Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing Non-Fiction and Memoir: What’s Your Appeal?

by Jennifer McLean Marsh

In November, The Writer’s Center-Leesburg hosted Hilary Black, Senior Editor at National Geographic Books, for a fabulous session on writing and publishing engaging non-fiction and memoir at Leesburg First Friday. Black, who edited The Secret Currency of Love (William Morrow), showered audience members with advice on tailoring their writing for books, magazines, and online publications. Her experience in each of these formats evoked some pessimistic observation observations about today’s sales-based publishing culture, in which the number of Facebook followers and Internet clicks can outweigh fact-checking and good writing. But she also offered this paradoxically hopeful advice: Since even great writing might not sell well, it may be easier for an editor—an author’s in-house advocate—to make the case for publishing a first-time writer who has no sales record. Black also shared topics that interest her as a National Geographic editor and placed a special emphasis on women’s personal essay.

While Black gave specific guidance for pitching proposals based on the publication format, she flagged some universal recommendations as well. Among these: Consider your particular audience. Write about subjects you care about, theses you want to prove, emotions you want to work out. Be ready to “go there”—that is, don’t skirt hard topics in memoir or fail to exhaust every source for reported works. Write colorfully and provocatively; be “universal in a non-traditional way.” And practice!

Looking Ahead to 2015

Along the lines of practicing, next year’s theme for Leesburg First Friday events is ACTION. Our speakers will give attendees writing challenges, and the first 30 people who register in the new year will receive a notebook to bring to each program. We will be on hiatus in December and January. Happy holidays, and we look forward to some great revving up exercises in February!

The Writer’s Center-Leesburg Committee offers events the first Friday of every month except for December, January, July, and August. Events are held at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176.

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