Thursday, October 19, 2017

In time for Christmas: Publishing options for your mini-memoir

Following up on recent posts, we’re encouraging you to give an early edition of your memoir as a Christmas gift to family and close friends—even if you’ve written only a few vignettes. Give them what you have completed and promise them a completed memoir soon.

Click on these links to recent posts covering your: 

Today we’ll look at your publishing optionsBUT FIRST: Before you publish, edit your vignettes thoroughly.

Check for errors in grammar, punctuation, redundancy, unnatural dialogue, and confusing passages. Rearrange sentences or paragraphs if they’re not in the right order.

You’ll find a lot of help in Self-Editing Basics: 10 Simple Ways to Edit Your Own Book. The first seven points are relevant for you now. The whole list will be relevant in the future when you do a thorough edit before publishing your completed memoir.

Click on Editing Checklist for Writers for help with common errors writers often make in their first drafts.

Make changes to your manuscript and set it aside for a week or so. When you get it out again, read it aloud. Your ear will catch awkward spots your eyes missed earlier—like clumsy words, pacing, and sentence structures.

Below you’ll find a few options for publishing your mini-memoir, your early edition:  
  • Your local print shop or office supplies store can publish a spiral-bound copy.
  • Print your stories on your own printer and put them in a three-ring binder.
  • Make a chapbook. Click on How to Make A Chapbook—An Illustrated, Step-by-Step Guide.
  • Publish your book through a company like Blurb. I hesitate to recommend businesses, but I have published a couple of small books (with both text and color photos) with Blurb.  Click on Trade Books at this link.

You still have nine weeks to put together a mini-memoir for Christmas gifts. You can do this!

Let us know if you’re making an early edition
of your memoir for Christmas.
We want to congratulate you
and celebrate with you.

Leave a comment below

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: If you’re giving an early edition of your memoir for Christmas, it needs a Table of Contents and an Introduction

Have you decided to give an early edition of your memoir to your family for Christmas? I  hope so.

If you haven’t completed your memoir—even if you’ve written only a few vignettesno problem. Give what you have completed. 

Today let’s think about your Table of Contents and Introduction.

Table of Contents:

If you’ve written a collection of vignettes/chapters, give each a title and create your Table of Contents: List those stories and include page numbers.


Think of your intro as a letter to your readers. Tell them why you wrote your stories. (See Deuteronomy 4:9 and Psalm 66:16.) Explain that a memoir is just a segment of a person’s life (review the definition of memoir). Tell them what you hope they’ll discover in your stories. Make it personal. Humor is good. Love is a must.

Here’s excellent advice from Frank P. Thomas:

“Avoid making any apologies . . . for your life, for your writing, or for anything else. You are better than you think. So be positive.” (How to Write the Story of Your Life)

For now, make a commitment to give what you’ve written—however long or short—as a down payment, a pledge of more to come. Promise your recipients a finished memoir in the futuremaybe next Christmas.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Your memoir: Does it have a dedication page yet?

Have I convinced you to give family and friends an early edition of your memoir for Christmas? —as a preview, a sneak peek, a promise of your completed memoir soon? I hope so! (Click on this link: You might already have the perfect Christmas gift for your family.)  

You can do it! Even if you have written only a few vignettes so far, you can print them and make them into a meaningful gifta gift of yourself.

In Tuesday’s post, we looked at your need to pin down a title. (Click on If you’re giving your family an early edition of your memoir for Christmas, it needs a title.)

Today we’ll look at the dedication page.

Do you know what a dedication page is?

It often begins with “For” or “I dedicate this book to…” followed by names of people for whom you’ve written your memoir.

But if that seems too spare and dull, get creativegive your dedication some pizzazz!

Lucille Zimmerman over at Wordserve Water Cooler is fascinated with book dedications. She says the book dedication is not “the acknowledgments page where you thank everyone who ever helped you,” but rather it’s “that mostly blank page tucked in the beginning of a book, after the title page and publishing credits.” Her blog post, 7 Ways to Do Book Dedications, includes charming examples for you.

