Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 steps to prepare your autobiographical 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, September 23, 2012

So you have been invited to speak

So you have been invited to speak. You are a writer, you may not be a speaker. These 10 pointers for public speaking may help.
  1. Introductions should be brief. Thirty seconds is a long time. Most commercials are 30 seconds. Try it. If you are introduced, skip the introduction completely. Don’t bore your audience.
  2. Use the lectern or podium. If there is a podium, lectern or table—use it to hold your materials. Put the papers down. They are a distraction from your talk. You do not want your audience to notice how you crumple, fold or mutilate the papers in your hands.
  3. Use the microphone. If there's a microphone, use it. Check it out before the event. People in the back of the room will appreciate it.
  4. Encourage audience interaction. When reading material, allow time in your delivery for applause if they choose to do so. Offer a Q &A period. I’ve found the people like the Question and Answer portion of every event more than the rest of the event.
  5. Be organized. When giving a presentation have your notes ready to go before the presentation. If you're reading poems or excerpts from your book, have your selections planned out before you hit the stage. Photocopy your selections onto 8½x11 pages. There is nothing worse than watching a presenter find her place in a book: “Oh, not that one. Oh, here it is.”
  6. Slow down. Remember to breathe and pause to look at your audience. Remember that what you feel is slow is still a comfortable listening pace for your audience.
  7. Make personal connections. With small groups of fewer than 30, I like to have participants introduce themselves with a little bit of information about their connection to the subject of my talk.
  8. Leave them wanting more. Keep to the time allotted. Ask an audience member to be a timer and give you five-, three- and one-minute warnings with predetermined signals.’
  9. Don’t forget a conclusion or a call to action. Ask them to buy your book, thank the hosts and support the sponsoring organization. Remind them to do something that you explained in your talk. An alternative it to give the audience a quick three-point summary of your talk.
  10. Give them something free to take away. Anything you hand out—flyer, bookmark, business card—should include your name and contact information with website and blog address. Don’t forget to tell them about your presence on Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

Monday, September 17, 2012

10 Ways to Help Your Author-Writer Friend

Your friend has just published his first book. It could be a small press run, it may be with a large publishing house. Either way, you want to support your friend in their endeavor. Here are a few ways you can help your friend and spread the word.
  1. Buy her book. Buy at least one book. Also, consider buying the book as gifts for birthdays, Christmas or other events.
  2. If you use your public library; request the book. Sometimes that's all it takes for the library to purchase a book.
  3. Do not delay. The time to build up buzz is now. Buy it on or directly from the author. My authors make more money when you buy it directly from them. Your friend will be happy to find that people are purchasing her book.
  4. Recommend the book. Write a review on Share a note about it with the link to purchase on Facebook. Tweet about the book.
  5. Tell your friend what you liked about the book. Did you learn something? Was it a good read? Did you read it in one night?
  6. Suggest speaking engagements. Help them get an introduction to any groups with which you are connected: Rotary, Jaycees, Friends of the Library, etc.
  7. Host a book party for your friend. Ask a couple of mutual friend to help with cookies and snacks and host up to 20 people. Your friend can read his book, sell and autograph copies.
  8. Recommend your friend's website. If your friend does a blog post; tweet it or link to it.
  9. Create a Wikipedia page for your friend. Authors cannot create their own page. The Wikipedia page should have a short bio, a bibliography, a link to the author’s website.
  10. Make a video review. People are more likely to trust the opinion of someone they see and can connect with visually. It will help.
These are just a few of the ways you can help. Ask what else you can do. Your friend may have ideas but did not want to bother you. Let them know that you are honored to help, not bothered.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Write Books Submission Guidelines

