Make a Plan to Start—and Finish!—Your Memoir

Have you ever thought of writing your own memoir? Or preserving your family’s history by recording your relatives’ life stories? Many of us have, but so few of us do it. Why? Maybe we think we’re not “good enough” at writing. Or perhaps we’re scared to reveal family secrets. You might have started and somehow just never finished.

Bestselling author Darien Gee understands how hard it can be to start and finish writing a memoir. In her book, Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story (from our parent imprint Watermark Publishing), she provides concise, step-by-step guidance for writers of all experience levels. Even better, her book goes beyond “how to” and gets you to completion through exercises and encouragement. The emphasis is not on publication—though if that is your end goal, you’ll find pointers for that, too—but on finishing your memoir so it can be shared with others.

9781935690535Here, Darien shares some writing wisdom, beginning with why we might want to write a memoir in the first place:

Sharing our lives opens us up. It connects us. It helps us (as the writer) to make sense of things, to celebrate moments that might otherwise be lost, to remember what matters most. It helps us (as the reader) to see that we’re not alone, that our lives are both personal and universal, that the human spirit is deeper and more profound than we may remember when we’re trying to pay our bills or care for a sick child or parent. We get to be a part of another person’s experience. We can share the joys, the laughter, the chicken skin coincidences, the sorrow, the grief. We can take what we learn and apply it to our own lives. Then we can turn it around and do the same for others.

In Hawaiian, mana‘o means several things—thought, belief, intention, ideas, desire. Your mana‘o emanates from who you are as a person. It is individual and unique. You get to claim your life, your experiences, your story. What you put down on the page is up to you. You are the only one who can put the words down in that way. But how to get started…?

It’s actually as simple as this:

Start Wherever You Are.

Writing is ready when you are, wherever you are. All you need are the thoughts in your head, something to capture them—pen and paper, typewriter, computer, voice recorder, whatever suits you best—and a place to sit still and just do it.

Set Goals.

The key is to start simple. There’s nothing wrong with setting an ambitious goal, but you want to set yourself up for success. That means having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and establishing a rhythm that works with the realities of your life. Twenty minutes or three pages a day may not sound like much, but you’ll know when you’re ready for more. Better to start at a place that feels easy than one that feels too hard.

Establish a Routine.

Many people approach writing a book in a haphazard way. They sit down, write a few words, organize their desk, get up for a cup of coffee, write some more, take a bathroom break, check their email, do some laundry, make a sandwich, then throw in the towel for the rest of the day because it’s time to pick up the kids or catch the evening news. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if you want to write a book—more importantly, if you want to finish writing a book—you greatly increase your chances by establishing a routine.

Set a Deadline and Finish What You Start.

Do you want to write your memoir, or do you want to write and finish your memoir? It may seem like an odd question, but there are lots of writers who write without ever finishing their manuscript. Setting a deadline isn’t meant to quash your creative spirit. It provides focus, and when the brain puts its full attention on something, it filters out everything else. You can move the deadline up or push it back, but you must set a deadline when you begin. Without it, your writing project will be unmoored, left to float about and be pushed around by circumstance or whimsy. The brain loves parameters, and it will rally all your resources around it. The time to do this isn’t when you’re midway through the project, but before you begin. If you want to have a finished manuscript in your hands, set a deadline.

Even boiled down to four simple steps, the idea of writing something as “serious” as a memoir may seem daunting. A task for “a real writer,” not you. But if you know how to write, you are a writer. It’s as simple as that. You may be a terrible speller, suffer at the thought of writing a single paragraph or hate reading anything over two pages, but you are a writer. And you already possess all the material you need—your memories. While you may want to look for ways to develop and improve your basic skills (such as punctuation, grammar, story structure), the first thing you must work on is your own thoughts, especially the negative ones. This trumps everything else, because tormented, unhappy writers are no fun at all. Don’t put yourself down. Be kind. Trust your words. Trust your desire to write. I know you can do it—shouldn’t you, too?

* * * * *

DarienGee_headshot

Author Darien Gee wants to help YOU with your memoir!

Need more help? Join Darien Gee at her upcoming intensive workshop through Pacific New Media or free lecture at Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana.

