Picking the Best Format to Write Your Life Story

You’ve had an interesting life, and you want to share your story with the world. You want to share lessons learned, leave a legacy for your family, or preserve favorite memories. You’ve thought about writing a book more than once, but you’re not sure where to start.

In fact, you’re not even sure what kind of book you should write.

Should you tell your story in chronological order, starting with the day you were born? Should you aim for a series of “snapshots” of important events in your life? Do you want to focus on one aspect of your life, like your career? Do you want to write about a challenge you’ve had to overcome?

We know. That’s a lot to think about.

First of all, don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed.  A book is a big project, and there are several great options for writing your life story. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular options, and help you decide which is best for you.

Autobiography or Memoir?

Although you’ve probably heard these two terms used interchangeably, there’s actually a difference between an autobiography and a memoir. Both are great options for telling your story, but the option you choose will depend on things like your goals for the book, the focus of your book, and the types of stories you want to share.

The Autobiography

An autobiography is a sweeping factual narrative of your life.

It’s written in chronological order from your birth to the present moment.

It is based on factual events rather than memories and emotions, and highlights the experiences and accomplishments throughout your lifetime.

All autobiographies are written in first-person, typically by the author themselves, but can also be written by a ghostwriter.

While this format is normally used by famous people who have a lot of accomplishments and experiences to document, anyone can write an autobiography.

Within the autobiography format, there are two main approaches.

  1. You can write your life story strictly based on your history and accomplishments, listing the events of your life in consecutive order so your readers can learn about you and your life experiences.
  2. You can write your life story based on a particular theme. How would you define your life in one key message? Maybe it’s the idea that love conquers all, or a theme like overcoming adversity and never giving up. By determining one main theme and weaving it through the all facts of your life, it makes for a more interesting story and creates a better flow.

In fact, many of the best autobiographies out there have a central idea that blends with the author’s entire life story throughout the book.

Pros: This is a little easier to write, due to the chronological and factual nature of the format. Unlike some of the other options available, an autobiography can be straightforward and simple; there is no need to use literary devices or embellishments.

Cons: Presenting your life story in a strictly factual, linear way can be less interesting than a memoir. The “just the facts” approach also means you’ll need to do lot of fact checking and research. Also, it can be difficult writing about yourself, especially in the first person, without it feeling stilted. You might find that you sound too humble or even too arrogant — it’s hard to strike the right balance.

Suggested Reading:

The Memoir

Unlike an autobiography, a memoir focuses on a more specific point in time based on your memories and the feelings of that time period.

It is meant to re-create the past instead of merely record it, which makes for a more interesting read.

This format is also written in the first person but is less formal. Instead of emphasizing factual events, a memoir is focused on how you remember or were affected by these events.

One of the great things about this type of format is that it gives you, the author, great flexibility. You can write about anything. This is also a great option if you find that you really enjoy writing:  because a memoir covers only one aspect, event, or time period in your life, you can write numerous memoirs about other experiences.

You can write a memoir about your childhood, your travels, your family, your career, or anything else. Think about a key theme or lesson and how it affected or shaped you then and now. You can write about a single personal event that happened; a single historical event; a series of connected events that have a common thread; or an external person or event to you and how it/they affected or shaped you, your life, and your outlook on life.

Pros: You can write  about virtually any topic, theme, experience, or event. Plus, because you’re writing about your own memories and events in your life and not about your accomplishments, it’s easier to write without sounding stilted or over-indulgent. And if you love to write, you can write numerous memoirs.

Cons: Writing a memoir takes a little more writing skill to make the story flow in an interesting way. Also, your memories could be less clear than the real events which could possibly open you up to liability issues. Other things to consider are privacy of others and the potential of alienating yourself from friends or family depending on your subject matter.

Suggested Reading:

Many Ways to Write Your Life Story

Now that you know the difference between an autobiography and a memoir, it’s also important to know that these aren’t the only two ways to write your life story. Consider these optional formats:

The Diary or Journal

Many people regularly journal or keep a diary to chronicle their life’s experiences. If you have kept a journal over the years, then you are even closer to writing your life’s story.

It doesn't matter if you have never journaled before.

You can start right now to keep track of your daily life and use that as a springboard to writing your story.

Using a theme or single topic as you journal can be a good way to get started.

