A World of "Memoirable" Mistakes
December 24, 2012
Back in the Stone Age, people would have conversations like this:
John Doe: Ya’ know, Mary, I really admire the way you’ve handled living with a bipolar child, training a psychotic stray dog, choosing the wrong men, and recovering from alcoholism. You’ve been through it all.
Mary Smith: I know; I could write a book.
John Doe: You should.
And there the conversation would end. With all of life’s complications, Mary didn’t have the time (or energy) to find a publisher who would accept her book or an agent to represent her. With all her expenses, she certainly didn’t have the money to publish via “vanity press” and hire a publicist.
In the Electronic Age, anyone can write—and more importantly publish—a book, and the conversations go more like this:
Joe Public (to himself): I’ve done pretty good for a three-legged, formerly obese, gluten-sensitive, pill-popping, rehabilitated sexaholic. I’m going to write a book.
Mutha’ Theresa Jones (to herself): I’m sure others would benefit from my experiences overcoming handicaps and helping others. I’m going to write a book.
And each sits down at a laptop producing a memoir (“a story of a personal experience” –Merriam-Webster’s wordcentral.com) which can (relatively) easily be published in both hard copy and electronic editions. This is not the same as to say they should.
Sadly, many memoirists publishing independently are not writers. They are also not editors, copy-editors, proofreaders, or fair-to-middling grammarians. Apparently, nor are their friends and relatives. Harsh words from a person who will uphold to her death the public’s right to publish? Hardly!
Kudos to anyone who can put together a book and publish; kisses and hugs for those who do it well. My boundless respect for authors, self-published and otherwise, probably stems from a deep-seated jealousy resulting from my inability to do so myself, thanks to my ADDled brain. I believe that anyone who wants to write a book should.
Now for the “but…” Before one (you) decides to create a written history of extremely personal matters, one (you) should ask oneself (yourself) a few questions, starting with “Can I write?” On a flow chart, a yes answer would direct one to write the book, a no answer would direct one to forget about. It seems, though, that quite a few people cannot responsibly or authoritatively rate their own writing ability (before you ask…I don’t consider myself a “good writer,” but I am an “okay writer.”). A “yes” or “no” answer will not necessarily deter a poor writer, especially one with a mission. Which leads to the next question…
Why do I want to publish a book? If the reason is to make a lot of money and be a famous author, you’d better have lived some wild life, with sex, murder, money, and intrigue major ingredients. For others—those Mutha’ T. Joneses out there who want to help others—go ahead, write your book; maybe your experiences will help or inspire someone else, but don’t expect a tome about living with or being an emotionally- , socially-, or physically-handicapped individual to be on top-ten lists. The story of your life-changing, post-retirement career change isn’t likely to cause a stampede at Barnes and Noble, either—unless it involves sex, murder, money, and intrigue, all in large quantities.
If you want to write a book because it will be a cathartic exercise, go ahead. Get it off your chest. Pat yourself on the back. Employ any other clichés you find applicable. After detailing your experience, you may decide against publishing; that’s okay, too. But if you do publish, remember that it’s unlikely that you’ll have a breakaway best-seller on your hands. Asking yourself why you want to share your experience in book-form will help put the rest of the work into perspective, and may have you asking “Is it worth it?”
Self-publishing authors have much to consider—from How do I format a manuscript? to Who is my intended readership? to How do I publish? These questions are easier to answer than trying to assess your writing ability or determining why you want to write. Abundant resources on self-publishing are available; just take a stroll down Google Lane, and if you need encouragement, join a writers’ group locally or on-line.
Among your final questions (along with Why isn’t anybody buying my book?) is To whom should I send review copies? Nobody. Especially not me. After wading through dozens of memoirable mistakes, I no longer review inspiring recollections of ordinary people overcoming extraordinary challenges with or without the help of their pets (I also forgo pet biographies. I know your dog or cat is unique, inspiring, sympathetic, and intelligent—so are mine, all six of them).
It wasn’t lack of sympathy for the authors’ plights or lack of interest in the authors’ heart-warming successes that drove me from the form (there are reviewers who will review memoirs, look for reviewers specializing in self-help and human-interest books); it was the consistently bad copy I was receiving. Self-publishing authors, no matter the genre, must: (1) be able to write in the language of their target audiences, using correct spelling, grammar, and word usage; (2) stay focused on their stories, avoiding side trips and unrelated incidents; (3) format so that a reader can follow the story and not be distracted by technical goofs; and (4) be honest while avoiding self-congratulation, self-praise, and arrogance. If you cannot follow any of these four simple rules, in the name of all that is holy (and a few things that are not), don’t even ask professional reviewers to read your book. Doing so is in violation of natural law, the laws of physics, and the Geneva Convention.