  • Pacific New Media Workshop. “Writing the Memoir: A One-Day Intensive with Darien Gee.” Saturday, March 21. 9am – 4pm. UH Mānoa. Workshop fee of $125 includes a copy of Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir. Optional one-on-one 25-minute consults available following the workshop ($45). outreach.hawaii.edu/pnm/programs/2015/EVENT-L13668.asp or 808-956-8400 to register.
  • Lecture & Book Signing. Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana, Sunday, March 22. 1pm – 2pm. Bring your laptop or a pen or pencil and some paper as Darien will lead a short writing exercise to get you inspired! A portion of proceeds from books purchased on this day help benefit PBS Hawaii and their “New Home” Campaign.

 

PBSBookFairCoupon_Darien

Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir: Advice and Exercises to Help You Tell Your Story

by Darien Gee
Softcover, 144 pages

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Excerpted from Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir by Darien Gee. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.

 

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Why Am I Writing This?

At some point in the process, frustrated by writer’s block or the editing process, you may find yourself asking this question. But that’s not the existential dilemma we want to address here.

We want to point out that before you start, and throughout the writing and editing process, “Why am I writing this?” is a critical question.  When you think about why you are writing, it becomes clearer what you should write—what details should be included; how much background research you need to do; whether you want to use direct quotes or instead summarize events without dialogue; whether you start at the beginning and present details factually and in chronological order or go with a less formal structure and include thoughts and feelings along with the facts—and even what details, events or people you leave out.

So think about it…

  • Are you writing to preserve events for posterity?
  • Are you writing so that your family can understand their history or your own personal life journey?
  • Are you writing to share your expertise or remarkable life experience?
  • Are you writing for the therapeutic value of capturing emotions and events?
  • Are you writing to “set the record straight” or prove something?
  • Are you writing because you found something fascinating and you want to share your discovery?

Writing is a wonderful exercise. It can help us organize information, process thoughts and emotions, preserve stories and communicate information. But while anything can be a valid reason to write it’s not always the right decision to publish.

Which brings us to the follow-up to “Why am I writing this?” which is “What will I do with it when I’m done?”

  • Will you file it away for your own eyes only?
  • Will you share it with a few friends and your family members?
  • Will you make it available to complete strangers?

Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, remember to think about why you’re writing and how much of it you plan to share with others. And if you find yourself stuck in the writing process, go back and rethink your “whys”—you may find that they will help you figure out what it is, exactly, you are trying to say.

This spring, Legacy Isle Publishing’s parent imprint, Watermark Publishing, will release an as-yet-untitled guide to writing memoir from bestselling author Darien Gee. This guide will address critical topics concerning writing, specifically with the Hawai‘i memoir writer in mind, as well as provide helpful exercises and advice from published authors. If this blog post has gotten your writing wheels turning, you’ll want to check back with us throughout 2014 as we post excerpts from the guide and guest posts from author Darien Gee.

Considering an Author Website?

Recently, we’ve been finding ourselves having conversations with our authors about author websites. “Should I do a website? Can YOU do a website FOR me?” We get that a lot. Here are a few bits of advice on whether a website is appropriate for you, as an author, and if so, what you should include.

SHOULD I HAVE AN AUTHOR WEBSITE?

Ask yourself this first: What would I do with my website? If the only reason you are considering a website is because your friends or family asked if you have one or you think you “should”…then you probably shouldn’t.

If your book offers information on a specialized topic, or is a memoir or biography that addresses moments in history or life experiences that are popular topics, a website has the potential to bring attention to your book from people searching online for further information.

If you will be handling distribution on your own (i.e. selling books yourself) or plan on offering speaking engagements or workshops, a simple website is probably a good idea. It is also an easy way for your network of contacts to spread the word about your book — if they like it, or simply want to help support you, they can easily share a link.

If you offer expertise on a particular topic and the idea of updating and adding new, timely content on a regular basis appeals to you, a blog is a great way to expand upon your book contents and build an audience.

We advocate for an author site, rather than a book-specific site, for two main reasons: 1) Who knows, you may find yourself writing another book! It’s easier to add another book to an author site than it is to create another site for a new book. 2) Many of our authors are professionals with expertise in a specific field and often have an established business. Some have an existing business site and some do not. For those who don’t, building a site under their own name allows them to promote both their book and their business and make the two work synergistically.

WHAT SHOULD BE ON MY AUTHOR WEBSITE?

Include the basics:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you qualified to write this book (or what makes it special, if it is a memoir/biography)?
  • Where can the book be purchased?
  • How does someone contact you?

