Talking Memoir with Writing Instructor, Coach, and Publisher Brooke Warner, Part 2

In Part 2 of her interview (below), Brooke Warner discusses She Writes Press’s approach to publishing and offers advice to those starting or continuing work on their manuscripts.
– Lynette

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Instructor, Coach, Publisher Brooke Warner

Why do you think She Writes Press is thriving? Does it publish a variety of genres? How does it differ from traditional publishing on the one hand and self-publishing on the other? Do you feel it empowers authors?

She Writes Press is thriving because we are filling a need. Right now barriers to traditional publishing are so high, and authors who might have gotten a book deal ten years ago have no hope of getting one today. This is because the focus in book publishing has moved from content to author platform, so you basically need to have a large established fanbase in order to get a traditional book deal.

She Writes Press is functioning in many ways like a traditional press. We vet projects and have a high editorial standard, and we have traditional distribution, which means that we have a sales force selling our list. But we are not basing our acquisitions on author brand or platform. Instead it’s solely about the books and the writing itself. Authors are so relieved to have this kind of option, where they have support without having to self-publish. Plus, our books are beautifully designed and we’re getting great accolades, both for the aesthetics of our books and for their content, which speaks to the kind of authors we’re attracting.

We’re also different from traditional publishing in that the authors invest in themselves. We offer a package that covers everything from cover and interior design, proofreading, project management, and everything it takes to get a manuscript prepared and through publication. For that, the authors retain 60% of net proceeds on paperback (as opposed to 15% in traditional publishing) and 80% on e-books (as opposed to 25% in traditional publishing). The cost of our package does not include individual title publicity support, but we absolutely market our titles, and the press collectively, which does give the authors and their books exposure.

Our press empowers authors by giving them an option to play in the big leagues, and our goal is always to rival our traditional counterparts. We are also collaborative, and authors retain more creative control with us than they would with a traditional publisher. They also retain their copyright, which is a big deal. The world of publishing is far from perfect, but we’re giving authors a legitimate shot at getting the kind of recognition that largely eludes self-published authors.

And yes, we publish multiple genres—fiction, memoir, self-help, and everything in between. We’ve done parenting books, cookbooks, leadership books, spiritual books, and even poetry.

Do you have any advice for those writing their first book? Or for those who feel their manuscripts are ready to publish?

First: Hang in there. It might be a long process, and that’s okay. There’s so much hype right now about writing your book in a few weeks, never mind six months (which is what our class was built upon), and what we’ve found with our own class is that we end up giving authors a strong foundation to continue. Certain books are emotionally taxing to write, and there’s a lot to learn.

Study your craft. Read other authors in your genre—please. Connect with other authors. Join writers’ forums and attend events. The road to becoming an author starts with understanding who’s come before you, and with social media you can actually connect with these people. Your journey will be that much more inspiring and less lonely as a result. And when you’re ready, seek out experts to read, edit, and help you figure out which publishing path is right for you. None of this should be done alone; it’s much more joyful with company.

________________
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book, What’s Your Book?, How to Sell Your Memoir, and the co-author of Breaking Ground on Your Memoir. Brooke’s expertise is in traditional and new publishing. She is the former Executive Editor of Seal Press and currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers. She blogs actively on Huffington Post Books and SheWrites.com. Brooke lives and works in Berkeley, California.

Visit Brooke at www.brookewarner.com

Connect with Brooke on Social Media:
http://twitter.com/brooke_warner
http://facebook.com/warnercoaching
https://www.linkedin.com/in/warnercoaching
https://www.pinterest.com/warnercoaching
https://www.youtube.com/warnercoaching

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Examples of Boomers and Seniors Writing About Their Lives

As I’ve written in other posts here, I teach boomers and seniors (and others) to write stories from their lives. Our classes are moving, funny, exciting, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun—and that describes the stories the students write.

When people tell me they have a pressing urge to write about their lives, but don’t know what to write about, I suggest they take a look at My Legacy is Simply This, a book of short essays by seniors living in various neighborhoods in Boston. The short essays were made possible by Grub Street, a prominent Boston writing institution, and the City of Boston. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy, and what’s more, they can serve as examples for your own writing.

Among my favorites is the story of his dangerous career, recounted by William Boyle, a former fire fighter. As a young man, he helped quench the big Hotel Vendome fire, which killed nine Boston fire fighters, in 1972. Even after pulling dead coworkers out from the rubble, he still loved his work, especially because that day, he found his boyhood friend, alive in the debris.

