Finding an audience
Writing your story is the easy part, but to interest someone enough to take the time to read it is an entirely different matter.
Over the years, I’ve written a lot of memory stories and have realized that there were only a few select readers who found them even remotely interesting. Most of the stories were either too generic or too personal, finding a happy medium was the challenge. To find where I fit in, I joined several websites that catered to writers who needed feedback on their material. I was offered critiques about what was right and what needed tweaking. Actively participating on those websites was an invaluable lesson for me. That feedback, from other more successful writers, opened my eyes and made me realize what was keeping me from being published. Some of the feedback was harsh and even hurtful, but within every critique was something I could use to further improve my writing. I took each hit on the shoulder and each compliment with a sincere thank-you.
I began submitting my material to slice-of-life publications and online sites that offered only a by-line and no monetary compensation. I never questioned the fact that I wasn’t getting paid, I felt encouraged that my piece was accepted, and I could add that publication to my resume. The more publications I gathered, the more acceptance letters I received.
To find your audience, it’s vital that you find your voice. Your voice is the tone in which you write in. I write in the tone that I speak in. I write my stories as if I’m in the same room as my reader and we’re passing the time with a cup of coffee and friendly conversation.
Other writers may fall into different categories. There are writers who can write suspense and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, and their audience would fall into the thrill seeker category. Others write heart-wrenching tales of loss and betrayal. Their readers might be able to relate to their own tales of loss and betrayal. And then there are those who write steamy tales of romance and intrigue that keeps the reader enticed enough to keep them turning the pages to that first forbidden kiss.
You need to figure out what type audience you envision reading your stories. My second book, Mom's Eye View, Life...from a Mother's Perspective, revolved around the stories of being a working wife and mother. It was about finding humor in the everyday ins and outs of that life, as well as seeing the beauty that sometimes gets lost in those daily struggles. When I began targeting who I thought might buy and read this book, I entered into open discussions on working mother's forum boards; reaching out to women who worked and juggled those daily challenges. I actively participated in those discussions offering advice, sympathy and camaraderie. I marketed my book and did book signings at places where I knew mothers spent time; the library, craft fairs, the mall; anywhere I knew mothers would be. I set up displays and put this book on consignment in hair salons, bookstores and even the grocery store. You and your book need to be where your audience is.
Here's another angle; you want to write a book about your memories of say, being a game warden; where would your target audience be? At the hair salon? Maybe, even game wardens need a haircut, but sales would probably be a little slow. Or would a better choice be a gun shop? Cabela's? LL Bean? Can you envision your book about the adventures of being a game warden in the woods of Maine, on a bookshelf in Maine's biggest outdoor retail stores? I could. This is what is meant by finding your audience.
A memoir is a story about memories, make your memories come alive by putting yourself in the story and catering to the readers who want to experience your adventures right along with you as they turn the pages.
I welcome all comments and suggestions.
Telling the Story
Make the point of your story clear. Don’t hem and haw. Don’t be vague. Say what you have to say and in words that you’d normally say them in. It’s fine to tease the reader, to lead them in a different direction, this is called a twist, but always lead them back in the right direction.
Relatable. When writing your story your reader will connect with the story better if it relates to them in some way. Everybody has an obnoxious little brother/sister, nephew/niece, cousin or friend’s kid. Tap into that kid with a memory of your own obnoxious child.
Keep the words tight. Avoid adjectives and adverbs at all costs. Get rid of them! They’re not needed. They’re just fluff and filler.
Example: Janice sighed, exhausted. She’d just put in an incredibly long ten-hour day and was looking forward to kicking off her expensive Prada shoes and letting her silky long hair flow over her slender shoulders, while sipping a glass of wine.
Whew…I’m exhausted just writing this.
Here’s another way to write it:
Janice sighed. She’d just put in a ten-hour day and she was looking forward to kicking off her Prada shoes and relaxing with a glass of wine.