Plus, if you do it in this format, you can take a mix of both the autobiographical format and the memoir format by doing it chronologically but with more emotion and not as much fact.

You can also simply intermix the memoir and diary formats together and write your memoir as if you were doing journal entries.

Pros: You may have already been keeping a diary or journal throughout your lifetime, so it makes a great format to start with as much of the writing is already done. You can also still build around a central theme or simply write your memories out in this format.

Cons: Many diaries or journals contain mundane thoughts, feelings, and daily events that aren’t interesting to write about or read. It can be harder to go through each entry and extract the interesting parts from what is probably not all that interesting. Oftentimes, keeping a diary or journal will lead to a lot of rambling and usually there isn’t a cohesive theme or event to it.

Suggested Reading:

The Biography

A biography is the telling of person’s life story—typically a famous person—by another author.

It is usually written in the third-person voice (he/she) and is also factual in content and written in chronological order from birth to the present moment, just like an autobiography.

But just because biographies are normally written by someone else, there is no rule book that says you can’t write your own biography!

All you need to do is take your story and write as if it happened to someone else. 

You can also write your memoir this way using a he/she form of writing.

Pros: Writing in the third person vs. first person can help you detach from your story so you can see it more objectively. Also, much like an autobiography, this format is based on facts and an easy to follow timeline, so you can write in a more direct way without a lot of added fluff like you would in a memoir or autobiographical novel.

Cons: Writing in the third person form can be difficult when writing about yourself and your achievements. You also must still focus on the historical events of your life and the facts which means a lot of research and fact checking is necessary.

Suggested Reading:

The Autobiographical Novel

Another way to present your life story is writing a fictionalized book based on the true or remembered events of your life.

Why write your life story as if it were made up and put it into novel form?

Certainly, there are risks when you write your life story and present a factual (autobiography) or semi-factual (memoir) account.

Liability, privacy, protecting other people who are still living, and a sensitive subject matter are all good reasons to choose this format.

Of course, writing in a fiction format can also be a good way to embellish on facts that aren’t quite so interesting. Just remember to never make up facts and portray them as truth within your life story. You can use truth within your fiction, but not the other way around.

Pros: By choosing this format, you can avoid hurting family, friends, and other people that are a part of your story. You can also protect yourself from liability issues by presenting sensitive topics and information as fiction. Plus, if you don’t fully remember all the events you’re writing about, it might be better to present them as fiction. And writing in novel form allows you to embellish on the facts that aren’t quite so interesting.

Cons: Presenting the truth as made up doesn’t give the healing or closure on certain events or topics in your life which is something many people try to do when telling their life story. Also, you want people to know it is your story and writing in fiction can cause confusion to your audience.

Suggested Reading:

Alternative Formats

Want to do something completely unique?

The great thing about writing your own story is that, well, it’s yours. And that means you can tell it any way you choose.

The only limit is your creativity.

Here are some ideas of other formats you can try:

  1. Like almost everyone, you probably have a phone in your hands at any given moment. Start taking video of important experiences and events to create a video autobiography.
  2. Create an audio or oral autobiography by voice recording yourself talking about your life, history, events, or anything you want to talk about to your intended audience.
  3. Take a series of photos of you with captions and create a digital photo autobiography that chronicles your life by placing it online, CD, or another digital format.
  4. Using photos, letters, certificates of achievement, journaling, and paper, make a one-of-a-kind keepsake scrapbook that tells your life story. It will be visual, unique, and something you and your family can treasure.
  5. Do you like to take your own photos? Create a digital memoir using photos you have taken across a life event, experience, or topic.
  6. Maybe you’re an artist and have created paintings and drawings over the years. Consider putting them all together into book form that helps tell a story of your life, similar to a memoir or across your life like an autobiography.
  7. If you are an avid social media user, you could consider taking your social media conversations, social media posts, even your text conversations and compile your life story around these things, even using a similar format. Group them together by topic or theme to make for easier reading. If using text messages or comments made by others, be sure to get permission from them before you publish in any sort of way so as not to plagiarize.
  8. Write a series of short stories and put them together into a book, like an anthology. They can be stories about similar topics or events or can be completely separate and random.
  9. Create a book of poetry with each poem detailing aspects of your life or memories.