Dorothy Parks is a woman who lives each day as if it were her last, as a result of the perils she faced in her travels, whether by train, ship, or air. Her essay is the funniest in the collection, as she recounts an absurd brush with death on an airplane with a wing on fire.

But most of those whose essays appear in the book write about ordinary aspects of their lives: their homes and hometowns, their children, their families, their careers.

If you’re looking for an engaging model for your own writing, consider reading this book. By the way, it’s one of five volumes sponsored by Grub Street and the City of Boston.

If you want to get the stories from your own life down on paper, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

Writing Stories from Your Life
Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas
Teaching Creative Writing to Boomers and Seniors, Part 2

You don’t have to be a boomer or senior to join my Memoir Writing or my Writing Stories from Your Life classes. Just keep your eye on the Upcoming Teaching Events tab at the top of this page to see where and when I’ll be holding classes next.

Or, you can work with me privately, as many others have and do. Your choice. Just use the Contact tab at the top of this page to get in touch.

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Writers: BUY . . . THIS . . . BOOK

writers_and_their_notebooks

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

[Note: I know Diana Raab only through our online connection, and have no relationship with the book’s publisher.]

Even though my creative writing and journaling students hint that I browbeat them, I’ve never told them to buy a book. As a rabid supporter of libraries, I typically urge people to borrow books before buying them. But I want you to trust me on this one. Writers and Their Notebooks, an anthology edited by Diana Raab, is a book you’ll want all to yourself. So, I urge you to just go ahead and buy it.

You’re going to want to read and reread it; write in it; draw stars beside passages; and exclamation marks next to those that are so apt they could have emanated form your own pen, your own heart.

The collection will introduce you to writers you didn’t know before; and you’ll want to read their published work and compare those to what they say about the relationship of their notebooks to the final products. For example, writer James Brown states in his contribution, “For me the journal is. . . a stepping stone to a larger, more refined work… [W]hat you originally thought you wanted to say and what you actually end up writing aren’t always the same thing.”

The Basics
It’s taken me a long time to write this review; the collection is so rich, so perfect I had trouble figuring out who and what to highlight. So, here are the basics.

Writers and Their Notebooks consists of entries by twenty-four highly accomplished contemporary writers of long and short works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays. The book is divided into five sections: The Journal as Tool; The Journal for Survival; The Journal for Travel; The Journal as Muse; The Journal for Life.

I’m pleased that Raab didn’t confine this book to just journals, which like diaries suggest daily entries, while “notebooks” covers a broader field. In this collection, we see little of the actual journals or notes. Instead we salivate over glimpses of the secret lives and work they chronicle.

The Many Names of Notebooks
Some of the writers call their notebooks wailing walls. Others, junk drawers. Still others, mirrors. They write in fancy blank books, or in those childhood “copybooks” with the green or black covers, and a big, empty white rectangle for the owner’s name surrounded by squiggles like paint peeling off a wall. Some of the contributors write in tiny old spiral notebooks small enough to stick in a back pocket, and even on tired scraps of paper, as when mental institution personnel forbade a writer to use real books to record her self-healing sentences.

Besides my journals, I’ve got notes on my iPhone, kitchen counters, and the passenger seat of my car. Writers and Their Notebooks gave my habit, my compulsion, legitimacy; allowed me to feel I’d located my tribe, my club—writers who not only turn a literary microscope on others, but also ruthlessly forage around in their own lives and minds.

How and What They Write
I can’t imagine how Raab found these perfect contributors, willing to let us snoop on their private writing habits. There’s Sue Grafton, the über successful mystery writer, who shares her time-consuming system for writing every single one of her twenty-some books. Ilan Stavans’ notebook struck me as a joyous melee: “An idea shows up and becomes a line. I then cross it out and put another one on top, add several below or on the side. I let myself enjoy non sequiturs.” Bonnie Morris’s essay, “Writing in Public Places,” notes “a willingness to create in chaos.” But keeping a journal publicly held its perils. At fourteen, “as a middle-class white girl, living in an affluent country,” she writes, “I listened numbly as a circle of other white girls told me I had a choice—give up my journal…or have neither friends nor protection in our hostile junior high school.”

Not surprisingly, truth and authenticity, either one of which represents the writer’s Holy Grail, make frequent appearances in Writers and Their Notebooks. It’s one of the reasons writers keep journals; it’s a place to tell the brash, unflattering truth, be our real selves, rather than the one we show to the world that we are in, but often, not of.

At the end of the book are appendices, containing ideas for keeping a journal and imaginative ideas about what to write in it; suggested further reading; and bios of the contributors to the volume.

Books about writers’ journals and notebooks can be surprisingly hard to find. But, from now on, I need look no farther than Writers and Their Notebooks. This book’s got it all.