A book dedication should be personal. Joseph C. Kunz, Jr., emphasizes the emotional connection a book dedication can create and writes, “Whether your book’s dedication is only a few sentences or an entire paragraph, you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to give the reader a small look into your life’s story.” Click here to read his post, Book Dedications to Spur Your Imagination, which includes a dozen sample book dedications for you.

Study dedications in books you have on your shelves, or go to the library, or check out the “Look inside” feature on These will give you added inspiration.

In crafting your dedication page, ask yourself: Which special people did I write this book for? And why did I write it for them?

Your memoir: A gift that will live long beyond your lifetime.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: If you’re giving your family an early edition of your memoir for Christmas, it needs a title

If you’ve written a few vignettes for your memoir, consider giving your family an early edition for Christmas. (See Thursday’s post, You might already have the perfect Christmas gift for your family.)

Think of it as a preview, a pledge of more to come, a promise that you’ll hand them your finished memoir in the future.

You have about ten weeks to get it ready! You can do this!

In addition to editing and polishing your stories (very important!), begin working on the documents you’ll place at the beginning of your book.

For today, let’s work on just one: the title page, the first page your readers will see. Your title will appear on the front cover of your memoir and also on your title page. Give yourself a by-line. Your title page might look something like this:

From Desert to Mountaintop: A Journey to Joy
by Jane Jones

And remember, you can always finalize your title later when you’ve finished the whole memoir. Consider this first title just a working title. Feel free to use it for your preview edition this Christmas.

Check out these links to my earlier blog posts about titles. They’re packed with good info for you.

There you have it—your Tuesday Tidbit.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

You might already have the perfect Christmas gift for your family

Any day now we’re going to start seeing Christmas decorations in stores. Can you believe it?

That means most of us will soon stress about choosing just the right gifts for everyone on our lists.

If you’re like me, you worry—Is this in style? What size does he wear? Would she wear this color? I loved this book—but would he? Does this style match her décor? Does he already have one of these?

Today people own more trinkets and gadgets and junk than they need or can use, or even want, yet when Christmas comes around, we pace shopping malls ad nauseum searching for new trinkets, gadgets, and junk to give family and friends.

Let me suggest an alternative, something much better:

Give relatives a copy of your memoir. If you haven’t completed it—even if you’ve written only a few vignettesno problem. Give what you have completed.

Give them a gift of yourself.

Your stories—and your family’s unique part in them—
will never go out of style,
and you don’t need to worry about
buying the right style or size or color.

Tell recipients it’s an early draft, just the beginning, and that you’ll add more stories later.

Have I convinced you yet? I hope so.

And I have good news: You have about 11 weeks to revise and edit and polish your vignettes.

To help with that editing, ask a qualified person to critique your manuscript. Avoid enlisting family and friends. Frank P. Thomas advises:

“…Choose that person carefully. Remember that friends or relatives tend to overpraise, and others may criticize merely to impress you with their knowledge.”

Instead, he says, “Pick someone who cares about writing besides caring about you, such as an English teacher, a teacher of writing courses, or someone in your local writers’ club.

I agree with Thomas. In a local writers’ group, critique partners can give you impartial, objective, and often professional feedback. I treasure my critique partners.

Thomas recommends asking our critique partners questions such as, “Are there any passages that will not be clearly understood? Are there any omissions or inaccuracies? Are any parts of the manuscript repetitious? What parts do you like best? Least? Are there any glaring errors of grammar or spelling?” (Frank P. Thomas, How to Write the Story of Your Life)

Refuse to get defensive when you receive feedback. Don’t take suggestions as personal insults. Critique is not the same as criticism.

A critique is an evaluation, an assessment, an analysis. It’s not criticism or disapproval.

So, when you receive your critique partners’ responses, remember: Usually at least some of their findings will help improve your manuscript. If any comments don’t “fit,” ignore them and move on.

Revise your vignettes as needed—but don’t print them yet.

Come back Tuesday for tips on assembling your stories as well as key components to prepare and include in your published memoir.

For now, make a commitment to give what you’ve writtenhowever long or short—as a down payment, a pledge of more to come. Promise your recipients a finished memoir in the future—maybe next Christmas.

Be sure to return Tuesday for more helpful tips.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Are you afraid to use social media to market your memoir?

