When is it right to turn a personal ordeal into publicly-consumed art?
This is a question I'm confronted with regularly. I've had people come to me for professional editing with what amounts to a diary in tow, and I've had to turn them away. But then I've edited plenty of deeply-personal memoir, or fiction with its roots in its author's pain, and it's done well in the mainstream market.
Consider, for a moment, the news story from this week's publishing news roundup (below) about the book editor Daniel Mallory and his recent bestseller, The Woman in the Window. He'd been editing books for years, but it wasn't until he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was in his third week of isolation while testing new medications that he even conceived of the book that would go on to inspire an eight-house bidding war. This book was clearly born from pain and isolation, so it's easy to assume he simply turned his personal ordeal into art. But those weren't its only origins. Mallory had studied literature for years, both in school and in practice as an editor. He'd been a lifelong reader and worked with books nearly every day. While the book has elements of his personal struggles, it doesn't rely solely on them to tell a story. And therein lies the difference between fictionalizing your struggles and using them to inspire a story. And the same is true for memoir; it isn't enough to publish your diary, you must study the form and learn how best to tell the story to a mainstream audience.
It's incredibly therapeutic to write about a personal ordeal, and it can be instrumental in your recovery. But if you'd like to turn that writing into something sold in bookstores, it's best to study the craft and use your experiences as inspiration rather than the entire plot. Because your readers aren't there just to hear what happened; they're there for the beauty of your storytelling as well.
It's officially 2018, and I'm feeling extremely rebellious.
Maybe it's because Oprah recently voiced exactly what I've been feeling about women's perceived lack of power.
Maybe it's because I'm sick of seeing social and political injustices go unrectified.
Maybe it's because I happen to be researching the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the parallels between then and now are unmistakable.
The common theme here is that someone in power is telling someone else that what they are is not enough. And that is simply absurd. It's high time that we take back that control in every way possible. This is obviously true for the disenfranchised, but it's also true in the world of traditional publishing. There have long been issues in the industry, namely with publishing new voices, and it's only getting worse. New authors are getting pushed aside in favor of established ones, and it's all because the houses are afraid of not making enough money. Now I'm not against traditional publishing per se, but I'm also not about to sit back and accept their neglect of new writers.
This year, I'm all about helping strong, talented voices get heard. I'm finding the best way to get writers out in front of readers. If publishers don't have room for you in their list, fine. Come to me. I'll get you out there.
I'll work with you if want to try the traditional route, and I'll work with you if you don't. But the one thing you should expect is that I'm going to insist that you give yourself the go-ahead to make your voice heard. Because you don't need anyone to give you the green light. You just have to give it to yourself.
Read, write, and stay strong.