From there, you can consider adding:

  • Testimonials on your expertise (for advice books)
  • A blog
  • An events calendar
  • Information on speaking engagements or workshops
  • Excerpts, photographs and/or video
  • Social media links

Keep your site simple. Fancy bells and whistles are nice, but they can cost you a lot of money to incorporate and aren’t as easy to change as simpler design elements. They also may not work as expected across different platforms and devices. Quality information is a better sales tool than a spiffy video montage.

SHOULD I DO MY SITE MYSELF?

That depends — how much time are you willing to devote to maintaining your site? If you don’t already know how to use simple website management programs, such as WordPress, are you willing to learn? Are you willing to pay someone to do this for you? How often do you expect to be updating your site? Are you thinking about e-commerce?

Time — Managing a site on your own requires that you put in a time investment. You’ll have to design it and then you’ll have to maintain it. WordPress offers a basic, free option that can get you up-and-running right away with very little effort, as do other platforms and services.

Know-how — Using a simple platform, like WordPress, is easy for most people to master. The interface is simple to use and doesn’t require a lot of tech know-how. (We use WordPress to run this very blog.) Most blogging templates offer you an option to create an attractive homepage in addition to your blog. For a little more investment, you can claim your own URL and get rid of ad placements. Although WordPress is predominantly known as a blogging platform, it can be used to create and administer a simple website without including a blog. SquareSpace is another platform that allows simple site creation and optional blogging capability. In addition, it allows the incorporation of e-commerce (more on that below). However, unlike WordPress, it does not have a free option. Again, platforms like these are simple and user-friendly and many guides exist to help you through the process. But if you’re the kind of person who has problems with adding attachments to email, you probably want to enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend or relative, or hire a professional.

Paying someone else — If you’re willing to spend the money to hire someone else to set up (and possibly maintain) your site, great! Having someone else do the set up work often makes authors feel more comfortable, even if they plan to take over updating the site on their own. Note that while you can create your own site and even get hosting for free using many popular services, adding “extras” can incur charges. If you don’t understand what web hosting is; if the idea of trying to decide what is and isn’t worth paying for is daunting—these are good reasons to talk to a professional, outline what you want and consider using their services to handle site creation for you. If you would prefer to have your site hosted somewhere other than a free service, you will either need a working knowledge of how to do this on your own, or you’ll need to hire a professional.

Updating — Hiring someone for the set up is all well and good, but depending on what sorts of updates you plan to make—and how often you plan to make them—you may need some basic lessons in managing your own site. Professional site designers and web managers will charge you when you want to make changes. If you want to put up a new photo every month and you aren’t going to do it yourself, be aware that it will cost you. If you plan on a simple informational site with no future changes, you shouldn’t have any problems, but look into options that incorporate a Google calendar so you can add events on your own. We consider site updates—changing/adding images or video, adding new information (like events, press coverage or new books)—different from blogging. Blogs should be updated regularly with new, interesting content. Blog content should be original and generated by you (or if this is for a business, a representative of your company). If you don’t plan on regular updates, consider a simple news announcement section on your site that a web manager can update for you.

E-commerce — Authors who are not signed up for the Legacy Isle Distribution Service should think about how they want to handle book sales. Perhaps you’ll be working directly with a store or two, or a community group to sell books in a physical store. Maybe you want to accept mail orders only. Or, you could sign up with Amazon and sell through their site. The final option is to allow online purchases of your book directly through your site. PayPal and Square have made it easy for anyone to accept credit cards in person or online. There are many other e-commerce solutions, too, that allow you to create an online store managed separately from your website. Some e-commerce platforms will allow you to create basic informational pages and others do not, meaning that if all you want from your author site is to provide some basic information and allow online purchases, one of these platforms may work as a one-stop-shop solution for you. SquareSpace (not to be confused with Square, the payment services provider mentioned above) is an example of a website management platform that integrates e-commerce, making it an all-in-one solution. If you decide to incorporate e-commerce on your site, don’t forget that you’re committing to handling order fulfillment—make sure you charge enough to cover your postage expenses and send out orders in a timely fashion. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you at all, you will need to direct potential customers to an alternate method of purchase or sign up with Amazon.

IN CONCLUSION

If all of the talk above has got you completely baffled, your next step is to talk to a professional, or a friend or family member who is more comfortable with web design.

The most difficult aspects of what we’ve discussed are the site set-up and e-commerce. If you’re completely uninterested in e-commerce and you really don’t want to hire a professional to set up your site, take a look at what platforms like WordPress have to offer. Create a test site and keep it private while you see if you’re up to creating and managing your own site.

