The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What I Learned From Publishing My Memoir

       Linda Appleman Shapiro generously agreed to do a guest post. Without even reading her book yet, I feel we have many things in common, even though my connection is more genetic than environmental... the old nature vs. nurture conundrum.

      My birth mother and her mother (the mother of my birth mother) were both mentally ill. My (biological)  maternal grandmother died at a young age under suspicous circumstances. She was pregnant with her second child, and had been in and out of mental institutions before her death. My birth mother had three girls--giving both my older sister and me up for adoption as soon as we were born--before committing suicide (with a gun). She left a heartwrenching note, saying she was ill and didn't see herself getting any better.

       Thankfully, I had wonderful parents. More or less, I've escaped the "nature" minefield, because I had a nurturing mom and dad. I'm a mother and grandmother and writer. And I love memoirs. 

       Please read Linda's story. She has great advice for anyone wanting to publish a book. After all, she does know about birthin' babies--book babies, that is. (And you can find out more at her website:

         At first, I thought my greatest challenges were where to start, what to tell, what to omit,
and what I, ultimately, wished to accomplish. Early in the process of writing, however,
I learned that what was most difficult was how to write without my therapist’s voice
dictating the narrative. I also had to learn how to write creatively. That is, if I ever wanted
to engage a reader’s attention, I knew that I couldn’t just report the facts of all that had
happened, I would need to describe each of the members of our family, how we dressed and
appeared, how we spoke or didn’t speak to one another, how our four room apartment
was furnished and decorated, and – not least of all – how it felt to be “the girl,” treated
like a second class citizen in an immigrant family where most of the attention and
expectations for success were placed on my brother, the prodigal son.
       To further answer your question: I suppose it is always daunting to wonder if anyone will
ever publish one’s book, let alone to think of all that has to be done to find a publisher.
Yet, for me, because I was 70 when I completed the first draft of this memoir, I didn’t
feel I had time or the inclination to send out 100 or more query letters. I knew myself
well enough to know that I was not prepared to receive letters of rejection one after
another, which I expected to be par for the course. It’s not that I thought I would be
unable to deal with rejection – especially if I were given intelligent, constructive reasons
for why my writing didn’t work. And I would encourage other authors to do what feels
right for them, what they feel they could best benefit from and have the energy to endure.
       First and foremost for me was to find a publisher I could trust, one who would be honest
and have faith in me as a writer. In feeling that urgency of time, I did try self-publishing.
I had a wonderful experience years before with a Press that was no longer in operation,
but the group I then chose for this book (which looked great on paper) turned out to
be unethical and was forced to shut its doors. So that was a waste of nearly a year of
my time. Luckily, I then thought of Madeline Sharples. A few years earlier, she had
mentioned finding a small publishing house that had published her memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of  Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. I emailed her and she readily gave me contact information. I, thereby, gained an introduction to her
publisher, Mike O’Mary at Dream of Things and will remain forever grateful to her for
opening a door I would not have had access to without her generosity.
           After sending a query letter and hearing back from him immediately, I sent a BOOK
PROPOSAL that I had learned to create and worked hard to present in a professional and
elaborately informative manner.
         He responded positively from the start. Then, after agreeing to publish my book, he asked
me to trust that he would select the right editor to work with me to reorganize some parts,
edit others, and help to change my working title and cover. It was clear to me that he was
both a man of integrity and one who respected my story. It had resonated with him and
that is what every author wants and deserves. My editor, Amy Merrick, understood me
from day one. Her sensitivity to my style of writing, my use of language, and my story
itself, was totally obvious and reassuring.
        What I learned next was the importance and need for the PR that would have to be done
after the actual publication. I was determined not to be timid about self-promoting, even
at the expense of having friends and colleagues see my posts about the book too often.
Also, in agreeing to be a part of this blog tour, I knew that it would require many hours of
writing time but, in the end could – with luck and a prayer – attract the attention of many
more potential readers than I could ever do on my own.
        Currently, I’m also in the process of contacting libraries across the country, offering to be
a part of their AUTHOR SPEAKS series, local newspapers, magazines, and TV stations,
in the hope of gaining even more visibility. It always helps to have a personal contact, but
when you don’t it’s still worth the try, as it’s impossible to predict who may or may not
be receptive.
         I am only two months into the process (post my book’s release), but I remain hopeful.
I’ve had a few very encouraging speaking engagements, a very positive professional
review from US REVIEW OF BOOKS, and many wonderful comments from readers on and elsewhere. I continue to plug along, learning as the process continues,
doing what seems comfortable for me and what seems to work for my story to reach
people. Learning what is necessary to keep the book in the public’s eye is what we,
as authors, must be willing to do once we have birthed our book. It is worth whatever
energy we’re able to spend to promote it.
          With the hope that I have whet the appetites of many who will now want to read my
memoir, I wish all authors (who may be on the brink of deciding whether or not to write a
memoir) the courage and the belief in the universal appeal of their story so that they, too,
will feel propelled to do whatever it takes to write it. Begin with a Book Proposal, decide
on a theme that shows your family’s dynamics, your responses to all that surrounded
you, and learn how to bring the reader into your life in ways that make him/her want
to keep reading, having gained a vested interest in each of the people whose lives and
experiences fill your pages.
           Please be assured that once published, there are few feelings more exciting and rewarding
than holding that “baby” in your hands!

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Writers Need

        In the years that I've been writing, I've discovered some things that I need as a writer. Please feel free to add what you need as a writer...

  • Quiet. Or instrumental music. I love Paramore. I love Regina Spektor. I love really loud funk and disco and Jethro Tull. However, I can't write when music with lyrics is playing. I get distracted. (I probably need Ritalin.)

                                           This isn't as quirky as Regina Spektor usually gets,
                                                                        but it is lovely...

  • Food. I love hearty soups--stuff that I can ladle into a bowl, slurp up, and get back to writing. Pistachio nuts are also great--it takes me time to shell one, and while I'm doing that, my brain gets a break, and sometimes an inspired event occurs.
       Here is a soup my husband makes. It's one of my favorites. He does most all of the cooking at our house.

BLT Soup

1.  Cook one 12-oz. package of center-cut bacon.     Cook until well done.
                   2.  Remove the bacon from the pan. Drain half of the grease (leaving 3 tablespoons).
                   3.  Add one 18-oz. package of romaine hearts lettuce. Cook until well-wilted.
                   4.  Chop the cooked bacon into half-inch pieces. Add the bacon to the lettuce.
                   5.  Add 4 cans of tomatoes (fire-roasted ones—by Hunts—work well), liquid along with
                        the tomatoes.
                   6.  Add 4 cups of chicken stock.
                   7.  Add 2 tablespoons of “seasoning for greens.” (You can find this in most spice shops.
                        It's optional, but it does add some kick to the soup.)
                   8.  Add 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke.
                   9.  Bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat. Stir in one cup of grated parmesan cheese. Simmer
                        for 30 minutes.

Adjust spices as needed. You can serve with some croutons in each bowl of soup.
  • Honesty. I appreciate my critique group. They tell the truth. When my beginning stinks, they tell me. When my story is confusing, they say, "Huh? You lost me..." When my ending falls flat, they give me suggestions to help pick it up. Writers who want their writing to grow don't need a fan club to surround them--they need honest critique of their work.
What do you need as a writer?