Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Do You Treat Others in Your Story?

Facts or Friction: If you are writing a non-fiction book, particularly a memoir, you are likely to worry at some point about how you are treating others in your story. Your concern may be:
  •  Legal (Will I be sued?)
  • Moral (Am I being fair? Am I injuring someone? Am I creating problems for someone?)
  • Emotional (Will this harm my relationship with someone?)
  • Professional (Am I correct? Am I accurate? Is my memory flawed?)
I had to face these questions when I wrote my own memoir (From Rome to Jerusalem: A Non-Jew on the Way). In my case, the questions came up early. Answering them helped me write most of the book.
My first step was to decide on my basic principle. I realized I couldn’t very well avoid involving others in my story. On the other hand, I realized my mission was to tell my story, not someone else’s. My memoir had to be about my side of the street—not that of my family members, friends, or business associates.
From this general principle, I was able decide the specifics—which people, names, and details to include; and which names and details to change or eliminate. Sometimes I referred to a person without naming him or her, sometimes by a first name, sometimes by a pseudonym. I tried to avoid putting others in a bad light. Far from whitewashing my story, it put the onus on me and gave the book a confessional quality. “Wow, you were a bit of a bastard,” my wife said after finishing the book. I may have overreached, but I didn’t mind.
These decisions worked for me, but they may not be appropriate for you. However, my experience leads me to make some procedural suggestions for you.
  • Decide when to decide: I addressed the issue of how to treat others before I began writing the book. This will not work for all authors, maybe not even for most authors. Writing a memoir is a challenge: putting restrictions on your writing from the get-go may prevent you from getting the stories out of your head and into your computer. If writing your story is therapeutic, perhaps because of abuse by others, it might be better to get your stories into draft form—and then worry about how to handle your treatment of others.
  • Decide on the purpose of your memoir: Is it therapeutic for you? Is it therapeutic for others in similar situations? Is it about settling scores? Is it about telling your story—or the story of others?
  • Decide on the importance of the others in your story: In some memoirs, the “others” are a critical element of the story. If the others in your story are well known to your core readers, you may not be able to avoid writing about them. For example, if you are writing a memoir for your family, you can hardly avoid talking about your parents, your spouse, or your children. On the other extreme, if you are well known and the others in your story are well known, it may be hard to avoid talking about them. For example, if you are the president of the United States and you are writing about your term in office, you can hardly avoid talking about world leaders, cabinet officials, members of Congress, and so on. In other cases, your readers may not need to know the exact details about some of the characters in your story or have any interest in identifying them. This can be true even if the characters in your story play major roles, be they heroes or villains.
  • Get trusted feedback: Once you have written a draft that has all the content you want, ask someone you trust to read your manuscript specifically looking at your treatment of others. Where is there unnecessary detail? Where are you telling too much? Where do you need to show less emotion? Or more emotions? If you think you may be at legal risk, you should talk to a lawyer.
  • Decide on tactics for protecting others (and yourself) in your story: Tactics include changing names, details, and eliminating passages. Sometimes you can change the facts and get closer to the truth. Seriously. –The Publishing Pro.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Events that Changed My Perspective

When technology fails: This post is more personal than usual, but it is relevant to my business. I was having a bad time last week, mostly related to technology that either was not working or not working correctly. However, when I looked back on the week, three events completely changed how I viewed that particular day and ultimately the week.
  • HealthSouth: On Sundays, I have been privileged to offer a one-hour memoir class at this rehab hospital. I never know who is going to come, but it is always a pleasant surprise. Patients are rehabbing from a variety of conditions, accidents, and diseases. They come from all backgrounds, ages, and professions. They are usually feeling rather vulnerable and, at the same time, grateful to be there. (It's a positive place. The hospital takes the idea of restoring people to health pretty seriously.) It is a good setting to get stories, which can be fascinating, amusing, and inspiring. On this day, I talked to a 90-year-old woman who had been born in Paris and lived through the Nazi occupationand then to a man who had been a teacher, a principal, and a school superintendent in New Mexico. An Olympic figure-skating coach, who had been there a week earlier, came back for more. The stories made my day. This little gig has been the primary driver in shifting the emphasis of my business from the mechanics of book publishing to the process of helping people detect their most important stories and to begin sharing them.
  • Cottonwood Storytellers: This is the descendant of my regular author meetup group and is intended to get authors to focus as much on telling their stories out loud as in print. The idea is that written and oral stories are connectedand that authors need to connect personally with their readers if they intend to sell their books. We meet in the new David Lord Theater in Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The space is clearly built for performance, which is a little intimidating to our cadre of shy authors. We have struggled a bit to find our way, but I tried a couple of exercises that went particularly well for participants and they want more.
  • Downtown Toastmasters: Toastmasters, however weird its name, changes lives. It turns people who are terrified of speaking in public into dynamic leaders. My home club is bursting at the seams. We seem to get a new member every week. To get everyone sufficiently involved, we've had to add bonus meetings. One of them is at the Cottonwood, in the same place I mentioned above. On this particular Thursday, I had worried about attendance. I had gotten regrets from some of the regular attendees and was fretting that there would be no meeting at all. Worse, I was wondering if the bonus meeting could even be continued. In the end, we had four attendees, less than half of the supposed ideal. As it turned out, the meeting was terrific, with plenty of time for individual attention. I had also received regrets from several new members who expressed an interest in coming the next time. The meeting will continue.
Each of these events changed my perspective. Instead of focusing on my frustration about my wife's new phone, my video tools that refused to work, and the printer that broke and needed to be replaced, I noticed that creative things were happening between me and other people. And that's just what this introvert needs.
The Publishing Pro