Pros: You can present your life story in anyway you choose! You can be as creative as you want while possibly even starting a new niche in this genre – you could be a trendsetter!

Cons: You have fewer examples to follow to help you along with telling your story, especially if you are a new writer. You’ll have to be extra creative and make up your format as you go which might extend the time it takes to get your project completed.

Suggested Reading:

The Ins and Outs of a Nonfiction Ghostwriting Contract

Have you dreamed of seeing a book with your name on it?

Would having a book published under your name help get your speaking engagements or enhance your personal brand? Do you have something important to say but don’t consider yourself a writer? Do you want a record of your family history? Are you considering running for office?

If so, you may have wondered about hiring a ghostwriter.

A ghostwriter is someone who will create content for you that can be published under your name. A ghostwriter can pen anything from the shortest of blog posts to an article for a magazine or a series of books.

Hiring a ghostwriter isn’t complicated, but the question of “what goes in the contract” can be a little daunting.

Just like in any other industry, the contract will be a written record that clarifies objectives and practical matters from the beginning to make sure you get the result you want.

Your contract doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it does need to clearly set out your expectations, as well as include clauses for termination, payment, and ownership transference.

That’s because having a book ghostwritten for you is like having a home built. Just like a home, your book is a work made for hire, according to your instructions. And just like when building a home, you need to make the most critical decisions before you get your contractors started.

It would be no fun thinking you were going to get a beach bungalow for large family reunions and ending up with a cozy one-bedroom designed for secluded, romantic weekends for two.

So, What Kinds of Things Should Be Included in the Contract for a Ghostwritten Book?

Final Deliverable

The final deliverable is what you are paying for.

The final deliverable is a manuscript.

It is “the content” that can be published under your name.

A ghostwriting contract typically doesn’t include a cover design or interior design or specific formatting for an e-book or print production.

However, many ghostwriters have connections to publishing and design firms that can help with these services.

This is something that should be addressed when discussing the final deliverable.

In the contract’s deliverables section, you’ll want to include a rough description of the book.

The description can include a working title and the genre of your book, for example, “The History of Arctic Oil Exploration.  A collection of nonfiction essays, each essay being the biography of a person of historical significance.”

Your deliverable should also indicate your book’s length.

How long should your book be? Well, it depends on what you want it to accomplish.

Is it a technical manual or textbook of sorts, to establish your authority?

Is it a romance novel as a gift for your beloved?

Is it a self-help book with a number of pages for readers to fill in answers to exercises?

Is it a memoir of a short period in your life or a longer one?

Once the purpose of the book is established, your ghostwriter can advise you on the appropriate length.

In the contract, the length of a book should be stated as a range of words, along with a rough page estimate for clarity.

For example, 20,000 to 30,000 words is about 100 pages.

Finally, whether or not you choose to explicitly state them in the contract, it’s critical to set realistic goals for your manuscript.

As Dr. Angela Lauria, CEO of The Author Incubator says:

I spent 17 years as a ghostwriter and every single book I was hired to write got done. But what I noticed was that very few were happy with the result the book got them. They told me they wanted a book and I believed them. Writing a book has always been easy for me. But I wanted my clients to be happier. That's when I realized the book was actually supposed to be a path to get them something else. They didn't just want a book on the shelf they wanted the book to create something for them.-Dr. Angela Lauria

So, your first task is to get crystal clear on what you want your book to do for you.

Dan Gerstein, founder of Gotham Ghostwriters notes two common goals:

  1. Your book could position you as a thought leader in business, tech, advocacy, or politics. In this case, your book will serve as the foundation for your authority and help you to secure speaking engagements or sell your services. In some cases the book can be leveraged into workshops and seminars and webinars.
  2. Your book tells a story – a cautionary tale or an inspirational tale to help others. This would include memoir and self-help books.

Remember that book sales rarely make an author wealthy.

You shouldn’t expect to recoup the money you spend on a ghostwriter via book sales.

So, if increased income is the goal, it’s up to you to set goals that will allow you to leverage your book for speaking engagements, or c-suite job offers, or the like.


This part of the contract gets into the nitty gritty.

You may think that the services provided by a ghostwriter would be fairly straightforward.

They write … right?

Yes, but they may (or may not) also proofread, edit, organize, research, and assist with publication of your manuscript.

Expecting your book to be proofread is standard, as are a couple of rounds of edits.

It is also standard that a ghostwriter will fact check easily verifiable claims throughout the book, to ensure accuracy.

A professional ghostwriter with editorial strategy experience will also be able to collaborate with you on determining the “hook for the book” and creating a book outline.

Expect to invest a minimum of 10 to 20 hours of talking time at the beginning of the process to help your ghostwriter to understand your voice and create a structure for your book.

Although proofreading, editing, and organizing may be considered standard, you should still outline these services in the contract to minimize any areas where your expectations could be misaligned.

Then you get to research.

Research is one of the most unpredictable elements of a project so clearly outlined responsibilities on your part and the part of your ghostwriter is crucial.

The subject of the research and the expected amount (in hours) should be specified.

For example, “no more than 30 hours of research total” or “20 hours of research on great white sharks by November 30.”

This way, everyone knows when the work is going beyond the scope of what has been agreed and you can adjust timelines and payments accordingly.

Do interviews need to be done?

If so, you should specify with whom and by when.

If that’s not possible, then you can specify how many hours your ghostwriter will spend tracking down industry experts or celebrities.

In almost all cases, your ghostwriter will also need to interview you.

You should set a number of hours of expected interview time, as well as outline travel expectations and expenses.

Will the ghostwriter need to travel to your home or office?

If so, the number of expected in-person visits should be included, as well as listing of any reimbursable expenses, such as gas or airfare.

Ideally, your ghostwriter should be able to advise you as to how your book might best fit into the market and suggest publishing options.

If you have decided that you will target a traditional publisher rather than self-publish, you may want help with pitching the book to them, and that service can be included in the contract, too.

Your ghostwriter or ghostwriting firm may have helped pitch your book to publishers, but a guarantee that the book will be published will almost never be included in a contract.

Now, one person may not be able to fulfill all these services, so you may want to engage a ghostwriting firm.

Firms can often also assist you with ancillary services such as design, a book website, ebook publishing, and book launch press releases.

Choosing a firm can also help you feel at ease that even sickness or death won’t get in the way of your book getting finished!


The ownership of the work transfers to you completely and the contract should be crystal clear on that point.

You should have full authority to claim you are the author of the book and may take full credit for it.

Since you are the owner, you will have all rights to the work, including film and audio rights, domestic and foreign.

You should see something like the following in the contract, “All rights, title and interest in the following shall be the sole and exclusive property of Author, including:

(i) All materials, including but not limited to Word files, PowerPoint presentations, tapes, completed manuscript, the completed project and/or other product resulting from this effort;

(ii) The content of the subject matter of the book provided by the author;

(iii) Any ideas, works, documentation or notes conceived related to the book;

(iv) All writings by ghostwriter related to or associated with the book; and

(v) All ghostwriter’s work product related to the Book.”

You may also see something that specifies that you won’t be provided full ownership until the amount agreed upon has been paid to the writer in full.


You can decide that the ghostwriter’s authorship can never be made public or you can choose to put the writer’s name as a byline on the finished product along with yours.

This fact should be specified in the contract, for example, “the ghostwriter will keep their role in the project confidential. The author is the owner of the manuscript and holds the right to choose the manner and time of disclosure. Permission for the ghostwriter to discuss the project must be given in writing by the author.”

Per your discretion, the ghostwriter could be allowed to provide excerpts of the work they did to potential clients.

Before they do so, that potential client should sign a non-disclosure agreement (referred to as an NDA).

The contract should also specify that you should be told when an excerpt of the work is used in a portfolio.

This protects your position as author of the work.


There are certain legal protections that you will want to be sure are included in the contract.

In fact, these protections will go both ways.

It’s called “mirror indemnification.”

These clauses in the contract will say that the writer (your ghostwriter or firm) is responsible for anything illegal that they do and you (the author) bear no responsibility for it. And vice versa.

You should be indemnified against any claims and expenses arising from infringement of any copyright or violation of any property rights that may appear in the work.

Likewise, your ghostwriter should be protected from anything scandalous or libelous that you choose to include under your name.

Ghostwriters should warrant that their work “does not infringe any copyright, violate any property rights.”

You should “defend, indemnify, and hold harmless” the other against “claims, suits, costs, damages, and expenses that may be sustained by reason of any scandalous, libelous, or unlawful matter contained or alleged to be contained in the work.”

If you aren’t sure if your content will be considered libelous, consult with an attorney.

Remember that your ghostwriter is not an attorney.

Dan Gerstein notes that this kind of protection was crucial in one particular project that was about a very high-profile controversy where the author was involved in legal issue with the federal government.

Work Schedule

Do you like face-to-face meetings during which you can bounce ideas around with everyone else and leave with a plan of action?

Perhaps your schedule doesn’t allow for that style of working or you find it preferable to receive work from your ghostwriter to look over, take time to consider, and deliver written feedback.

You can discuss with your ghostwriter how you would like the working relationship to be set up and your ghostwriter can sketch out a work plan.

You might include the milestones (with target deadlines expressed as a date range) you agree upon with your ghostwriter.

If you are sure of your desired end date, you can then think backwards with your ghostwriter to agree upon the due dates of the various elements leading up to the finished product (like the first outline and the first draft) to make sure your book is completed by the time you need it.

You could include this work plan in the contract, or it may be something that is less formal but still provides everyone with a comforting structure.

Final Deadline

The expected end date could be a crucial piece of information.

Do you have an event at which you’d like to distribute your finished book, for example? The contract can lay out what happens if things get delayed due to the ghostwriter’s actions.

You might include a clause that sets out a specific amount to be paid to you for each day that expires after the prescribed final deadline.

But remember, the ghostwriter is also entitled to expect you to meet your deadlines.

If you are somehow responsible for preventing the work from being completed, for example by withholding required information or not showing up to a meeting, then your ghostwriter is not responsible for the delay and is still entitled to be paid for the work done up to that point.


When negotiating a price, bear in mind that the final fee should take into account all time spent on the project (for example, primary research and interviews), and not just on writing alone.

The contract should indicate the amount the ghostwriter will be paid for their work, when they will receive payment, and how they will be paid.

You can arrange payment in a number of ways.

It’s possible that part of the payment could be paid in the form of royalties (in exchange for a lower upfront fee, the author may share some of the advance and royalties with the ghostwriter).

But that is very rare.

Many ghostwriters will ask for 50% of their fee up front and take the remainder upon completion.

But it is also common for the fee to be paid in installments at the agreed upon milestones, or monthly based on the amount of time spent by the ghostwriter.


No matter how carefully one prepares, life still happens, and you may find yourself at odds with your writer.

So, the contract should lay out how disagreements and disputes will be handled.

It’s usually sufficient to include a paragraph stating that any dispute, if it cannot be solved by good faith negotiation between the parties shall be submitted to binding and confidential arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in a particular state, as follows:

“Any dispute arising from this Agreement shall be submitted to binding and confidential arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in the state of [state] and county of [county], and any award issued in such arbitration may be entered and enforced as a judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction. The prevailing party in any such arbitration shall be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs.”

If your ghostwriter happens to be working in a different state from where you live or do business, you have a choice of states and you may want to consult an attorney to get advice on which state to go with.

Escape Clauses

A complete ghostwriting contract should include an escape clause that works both ways.

Sometimes, it is best to terminate a project when things aren’t working out and cannot seem to be remedied or re-scoped.

An escape clause should include a predetermined “kill fee” paid to the ghostwriter.

This means that the ghostwriter be fairly compensated for services rendered, even if you are unsatisfied with the results.

The Bottom Line

Your ghostwriting contract sets basic parameters, so you know what to expect for your money.

At the same time, writing a book is a creative process.

It is a collaborative process, so don’t hesitate to be honest about what you want the book to do for you and to nurture your relationship with your ghostwriter.

Disclaimer: (Nothing that appears in this article is intended to serve as legal advice; for that you should contact a duly accredited attorney.)

Celebrating Ten Years with Kathy – A Woman of Many Hats

Ten years ago, Kathy agreed to help her best friend with some paperwork. She had no idea that the bag full of accounting receipts she tackled that day would turn into a full-time job that includes things like project management, accounting, and client interaction on a typical day. On top of all that, Kathy works on a range of projects, from Wikipedia to genealogy to web design. And one of her favorite “duties” is to pep up her co-workers when they have a bad day.

Management. Bookkeeping. Psychotheraphy. Kathy does it all.

To celebrate a decade with Kathy, we sat down with her to chat about some of her favorite memories and projects during her time with The Writers for Hire. She even gave us some juicy details about some of the company’s most unusual projects. Here’s what she said:

How did you get involved with The Writers for Hire?

I’ve known Wintress since I was 22 and we played dorky board games. She started this writing business and needed someone to help her part-time. I went to her house and she gave me a stack of accounting receipts and said, “Fix this.”

I helped her for a bit, then left and worked at the Grand Canyon. She hired me again when I came back. By then, her business had bloomed from just about 20 clients to over 100. I’ve been here ever since.

What is the best part of your job?

I get to work with my best friend every day, so that’s kind of cool. The hours are family-friendly, and I can be home when my kids get off school. Also, I learn new things all the time. No day is ever the same. For example, right now I’m formatting a book for a family history project, plus choosing company software, accounting, and all sorts of stuff.

I really love working with a lot of the clients, especially some of the book clients have had such fascinating lives. 

What’s the most unusual project you’ve done?

So many!  I’ve gotten to meet so many interesting clients, even though I don’t always get to work on the projects directly: a PBS kids show, 19th century journal transcription, the history of a Native American tribe, autobiographies for some really amazing people.  We also did some comic books, which I didn’t work on directly, but I thought were interesting.

When I first started working for The Writers for Hire, Wintress left me with the phone in the office one day. The very first person I talked to was a woman who wanted our help marketing her foaming bath salts so that she could sell them to high-end hotels. She claimed that she had developed this software program that would allow the hotel to pick the right bath salts for the customer. When we asked her how it worked, she said the program “read your aura.” She hired us for the website, but it didn’t really work out.  We have learned since then – you don’t have to take every client.  It has to be a good match.

What is your favorite type of project or work?

I like brainstorming and coming up with grand ideas for helping the company be more efficient.  On the client side, the genealogy and family history projects are really my favorite.  The team gets to dig up some really fascinating stuff – old cemetery records, newspaper articles, even church records from Europe.  I live vicariously through the writers on some of those projects, and get almost as excited as they do when they find a piece of hard-to-find history.

Even though Wikipedia projects are frustrating, sometimes I find a way to get what the client wants and stay within the Wiki regulations, and that’s exciting.

What is the hardest project you’ve worked on?

Anything Wikipedia related is difficult just because it can be so frustrating to explain Wikipedia’s many rules and regulations. People don’t like their rules and sometimes get angry with me, but they aren’t my rules.

You’re often the first point of contact for a potential client. What is the strangest inquiry you’ve gotten for a project we didn’t end up doing?

We get lots of inquiries from people who want us to write rap music and highly personal projects.  Needless to say, we don’t take these types of projects!

Even so, here are a few that stick out:

We had a person contact us because he’d just found out that his wife was cheating on him and he wanted to write a “strongly worded letter” to his wife’s lover to get him to go away so he could get his wife back.

A long time ago, a guy called Wintress and wanted help putting together a book about his struggle with the government. At first it sounded like he’d been sued by the government and he talked about having all this documentation, so we were intrigued. Then he sent us this whole envelope of notes about how his neighbors – and aliens! – were spying on him, and had drawings of the spy devices. That was wild.  

How has the company changed since you’ve started here?

When I first started working here, the office was just a spare bedroom in Wintress’s house. I would go to her house a couple days a week to help her file paperwork. We learned about accounting and bookkeeping along the way. We have really grown up. Plus, there are a lot more people that work for us now. When I started working with Wintress, she just had two part-time writers who helped with her overflow work, and now we have a network of over 20.

Here’s Your Chance to Re-Write the Classics!

If you have been considering re-writing a classic book or putting your own spin on an old movie, then 2019 is your year!

For the first time in 20 years, a whole year’s worth of copyrighted works has been released into the U.S. public domain. Under the terms of the Sonny Bono Copyright Act, these works, which were first published in 1923, are now copyright free.

So, what does that mean?

According to this interesting article from lifehacker.com, it means that you can not only re-publish these old works, but also make newly copyrighted works based on the originals.  

So, if you have been dying to change the ending to Bambi, or make some updates to Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, your time has finally come!

How to Find the Right Tone and Voice in Writing

  1. As writers, we are always trying to make sure that our work reflects our clients’ unique and authentic personalities.

    It’s important that the things we write do not sound “cookie cutter,” or too generic. At the same time, though, we want to make sure that our writing is relatable and entertaining.

    But, how do we go about finding the right tone and voice for our writing? And how can we be sure that our tone and voice portray our clients in the way that they wish to be seen?

    This great blog from Kuno Creative is a fantastic resource for finding the right tone and voice for your writing. It gives some great tips on how to decide how you want to be portrayed, and how to successfully achieve the appropriate tone and voice to fit your unique self.

Words of Wisdom from 10 Great Writers

Some people are naturally gifted writers. They don’t have a fancy education. They haven’t spent endless hours and money taking classes to learn how to write well. They are just good. They simply have an incredible talent for the written word that the rest of us can only sit back and envy.

But have you ever wondered what those amazing writers would say if you had the chance to sit down with them and ask for advice?

Well, this great article from Bookstr does just that. They have taken small pieces of writing advice from 10 highly successful authors and compiled them for our reading pleasure.

We hope you enjoy these as much as we have!

The 17th-Century Preposition Rule

If you are a stickler for correct grammar (or happen to know someone who is), then you have probably heard the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition.

But where did this rule come from? (Or, perhaps we should be asking, “from where did this rule come?”) And is it really a rule? Or is that just a myth?

According to this article from Atlas Obscura, it all goes back to 17th Century England, when a writer named John Dryden criticized playwright, Ben Johnson, for ending a sentence with a preposition. Dryden later advised a young writer that “In the correctness of the English I remember I hinted somewhat of concludding [sic] your sentences with prepositions or conjunctions sometimes, which is not elegant, as in your first sentence.”

And, while he is only documented to have stated this on those two occasions, for some reason his criticism stuck and turned into a well-known rule of “proper English.”

So, next time your grammar expert friend reminds you to not end your sentence with a preposition, you will know who to thank (or blame).

The Week in Good News

I think we can all agree that it is important to stay up-to-date on what is going on in the world.

From television newscasts, radio programs, and newspapers to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; there are endless ways to get real-time updates on local and international news.

All of those news outlets tend to have one thing in common, though…

Bad News.

It’s not that there are only bad things going on in the world. It’s just that those are the things that generally get the most attention. And reading that bad news every day can be overwhelming and depressing.

Luckily, we have discovered the cure!

The New York Times has created a wonderful newsletter called The Week in Good News. Subscribe to this free newsletter, and every Saturday you will receive an email full of wonderful “Good News” stories that have happened throughout the week.

Who could ask for a better way to start your weekend, and renew your faith in humanity?

Publishing Ins and Outs: Proceed with Contract Caution

Long hours and late nights of pounding the keys have finally resulted in something monumental–a book! You’ve finished your manuscript and even scored interest from a publisher or two.

What’s not to like? You could get used to this author life.

But wait! Before you start counting those dollar signs in your bank account without even a page in print, you want to think carefully about signing a publishing contract.

When those papers are shoved in front of you, adrenaline runs high, and business acumen tends to flow out like a tipped over bottle of ink that will blot your manuscript if you’re not careful. In an internet age, publishers have to be shrewd to stay afloat–and you should match their wit.

Deducing Right Angles

Know your rights. Specifically, publishing involves an all-out rights grab. Make sure that you’re well informed to give you traction in this game of tug of war. Rights are divided into these general categories:

  • Media- hardcover or softcover book, ebooks
  • Length of time- term for rights is typically for the life of the copyright (usually the life of the author plus 70 years)
  • Territory- US and Canada, foreign
  • Subsidiary- dramatic, audio, merchandise, reprint

Expect to sell basic rights for print copies of your book, including hardcover, softcover, and ebooks. Restrict these to North America or the English-speaking world (sometimes this excludes Australia). Retain all other rights or negotiate for them.

Subsidiary rights cover every form of the book that is not the physical book itself. These include dramatic rights–like movie and tv, audio, and even merchandising rights (you can dream, right?) Reserve as many of these rights as possible so that you can sell them to an experienced publisher for each right.

