Monday, April 25, 2011

10 steps to prepare your autobiography materials

Recently I received a letter asking me: "Do you have some sort of outline for how to organize yourself when beginning the process of writing an autobiography?" As several of my authors have undertaken this task, I have gathered some of the elements that are crucial to successfully starting an autobiography project.
  1. Determine why you want to write the book. Is it for your family or do you think this book will sell to a greater circle of friends and acquaintances? On the other hand, do you think people who have no relationship to you will be interested in your story? Regardless of the answer, the same approach will be used to produce the first rough draft of your autobiography. Your answer to "why" may be used as your introduction.
  2. Begin by gathering your materials. That includes photos, journals, letters to and from you, newspaper articles, clippings from magazines, baby books (if one of your parents was nice enough to do this), school writing projects, souvenirs, yearbooks, email messages, blog posts and anything else that you might have written or might have been written about you. I suggest that you have a box in which to put everything.
  3. Make a timeline of your life. Since it is a timeline, keep it simple and chronological. Include all important events—marriage, graduations, certificates, birth(s) of children, travel, death of loved ones, jobs, promotions, volunteer work, membership organizations' events, household moves. You get the picture. A printout of the timeline could be placed in a three-ring binder.
  4. Look at your timeline and start writing the things that easily come to pen or keyboard. Name the incident, event and write it into your timeline, showing that you have it. Add the file name and location.
  5. Create a schedule for writing. Write for 30-60 minutes once a day, three times a week or every weekday. Whatever you schedule―stick with it and write. Just write. Continue to write your memories, aided by your collected materials until it becomes difficult.
  6. When it becomes difficult, connect with a friend, family member or acquaintance who may be able to fill in gaps of memory or knowledge. They may have more information about other family members who are dead, events that happened when you were too young to remember or enhance your memories with another view. Write those events/memories. Keep notes of the names of people who gave you more info and link it to the info given. File these new writings and keep the timeline up to date with location and file names.
  7. Put all your writings into one document in your timeline order. You now have your very rough draft.
  8. Before you begin polishing your rough draft, work with someone unfamiliar to your story. Print out a hard copy for your reader. The reader will read your rough manuscript (don't have them fix the typos now—you may delete part of the story or rewrite much of this anyway). The reader's job is to write questions in the margin. Who is this? Why was this event significant? Where were you? All the questions to which you know the answer but have forgotten to write in your closeness to the story. I suggest that you have three readers using three separate clean manuscript copies. You then take all comments and put them onto one draft. Some authors might use a clean draft on which to write all notes and questions. On the other hand, one of your reader's drafts may have the most significant edits and questions—I would use that one and then add the other comments to it.
  9. With that marked-up draft, begin filling in the blanks. Continue with your writing schedule until you have a completed rough draft of your book.
  10. Now is the time to get someone to copy edit. You need to ensure that everything is spelled correctly and the facts are as true as you know. The copy editor will also see when transitions are missing and will either prepare suggestions or note for you what needs to fixed. Notes such as "needs transition," "you haven't introduced this person to your readers" or "time sequence seem off." Fix those and then have another round of edits. 
You now have the first good draft of your autobiography. Next week’s blog will discuss photos for your autobiography project or any manuscript.

Nancy E. Randolph operates Just Write Books, a publishing business with the tag line: Maine books by Maine authors telling Maine stories. Randolph quickly developed a reputation as a publisher of quality Maine books. An active community member along with two others she founded and serves as a member of the board of Save Our Swinging Bridge.Org to ensure the maintenance of the historic Roebling designed and built bridge connecting Topsham and Brunswick. She co-chairs with Cathy Lamb the Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk project--building a 2K walking/biking intown loop. To contact her directly:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

10 Things to Do to Prepare for a Book Signing

This morning I attended a workshop and book signing with Tom Seymour.  Tom's book Wild Plants of Maine has been stirring up quite a bit of interest.  I went along so that Tom could concentrate on the audience and I would sell books. I don't always get to go to every author event, so I thought I might write a list of things that might be helpful to other authors.
  1.  Prepare your clothing for the event. How do you want your readers to see you?  You also never know when there will be a camera around. Put your best face forward. Business casual works for any event.
  2. Coordinate all book signings with your publisher. Publishers send out new releases, post events on the publisher’s website and on other news and event websites.
  3. Invite friends and family to come. Send out a postcard. The more people milling about you, the better.  Note: Leave your small children or surly teenagers at home.
  4. A week before the signing, confirm with the bookstore that sufficient supplies of your book have found their way into the store. Always bring at least six copies of your book to the signing.
  5. Show up at the location at least 15 minutes early. Give yourself time to set up your materials.
  6. This next seems obvious to me but it must not be or it wouldn’t be on most people’s list. Be polite and friendly. Smile.
  7. Be prepared to give an elevator speech about your book—thirty seconds or less.
  8. Have people print their name for your or spell it. No need to waste a book.
  9. Prepare book signing a tote holding the following:
  • Several pens that you have tried out to ensure that they work and do not splotch, smear or otherwise ruin a book.
  • Bookmarks, flyers, postcards (related to the book) and or business cards.
  • A notepad for things to do later from readers or to collect email address.
  • A bottle of water (although the venue might supply). Be prepared.
  • Copies of your book and maybe a few extra visuals such as a map, artifact or pictures related to you book.
10. Have fun! People who are coming to your event are happy to meet you.  Meet them with a smile and thank them for coming.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