If you hope to sell your memoir to more people than just your family and friends, you’ll need to learn about marketing—you’ll need to learn a lot about marketing.

Most if not all authors use social media to market their books

But the world of social media is huge—it’s more like a universe than a world. And it keeps changing.

Using social media can intimidate those who haven’t leaped into that universe. It can even cause lots of angst.

But don’t let fear of social media hold you back because I have good news for you:

You have lots of opportunities to learn about social media, and you can educate yourself for free if you want to.

For example, you can learn a great deal by following Laura Christianson’s blog, Blogging Bistro. Just check out her blog’s left column and you’ll see a long list of How-To-torials and past blog posts. I’ve followed Laura’s blog for years and she consistently offers a treasure chest of helps!

Laura’s recent guest blogger, Janis Fisher Chan, will encourage all who are stressed about starting to use social media, including those who want to market their memoirs. In My Social Media Marketing Fears and How I’m Overcoming Them, Janis discusses:

  • You can’t farm it out (at least not completely, not in the beginning)*
  • If you start at zero, be ready for a steep learning curve
  • Apply what you’re learning
  • Make a plan to achieve your goals
  • To put your plan into action, you might need help
  • Keep learning!

*Regarding Janis’ first point above, she hired consultants to help her get started. I recommend that you learn as much as possible from reputable websites online (which you can follow on Facebook) before spending money on consultants.

At the bottom of Janis’ post, you’ll find a link to a free action plan to develop your marketing strategy. Check it out!

Go ahead—be brave! Get started on your social media marketing. Start small. And remember, “Don’t despise small beginnings because God rejoices to see the work start…” (Zechariah 4:10).

On Facebook, I post many
links to helpful articles
and other resources
for those writing, publishing,
and marketing their memoirs.

If you’re not following Spiritual Memoirs 101 on Facebook,
you’re missing a lot!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Will your memoir be intriguing enough?

You know your stories are important. (If you’re not convinced, look at that Bible verse way up at the top, and go back and read Are your stories important?

You have God-and-you stories that only you can tell, and your children and grandchildren need to know them. Perhaps friends, colleagues, and even strangers need to know them, too.

Yes, your stories are important. But will anyone read them?

Nowadays potential readers have many distractions: texting, Facebook, cell phones, movies, sports, TV, magazines, iPods, the internet, hobbies, and thousands of books besides yours.

All these, and more, compete against your memoir.

And to make matters worse, in Tuesday’s post we covered some startling, even discouraging, statistics: …..

  • “The average time spent reading is on the decline…. On average, Americans read only 19 minutes per day, down from 10 years ago…. On weekends, Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 read for just eight minutes a day on average.”
  • “Most people read only part of a nonfiction book. In fact, a study by Kobo found that religion books were the most abandoned of any genre. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.”

Does that make you gulp? It does me.

Peter Jacobi wrote one brief sentence 25 years ago that I’ve always remembered:

No story has a divine right to be read.”

“Unfortunately, as a writer . . . I cannot try what author Anthony Burgess did when he was ‘teaching Shakespeare at City College . . . at 8:00 a.m.’ He explains, ‘I decided to teach them something about how Shakespeare was educated. I began to write three lines of Seneca in Latin on the blackboard to show where Shakespeare learned about rhythm, and they started to walk out. Well, I wasn’t going to let them get away. I rushed to the door and locked it, saying, “You’re going to learn these . . . lines of Latin whether you like it or not.”’” 

We can’t lock our “audience” in and force them to read our stories.

Because attention spans are short and schedules are packed nowadays, people will spend time on only what promises to be worth their effort.

That means our stories must be more intriguing than all those distractions and choices before them.

Think of your own experience: How many times have you started reading a book or magazine or newspaper or blog post, anticipating—maybe even craving—a good read, only to be disappointed with boring or confusing content?

Here’s the lesson you and I can learn from such an experience: Our memoirs must draw readers in and keep them turning the pages.

“Some writers assume
readers are eager to grasp every word they write.
The opposite is true . . . .
Because we find it interesting,
or we think our life is newsworthy,
it’s easy to assume everyone cares.
It’s better to assume no one cares
about what we write . . . .”