Check out your publisher’s expertise with international markets before granting them international rights. If they are not experienced in selling rights to other countries, reserve those rights so that you can contract with a different publisher for foreign rights. If you want to give your publisher a chance with international rights, sell those rights for a shorter period of time than North American rights.

Describing the Work

Even the most obvious details of a publishing contract should be scrutinized closely. Tweet this

Make sure the work described in the publishing agreement accurately describes your book. You don’t want to be under contract for material you have no intention of writing.

Beware of Warranties

In the warranty section, publishers want you to masquerade as a mind reader, asking you to promise that the book doesn’t invade privacy, violate anyone else’s copyright, or extend libel. If a random sentence in the book turns out to violate one of these promises, your contract is breached. While you would never want to intentionally violate someone’s copyright or break laws of privacy or libel (remember, truth is a defense to libel), sometimes those things are hard to define. Protect yourself in the warranty section by requesting language that narrows liability–such as the phrase, “to the best of the author’s knowledge.” Exclude any changes made by the publisher from your warranty.

Indemnity is often neatly tucked into a warranty clause. Take out your favorite virtual highlighter and go to town on this next point: authors should NEVER indemnify publishers. By doing so, you are putting your entire net worth on the line for a professional entity that likely has far greater legal resources and capital than you. A publisher can handle potential liability—don’t martyr your savings for them.

Ask to be included on their media insurance policy, or at the very least to cap your liability if any suit should arise. You’ll also want to limit royalty withholding if there’s a threat of litigation–publishers like to hogtie your royalties if they even sniff conflict in the air. Specify that settlement requires the author’s reasonable consent.

Delivery And Acceptance

You know that saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” Yeah, you don’t want your publishing contract to work like that. Specify that the acceptance clause for your book doesn’t give the publisher the right to reject your book without good reason. Whether they think it’s a beautiful masterpiece or a stinky piece of rubbish shouldn’t matter once they’ve signed on the dotted line. They’re obligated to pay up unless they can contrive a good reason not to. Don’t give them a way out of ponying up your advance.

As you might guess, an editor’s job is to edit. But sometimes they don’t want to edit. Sometimes they think a manuscript presents too much work and they’d rather toss it. Make sure that’s not an option on your manuscript. Include a phrase in your contract that says the author has the right to revise based on the editor’s critique. That way if the editor really despises your work, you get a chance to make things right rather than being tossed out like a newspaper ad.

Raking in Royalties

Ah, payday.

The dream publishing contract comes with a fat advance and hefty royalties to boot. It usually doesn’t play out like that, especially for a first-time author. First-time authors should expect an advance from $2,000-20,000 and 5-7% royalties on softcover books. Hardcover books usually bring royalties from 10-15%. Ebook royalties are around 25%, so even though ebooks retail for lower than print books, an author may stand to make significantly higher royalties.

Note that you won’t receive royalty payments until you’ve paid back your advance through royalties. On the other hand, if your book doesn’t sell a single copy, your advance should be yours to keep—no refunds required. Make sure your contract specifies that you are not responsible for repaying your advance should your book fall short of projected sales.

Will the publisher pay you on gross or net sales? This can make a sizeable difference. If your publisher subtracts costs like printing, distribution, and retail discounts, the fancy number crunching can slash your profits in half. Royalties should be calculated as a percentage of the Suggested Retail List Price (SRLP) of the book, not based on a discounted retail price.

Remember that your agent will likely skim 10-15% off your royalties as payment for securing the book deal in the first place. After a book earns out (meets its advance), you’ll receive royalty checks regularly as long as the book is in print and selling.

Option and Non-Compete Clauses

As gratifying as it might be for the publisher to option rights to your next book, this is one gift that you’d rather not open. You don’t want to be tied to this publisher for your next book deal—whether it’s a love or hate relationship, you want to be free to shop around. If the publisher is offering you a multi-book advance, that’s another story. Money upfront is a good thing. Restrictive option clauses that limit your future book earnings are not.

Non-compete clauses can be even worse for your future writing. They can derail your entire literary career. This clause restricts your ability to sell books on a similar topic that would compete with your prior published work. It’s broad enough to be construed in really damaging ways. If your publisher wants a non-compete clause, hire a literary attorney to fine tune your contract and protect your interests.

Advice is intended for general interest only. It does not substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. Hire an experienced agent or a literary attorney to represent you in publishing negotiations.