On the Shelf: Write Your Story

Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday! Last week I talked about setting up this On the Shelf feature, and in keeping with my long history of trying to remember to blog regularly, completely forgot about it when next week rolled around. So, by the time I post this, it may actually be afternoon.

I was staring at my shelves this week, trying to find books that would seem relevant to current events. Should I share books by authors who are people of color? Should I share nonfiction works on civil disturbances and social justice? Should I go for escapist fare? If you’ve never seen an author and blogger overthink something, please, let’s video chat, because I’m really good at it.

In the end, I decided to pick out four books that might seem unrelated at first, but, and bear with me here, I think are good to visit today. Let me explain. I am a big advocate of making space for people to tell their story, and for encouraging them to do so. My goal is to find ways to publish, promote, and signal boost the greatest variety of experiences and lived narratives. I’ve been able to do some of this with Crone Girls Press, and I’ve been lucky to have the privilege of listening to and reading stories as people share them with me.

When I joined the military, I came from a pretty standard middle class background in upper northwest New Jersey. It was a great experience, but it wasn’t really one that exposed me to the great breadth and depth of the experiences of other Americans. Joining the Army gave me the opportunity to meet people, to move to other places and meet more people, and to listen when they talked about their lives and how they grew up. My eyes were very slowly opened to the realization that I had a lot to learn (and still do) about the experiences of people of color.

So, in the spirit of thanks to people who HAVE shared their stories with me, I wanted to highlight four books that center around ways to write down and amplify a story, in particular, a nonfiction story. I offer this with no expectation that the onus is on people of color to do the emotional and physical labor of pulling together and writing it down. I recognize that there are many books and resources out there that already exist for people like myself to do the work of self-education. I offer these merely in case you or someone you know has a story to tell and is looking for someplace to start.

And one quick offer that I was going to put at the end but wasn’t even sure you made it this far. I bill myself as an author and writing coach. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not as well-established as some others who have hung up their shingle. But, I’ve had good feedback and word-of-mouth support from those I have worked with. So I will make this offer. If you are a person of color looking to tell your story, I would like to offer you my help. If you would like to take advantage of that, I am open to doing a couple (1-2 one-hour segments) of coaching sessions to get you started, or to take a quick editorial look at your drafted proposal (first 1-3 chapters and outline.) I think my blog has about ten regular readers, so I don’t anticipate I’ll be overwhelmed–if for some reason I experience a flood of request, I’ll cap it off before I can’t meet my other obligations. Shoot me a line if you’re interested: unfamousscribbler at Gmail.

The Weekend Book Proposal
Van Cleave, Ryan G. The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 Hours and Sell Your Book, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2014.

So, say you have an idea of a nonfiction book you want to write. Maybe it’s a memoir. Maybe it’s a book on how to community organize. Whatever it is, you have the idea and are looking for a way to pull it all together. You may want to shop the proposal to an agency or editor. Or, you may intend on indie publishing it. Whatever your intended direction or eventual goal, this book is an excellent primer. The author leads you through the nuts and bolts process of not just writing the actual proposal, but for packaging it–and yourself as the author. The angle here is that he wants to show you how to put it all together in a timely fashion, and so there are “Hit the Gas” features to motivate you to get cracking on a particular section, as well as insider tips, lists of resources for further information, and info on the overall publication process. As I mentioned, even if your goal is to indie publish, this book addresses all of the important areas you will need to consider as you outline, draft, revise, and finally, promote and publish your book.

How to Write a Book Proposal
Larsen, Michael. How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Step-By-Step Guide to Proposals That Get You Published, Writer’s Digest Books, Cinncinnati, OH, 2017.

One quick note–I’m writing this summary from the 2003 3rd edition of this book. I’ve included a URL to the most recent addition above; just be aware there may be new features in the latest edition. So, how is this book different from the first book listed? If you think of the first book as the racecar version of Ted Talk (how’s that for imagery?), this book is the staid syllabus of the class you’re taking to cover the nonfiction credit for you MFA. The information is organized a bit differently, but still covers all the basics – from the hook to the length and organization to the promotion and marketing, etc. This book, along with the first one, have had a place on my bookshelf for a long time (as have my dusty, long-neglected book proposal drafts … sigh …) and if you are going to pick up one or two books on how to get started on writing this sort of project, I highly recommend you start here.

Bang the Keys
Dearman, Jill. Bang the Keys: Four Steps to a Lifelong Writing Practice, Alpha Books, NY, 2009.

This is one of those books that I recommend for people who are looking to find a place to start writing … and that I return to when I haven’t been in the habit of writing for a while and need to motivate/spur/flog myself to get my butt back in my seat and words on the paper. There are four sections to this book: Begin, Arrange, Nurture, and Go, and they each address a different part of the process. Some areas are kind of pep-talk-y, other areas give you some tips to try things to break out of your own head or habits. There are a good number of writing exercises, as well an index and an appendix that consists of a chapter-by-chapter list of further resources for writers. This is a handy book to have in your writing toolkit, and can be read through, or dipped into from time to time to re-light the spark of your writing habit. (And I think that, from what I’ve been reading from my fellow authors, many of us are facing that challenge right now.)

Build Your Author Platform
Jelen, Carole, & McCallister, Michael. Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps, BenBella Books, Dallas, TX, 2014.

Whether you intend to submit your proposal to an agent or editor, or publish yourself as an independent author, or even if you just want to put together a book to publish through one of the many digital platforms out there with the expectation that maybe some friends and family might pick up a copy, it’s still a good idea to begin developing your author platform. This book is solid gold when it comes to finding ideas to do that. It’s one of the books on my shelf that has dozens of different-colored sticky bookmarks poking out of it, denoting all of the ideas that popped up as I was reading. The authors address promotion and marketing tactics that are applicable for authors large and small, and even if you have a robust presence online, you will likely find something of use in this book. There is an index and a list of further resources organized by topic, as well as–and this is super useful especially if you’re starting from scratch–a tear out sheet with a step-by-step author platform publicity plan. If you’re looking to start writing and build a presence from which to launch your finished manuscript, or if you already have an online presence and are looking to shape it to support promoting your message and creative content, I highly recommend checking this book out for ideas and inspiration.

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