What to do with old diaries (and letters)

When my dad opened an old trunk, he found two diaries his mother had kept from the years 1935 and 1936. At first glance they seemed to be all about the weather, not surprising for a farming man’s wife when survival depended on weather. Those were the days before we thought it was okay to spill all our thoughts into highly personal and private diaries and journals. People were generally more reserved then. When I sat down to read through them, beyond the weather details came a glimpse into a young mother’s life during the Depression years – quite fascinating to me. I found a three-dimensional grandmother, one I never really knew as a child, one who died when I was a young woman away at college.

The family history book I am working on was about done then, but I wanted to incorporate these diaries. Remembering how I did the book of my husband’s grandfather’s WWII letters home, I knew I had to do some serious culling. I ended up with 16 full pages of my summary statements interspersed with pertinent diary entries, often with the weather edited out, sometimes other unimportant details, too. Still, 16 pages to add to the book already full of stories? I emailed them to my sister to see what she thought.

My sister can be bluntly honest—a good trait for a beta reader. (A beta reader is someone who will tell you what she thinks about your work – for free – before you pay an editor and so you don’t publish and embarrass yourself). She said, “I think it’s too long.” Thank you! This gave me freedom to cull more entries out, leaving just the most interesting or most representative. No need to repeat points via multiple diary entries, just add details to my summary paragraphs as needed. Summary paragraphs are easier reading than a bunch of diary entries or letters. Below is a short (and edited) example showing how to handle the left out bits (the more boring parts) and include side comments.

Times were hard during the Depression. Sometimes Pete did not have work or he could not do farm work due to weather. Sometimes he would not get paid and had to go calling later to ask for his money.

Tuesday, March 26: . . . We washed this morning and it dried swell. . . . Chris and the kids and I walked to town this P.M. Pete is around the house every day yet, no work. . . .

Saturday, June 29: . . . Baked quite a lot after we came home. Pete sold all the beets but only got 1 1/2 cents for the last 200. The rest 650 for 2 cents [probably each, but packed by box or bushel].


Note that if you are leaving things out following a complete sentence, use the sentence-ending period followed by the ellipsis . . . so you end up with four dots, as in the first diary entry above.

You may want to include a photo of the diary cover or of the stack of letters as well as a photo of original handwriting. Putting every bit of every letter or diary entry into a book can make for a long, boring read for anyone who is not interested in minute details. You want your family to finish reading your book, not fall asleep.


Posted in journal, letters, lifewriting | Tagged | 2 Comments

Book marketing your memoir: deciding how hard you want to work

Unless you are a celebrity, your memoir may be hard to sell. Do you want to sell it to strangers, or is making a gift for your family enough? Why would strangers want to read it? These are important questions to determine before spending a bunch of money on publishing. Can you tell I just attended a book marketing workshop? (This one with Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)

Selling to strangers is a business, requiring much more professional diligence and know-how, including about the dreaded marketing. If you don’t get out there and tell the world of strangers about your book, they won’t know it exists. If you are lucky enough to find a traditional publisher for your book, don’t expect them to put much effort into publicizing either. Times have changed. Check out all the famous authors on Twitter or Facebook.

What makes your memoir stand out? Are there others like it? If so, how is yours different? What angles will you use to promote interest in it? Is it worth paying for a good editor, cover designer, and interior formatter if you don’t want to mess with marketing? Assuming you have a decent story decently written, self-published books generally fail for two reasons: unprofessional appearance (including lack of editing), and/or a lack of marketing—or not knowing how to market effectively. Many traditionally published books fail, too, mostly due to lack of marketing. Let’s face it, there are millions of books out there to compete with.

What would be your definition of failure? For many memoir writers, just getting the book created is a huge success. Congratulations, you actually did it, you and your family should be thrilled! That’s no small feat to finish a project like that. How many books would you need to sell before you feel successful? Breaking even financially would be nice, but unless you know what you’re doing in the publishing and marketing department, you very well may not. If you expect to make lots of money on your book, you will probably be very disappointed.

IMAG3414So think twice about whether to publish just for family or whether you want to spend money to perfect your book and then actively market to strangers. Book marketing is an art requiring learning from experts, and knowing how to write your book so that it can be marketed easily is another learned skill. I see a lot of authors on social media who are merely annoying – nothing but buy my book, buy my book. Don’t be that author.

There is no shame in realizing you don’t want to put on a business hat and learn how to be a publicist. Your family should be proud of your accomplishment. You should be proud of your accomplishment. If you want to go family-only, you can relax and just enjoy the journey and bask in that glow of doing something truly worthwhile. If you want to sell to strangers, get your hat on and start learning now. Bask in the glow later.

How much does the average author earn publishing their book – Derek Murphy
(Serious author-publishers, check out Derek’s website, CreativIndie)

Some other book pros and book marketing experts you should know:
Joanna Penn
Joel Friedlander
Penny Sansevieri
Sandra Beckwith
Jane Friedman

Posted in publishing | Tagged | 4 Comments

Editing old photos with beloved Picasa, and slide-to-digital converters

Thank goodness I have Picasa! I’ve been editing very old black & white print photos to save digitally and to include some in a family history book I’m putting together. Photoshop costs money and has too much of a learning curve for my druthers. Picasa is a free download with almost no learning curve, perfect for the simpler things I need to do. Unfortunately, I learned it has been discontinued by its owner, Google, in favor of Google Photos, which is NOT AN EDITOR! However, you can try downloading a free version of Picasa from Filehippo.

Last month when I visited my dad, he pulled out a stack of photos from as early as 1910. Many important photos needed all manner of fixing, from overexposure to the subjects being too small to see them very well. From experience, scanning the photos on our printer and then cropping them out of their 8.5×11-size scan page resulted in too small resolution to print out well for book quality. So I took close-up photos with my Nikon, then uploaded them to Picasa to tweak. Cell phones that take higher resolution photos would work, too, just upload directly to computer.

With Picasa, I straightened the photos I took (turning some right-side up first), then cropped to remove extraneous white edging or the background table I had set the photos on. Cropping an original photo itself could also focus more closely on the subject people, in effect making them larger. I was able to correct for overexposure or lighten too-dark photos. I could change the color temperature to remove any yellowing hue. Some photos I had to really work with, adjusting and re-adjusting. In the end, I had clearer photos with resolutions near or above 1MB, vs the lower KBs if I had scanned and cropped.

My dad also pulled out a big box of slides from photos he had taken in Japan in the later 1950s when he was stationed there in the Army. He had a slide-to-digital converter that connected to his computer, so I could place up to three slides (or one strip of negatives) into its tray and the pictures would appear on his computer screen for me to save as .jpg photos. His is an old and simple model; the new ones seem to all have their own screen to see the photos without having to connect the converter to a computer. I have quite a job ahead of me to save (and edit) all those slides, and I will be using some for my dad’s memoir, separate from the family history book.

I use Picasa for many of the photos I take, including exporting into a resized low-resolution photo to then post on social media. It will also allow you to put a watermark on your photo to claim it. I can’t forget how years ago an American family found their family photo on a billboard ad overseas. Lower resolution (less than about 60KB) means no one can steal a photo you post and create nice prints from it – and may prevent the news media from being able to grab and post a clear photo of you if you happen to be newsworthy in a bad way. Below is an example of an original photo and its Picasa-tweaked version. If you know of other good free photo-EDITING programs, please leave a comment.


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