So we memoirists must write stories worth reading.

We must earn the right to be read—we must capture the reader’s interest so he’ll keep reading all the way to the end.

How do we write stories worth reading? We find answers to that question in books and articles and writers’ conferences and blog posts.

And from week to week, I post the best of those tips here at Spiritual Memoirs 101—and I post even more valuable info on Facebook. (If you’re not following us on Facebook, you’re missing a lot!)

The links below will connect you to two of the main ways we can hook readers and keep them reading. These merely scratch the surface, but here is a sampling:

The first link will take you to last week’s post: We examined a memoir that lacked emotional depth because the author failed to let readers into her emotions and thoughts and reactions. As a result, she remained a one-dimensional person.

You and I can avoid her mistake by describing how we feel during key scenes and letting readers inside. Read more about creating emotional depth in your memoir by clicking on Performing emotional surgery on ourselves

The second link will help you recreate scenes through the five sensessight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. When we include sensory details, readers enter into our stories—they live them with us—and that keeps them reading.

You’ll find this post especially helpful: Details: A must for your memoir. Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: How can you inspire people to read your memoir to the end?

You might be surprised at the following stats. They surprised me when I ran across them yesterday.

Sarah Bolme, in her blog, Marketing Christian Books, writes,

  • “The average time spent reading is on the decline…. On average, Americans read only 19 minutes per day, down from 10 years ago…. On weekends, Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 read for just eight minutes a day on average.”
  • Most people read only part of a nonfiction book. In fact, a study by Kobo found that religion books were the most abandoned of any genre. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.

You and I want people to read all way to the end of our memoirs.

But we can’t lock them in and force them to read our stories.

Sigh…. So what’s a Christian memoirist to do?

We can entice and persuade our readers. How?

For starters, Sarah says, write compelling prose. (And I’ve posted dozens of blog posts about how to do that.)

Sarah also offers this advice:

  • Keep your page count low, under 200 pages. She recommends 120 to 150 pages.
  • Readers are more likely to read short chapters because, she says, “People often read in soundbites.”
  • If your memoir exceeds 200 pages, consider shortening it or divide it into two books.
  • Keep the price down.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Performing emotional surgery on ourselves

Recently I read a memoir that made the New York Times bestseller list—but I never got to know the author—the main character. I applaud her for her long and noble deed, but she didn’t endear herself to me. She didn’t let me know her enough to care about her.

Do you know what I mean? Have you ever struggled to get into the main character and care for him?

Here’s the author’s problem: Her memoir read as if it were a report. An essay. It lacked emotional depth because she failed to let readers into her emotions and thoughts and reactions.

She wrote about living through tough situations and relationships and choosing to do brave, selfless acts, but she kept her emotions on the surface. She remained a one-dimensional person. Rather like a stick person.

Readers need more than facts and action.

We memoirists need to show (not tell) our weaknesses, failures, and conflicts—as well as joys and successes and fulfilled dreams and answered prayers. When we describe how we felt during those times, we let readers inside our hearts and emotions.

  • What was the event’s or person’s significance?
  • What was at stake? Spell out possible outcomes, potential consequences.
  • How did you feel about the situation you were in? What sensations zinged through your insides?
  • Did you ask yourself questions? Pray? Squeal? Tell yourself to remain calm? Or…?
  • Did you have conversations about the event or person? If so, share that through dialogue.
  • Re-create the tension, or relief, you felt at the time.
  • If this was a turning point, a defining moment, let readers experience it with you.

Avoid exaggeration and over-the-top drama. But if you cried, make your readers cry—either tears of joy or sorrow.

If you asked hard questions and got no answers, let readers struggle with your lack of answers.

If you laughed out loud, make your readers laugh, too.

If our heart raced, make your readers’ hearts race.

The memoirist I mentioned at the top, the gal whose book kept me at a distance, can teach us important lessons:

Here’s what I suspect the author failed to do what successful memoirists must do:

Good memoirists must be willing to invest time in searching their hearts and memories.

Sometimes we need to dedicate years to that process—reliving and questioning and pondering and unraveling and connecting the dots.  

