There's a Memoir in the Works!


I've been a travel writer for more than 20 years. But it wasn't until much more recently that I started working on a memoir. I felt compelled to start writing it when my mother became sick a few years ago, and it gradually become a complete collection of memories of my mother's and my life together. It's also a story of how even a misfit kid can follow his dreams, and how families can deal with love, loss and forgiveness.

Sound too heavy or syrupy for you? 

Well, it's not all serious. This memoir anthology collection — tentatively titled Prepare for Departure: A Travel Writer's Notes on Life, Death and Frequent Flyer Miles — also includes stories about me stealing stuff from airports and imitating a middle-aged female flight attendant when I was about 13 years old. It includes stories about me choosing Star Wars over religious salvation. And stories about my Aunt Agnes making noises like James Brown. And how I became a travel writer since I'm too anti-social to be a flight attendant.

After a few years of hard work, I've finally found a publisher! It's an Australian outfit called Vine Leaves Press, which publishes print and ebooks in English for sale around the world. They're an innovative publisher that aims to blur the line between commercial and experimental work, and I'm thrilled to be working with them.

Now I have a few months to finalize my manuscript before handing it over to the development editor, who will work with me to polish things even further. Excited about working on this very different project! 

Developmental Editing is Almost Done — Here's What I've Learned About Risk in Writing

An author ponders the risks of writing.

I'm excited to be wrapping up the developmental editing process of my memoir anthology with an amazing editor named Melanie Faith at Vine Leaves Press. Since this is my first creative nonfiction book, it's been a truly educational process for me from day one. And I've been surprised to find that the most difficult part of editing wasn't about massive rewrites or refocusing plot points or characterizations.

The hardest part has been simply about deciding what names I can safely mention in the book.

If you've read my previous posts, you know that I'm working on my first creative nonfiction book, a memoir anthology tentatively titled Prepare for Departure: A Travel Writer's Notes on Life, Death and Frequent Flyer Miles. It's a collection of stories that recount the journeys that families sometimes must take together, through life, death and travel, and it's based on real life.

But I've had to be much more careful than expected when it comes to mentioning specific individuals, as well as brand names, businesses and organizations. Even though I'm not writing some scandalous tell-all, there are still several factors I need to be aware of:

  • Defamation, libel and slander
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Consumer fraud

I've consulted with my wonderful editor and a publishing attorney about these issues, and also done lots of online research.

The bottom line is that there is no set bottom line. As the attorney said, a lot of my decisions about what to include should be based on how risk averse I am.

Can I mention the make of car that my mother drove in the memoir? Most likely, as long as it's not in a negative light. But still, I've heard about how one car manufacturer made a filmmaker remove its logo from cars used in Slumdog Millionaire. You never know when a corporate entity might get touchy.

Can I mention specific people? Again, the answer is yes, but I could be sued by someone if they're reasonably identifiable, are still living and the story portrays them in an unflattering manner.

The developmental editing process also involves general editing and rewriting to assure that the story is clear, flows well and is engaging. But I truly am surprised to find that so many of my developmental editing chores have revolved around legal considerations like copyright and trademarks and brands and all that fun stuff.

It's been eye opening and also scares me a bit, because I don't want to take out every single name in my book — brand names in particular help to make a story more realistic, and I am telling true stories in my book.

But I'm also rather risk averse. So you may find yourself guessing the true identities of some businesses, organizations and brands in the book. Consider it part of the fun of reading.

And stay tuned: the book will be available for pre-order in May 2022! 

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Time to Find a Publicist for my Memoir! Here are the Questions an Author Should Ask a Book Publicist (I think)

October 8, 2021: I'm starting to get excited. Next month, I begin working with the development editor at Vine Leaves Press on the final version of the manuscript for my memoir anthology, "Prepare for Departure: A Travel Writer's Notes on Life, Death & Frequent Flyer Miles" (that title may change during our edit process, for all I know).

The fact that the book comes out for pre-publication sales soon (in May 2022) and for hard-copy sales in July 2022 means that I've already started to think about how I'm going to promote and publicize the book. Vine Leaves Press is an innovative, forward-thinking publisher, but it's a small, independent publisher, so they don't have much of a budget for promotion. A lot of it will be on me.

It's time to find a book publicist.