One last thing to remember: If you establish a website, be sure you’re ready to respond to inquiries received through your site. If you enable commenting on your blog, interact with those who comment. Answer emails or contact form inquiries in a timely fashion.

NOTE: Legacy Isle Publishing does not create nor maintain websites for clients. Our own main site was built by our sister company, Upspring Media, and our blog was created in-house using the free WordPress platform. We assume no responsibility for the content or services rendered by any third-party vendor mentioned in this post.

Choosing the Right Legacy Isle Publishing Package for You

Legacy Isle offers four basic packages that can be customized to suit your purposes. But where to start?

First, consider what kind of book you’re working on. Next, how many copies do you need? How do you want it to look? Finally, what do you plan to do with it?

This grid will get you headed in the right direction, and also will give you an idea of what sort of book projects we can help you publish.

You’ll notice that only three of our four packages are listed below. Our fourth package is our E-Book Only Package, and any type of book that can be published with the other three package options can be produced as an e-book, though some of the questions below will not apply. Look for more information on our e-book options here.

packages
O = ‘Ohana P = Professional PL = Photo Legacy

O

P

PL

My family/group would like to document a special event or project for our own use

Y

N

Y

My family/business has a very detailed history and we would like to publish a printed chronicle

Y

Y

Y*

This is a personal memoir or biography of an individual who is not widely recognized

Y

Y

N

This is a cookbook or crafts book

Y

Y

Y*

This is an art or photography book

N

N

Y*

This is a children’s picture book

N

N

Y*

This is intended as a teaching text or resource book

Y

Y

Y*

This is a work of fiction (primarily text and not a children’s book)

N

N

N

Our class is working on a project and would like to chronicle it and share it with the community

Y

Y

Y*

I only need a few copies for my family or a small group

Y

N

Y

I would like to add color images or have a hardcover book

Y

Y

Y

My school/club wants to use this as a fundraiser item

Y

N

Y

I am a professional and plan on using this book as a promotional tool

Y

Y

Y*

I’d like to see my book sold in bookstores

N

Y

Y

* You may also wish to consider the Professional Upgrade for the Photo Legacy Package

 Available only with the Professional Upgrade for the Photo Legacy Package

Using a Book to Enhance Your Business Brand

“Well, he wrote the book on that!” Can you think of another phrase that so readily conveys the message that someone is at the top of their game in their field of expertise?

A well-written, properly designed book makes an elegant calling card for your business — in one attractive package, you can share the history of your company, your personal contributions to the industry, the motivating philosophy behind your business and the expertise you can bring to your clients.

For businesses celebrating a milestone, a book that commemorates the story of your founder and the legacy of your company makes a wonderful way to share a history that not all your employees may be fully aware of, and a gift for clients who have been part of building up to your current success. Nostalgia photo books are popular items that can evoke fond memories of a brand or business, particularly when a company has a rich heritage that has been well-documented in photos — memorabilia items or pictures of how the physical landscape and structures and tools of the trade have changed.

A book can also humanize a business — here you have a forum to share what makes you tick; what motivates your decisions; you can reveal your personality. Customers who see that the core beliefs of your business align with their own outlook become more loyal. Seeing who’s behind the counter or on the other end of the phone gives them a reason to have a relationship with your company, instead of thinking of you as just another one of any number of faceless options.

If you are frequently called upon to participate in speaking engagements, or if lectures or presentations are a core part of your business model, a book makes a great add-on at an event. Whether you choose to offer it for free or at a reasonable cost, it is a way for you to go home with each attendee. Even better, they can pass your book along to someone else — a new potential client or customer for your business who now understands exactly what you’re all about. (Being that this is a lasting memento, make sure you’ve put in the effort to include significant or useful information and that it represents you well — our professional editing and production team is there to ensure you put your best foot forward.)

“But if I put all my advice in a book, won’t that mean clients don’t need ME anymore?” Think of it this way: If you buy a cookbook from a famous chef, how likely is it that you’ll give up going to his restaurant simply because you are now equipped with the list of ingredients and methodology for creating his dishes? Not likely, is it? It’s the services,  goods and customer experience you provide that make your business and keep customers coming back. A book is simply an efficient tool for reminding them that you have experience and knowledge to offer. After all, you wrote the book, didn’t you?

Where Do I Start With Publishing My Book?