We do a doggie head-tilt, we examine what we didn’t have the courage to examine before, we reevaluate, we ask ourselves if we should now come to a different conclusion. We try to make sense of it all.  

And we dig deeper still: We ask God to help us discover what He was up to in the midst of it—and from beginning to end.

In the process, we’ll probably need to do another doggie head-tilt. Sometimes He uses a seemingly insignificant event or acquaintance to bring us to one of life’s most significant turning points.

Digging around in our memories to answer the question, “What was God doing?” can take a long time, as does the reflecting stage, but the hard work of finding answers can lead you to hidden, valuable treasures! That’s where you’ll realize, more than ever before, that God, in His goodness, has been loving and leading you all along.

Deep retrospection and meaningful reflection can feel like cutting open old wounds.

The reflection and introspection required to write a memoir can feel like performing emotional surgery on ourselves.

Like actual surgery, the goal is to
look deep inside to see what’s going on,
and then to fix what needs fixing,
and then put everything back together in the right order,
and in the right place,
and to stitch the “patient” back together.
After that comes healing and strengthening.

And after the contemplation, the digging, the searching, the musing, the mulling over—we climb up the next step: We find words to describe what we’ve learned years later—those gems we’ve unearthed, all the answers we found to the questions we’ve been asking. When we put our stories into words, God uses them to encourage and inspire others, our readers.

Readers yearn for authenticity. Be vulnerable with your readers. Honest about the real you. Make them care about you.  We must let readers into our hearts and thoughts and fears and hangups and questions and agonies—and we let them into our joys and victories, too.

“… Characters come alive when you pick the particularly telling details that can make the difference between a cardboard character and a real live person,” writes Judith Barrington (Writing the Memoir).  

We avoid coming off as a “cardboard character” by finding words and penning unique details—not only physical, but especially emotional, psychological, and spiritual details—that describe us and our experience and the process we’ve gone through from beginning to end in our memoir.

Angela Ackerman writes that a “‘shared experience’ is what powers up that empathy link between the reader and the character. Add this to emotion-rich dialogue, and . . . snippets of the character’s thoughts and internal sensations (visceral reactions), and we can convey a powerful emotional moment!”

“What did your body do? How did it express itself? What did you feel inside—a heaviness in the chest, pain twisting your throat? Lightheadedness from a surge of adrenaline? Skin sensitivity? Recreate the emotional moment and allow your senses to take over. Then, write it down.”

Let’s look again at one of Angela’s points: “Recreate the emotional moment and allow your senses to take over.” To help you with that, don’t miss my blog post about Method Writing, a practice Bill Roohrback wrote about in Writing Life Stories.

A final note: We all do our best to write well, but we still need critique partners, beta readers, and editors to help perfect our efforts. They can take the fresh look that we can’t—we’re too close to our own stories. Read more at Have You Lined Up Your Beta Readers Yet?

I recommend you sit at Angela Ackerman’s feet—be a regular reader of the blog she and Becca Puglisi publish, Writers Helping Writers. Both share a wealth of wisdom, experience, and instruction. Usually they address writers of fiction, but almost everything pertains to memoir, too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Tell us about your memoir

Are you writing a memoir? Let us know.

Have you published your memoir? Be sure to tell us.

and rewriting
and publishing
and marketing
can be daunting tasks,
and we want to cheer you on.

Leave a comment below,

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fun historical resources for writing about YOUR life

Good details can make all the difference in whether you draw readers into your story—and pull them in you must.

Think back: Do you remember reading a book in which you felt you were in the story with its writer? You tasted what he tasted. You smelled odors she smelled. You saw events he witnessed. You heard sounds she heard. You felt the textures or temperatures he felt. We call those sensory details.

But if you’ve ever read a book that kept you at a distance—a story that made you feel like an observer on the outside, unable to get in—then you know how much richer it is for a reader to live inside a story.

That’s what you want to do for your readers—write your memoir so they get “zipped into your skin,” says memoirist Mary Karr.

You can also zip readers in by including historical details of the era. Besides establishing your story’s historical backdrop, such details help create a sense of place and time

  • prominent values/philosophies
  • that time period’s passions and culture
  • the nation’s or culture’s major turning points (Pearl Harbor)
  • the place’s and era’s economic conditions
  • scientific, technological, and medical advances
  • political leanings
  • the nation’s struggles or victories
  • major stories in the news, and so on.

