Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

Considering Self-Publishing Your Memoir? Read this first.

Are you a memoirist? Is that a word???? Not sure.

Anyway, if you have a life story just begging to be written then this eclectic genre is for you. It’s a hot one too; everyone seems to be writing their memoir from author Jeannette Walls who bravely penned the compelling memoir, The Glass Castle (a must read) to others like my neighbors cat (long uninteresting story).  Anyway….

Somewhere in the vast between is a woman I met while volunteering at the Edmonds Writers conference, Author, Judith Works. When I met Judith we volunteers were left to our own devices (dangerous) while waiting for the lunch rush to start during which we scrambled to get everyone their boxed lunches and on to their next class. Anyway, before the wake of activity we stood in the empty room, empty except for 280 boxed lunches, and talked about travel and writing. Judith has experienced some serious travel and had remarkable experiences which she writes about in her memoir Coins in theFountain. I asked her if she would mind answering a few questions (via e-mail) about her experience as a self-published memoirist. And while you read on, I’ll google memoirist. It’s a word, right?
Judith Works

1-      Q- Judith, It seems everyone is writing their memoir; what are you finding to be the hardest part of marketing a memoir in a saturated marketplace? A – The market for memoirs does seem to be overcrowded but when one looks at book sales on Amazon I’m not sure that it had reached the stage of saturation yet. And fortunately for me readers enjoy stories about Italy. All the same it is hard for a beginner to break into it. It has been difficult to learn how to get the book “out there.”

2-      Q – What self-publishing lessons have you learned? A – I had a false start with a poor cover that needed to be changed. Then I had to learn about the intricacies of Amazon- the “Look Inside” feature for example. The next challenge was to get interviews and other publicity and to keep the momentum going. That will continue to be difficult with all the competition and, for a book with a modest price, to determine how much money I should spend on publicity.

3-      Q – What compelled you to write your memoir? A – One evening after I finished the last of the Italian expat stories stacked up on my bedside table I thought: “No one has had my experiences. They all write about vineyards and old farmhouses. I lived in Rome.” I thought back to that first day in our Roman apartment when I could hear my husband screaming “Stop that!” I had rushed into an empty room to see him hanging out the window yelling at a group of nuns who were dumping garbage behind our apartment. Yes, it seemed that there was a story to tell. No rural idyll, but the story of life in Rome and a job working for the United Nations. A story of traveling around Italy and even travel to some of the places the UN works to provide humanitarian assistance. A story of running away in middle age to join the circus (the Circus Maximus in Rome, that is).

4-      Q -What was the most difficult/complex aspect of pulling it all together in an interesting way? A – As a lawyer I spent my career writing in dull passive legalese. To tell a story I had to change my thought process entirely – become a story-teller instead of an arguer trying to prove some arcane point. That was a challenge.

5-      Q – What were your biggest hurdles in writing your memoir? A -The biggest problem was that so many things happened during our two stays that I had to decide what to leave in – to tell the story in a way that would be interesting to readers, capture their imagination and interest without overwhelming them with details of daily life which in the end aren’t much different wherever you are. Another major hurdle was how to deal with our two stays in Rome, the first for four years and the second for over six. Should I write about one or both? I decided on both because our experiences were so different each time. Smaller issues were figuring out how should I depict some of our more exotic friends and acquaintances (changed names and toned it down) ; whether I should talk about the difficult times or only write about the best (wrote about  most but not all in); and of course: should I begin at the beginning or at the end and look backward? Thank heavens for the delete key!  

6-      Q -Is there a consistent theme in your story? A -The theme is mid-life change.

7-      Q -Why was it important to you to write it at this time in your life?  A -I realized that retirement with all its changes had caused me to tumble into somewhat of a depression – not serious but one that made me uncertain about the rest of my life. I had left a fascinating job, a country I loved, opportunities to travel in Europe with ease, and numerous friends. In addition, my mother had died six months after we returned to the US. While I knew that there was no lack of opportunity for contacts and volunteering in my town I had to process the past first before I could go forward. Beginning to  organize nearly 15 years of my life – from getting a law degree to Rome to Washington DC to Rome again and now back to Puget Sound – was a lot to process and I found that the way to do that for me was to write my own story. It succeeded.    

8-       Q- How long did it take you to write your story? A -It took well over a year to get the stories down and more time to get rid of the ones that were uninteresting. Finally I had a completed manuscript. It told the story of an important period in my life and marked the exciting finale of my working career – a summing up one might say.

9-      Q -What came next? A -Being an unknown author I decided to take a chance and just put the book on Amazon for e-readers, a decision I have not regretted. There are many memoirs about Italy. Readers and travelers love Italy for good reason. With the ability to price the book at a modest level I have attracted many more readers than I could have hoped for, earned many new friends and begun to establish a solid platform for a novel set in Rome – now a work in progress.

Thank you Judith. To learn more about Judith please visit her Coins in the Fountain site and view her creative book TRAILER.  

And yep, I googled it; Memoirist is an official word.

One comment on “Considering Self-Publishing Your Memoir? Read this first.

  1. Stephen Hayes
    October 24, 2012

    Loved the Glass Castle.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on October 24, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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