This month I’m starting a new feature on this blog. I work with many memoir writers (and am one myself) and I know that we have things to say that may help other aspiring memoirists. So once a month I’ll feature excerpts from my interviews with those who have written and published a memoir. I hope you’ll find it interesting.
This month my interview is with Maria Ross, author of Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life, published just last month.
Rebooting My Brain is the true story of what happens when you get yanked out of your life by a crisis?and have to get back on the ride all over again. With refreshing candor, Maria Ross shares how the relentless pace of her life came to a screeching halt when an undetected brain aneurysm ruptured and nearly killed her. Along her stubborn road back to health, her resulting cognitive and emotional challenges forced her – sometimes kicking and screaming – to reframe her life, her work and her identity.
Q: Why was it important for you to write your memoir? (ie, leave a legacy to your descendants; educate, enlighten, or inspire others in similar situations; heal your emotional wounds; entertain; make money; etc.)
Maria: I had an aneurysm and brain hemorrhage that kills over half of the people who get it and even those who do survive often can’t go back to the lives they had before. My doctors said my recovery was amazing but I still struggled with many unseen cognitive and psychological impairments and had to adapt to a New Me. Many people encouraged me to write a book and I thought, “No way, I’m still healing and no one will even care!” When I was interviewed for a radio show about my recovery, the outpouring of people touched by brain injury who asked for resources and advice was astounding. I thought, “I have a responsibility to use my voice to educate about brain injury from a patient point of view and inspire anyone who gets knocked out of their life by crisis.” Despite my unseen deficits, I realized that maybe my recovery was so good and I adapted so well so I could use my speaking and writing talents to help others. It ultimately became not about necessarily wanting to write the book but needing to write the book!
Q: Who were you writing for? Did you define your “ideal reader” to yourself before you wrote your memoir?
Maria: Yes, absolutely. I am a marketing and branding consultant so I think that way! I wrote for three main audiences: brain injury survivors and their families who are seeking inspiration and resources; medical caregivers who deal with brain injury and stroke and want to know the patient point of view; and finally, women between the ages of 30 and 55 who seek out inspirational memoir about overcoming adversity for hope or inspiration. My audience definitely skews towards more women than men, although many male brain injury patients have reached out to me.
Q: What publishing options did you consider for your memoir, and what were their pros and cons? How did you eventually publish your memoir?
Maria: I had published my first book, a business book, with a small press. I eventually self-published this book for a variety of reasons. One, I did all my own marketing for my first book anyway and I figured why not do it for more financial reward this time around? Second, I wanted to own the story. I was afraid a publisher might make me change it to be more sappy or sentimental. I wanted creative control over everything from the layout to the cover to the story itself. Third, I just wanted to get the book to market faster. I was taking a chance and I thought I’d lose my nerve to tell the story if I had to wait two years to make it happen. People needed this information now!
I would not be averse to signing it with a big publisher assuming they could meet certain conditions. I think that could help me get even more reach and touch even more lives.
Q: How did/do you promote your memoir?
Maria: How much time to do you have?! I started talking up this project while I was still writing the book. You have to start marketing before your book is even done. I built a special book website, pursue guest blogging opportunities, pitch speaking engagements, and I’ve paid for a radio talk show circuit with a PR firm. I also have a PR colleague pitching me to local and national TV media. And I did a lot of guerilla marketing: I created a virtual launch with bonus content, I reached out to influential friends with big communities to share the news and use my own social media channels (Twitter, Facebook page for my business, email lists, Google+, etc) to promote. Lastly, I’ve invested in some paid activities like The San Francisco Book Review, Kindle Nation Daily and just enrolled in KDP Select which has been a huge boon to sales.
Q: What do you wish you knew before you wrote your memoir, that you know now? What advice would you give someone who wants to write the story of their life?
Maria: For me, it was about focus. For years, I’ve been toying with another memoir about growing up Italian American. And I still may go back to it, but I realized that my health crisis and recovery was more interesting. The brain aneurysm was going to be just one chapter of that book, but I kept returning to it until finally I thought, “Screw it! This is the story I want to write!” And once I let that happen and let my gut take over, things got easier. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but the words started pouring out. I guess it goes back to the time-honored adage of, not just “write what you know” but “write what you are passionate about.” If only certain aspects of your life make you perk up, if certain chapters flow more naturally than others than maybe the memoir should not be about your whole life but about that one thing. Don’t be afraid to choose!
The other piece of advice is not to get overwhelmed. When I first thought about writing this book, I dragged my feet, thinking there was so much I had to just get down on paper. Should I hire a ghost writer? Should I get someone to interview me and transcribe? I had all these individual moments and stories but nothing was on paper. I worked with a writing coach at the very beginning that helped me get started in my own way. I wrote each vignette as a separate file. Then I strung them all together to make a story and went back in to add fillers, bridges, remove redundancies, etc. I tend to write in short story form, so this was a perfect approach for me. You have to find the mechanism that works for you and the way you write – but it can be done!
Maria had many more valuable things to say (memoirists are like that) so stay tuned for Part 2 in July!