A Single Complaint
The book is profoundly enlightening, entertaining, and downright satisfying; I wish it were double its size.

Do you keep a journal or notebooks? Weigh in about your practices.

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Get a Handle on Yourself and Your Characters

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

Why would my writing blog review a book about psychology—apart from the fact that I’m on a tear about narcissists, which is how I learned about Dr. Joseph Burgo’s new book, Why Do I Do That?, in the first place? (He’s got a wonderful website, called, After Psychotherapy. Never been in therapy? All the more reason to avail yourself of the wisdom on his site.)

I’m reviewing the book because it can help us writers disclose the depth and pump up the power behind our characters’ actions and knee-jerk reactions, and understand the internal frailties our characters’ and our own defense mechanisms are trying so desperately to protect.

Dr. Burgo says he can understand how Why Do I Do That? “might be a useful tool for writers. In developing fully three-dimensional characters, a writer of fiction has to consider what motivates or drives those characters, and my book’s focus on our ‘primary psychological concerns’ would help” the process of developing those characters.

For those of us who write essays, journals, and memoir—personal, nonfiction reflective writing—it’s critical to have a grasp on why we feel the ways we do, have found ourselves in the fixes we have, and made the adjustments we’ve made to tolerate or extricate ourselves from the various quagmires we’ve landed in. After all, the point of our writing is to understand what we’re trying to banish or preserve, and when we do it well, we connect with our readers and ourselves, though I can tell you, it’s almost never pretty. But, as Michelle Seaton writes in her post about Why Do I Do That?:

“[T]he unpleasant feelings we deny in life we deny doubly on the page.”

One of the most unnerving aspects of Dr. Burgo’s book is that in it I saw every single person I know, every person I’ve ever known, including myself. But, instead of making me smugly label everyone with my new-found knowledge, it helped me see what we’re trying to do to maintain our fragile equilibrium. The book already has affected they way I present myself and others in my writing.

Now, that’s not to say I’m cutting everyone, even myself, a ton of slack. I still want everyone to get over their bad behavior—or keep it away from me (and small children). But it does mean that I now know what’s going on—the why behind the behavior.

Why Do I Do That? is divided into three sections: “Understanding Our Psychological Defense Mechanisms;” “Identifying Your Psychological Defenses” (be prepared to blush, bigtime, over this section); and “Disarming Your Defenses.”

Though in places there’s a good deal of theory, overall Dr. Burgo’s tone is conversational, leaning towards gentle compassion. His use of the word “bear,” as in bear all the burdens and consequences stemming from lackluster or even dangerous early parenting, almost brought me to tears while I sat reading the book at my hair salon. He translates our use of terms like “defense,” which in their original German, conveyed meanings closer to “warding off” or “fending off”—both much more sympathetic phrases than “defenses.”

Also, the book is occasionally peppered with Dr. Burgo’s struggles to subdue his own psychological defenses, which made me grateful for his sympathy; he avoids sounding like an oracle or disapproving parent.

My one complaint is that Why Do I Do That? contains no index (they seem to be becoming largely outmoded), so on those days when someone else’s defenses are driving spears in your sides or your own behavior seems painfully at odds with your goals and well-being, you can’t do an easy, if frantic, search for just the topic that can rescue you. I suggest you mark up your copy of the book liberally so you can find the lifelines in it that you need.

You can follow Dr. Burgo on Twitter.

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Book Review: Women Writing on Family

Click the cover image to learn more about this book

Interest in genealogy, family history, and memoir* is so intense these days it’s about time a book to guide writers working in these genres became available.

Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, an anthology edited by Carol Smallwood and Suzann Holland, is that book. Smallwood says she was led to compile the collection when a novel she was working on raised questions concerning writing about her relatives.

“How much to tell, how much to leave out?” she wondered.

When no books came to her aid, she decided to collect essays by published women who were also experienced in writing about families. Why did she choose all women? She recalled Virginia Woolf’s observation: “We think back through our mothers if we are women.”

With eight sections (including one on “Writing Exercises and Strategies”) and 55 essays, Women Writing on Family can help women writing about family stay out of court on charges of libel from irate relatives; carve out writing time from frantic schedules; approach editors in the hopes of getting published; and promote their work—whether self- or traditionally-published—to the public.

In the opening essay, “Family Secrets: How to Reveal What Matters Without Getting Sued or Shunned,” Martha Engber takes writers on a tour of their—and others’—First Amendment rights, and offers tips on protecting yourself and those you write about.