If you have no idea where to start, now that you’ve decided you want to publish a book, don’t worry — you’re not alone. We field a lot of inquiries that begin, “I/my dad/my mom/my friend has a really amazing life story…I want to make it a book. How do I do that?” (And the business counterpart: “My clients always ask for the same information, and I’m tired of copy and pasting the same email excerpt. I’d like to give it to them with more detail, in a more polished presentation…maybe even sell it to non-clients. How do I turn it into a book?”)

First things first, you need a manuscript. It can be formal in style, or can be a casual “talk story” memoir. You can write it yourself or hire a writer to assist you. If you’re hiring a professional, don’t expect to go cheap. You get what you pay for. If the writer doesn’t know you, they’ll need to spend a good amount of time interviewing you or transcribing your recorded story. Historical background research may be appropriate. Talk to the writer — do they expect to see their name on your book as a credited writer or editor? Are you OK with that? If your book will be sold in retail markets, be sure that you have an understanding with the writer regarding sales income — was the writing done as a “work for hire,” paid in full in a one-time fee, or will you be splitting book revenues? If you want to hire a professional but do not have friends or family who can connect you with one, talk to us. While our Legacy Isle packages are geared toward those who already have a manuscript, we can create a custom quote for those who need writers. Once we have your manuscript, we’ll assign an editor, dedicated to your project, to give it a final polish. They’ll read it with an eye toward ensuring that it represents you well as an author.

When you envision your printed book, what do you see? Is it hardcover or softcover? Does it include photos or illustrations? Are those in color or black and white? All these decisions influence your choice of package, and how much money you’ll need to spend. When you think of the style of your book, what comes to mind? Is it formal or casual? Our designs are based on templates, but there is a good deal of flexibility in them. When you select a design, make sure it resonates with your envisioned style — tilted images and sans serif fonts give off a more casual vibe than squarely aligned images and serif fonts. A pastel color theme may be very pretty, and perhaps pink is your grandmother’s favorite color, but if your book will be about the challenges she overcame in her life, a more somber color scheme would be more appropriate. Our Professional Package options allow for a custom cover — you’ll need to articulate to our design team the look you want. Think of color palette, fonts, concepts that convey the message (industrial vs. organic; clean and modern vs. cozy and inviting) and look for photos to share with us that are in the style you want.

Finally, you need a clear idea of what you intend to do with your finished book.

  • Is this a personal memoir you want to share with only family and close friends?
  • Do you plan on selling this book in retail channels (online, bookstores, other types of stores)?
  • Do you control or have access to retail channels where this book can be sold (family or friend’s store or business)?
  • Do you want to use this book as a fundraiser?
  • Are you a professional who plans on giving away or selling this book as part of a promotion or at speaking engagements?

Once you’ve identified what you want to do with your book, you’ll be better equipped to select the appropriate publishing package. Some of our packages are geared toward individuals and families who are looking for a professional keepsake to chronicle their history. Other packages are meant for professionals who will need larger books or inventory, and possibly retail distribution.

The Beginnings of Legacy Isle Publishing

Legacy Isle Publishing is a division of Watermark Publishing devoted to providing self-publishing services for aspiring non-fiction authors — particularly in the personal memoir, business biography and family history genres.

At Watermark, we began to receive so many inquiries from clients interested in self-financing their own book projects, we came to realize that we were well-positioned to offer these services as a regular part of our business, not just one-off clients. And so, Legacy Isle Publishing was born.

Not every book is meant for the traditional publishing route, in which a publisher takes on all the financial, production and promotional responsibilities. It doesn’t mean it’s a “bad book.”

Many of those who approached us for help had wonderful stories — but the realistic audience was only a few hundred readers. In other cases, clients were looking to share their business knowledge or the background of their founder — the potential audience was in the thousands, but it would take a long time to get there, would require a lot of dedicated effort, and the readership for these books wouldn’t be found browsing in the bookstore. And still others had no interest in selling their book on the public market — “I just want something nicely done that I can pass on to my children,” they said.

Before establishing Legacy Isle, we turned away several of these potential clients; others found the pricing too high and the quantity of copies included in the proposal too numerous. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what our potential clients were looking for in a finished book —most of them didn’t know what they wanted, or where to start — and assembling each job quote piecemeal.

We have, since then, fine-tuned our offerings to meet the most commonly requested formats and options. The packages we now offer are the most economical and efficient options.

If you have a personal memoir or family history that you would like preserved for future generations; the story of your company’s founder that you’d like to present to potential clients to help them understand how you conduct business; industry expertise that you’d like to present professionally and offer for sale…we can help!