85 year old Poet starts Blogging

A Poet on the Verge of Science
Robert Chute has started a blog.  We all might consider his actions (at 85) when we feel like technology has overwhelmed or when we believe that things are just going to fast for us. 

Hurray, for Robert M. Chute.  I admire you.

Of course, I love your poetry.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bad Press or Not?

Just Write Books was the happy and willing recipient of great coverage in our local newspaper The Times Record. The article covered most of the front and back pages of the business section. That is a lot of press. Owing to its nature, question and answer, the words were essentially mine. They were mine. The thoughtful questions were the business editor’s. He had interviewed me and come up with the questions after 90 minutes of very pleasant conversation.

Now I say very pleasant conversation. The main reason for the ease of discourse was that I was comfortable. I believe that most people do the right thing—the right thing being doing the best they can do for everyone. During our conversation/interview I answered every question as fully as I could. I did not try to hide anything—in fact—I had nothing to hide.

After the piece was published, I received dozens of e-mail and phone calls congratulating me on the great article. Here are a couple of excerpts from those:
“In addition, you reminded everyone that they have a unique story to tell by describing your “Story”. Thank You for the on-going inspiration and joy you provide all who know you.” and “What a great story in yesterday’s TIMES RECORD! Congratulations.”

If you’ve taken the time to read the article, I simply answered the questions posed by the editor. What a wonderful piece of unpaid advertising for Just Write Books. 
Now to the problem. On the front page of the paper that day there was a short blurb that stated, “Topsham’s Nancy Randolph makes a cottage industry out of helping self-published writers achieve their dreams.”

What’s wrong with that? There is the gray area. Most people have no idea that the business editor and I cringed when we read it. Since cottage industry implies arts and crafts the designation diminishes the professional work that is created in publishing. Self-publishing is a brush that has been used to demean the work of many writers that would not be considered by a large traditional publishers. I have consulted with self-published authors, but their books are not Just Write Books products.

So what did I do?

I first called a friend at the local paper and tried to ascertain the origin of the “What’s inside” blurb. Couldn’t find the source. So, what did I do next?

I wrote a letter of thank you to the business editor: 

“I was a little overwhelmed by the size of everything. Thanks heaps. The photos, the use of the QR code and the many, many column inches—all lead to phone calls from friends and others. Thanks again. FYI I have a blog entry about qr codes. BTW The little blurb on the front page seemed to be misleading mentioning self-publishing. That is not the majority of my work. I publish other books by other people. That rankled a little when I saw it. Actually, it rankled quite a bit a. I’m over it now. The Business section was glorious. Could not have asked for a better job. Thanks again. Very best regards. (my recent italics—not in original email)

So you can see that I chose to do two things. I checked for the source. I found that it was not the business editor. I sent a thank you email and still mentioned to the editor my one disappointment still finishing with a glowing thank you.

Remember you always have options. You can choose your response based on the answer to the question, “What do I want to achieve with my actions?”
Your options are:

  1. Do nothing. Public memory is short. Not reacting allows the comments or incorrect information to disappear.
  2. Contact the reporter or editor if you believe the story’s error or errors will surface again in dealing with the press about your company or organization. Nowadays the press frequently creates a separate article explaining the truth never referring to the incorrect article. On other occasions they use an area of the paper to show corrections. Caveat: This hardly ever happens.
  3. Write a press release and send it out to a broad audience. Sometimes you must do something—a report or article calls into question your ethics or your company’s ethics or the report falsely shows inappropriate behavior on behalf of your company. Things that will harm must be dealt with immediately. Call the reporters/broadcasters and issue a blanket press release. Be prepared to answer questions. See if you can develop a one page bulleted information sheet to give out to any media who request more information.
Thanks for reading my blog. I’m hoping that others are able to gain information and perspective from my experiences. 

Good luck in all your endeavors this week.
Nancy E. Randolph