Lela Davidson’s “Laundry, Life, and Writing: Making the Most of Short Sessions and Stolen Moments” (Don’t you love that title?) shows writers how they can make brief bursts of writing productive.

As a writing instructor, I tell my memoir-writing students not to bother writing paeans to their perfect childhoods. I won’t believe them and neither will anyone else. In her no-holds-barred essay, “How to Write a Childhood Memoir,” Catherine Gildiner lists the unpleasant memories writers should be willing to excavate from their own pasts, warning that writing a memoir “takes nerves of steel.”

If you’re ready to propel your story out into the world, take a look at “Identifying Potential Markets for Family Writing,” by Rebecca Tolley-Stokes, “Locating Markets for Writing About Family,” by Colleen Kappeler, and “A Writer’s Thoughts on Book Marketing,” by Ann McCauley. All three contain a host of valuable ideas for sharing your writing with larger audiences than your family.

*According to Booklist, the number of memoirs alone published over the last four years increased 400%.

If you’re up to exploring more hard-hitting memoir topics, see Supercharge Your Life Story with These Ideas.

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Does Your Writing Need an Editor?

That’s me, dressed up for an event

It probably does.

An editor finds the errors in your manuscript that you’ve overlooked—which happens if you’ve been staring at your words until your vision’s blurred, and your forehead hits the table in front of you.

Or, maybe you didn’t overlook those errors. Maybe you made mistakes you didn’t recognize as mistakes.

Say you think periods and commas go outside the quotation marks in your dialog.

Or you don’t know when you’ve got a phrase wrong. (You’d be surprised how many writers think the phrase “wreck havoc” is correct. It isn’t.) Maybe you’ve never understood the distinction between disinterested and uninterested.

It’s the editor’s job to point out the overuse—and misuse—of words and phrases like “hopefully” and “begs the question.” (Just about everybody gets those two wrong.)

Perhaps you treat the same word(s) differently in different places in your work. Is it “copy editor” or “copyeditor?”

At some point in your story, you might have put two periods at the end of a sentence. Or, throughout your book, you’ve inserted two spaces at the end of sentences.

There might be a word you always misspell. For me, that word is “narcissism.” I had to try three spellings just now before I got the right one.

If you’re like me, when you type fast, you write “ot,” instead of “to,” and “of,” instead of “or.” That’s why I always give work I intend to publish to a copy editor before I submit it. (Blog posts are a different matter. I can’t afford to have dozens of them edited, so please ignore any errors you find here.)

Is it possible something you’ve written on page 138 of your manuscript already appears on page 101? Are you telling the same story over and over again, drumming its details into your readers’ heads? In short, is it repetitious?

Get your work edited so you won’t be embarrassed when you submit your query letter or manuscript to an agent, or upload your book to sell online. Crisp, engaging, correct copy allows your readers to lose themselves your writing. Isn’t that better than having them sigh, before casting it aside?

Please contact me (Relief11@verizon.net) if you need an editor. Sceptical? Click on the Testimonials tab above to see what my clients, students, and colleagues say about my work.

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Seniors Write Stories from Their Lives

Click the cover image to learn more about the book.

As I’ve written in other posts here, I teach boomers and seniors to write stories from their lives. Our classes are moving, exciting, suspenseful, and a whole lot of fun—because that’s what the stories the students write are.

My Legacy is Simply This

When new students tell me they have this inexplicable urge to write about their lives, but don’t know what to write about, I suggest they take a look at My Legacy is Simply This, a book of short essays by seniors living in various neighborhoods in Boston.

No matter what age you are, these are stories you’ll enjoy. Among my favorites is the story of his dangerous career, recounted by  William Boyle, a former fire fighter. As a young man, he helped quench the big Hotel Vendome fire, which killed nine Boston fire fighters, in 1972. Even after pulling dead coworkers out from the rubble, he still loved his work, especially because that day, he found his boyhood friend, alive in the debris.

Boyle also describes being overcome by smoke inhalation in one fire, and being asked by his wife, as he lay in the hospital, if he would consider giving up the job. But, as his work was one of the loves of his life (his wife being the other), he told her “No,” and returned to work as soon as he was able. His essay ends with the successful CPR performed on a baby.

Dorothy Parks is a woman who lives each day as if it were her last, as a result of the perils she faced in her travels, whether by train, ship, or air. Her essay is the funniest in the collection, as she recounts an absurd brush with death on an airplane with a wing on fire.

Holiday Gift Recommendation

If you’re looking for an engaging gift this holiday season, consider My Legacy is Simply This. Your gift recipient won’t be disappointed. (Note: I have no affiliation with the publishers or writers of this book.)