People have asked how to prepare a manuscript for submission to Just Write Books. Always before, I have said, "Print in a reasonable font size with 1-inch margins." I felt that would give people enough information. I was wrong. So I developed the following guidelines for manuscript (ms) submissions.
Just Write Books does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. We care about the amount of trees used in the world for paper. Call, write or email to tell us about your book. Publisher Nancy E. Randolph will want to speak with the author to learn about the book, the author and why this book should be published. Only a few manuscripts evolve into a book with Just Write Books.
Just Write Books does not return manuscripts.
  • Don't send us your only copy. If your manuscript is rejected for publication; we carefully shred it. The cost of return (of packaging and shipping/mailing the manuscript) far outweigh the cost of reprinting.
  • No reading fee but a donation. Beginning in 2012, Just Write Books asks that you donate to the Androscoggin Riverwalk or the Save Our Swinging Bridge.Org when sending us a manuscript to review. Upon being invited to submit your ms, please send a copy of your check (to one of the two nonprofits above) with your manuscript. $25 for 1-99 page manuscript. $50 for a manuscript of 100 pages or more.
  • Before printing your manuscript, complete a thorough edit. It will survive another round or two of edits at Just Write Books. Please read it aloud and spell check. Both of these things will help prevent your manuscript from going through the shredder.
  • Your manuscript must be a computer-generated printout. No handwritten submissions. Use clean, white 8 ½ by 11 inch unlined paper of average thickness. No designer paper. Use an easy to read font. Most computers have Times New Roman. Please do not use different typefaces or sizes. Don't try to make it look "good." You'll only irritate the reader. Our preferred font size is 11 or 12 points. Left justify the print. Do not right justify, center or fill the line to force a right flush. Do not format or insert photos. Just the text please. Use a one-inch margin: top, bottom, right and left. Indent each paragraph by .3 or .5 inch. Do not leave a blank line between paragraphs.
  • Double space the entire document. Created a running head with the title of the book and your name. Place page numbers centered at the bottom of each page.
  • Do not 3-hole punch, staple or otherwise bind your manuscript. We might take only 20 pages to read away from our desk.
  • Provide a list of photographs or illustrations and include a couple of printed samples of the same.
  • Check every page for clear printing and that every page printed.
If you have followed the above suggestions; our reader will be able to read your file, make comments, edits and suggestions without straining her eyes or developing a migraine headache. In addition, when it is time to make your manuscript into a book, it will be in the right format for flowing into desktop publishing software.
Don't include a cover letter. (By this time, we've already told you to mail a copy.) This will allow you to mail the manuscript via Media Mail through the US Postal Service. (If you want to send a cover letter; mail it separately in a first class envelope or email anything you want to tell us.
Double check everything before mailing, including our mailing address.
Just Write Books, 14 Munroe Lane, Topsham, ME 04086.
Seal and drop in the mailbox.
If you haven't heard from us in 2 months; send a postcard or simple letter. That's polite and non-irritating. I hope this helps clarify things for the authors.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Is My Book Worth Publishing?

The answer to that question at one time was, "Only if one of the large publishing houses thinks that it is worth publishing."
Now, the answer is varied. My answer is, it depends upon what you wish to achieve. Even my answer is subjective and only correct and honest for me.
It is worth publishing:
  1. If you have an audience that will pay to read the book.
  2. If you can use the book as a calling card in your consulting firm to bring more clients to your business.
  3. If you have a story that some organization, person or business will buy in large quantities to use for their organization or business.
  4. If you have a story that you want to produce as a book for posterity.
  5. There are other very valid reasons to publish a book. I've given several. I'll tell you about one of the books that I published early in my publishing life. Ren Bernier came to me. He had written many articles about WWII jeeps. (must be lowercase to prevent copyright infringement of current Jeep manufacturer--working with authors and books you learn quite a bit.)

Ren even has a website with photos and information. He attended rallies, exhibitions, drove his WWII jeep in parades and had been consulted by the Smithsonian about WWII jeeps.
He asked if I thought he could put his articles into a book. I answered, yes and I told him how to do it.
I told him to gather all the photos and articles into a 3-ring binder and put them in some order.
He went home did everything I told him to do and then called and said, "I think I need you to put this together." We did and the collaborative effort allowed him to gross over $24,000. He continues to sell that book--three and four a week.
Each of his text files required a little effort to clean up and most of his photo files required a little "photoshopping" to make them better.
Ren had his book and his audience is built in with the website that he already had.
On the opening page, he states: Over 1,000 books sold to more than 26 countries. That is actually pretty good. Most first time authors never make more than their $5,000 advance against royalties.