There’s a lot written about starting a memoir, how to do it, how to organize it, if you have enough reflection and takeaways. And then there’s how to structure your memoir, too. But what happens after you’ve completed your revisions and edits, when you believe you have a finished work ready for the eyes of prospective publishers? Not so fast. Did you get a critique or an analysis of your manuscript? How about a developmental edit? These steps are crucial for you and your memoir. The following are the steps I took to publication of Under the Birch Tree with hindsight that suggests a different order and fewer steps.
A professional critique. When you think you’ve done all you possibly can with your memoir, it may be time for a professional critique. I received my first editorial analysis in 2005, five years after I started writing my memoir. The twenty-page critique consisted of a cover page, a thorough discussion of strengths and weaknesses, editorial needs, developmental editing, line and copy editing and notes on texts. A good professional assessment should tell you where your manuscript stands and where it needs to go and how it needs to get there.
The follow-up. After reworking my manuscript according to the critique’s guidance and suggestions, I resubmitted. With far fewer pages this time, I was happy to see in the conclusion of the critique, “. . . you’re well on your way to have a fine memoir, and this one is worth the work . . .” A follow-up can tell you if you understood the direction and suggestions and reworked your manuscript to a greater improvement. At this stage, it was all about the improvements and I saw mine with the concluding remark.
Simultaneous submission. I had been working with a memoir editor since I had started writing personal essays many years ago. I sent her my manuscript because she was familiar with my writing, style, and voice. Working with the help of two manuscript critiques complemented one another; one focused on my themes and weaving threads, the other, more a technical assessment of the structure. Simultaneous submissions for critiques can offer perspectives on your work.
*Developmental edit. Though I continued seeking more critiques, I suggest a developmental edit at this point. This editor asks you the appropriate questions to elicit focused answers from you. It’s like putting your manuscript under a microscope and focusing on the elements you only need to see in order to form the big picture. Think of “cut to the chase.”
. . . and more critiques. I followed up with my memoir editor two more times after revising my manuscript based on her critiques. Getting numerous critiques of your work may not be necessary but having a developmental editor review your work is important.
*A nonprofessional. Ask typical readers for their feedback earlier than I did. I asked for feedback from a friend (who has her MFA) to read my manuscript. She saw my story as one of reinvention. I panicked; it wasn’t. But then I realized it is a story of reinvention. I reinvented myself in order to find my place to be, my home, thematic in my book. Having beta readers, friends, anyone who is a member of your book’s audience can give you insight into what a typical reader sees in your story, what draws them to read your book . . . or doesn’t.
Final edits. At this point, my manuscript was ready to be tracked with She Writes Press. However, more edits were required—copy, line and proofing— before publication. You’ll want to make sure your manuscript has gone through these edits before presenting your work for a publisher’s consumption.
I may have taken the long and winding road to complete my memoir but the years and experience helped me to stay connected with my book, to learn more about it and the process. Every writer has to do what is best for him or her. But a peek into my memoir’s steps to publication may help you to determine the best course for you and your book.