Exhausted…you don’t need to tell the reader this, anyone who’s ever worked a ten-hour day knows just how exhausting it is.
Incredibly and long…you know it’s incredibly long because it’s a ten-hour day.
Letting her silky, blonde hair flow over her slender shoulders…does this add anything to the paragraph? No, this is what is meant by fluff. If her hair was black or her shoulders round, would that change how Janice feels? No, because the paragraph is about feeling and doing, not how a person looks.
Expensive…everyone knows that Prada…anything…is expensive, unnecessary filler.
Above anything else…show…don’t tell! Nobody wants to read a three-page description of a room or a lengthy detailed essay on how blue someone’s eyes are. Get to point and get on with the story.
I welcome all comments and suggestions.
To read my own memory stories...Click on the Books tab.
Where to Begin
It would make sense to say that the easiest way to begin your memory stories is to start at the beginning. This may seem like a good choice, but it’s not the only one. Many begin with a relatable circumstance, i.e.; Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. Her account of her parents and grandparent’s lives begins with this sentence, “those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did.” The sentence is short, but immediately draws you in. It’s a specific memory and leaves the reader to wonder, what kind of trouble is coming.
Here’s another: “I’m scared. My feet are cold and my stomach cries for food.” This leaves the reader asking, “why is this person scared? Why is this person so cold and hungry?” The questions are answered quickly in, Dave Pelzer’s, A Man Named Dave.
If you think about it, many of your favorite movies sometimes begin this way. They start at a point which seems as if they're halfway through the story. Why? Because it's human nature. We immediately need to how the characters got to that point, what led them to that particular situation, what is the backstory?
That's called a hook. Hook your reader, lure them in, keep them turning the pages. And using a scene that brings immediate feelings and thoughts as well as images, is a great way to do that.
When writing a memory story, the first thing you want to do is focus on who or what you want the memory to be about and your interactions with that person. These feelings and thoughts will tie you to that person in your memory.
Because I'm sure there are many people in your life that are worthy of a place in your memoir, I’ve devised a simple exercise that might help you along.
1) Draw a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Within that circle, write your name.
2) Then extending from that initial circle, draw lines with other circles attached to those lines.
3) Placed within those other circles write in the names of people who have been a part of your life, people who have touched you or made a difference in your life in one way or another.
3) Pick one of those names and the first memory that comes to mind of that person is the one you should write about. Why? Because that particular memory is the strongest (it must be, because when you think of the person, that one is the most vivid in your mind). That particular memory is the one you'll recall the most details about. That memory is the one that will stick in you reader's minds as well, because it will be sharp and focused.
This pattern can continue endlessly with the people who have come in and out of your life, each person owning a special part of your life. By doing this exercise you’ve created a, circle of friends and family, that have impacted your life in one way or another.
You’ve brought your memory stories into focus for the reader. Make sense? Give it a try.
I welcome all comment and suggestions.
To read my own memory stories...click the Books tab.
I guess the first thing I should do is tell a little about my own writing experiences. I'm in no way an expert on how to write or get published or become a best-selling author. In fact, I'm just a regular fifty-something woman who has had an incredible amount of luck. Being stubborn and full of perseverance also might play a part in what little success I've found.
I've never entertained the thought that I would be some best-selling author, slugging down beers with Stephen King or trading writing secrets with Tess Gerritsen or even having mega-sellouts at all my book-signings (which I cringe at having to do, but is a necessary evil). I'm just an ordinary woman who can manage to string a bunch of words together and have them make sense and that readers seem to relate to.
After years of struggling along trying to find my place in the writing world, I was fortunate enough to land my first gig with Maine.info, a travel website that asked me to write a series of articles about places to visit in Maine that might appeal to tourists. Although the website seems to have gone under, I still get dozens of emails from travelers who want to explore Maine. That gig and the by-line helped me land a job as a columnist for the now defunct SVWeekly, a local newspaper that was read by thousands in my area. When the newspaper shut down, I was shocked to discover how many people had actually read my column and were disappointed that they weren't going to be able read it any longer. That inspired me to write my second book, Mom's Eye View, which was a compilation of those articles.