And if you’ve been considering writing down the stories from your own life, I hope you’ll find the following posts helpful.

You don’t have to be a senior to join my Writing Stories from Your Life class at the Arlington Center for the Arts. Just browse the winter catalog and check page 6 for a description. You can register online.
For writing tips and resources, follow me on Twitter @lynettebenton.
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Writing Stories from Your Life

I teach memoir and life story writing. Reading my students’ stories has given me a peek into the lives of those who’ve fought in wars or made ends meet on the home front; and of little girls who wandered along wooden floors in an old dime store, accompanied by the slightly sour aroma that emanated from the lunch counter on one side of the store.

My students have written of childhood dinners with the famous, or how they overcame a complex challenge. I learned about the life of a devastating, giant Boston fire through the life of a trolley driver, in a tribute written by his daughter.  In these classes, I get to experience the richness of life behind the headlines, and believe me, that’s the most riveting view.

Leaving a Legacy

Life stories are among the most significant legacies anyone can leave to their children and grandchildren. I wish my deceased relatives had written down the events and circumstances of their lives: what it was like when their home was moved from the quiet Florida neighborhood they’d lived in for half a century to make way for a broad, new highway. Or, how they treated certain illnesses. They certainly didn’t visit doctors as often as we do these days.

We’re Not Talking Autobiographies—Necessarily

Autobiographies begin the day you were born (or close to it) and continue up to the present. Memoirs cover a chronological period in your life, like your teen years, or a subject, like all the jobs you’ve held. Life stories are more like little true tales (although some can run for many pages).

You’ve Got Stories to Tell

Everyone’s got good stories. They’re the anecdotes you’ve told friends, who’ve said, “Wow. You should write that down.” They’re those jokes a relative told at Thanksgiving that made you laugh till you almost upset the green bean casserole.

They’re about the houses you’ve lived in or the pets you’ve loved.

Stories from your life can be about the spot-on advice you got when you desperately needed it. Or about the lousy advice you had the good sense to ignore. Your stories can be humorous. They can be prose or poetry—or even fictionalized. (One of my students is completing a mystery novel based on his work as a security guard.)

Your stories can retell incidents from your past that you’ll never forget, or slices of your family’s history.

My Legacy is Simply This is an engrossing collection of life stories written by Boston-area seniors. (Note: I have no connection with the book or any of its contributors. I have just found the book useful and inspiring in the memoir writing classes I teach.) See portraits of some of the writers.

Subscribe to this blog to be notified when I post provocative ideas you can explore in writing stories from your own life.

For more tips, follow me on Twitter @lynettebenton

Join one of my lively memoir and life story writing classes. I’m always posting additional classes, so check back soon. Or just email me at Relief11@verizon.net.

Here are a few testimonials.

 

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Must-Have Memoir Writing Aids

SOW HEADSHOTSome of the most useful, powerful, and perhaps lesser known resources I recommend to my students who are working on memoirs, life stories, and family histories, and use in my own memoir writing are listed below. They include electronic and hard copy resources.

Let’s continue the tradition of writers helping writers: Leave your favorite memoir, life story writing, or family history writing aids in a comment so others can benefit. Thanks!

Web Sites
5 Ways to Start Your Memoir on the Right Foot
Write a Memoir to Remember!
Resources for Writing Memoir
The Market for Memoirs
Women’s Memoirs

I think you’ll also find the National Association of Memoir Writers a unique resource.

Books
Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing, by Carol Smallwood & Suzann Holland, Editors

Shimmering Images, by Lisa Dale Norton

Turning Memories into Memoir, By Denis Ledoux

The Memoir Project, by Marion Roach Smith

Old Friend from Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg

Plot and Structure, by James Scott Bell. (Even though this book is aimed at fiction writers, it’ll show you how to plot your memoir so it’ll be as readable as a novel.)

I’d like to recommend a book I’ve read recently (October 2014): Family Trouble: Memoirists on the Hazards and Rewards of Revealing Family.

Please leave a comment about the resources you turn to again and again for guidance in your memoir and family history writing.

And, see my guest post, “What Really Fuels a Powerful Memoir.”

________________

If you’d like help writing your life stories, memoirs, or family histories, I can help. Take a look at my Testimonials tab, then use the Contact tab to get in touch. (Both are at the top of this page.) I’m experienced and easy to work with. And you’ll take great pleasure in seeing your pages pile up.

Twitter: @lynettebenton

Advertisement Disclosure This website contains Amazon.com affiliate links. That means that Amazon.com purchases that originate on Tools and Tactics for Writers will help offset the expenses associated with this site. Your support is deeply appreciated!