Selling memoir: Isn’t your family alone worth it?

Recently I disappointed a couple people by telling them their stories would not sell to the public.  Many (probably most) people do not realize what a harsh world publishing for commercial sales is. Everyone has interesting stories, but most of us are not skilled writers with stories that will capture the attention of strangers who will pay money for them. Then there is the marketing part, where authors have to get out there and make their books known to the world through social media (without spamming), by getting news media interested (really difficult), or by public speaking (OMG!). Many authors fail at marketing, and their books then drown in the river, taking the money spent to produce them down the river, too.

How much does publishing cost? If you can find a publisher, it will cost nothing. But publishers want already edited (you pay for that) manuscripts with a reason lots of people would buy the story. They want a sure thing, and they expect the author to be a salesperson. The self-publishing route has a big learning curve, and you must spend your own money for editing and for manuscript text layout and cover design. This is not cheap, and few of us are talented enough to do this very well ourselves. Not doing it well risks getting no sales beyond your friends—or worse, bad reviews. If you have some writing talent, a fascinating story and a passion to share it, and some sales skills, then learn all you can about writing and publishing and go for it. Have a spare $1000+ if you need to publish it yourself. Maybe try the e-book route first. Beware of companies that call themselves publishers but are in reality selling you their publishing services (editing, design, printing). Being “accepted” by them does not mean they think your manuscript is great, that just means they will accept your money.

I have published two historical and cultural memoirs that have made a net profit, but I know my own memoir would not sell to anyone outside my family. I am not disappointed. My family would like to have my stories, and their appreciation is what is most important. Family-only stories will not need to be perfectly written or published in an expensive, professional way. If money is an issue, an MS Word document with simple cover page can be taken to the local copy shop and inexpensively bound. If you have some money to spend, work with a publishing services company to pay for a cover design and standard book binding, maybe even a simple edit, and only order the number of copies you need for your family (with some to spare for future generations).

Isn’t your family worth the time and effort to write your stories? Someday a grandchild or great-grandchild may think they are the most interesting stories they have ever read—priceless.


Me teaching about the hard world of publishing for sales

Posted in lifewriting, memoir writing, publishing | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of your past

Ebenezer Scrooge and A Christmas Carol was the subject of our Sunday morning sermon at church. Or rather, confronting the ghosts of your past to put behind your brokenness and narrate a new future. Writing family history and memoir can bring up some unpleasant memories and even surprises. My relationship with my mother was often contentious, and it wasn’t until I wrote the stories of her childhood that I understood that what I considered her “crazy” thinking was due to the ghosts of her past experiences as well as cultural differences. I wish I had known her stories a lot earlier.

In my own case, my parents’ divorce had a huge impact on me. The word “trust” became meaningless. Eventually, I came to the conclusion I could choose to continue to be angry and trusting of no one or I could give people the benefit of the doubt and just understand they are fallible human beings. Fortunately, by the time my children were born, I had overcome my past for the most part and did not pass a suspicious nature on to them, but I’m happy to see I did pass on a strong sense of responsibility and loyalty.

Writing your past or your family’s past can push the old ghosts out of the closet, giving you a chance to confront pain and misunderstandings and move beyond those bad experiences that shaped you are. Realize that you do not have to be who you are today. You do not have to have the same old arguments and keep the same old resentments. You have the power to start a new story.

If you are feeling pinched by something bad in your past, take a look at those old stories and perhaps you will find new understanding and a new way forward. I wish for us all that the spirit of this season gives us new ways of thinking, and new attitudes of love and forgiving, of ourselves as well as others.



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Dia de los Muertos, NaNoWriMo, and your family history

Today I went to our history museum to see the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. I love this celebration, kind of like the Japanese Obon time but more colorful and fun. Both these celebrations honor family members who have passed into the other realm. We welcome them back to the earthly world to enjoy relationship again and then send them back to the spirit world. Incense, candles, flowers, and favorite foods are involved, and dancing. They are beautiful ways to remember the dead.

Dia de los Muertos and pretty falling leaves got me thinking of our limited time on earth. We never know when we will be called away.  I want to finish writing my dad’s family history while he and his brother can read it, as a way to honor them as well as all their ancestors, and so they won’t be forgotten. My families on both the Dutch and Japanese sides had hard lives, so I especially want to honor and show respect for what they went through personally, historically, and culturally. Thanks to them, I am here today.

November is NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. Writers worldwide have started rough drafts of their novels, aiming to crank out 50,000 words by month’s end. That’s about 200 pages. Instead of writing a novel, you can use this challenge to work on your memoir or family history . My goal for the month is to finish my dad’s family history book, which looks to be about 100 pages. It’s almost done, actually, but I need to insert photos, work on a cover, and get print copies mailed out before Christmas. Surely I can do this despite a lot of busy days ahead.

Won’t you join me by working on your family stories? Begin by writing what you know. Thanksgiving with the relatives is the perfect time to gather more stories to add to your collection. Maybe this time next year, you and your ancestors’ spirits will be dancing together over a book of treasures.



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