of your book as a custom project. The jacket, covers, and text are unique–written, designed, and printed specifically for you as opposed to being interchangeable commodities to be pulled from a shelf.

That being said, it's difficult for a printer to produce the precise amount of books you request. When the printer orders materials for printing a book, he must allow for spoilage at each manufacturing stage. If production runs smoothly and spoilage is kept to a minimum, there will likely be higher yields of the final product. These extra books are referred to in the industry as "overs."

And here's where people tend to get confused: Your invoice will reflect the total amount of books shipped from the printer, meaning that if relatively few books have defects, you'll end up being charged for the total number of books shipped.

Talking the Talk: Publishing Terms and Jargon

"It’s all pounds, shillings, and pence to me, darling." —Absolutely Fabulous

Just like most industries, book publishing has its own peculiar jargon—a language that may be confusing to first-time authors. To minimize confusion and miscommunication during your book’s production, here's a list of some of the more common terms you might come across:

4 Ways to Select a Strong Book Cover

The cover of a book is arguably the strongest marketing tool at an author’s disposal. It is the element of a book that is most likely to get a reader to stop, look again, and pick up the book.

The cover is a chance for the author to convey the ideas found within the pages in one fell swoop. And I emphasize the word swoop, as readers that are walking past a bookstore shelf or scrolling through online search results are not spending time studying your cover – they are glancing at it. And a few seconds are all you get to grab their attention.

It is not enough for a cover to be beautiful – it must also be marketable. An author should think about several aspects when determining the best cover for their book – target audience, name recognition, branding – but the best way to start is by asking four important questions: