Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: “Catch it before it is gone”

“Can we listen to ourselves
in the silence?
Can we sit and wait
for the whispers of our souls
to come creeping, slowly, falteringly,
letter by letter, through our pens?
Can we allow our truest selves
to tell their stories
through the gateway of broken language…?
Catch it before it is gone,
capture it in a jumble of letters….”

So there you have it, your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit.
I hope it inspires you to write your memoir—before it’s too late.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Your memoir needs an outstanding subtitle

Have you noticed that we seldom find a subtitle on a novel? It seems that subtitles belong to the realm of non-fiction—and what a gift someone gave us when he or she invented subtitles. (A subtitle follows a title, and the two are separated by a colon.)

Your memoir’s subtitle can help accomplish your title’s goals, which are to:  
  • establish a distinct identity for your memoir,
  • catch potential readers’ attention,
  • entice them to buy your book,
  • and read it when they get home,
  • and recommend it to their friends.

A subtitle explainsilluminates, sheds light on—a book’s title.

A good subtitle elaborates on a title and:
  • tells potential readers how your book is different from all others,
  • hints at what a reader will find within the book,
  • expands, explains, and entices,
  • and might allude to secrets within.

Look at these titles without their subtitles:

What Remains

A Long Way Gone
Thin Places

Thirteen Days

Falling Awake

Did they intrigue you and make you want to buy them? Do you have a good idea what they’re about? Probably not.

Now look at them with their subtitles, below, and notice how much more they reveal the book’s contents:

Thin Places: A Memoir, by Mary DeMuth

Review the goals of a title (bulleted above). Do the subtitles help accomplish those goals? I say yes. How about you?

How long or short should a subtitle be? Mary DeMuth’s subtitle is two words, “A Memoir.” Mary Lou Sanelli’s is a whopping 16 words long. I’m not aware of “rules” for how long or short a good subtitle should be, but avoid unnecessary wordiness.

Here are tips for crafting a strong title/subtitle: 
  • Choose an easy-to-understand title.
  • Choose an easy-to-pronounce title.
  • Choose an easy-to-remember title.
  • Consider the benefits of a short, crisp title.
  • Witty can be good—if it really works.
  • Even if your title isn’t short, be concise: Make sure every word needs to be there.
  • Beta readers (or others who have helped with your manuscript) might suggest titles. Brainstorm with them.
  • Read your title aloud. How does it sound? (See last Thursday’s blog post on the art part of crafting titles.)
  • Choose a title that feels just right to you—because it will stick with you for a long time!

Take a few minutes to read Susan Kendrick’s blog post, “What Makes a Good Subtitle and How Long Should it Be?” It’s packed with helpful info.

Keep in mind that if a traditional publishing house will publish your memoir, a lot of people there will have a say in your memoir’s title.

On the other hand, if you self-publish, or if you make only a few copies at the office supply store for family and friends, you get to choose your title.

Either way, work hard to create an excellent title.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: How you can become a stronger writer

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Matilda Butler at Women’s Memoirs encourages memoir writers to read lots of memoirs, to “read broadly and think deeply.”

She says,

“Even memoirs that aren’t particularly good
can teach lessons.

You can ask yourself:

What do in like in this book?

What is off-putting?

How would I handle the story differently
if I were writing this book?

Is the opening weak?

What ideas do I have
to make the opening stronger?

Thinking about a memoir,
questioning a memoir,
even rewriting a few paragraphs
of a memoir
will make you a stronger writer.”

Thanks to Matilda for these helpful tips.

If you’re not a regular reader of Women’s Memoirs’ blog, do check into it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Your memoir’s title, Part 3: The art part

The pros don’t all agree on the “rules” for creating a strong, compelling title, and some tell us to break the rules anyway! But we all recognize when a title does not work, so if you hope to market your memoir, put extra effort into choosing your title.

Since that takes time, try out a few working titles (temporary, unofficial titles) before finalizing your choice. You can do that even while working on your manuscript.

There’s an art to fashioning a book title that’s just right. Notice your working title’s melody, its sound, its rhythm.

Lynn Serafinn says, “The ‘rhythm’ of a title has to do with rise and fall of words, the number of syllables and the strong/weak accents within them….

In her delightful book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long explains that “Sounds have frequency. Sound travels in waves that come at more frequent or less frequent intervals. The shorter the wave, the higher the frequency. Eek! is a high-frequency sound. The longer the wave, the lower the frequency. Blue is a low-frequency sound.
“… [T]hink of high-frequency vowels as high-energy vowels. Pie in the sky! Let’s get high! Dream on! Scream!....

“Low-frequency vowels are low-energy vowels. They bring us down. We have the blues…. We are lonely. We feel moody….”

In her book, Priscilla lists the vowels with lowest frequenty:
  • long o (boo)
  • long o (bone)
  • short o (book)

Here’s Priscilla’s list of vowels with highest frequency:
  • long e (bee)
  • long a (bay)
  • long i (buy)

When choosing your memoir’s title, ask yourself if you want a high-energy title or a low-energy one, and choose words accordingly. (I encourage you to buy Priscilla’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor. It’s a gem!)

Daniel Scocco suggests collecting words from poetry or songs that catch your attention. He says, “You can find some powerful titles by mixing, matching and combining [those]words….”  (Be sure to see Daniel’s other advice in our earlier blog.) Just remember to honor copyrighted material.

I’m working on my second memoir and have played around with titles. My first working title was Tattered and Breathless and Full of Tales because years ago I stumbled upon Janet Chester Bly’s poem, “Breathless Tales.” It captured, so briefly and in such a delightful way, the quirky life I’ve lived—so different from what I’d always dreamed I would live. Here is her poem:

Breathless Tales

I would rather clutch my invitation
and wait my turn in party clothes
prim and proper
safe and clean.
But a pulsing hand keeps driving me
over peaks
and spidered brambles.
So, I will pant up to the
pearled knocker
and full of tales!

Many thanks to Janet Bly
for permission to use "Breathless Tales"

Since Tattered and Breathless and Full of Tales was only my working title, I didn’t need to worry about copyright issues—I was the only one using the title, and I was using it temporarily.

My second working title was Scruffy and Winded and Full of Tales.  Scruffy instead of Janet’s tattered, winded instead of Janet’s breathless. But no, that was too much like her wording.

My third and current working title is Winded and Wrinkled and Brimming with Tales.

I think it’s different enough from Janet’s words that I won’t have copyright problems.

And I like the rhythm of the third working title. See for yourself: Read these two titles aloud:

  • Scruffy and Winded and Full of Tales
  • Winded and Wrinkled and Brimming with Tales

The title’s rhythm needs the two-syllable “brimming” instead of the one-syllable “full,” don’t you agree?

In the current working title, I also like the repetition of the short “i” sound (assonance).  

I also like the repetition of two-syllable words: winded, wrinkled, and brimming.

On Priscilla Long’s frequency scale from low to high (which I did not include above), the short “i” sound is right up there next to the highest frequency sounds, and that seems to be a good fit for my memoir’s contents.

So what about your working title? Do you want low-frequency vowel sounds or high-frequency? Read your title aloud. Does it have a good rhythm? A pace, a beat, a cadence?

Then ask yourself Lynn’s questions: “Does it feel too long? Too short? Is there a musical quality that makes it pleasant to say? Does it feel like it should have ended a few syllables earlier?”

How can you make your working title better? Keep tweaking it until you’ve crafted a winning title!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Remember what a memoir is and is not

Here’s today’s 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Remember: Memoir is not autobiography!

A memoir doesn’t begin with
the date and place of your birth
or the names of your parents.

You don’t need to include facts about
elementary school,
middle school,
high school,
college, or
grad school.

Details that a résumé requires
are non-compulsory in memoir.

Your memoir is a slice of your life.
Include only those details
that pertain to your slice, your memoir’s theme.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Craft your memoir’s best title, Part 2

“A clever title is great if it is clear,” writes Judy Cullins, “but a clear title is always preferable. The best? A clear and clever title.”

Does your memoir have a title yet? If not, I hope last Thursday’s post and today’s will inspire you to work on it. Remember: It’s good to give your memoir a working title until you can pin down the just-right title.

Why? Because:

The process of writing
often takes the story
places the author never expected.

The process of writing
can take the author’s story
in a different direction
than she planned.

Denis Ledoux explains it this way: “Over the time that you linger with your story, it will frequently begin to change—not the facts and the dates, but the interpretation and the metaphors and images you use, the vignettes you choose to include or omit.  You will see your stories in ways that you may not have seen it before….”

With that in mind, choose a working title, knowing you might change it later, depending on what you discover as you continue to write. In fact, you might not pin down your permanent title until you’ve finished writing your memoir, but your working title can help you reach your final title.

Daniel Scocco offers seven interesting methods of crafting your title:

He suggests listing nouns, verbs, and adjectives that describe your story and “combine them into different phrases.”

Daniel also suggests describing an important turning point or the climax of your story, noticing key words. “Mix and match these words,” he says, “to see what works for you.” I like that: “Mix and match.”

Read the rest of Daniel’s seven tips in his post, “Picking Your Perfect Title.” They are intriguing.

Choose a title that’s easy to pronounce and easy to remember. Jerry Waxler points out that a good title helps a reader recommend a book to a friend.  I hadn’t thought of that before, but his point caught my attention. He says, “…the title should roll off the reader’s tongue when friends ask for a recommendation.” Good stuff, Jerry!

You might consider giving your memoir a one-word title.

A title with a visual component works well in catching potential readers’ attention.

Analyze other memoirs’ titles. 
Study advertisements. 
Examine article titles in newspapers, 
magazines, and blogs. 
Ask yourself 
“What makes them work?”

Or, how about a Shakespeare quote? Or a phrase from an old hymn that’s in the public domain? (Avoid using copyrighted materials. Check out the laws thoroughly if you’re tempted to use anything copyrighted. Click here to read Virginia Lloyd’s How to Get Permission to Use Song Lyrics in Your Book.)

In her excellent book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long tells us to craft titles that “give readers an extremely accurate idea of what’s behind the door they are about to walk through…. [S]hun lyrical flourishes, obscure metaphors, and anecdotes with delayed points.”

She urges writers to avoid being fancy. Instead, she says, we should be direct, accurate, plain and simple.

So, now, put on your thinking cap and craft a working title, or maybe even your final title. And come back next Thursday for more tips on putting together a title for your memoir.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: How to reinforce your memoir’s central theme

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration for this week,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Here's excellent advice to keep in mind while writing your memoir:

“Reinforce the central theme
through repetition.
That’s not the same as redundancy.
Rather it’s returning to key words
that echo the story’s purpose
and that becomes a structural device
to keep the story coherent and cohesive.”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Does your memoir have a title yet?

Have you chosen a title for your memoir? You can give it a working title even if you haven’t finished polishing your stories.

Most of us spend a long time pinning down exactly the right title so start now on yours, knowing you might change it later.

Some of you don’t plan to publish your memoirs for a broader audience—you’ll print a few copies for family members. In that case, choose a fun title that they’ll enjoy. You’ll find good tips below.

If you want to publish your memoir for a broader audience, ask yourself the following when searching for your title:

  • What is my memoir’s theme or recurring themes—my memoir’s message?
  • What is my story’s major turning point?
  • Can I link my title to a popular book title? (The last time I checked, book titles cannot be copyrighted but, nevertheless, craft your own similar title.)
  • Is there a famous quote or Bible verse that summarizes my memoir’s message?
  • Who is my audience (who is most likely to buy my book)? Use key words to catch potential readers’ attention. 

Kathy Pooler offers good advice in her blog post “Does Your Memoir Title Pack a Punch?” In it, she leads us through steps she took in crafting her memoir’s title.

In choosing it, she asked herself:

  • Is the title catchy?
  • Does the title strike at the heart of my story?
  • Does my title reveal my promise to the reader?
  • Does the title create interest for the reader?

Jerry Waxler, in his blog post, “How to Pick the Best Title for Your Memoir,” says we need to “consider all the work a title has to do. A great title helps potential readers buy the book, love it to the last page and then recommend it to friends.”

Jerry says, “the title is the first line of marketing.” A title can make or break a sale.

Think about how you decide which books to buy: The first thing you notice is the title, right?

If the title doesn’t appeal to you, you put the book back on the shelf. You want a book that makes you curious, attracts you, draws you in, and makes it impossible to put the book back on the shelf.

If the title does grab your attention, then, if you’re like me, you read the back cover for more info, and you open the book and read endorsements that might be at the beginning of the book. But remember, it was the title that inspired you to do so. That’s why your title is so important.

Above, Kathy asks, “Does my title reveal my promise to the reader?” and Jerry says it this way: “Reading a book is like entering a contract with the author, and the terms of that contract are summarized in the … title. Every time a reader sits down to read, the title goes through their mind, evoking an image that pulls them back into the story.”

My first memoir had several working titles. I played around with Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Letters from Africa because the organization I worked with in Africa was interested in using the book to recruit Baby Boomers, empty-nesters, and mid-lifers. The words Baby Boomer are key words that could catch the attention of our targeted audience.

But that title didn’t feel just right. Next I tried out Quaint I Ain’t: Grandma’s Letters from Africa, because, from the book’s preface: 

“I discovered I was not the traditional, 
quaint little grandmother 
I always envisioned. 
No, I had stumbled into adventures 
most grandmas couldn’t imagine—
a hippo charged me, 
a baboon pooped in my breakfast, 
a Maasai elder spit at me, 
and I drank tea from a pot cleaned with cow’s urine.” 

But that didn’t feel right, either—to me or to those who knew me. “Ain’t” is a word I’ve never used, and some acquaintances were shocked that I would use it.

In the end chose Grandma’s Letters from Africa for two reasons: (1) The memoir was a collection of letters I wrote to my granddaughter, and (2) I hoped potential readers would connect my title with Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dinesen's) Letters from Africa. My husband and I lived near Karen’s home and coffee farm, both of which were central in the famous movie, Out of Africa. (Sigh….)

Next week we’ll continue looking at memoir titles, but in the meantime, choose a working title, knowing you might change it later. Your working title will help you discover your final title.

If you already have a working title or published title, share it with us and tell us how you chose it. Leave your comments below or on Facebook.

Come back next Thursday for more about choosing your memoir’s title.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Buechner on looking at your life candidly, searchingly, and feelingly

Here’s your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

“The writers who get my personal award
are the ones who
show exceptional promise
of looking at their lives in this world
as candidly
and searchingly
and feelingly
as they know how
and then of telling the rest of us
what they have found there
most worth finding.
We need the eyes of writers like that
to see through.
We need the blood of writers like that
in our veins.

What have you found that's most worth finding?
Be sure to share it in your memoir.