So you want to publish your memoirs

Publishing a book used to be so much simpler, and so much harder. While the 21st century has democratized the process of publishing— it’s easier than before—it’s now up to you to machete your way through the thick jungle of possibilities.

There are self-publishing outfits. There are small, regional presses, university presses, and niche, genre-oriented small presses. And the traditional publishing model does still exist. My partner and I run a local hybrid, Bilbo Books Publishing. We shepherd people through the process of writing, editing, design, and printing. However, there are many other options for the would-be memoirist or writer of any genre. I talked to three published authors who took different creative paths.

Charlotte “Chip” McDaniel chose the Amazon-owned Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, formerly CreateSpace) to produce her moving, nostalgic tribute to the world of her Atlanta childhood, “Girdled and Gloved: From Radio to YouTube.”

“I have no complaints. There was a long trial-and-error period, and you must be technically-oriented.” She reminds authors that, “…it’s an extremely detailed process, but once you’re satisfied with your book content, uploading your file and cover takes no time at all. You get an online proof for your review. Then you can order Author Proof copies. I got four copies of my latest book, ‘Love Your Fate,’ for $17.75, which included mailing.”

In general, McDaniel’s experience resembles that of most authors who choose online, self-publishing outfits, though there are some differences. Amazon is so big that they set their own retail prices. iUniverse is good with royalties and has great add-ons.

McDaniel’s advice to first-time authors who follow her lead is simple. “Set up your account. Set up a bank account from which you can order Author Copies and have royalties deposited. You must give your Social Security Number. Then, there are many choices, like book size, kind of paper, genre of your book. You can even use one of the many designs in Create-a-Cover to add to your book.”

McDaniel admits, “On-demand printing isn’t for everyone, but, hey, if you’re willing to put in the techno-effort, you’ll wind up an author with your book on Amazon!”

Roger Bailey is a storyteller’s storyteller. Talking to him is like owning your very own time machine, especially if you want to travel to Appalachia in the mid-20th century. His detailed stories of growing up “in a holler” transport you to another place and time. In order to better facilitate story construction, Bailey encourages authors to join the OLLI memoir group (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute). Obtaining knowledgeable feedback is essential, especially if you’re doing it on your own. Bailey’s group has created a helpful space for memoir writers to bounce ideas around and learn what works and what doesn’t. If you work at your craft, you could be featured in one of their annual compilation books.

The group inspired Bailey to continue his family research. “I discovered that my maternal grandmother was Cherokee. The process helps you to understand yourself.”

Juanita Denton, 90, has been editing and writing since she was a child. She edited everything her professor husband ever published and wrote a book herself.

When she and her late husband, Wallace, decided to write their memoirs, they approached it like a job. They had a 30-ft. long trailer parked in the country, and every morning, six days a week, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., for nine months, they each wrote.

“You back into it at first—but if you get on that road, prepare to be surprised at what you discover. Sometimes you just sit and think. Memories can be covered in dust and like cleaning, you first have to dust to find the memories.”

Although the publishing path is your own, it helps to have helpers. Bilbo Books can walk you through the process. Bailey’s advice can help you get started and help you get better. McDaniel’s advice can help you get published and help you get read.

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Bowen Craig
Bowen Craig is an Athens-based freelance writer and editor/co-founder of Bilbo Books Publishing, which specializes in memoirs.

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  1. Thanks so much for this information and for profiling some local authors. I’ve enjoyed both of Chip’s books and been entertained by a reading/performance event by Roger’s group. They have sparked my interest in this genre – wonderful that you specialize in supporting this kind of work.

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