My recent book, I Heard You, is a series of short stories and poetry revolving around one defining moment in a person's life. The stories focus on just that one moment and it's left to the reader to imagine the why's, what's and how did that happen?
With the release of this book, I've been approached by readers confiding in me that they've always wanted to write a book, but have no idea how to. So, what I'm going to try to do in this series of articles is put together a sort of guideline that I hope will be helpful to anyone wanting to write their own memory stories.
The First Step to writing a memory story - Focus on what you want to say.
When I first started entertaining the thought of writing my memories to earn money and not just a way to release creative energies, I was disappointed when I started receiving rejection letter after rejection letter.
Reality slapped me in the face. What was I doing wrong? But I refused to give up, I knew I could write, I just had to learn to do it better; to focus more on what I was trying to say. Focus is the key. Narrow your memories down to one and focus on that one only. Make that one memory come alive, let your mind think of just one event in your life; who you were talking to, what was being said, how that interaction affected you; express more fully the feelings you were having at that time. Reach out and make that memory the one to share.
Finding that memory is the hard part, there is so much we want to say and many times it comes out in a big jumble, with too many thoughts competing for the reader’s attention. This is when we lose them. As a writer you need to engage your reader, to bring them into your world, have them see what you see. If you ramble on about too many things at one time, the reader may lose interest and toss your book aside.
The first thing you need to do is find a starting point. Hopefully, this guide will help you find a starting point for your memory-stories, how to keep the writing tight and how to stay focused and help you find your writing voice.
The intent of these articles isn't to get you published, if that's your goal, that's not something I can do for you; only your dedication, imagination, perseverance and writing skills will do that. My intent is to simply help you find your motivation and instill confidence.
I welcome all comments and suggestions...because I've surely forgotten some key points.
To read my own memory stories...click the Books tab.
Yeh, I love books. I have always read which naturally led to writing. I excelled in English, spelling, and composition. Math and science though, forget about it. I spent hours at the library, devouring a book a week. The librarian and I were on a first name basis and she would save books for me that she thought I might like.
I began writing short stories when puberty hit. Many call them "diaries" I called them "lifesavers." Without writing my thoughts down each day I wouldn't have survived those teen-angst days.
I continued to write throughout my high school years, yelling and screaming in notebooks the words that I couldn't get out of my mouth. It wasn't until after my daughter was born that I made the decision to actually pursue some kind of career in writing. I was blissfully unaware about how these things work. I would write a story or poem that I thought was the most brilliant piece in the world and send it off to the Publishing Gods. Much to my despair, rejection letter after rejection filled my mailbox. I was discouraged and my confidence took a major hit. It was several years before I decided to try again.
When a poem I had submitted to some obscure weekly paper was accepted, I was on cloud nine. It was enough though, to boost my ego and get my ass in gear and start learning the art of pitching an idea and being persistent. Pitching an article is my weakness, either the magazine likes it or they don't. I hate wasting time trying to convince an editor that my writing is worth reading.
That was my downfall, not being able to brown-nose and add in a lot of fluff in order to get an editor to take a shot on me. It was years before I landed my first gig, with a travel website focusing on Maine. It was a paying weekly column and that by-line led me to my column, Mom's Eye View. That column and the visibility of over 30,000 readers was the touchstone that convinced me to write my first book, This Ain't Shakespeare. Although, not a big seller, because I was ignorant to the ways of marketing and promoting, I was, and still am very proud of the poetry in that book. I poured my feelings and heart into the love I felt for my family. It's a very personal book and reveals a much younger and impressionable woman than I am today.
This Ain't Shakespeare is available free from this site with the purchase of either, I Heard You or Mom's Eye View.