You are a witness to history. So am I. By age 25, I’d witnessed man’s first walk on the moon, Sputnik, JFK’s death, the Civil Rights Movement, rock ‘n’ roll, the Beatles, the hippie era, the feminist movement, and the Vietnam War. They all influenced me and shaped me.

Your historical setting influenced and shaped you, too.

And have you ever thought of this? You influenced and shaped history, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways. Like Biff Barnes said, you are “part of the sweep of history.Don’t overlook roles you played in molding and sculpting history.

Let me tell you about a fun tool you can use to enhance your story’s historical context:

Check out a website from The Atlantic called Life Timeline.

When you enter your birthday, you’ll see a list of historical events that occurred during your lifetime. And you’ll find links to articles about that event.

Use this fun tool to enhance the vibrancy and power of your memoir.

But wait! I have more for youanother way to enhance your story’s historical context. Have you created word lexicons? Word lexicons = collections of words and phrases.

In her delightful book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor, Priscilla Long describes the enjoyment and value of word lexicons. Especially significant are word lexicons that pertain to a specific piece—your memoir, for example.

Priscilla can tell by reading a person’s writing whether he or she collected words and phrases—what she calls The Lexicon Practice.

“Writers who do the Lexicon Practice have left in the dust what I call ‘conventional received diction.’ Writers who don’t do it . . . are pretty much stuck with television words, newspaper words, cereal-box words.”

Priscilla, a writing instructor at the University of Washington and a widely published author, collected words from her childhood for a collection of stories she planned to write: “greenbriar, dirt road, Neil Lindsey’s pig, 4-H Club… calf barn, gutter, manure pile, manure spreader, marsh grass….”

Each memoir—your memoirhas its own lexicon, its own unique set of words and phrases. Use them to define your story, to enrich it, to make it come alive for your readers.

Which words and phrases belong in the lexicon for your memoir?

You’ll want to compose several lexicons because, Priscilla points out, individuals have lexicons, places have lexicons, and “every craft, trade, profession, or job….”

I especially enjoy her lexicon for the Pacific Northwest, my home: “crow, Puget Sound, Steilacoom Tribe, western red cedar, Smith Tower, Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar, Starbucks, Northwest jellyfish, geoduck (pronounced gooey duck), Stillaguamish River….” She nailed it with those words.

Now it’s your turn: Choose sensory details—details readers can smell, feel, hear, see, and taste.

Think about these possibilities for your story’s historical setting and physical location:

  • iconic geographical references (rivers, mountains, deserts…)
  • prominent buildings
  • popular restaurants
  • food trends
  • lingo (“That’s a swell hot rod you have there.”)
  • clothing and hair styles (poodle skirts, saddle shoes)
  • popular songs
  • popular hobbies/sports (hula hoops)
  • specific car models
  • weather
  • typical sounds (birds, insects, factories, trains, children’s laughter)
  • colors
  • vegetation and wildlife, and so on.

Collect other words and phrases for main characters in your memoir, and professions/occupations.

Create as many lexicons as you need to enrich your memoir and draw readers into it.

If you're age 65 or older... I mean or better, you'll love Words and Phrases Remind Us of the Way We Word by Richard Lederer. And his post will give you a head start on compiling your own lexicon.

Just remember: avoid “television words, newspaper words, cereal-box words.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tuesday Tidbit: Your story can change someone’s life

“Stories are our lifeline to inspiration, awe, and hope.
(They) entertain us and introduce us to characters with immense courage.
When characters overcome a challenge
that mirrors the reader’s own circumstances,
their story provides a lifeline of hope to the reader.”

Your children, grandchildren, and great-grands
need to know your stories.

And perhaps your friends do, too.

And how about colleagues, neighbors,
aunts, uncles,
nieces, nephews,
and cousins?

Write your stories! Write them now!

Are you writing a memoir? Let us know.

Have you published your memoir? Be sure to tell us.

and rewriting
and publishing
and marketing
can be a daunting task,
and we want to cheer you on.

Leave a comment below,