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Use Social Media for Your Business

Some tentative rules: I've struggled as much as anyone with how to get up to speed on social media. Part of the frustration is because the emphasis seems to be on getting up to speed before knowing where we're going. This leads to rule number one:
  1. If you don't know where you're going, go slow. It's okay to play, but flooring it is probably not the best play.
  2. As implied in my headline, it's about your businessnot your book. This follows my standing rule that you put the marketing of your book in the larger context of promoting your work.
  3. Use social media to focus on your customers, not on your products. If you focus on your customers' needs first, they aren't going to feel like you're trying to sell them something. Instead they will search out your products and services (and books) because your products and services are designed to help them. Right?
  4. Focus. Find a social media platform that suits you. If you have a talent for writing, blogs make a lot of sense. If writing is a struggle, look for something else. Maybe a Facebook page is right for you. Or maybe Pinterest. If you're a twit ... oh, never mind.
  5. Stick with your chosen media. At least for a while. Long enough to get good at itor to realize this medium just isn't the one.
  6. Don't assume that social media is good for direct selling. It isn't, not that I can see. It does have potential for connecting with customersexisting or prospective. That's related to selling, but it's not the same thing.
  7. Decide if you should mix your personal and professional brands. I don't think combining them is a good idea, but it might work for you.The Publishing Pro

Five 'Editors' Who Can Help an Author

Better to call them wordsmiths: What is an editor? The term is a bit slippery, but there are various categories. Here are the ones that make the most sense to me.
  • Ghost Writer: This is not really an editor at all, but I put the ghost writer at the top of my list because she actually produces the manuscript, though in collaboration with an author who should supervise the process. Some authors admittedly have no talent for writing; many others have no time. A good ghost writer is able to capture both substance of the author's story and his voice. 
  • Developmental  Editor: The developmental editor helps shape a book for publication. When I worked for Resource Publications, Inc. as its editorial director (aka editor-in-chief), I was responsible for developing book projects that would work for the company. Sometimes, I acquired manuscripts outright. More often, I shaped manuscripts that had been submitted to me or proposed an idea and then found an author to produce it. Today, I work with would-be authors to shape their projects so that they work for their own stated purposes. For me, developmental editing is about the forest rather than the trees of the manuscript. It is high value, but it does not take much time.
  • Substance Editor: Some folks consider the developmental editor and the substance editor to be different names for the same person. I separate them. For me, where the developmental editing is concerned about the forest, the substance editing is concerned about the trees (and shrubs), replanting them into more desirable locations. The substance editor rewrites in a way that affects the content, mainly by reorganizing it. Substance editing is time consuming, but it is worth doing for authors who have something to say but need help, for whatever reason, with the organization. 
  • Copy Editor: After the author completes what I call a publishable manuscript, the copy editor takes over. Ideally, copy editing does not affect the substance of the manuscript. It is about establishing consistent grammar, capitalization, spelling, word usage, and unnecessary words. To maintain the forestry metaphor, it's more about removing the underbrush and pruning the trees, not moving them around. Good copy editors make authors sound more like themselves. 
  • Proof Reader: It is important to avoid confusing the proof reader with an editor. In fact, some publishers refer to proof checkers rather than proof readers because the role is more about identifying errors than editing. Even so, proof reading is important because, without it, errors are frequent and can be embarrassing. Good proof readers are hard to find, but it is not necessary to be a professional. Good ones know the English language, have a passion for detail, and understand and respect the difference between proof reading and copy editing.The Publishing Pro

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Serious Authors Put Promotion Before Publishing

Change Your Thinking: Wanna-be authors tend to think you publish a book and then promote it. I don't blame them for thinking this way, but it's backwards. Rebecca Abrahamson, editor of Divine Diversity: An Orthodox Rabbi Engages with Muslims, reminded me of this. Ben Abrahamson, an Orthodox rabbi and Rebecca's husband, had attracted some 8,000 followers to his Facebook page focused on respectful conversation between religious Jews and Muslims. The two notified their followers that a book was in the work months ahead of time, creating a pent-up demand for the published product. Once the book was published, it began selling on Amazon, which earned them enough to pay for the preparation costs. The success is a bit unusual, but it happened because they got the horse before the cart. Promotion before Publishing. The Publishing Pro.