Book publicists do a lot to promote the work of authors and increase their public profile. But every publicist is different. To create a list of candidates that might be suitable for me, I asked for recommendations from friends who are authors and from friends who work in public relations. I also Googled a bit, paying close attention to things like the look of the publicist websites (if their own site is ugly and outdated, how are they going to represent you well?), previous clients and case studies.

I've found several promising publicists and will be speaking with them soon. (I also heard from one who isn't taking on new clients, two who said they don't work with my type of writing and one who seemed decidedly less than enthusiastic about representing me.)

I have a few phone and Zoom calls coming up with four of the best candidates, so I've been working on the questions I'll be asking them. If you're an established author, you may already know the most important questions an author should ask a book publicist. And if you're not an author, you may not care.

But either way, these are some of the questions I have in store:

  1. What kind of experience do you have promoting books and clients similar to me? (In my case, have you worked with titles and clients in the niches of travel, LGBTQ, aging)
  2. Do you have case studies you could share about a couple of these clients? Could you share examples of press releases, media pitch emails, social media campaigns and media kits that you’ve created?
  3. What media contacts do you have that might be interested in my book?
  4. Do you have contacts with travel and LGBTQ media?
  5. What kind of promotions do you think would work well for my book? What time frame do you have in mind?
  6. What kind of a mix of media coverage would you aim for? (blog tours, podcasts, websites, local media/newspapers/TV)
  7. Have you worked with local media in smaller markets, like Ohio and Kentucky, for example?
  8. If pre-publication sales begin in May 2022 and publication is in July 2022, when do you recommend beginning marketing and publicity?
  9. Do you provide services like setting up blog tours, bookstore appearances and book readings and public speaking?
  10. Will your firm find relevant and recognized media outlets who are willing to accept any guest posts I’ve written that link back to my own blog?
  11. How do you report on results, and with what frequency?
  12. What is your preferred communication style?
  13. Would it be OK for me to contact one or two of your similar clients as a reference?
  14. What are your fees and payment structure? Do you have various established options/programs that I could review? (by project or retainer by month and what would that include?)
  15. There are certain challenges associated with working with a small, independent publisher. For example, the publisher will not send out printed galley proofs (only electronic version), and the book will be available in hard copy just 3 months before the publication date , which could limit the outreach a publicist could do. Also, the book cover design likely won’t be available until early 2022. How would you get around these issues to still get good exposure?

So what do you think? Any input from fellow writers and savvy publicists is welcome!

    PHOTO CREDIT: canonsnapper on

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    Why I'm Changing People's Names in My Memoir

    March 12, 2021: If a memoir is supposed to be your true life story, then why am I making a master list of fake names for mine? 

    The answer is easy: to protect myself and others. Memoirs are the recollections of one person, but they involve other entities as well. And there are lots of reasons why writers change the names of people, places and businesses when they write a memoir, namely:

    • To protect the privacy of others
    • To avoid upsetting others
    • To avoid annoying individuals or businesses
    • To protect themselves from legal issues

    If you've ever read a memoir, you know that the less flattering and most uncomfortable parts are among the most interesting. But in order to be as truthful as possible, you may need to use a bit of creativity so that no one's feelings are hurt. (If you don't believe me, take a look at the beginning of most every memoir; there's likely a paragraph noting that some names, dates and details have been changed.)

    And so, with that in mind, I've spent my day at this coworking space creating a master list of name changes. I have to say it's been fun to make up new names — especially for companies, since I've always loved crazily corporate monikers that seem born from a crazed mind trying to invent a new language.

    You'll be able to see the fruits of my name games in the coming months ... 

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    Starting the Final Edit Before Handing Over my Manuscript

    March 9, 2021: I have until November to submit the final version of my memoir manuscript to the development editor, but they advised that if I want to do a final read/edit, I should do it sooner rather than later, so that I'll be ready to look at it with fresh eyes later in the year, as the development editor starts jumping in with comments and changes.

    I can totally understand their advice, because I do indeed get sick of this manuscript if I spend too many weeks or months in a row working on it. Taking a break is an important part of the writing process. And so now, I've checked into a co-working space in Forest Hills, Queens (that's New York City) so that I won't be distracted as I work (I'm an easily distracted person).

    Since it's already been several months since I started submitting the manuscript to potential agents and publishers, I'm already seeing things I want to change now. The writing process never ends until it's finally published!

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