Seeing an author’s unique personality shine through in their book is one of the real pleasures I experience working with self-publishing authors … and Sandy McKean was no exception. Sandy’s travel memoir, Something Happened on the Way to … captures her light-hearted attitude and her infectious passion for life.
In her travel memoir, Sandy takes her readers on a trip down memory lane – sharing fond memories and hilarious anecdotes from her childhood and teenage years, as well as her more recent past. Combining humour with unflinching honesty, Sandy’s anecdotes of her many trips abroad allow her to connect with her audience on an emotional level, while at the same time creating a sense of drama and adventure.
Sandy’s unique approach to promotion has seen her memoir ‘travel the world’ in the most delightful way, with fans snapping shots of it in countries far and wide. It has been gratifying to see Sandy’s engaging writing style inspire others to reflect on their own journeys, with her humorous perspective to light the way.
What Is a Travel Memoir?
Travel writing can take many different forms, including:
- holiday diaries
- blog posts.
Each genre has its own unique style and associated reader expectations, and travel memoirs are no exception. Rather than focusing on a particular destination, successful travel memoirs balance the writer’s personal backstory and description of their travels in a way that takes readers on both an emotional and physical journey to unknown places.
The primary goal of a travel memoir is not necessarily to inspire readers to travel to the places depicted in the book. Instead, a true travel memoir reveals how the writer has grown or been changed by their experiences abroad and encourages readers to reflect on their own life journey.
How to Write a Travel Memoir
Writing a travel memoir is no easy feat, as Sandy McKean would no doubt attest to. However, incorporating the six key aspects outlined below should help you on your own writing journey:
- Decide on a central theme
- Write what comes naturally to you
- Define your author voice
- Wait until your journey is over before writing
- Weave your story like a true storyteller
- Be authentic.
Decide on a Central Theme
Deciding on a central theme will help to create cohesiveness and purpose to your travel memoir. It could be something as straightforward as coping with loss or self discovery, but your story should serve to highlight this throughout the book. Eat, Pray, Love is a well-known and highly successful travel memoir because it effectively highlights the restlessness of women who are questioning their current life choices.
Write What Comes Naturally to You
Unlike fiction, a travel memoir shouldn’t be carefully planned out, or the overall message or conclusion forced. The true essence of the story is sharing the raw and real emotion and the act of reflection and realisation of what the journey ultimately meant. This can’t be artificially manufactured if a travel memoir is to be truly engaging for readers.
Define Your Author Voice
The voice you choose determines how your reader will experience your journey, so it’s important to choose something that’s fitting. You might choose a friendly, conversational, formal or humorous voice or you might choose to be aloof to add to the effect of your story. Once you’ve chosen the right voice, be sure it remains consistent throughout the book.
Wait Until Your Journey Is Over Before Writing
Introspection is the key to a good travel memoir. Yet, you can only properly reflect on your journey after it’s over. Life-changing experiences are also usually spontaneous and unplanned, so planning to write a travel memoir about an upcoming trip could result in a memoir that appears to be forced. Reflecting on a recent trip and your experiences before you begin writing can help you find the deeper meaning that’s key to a well-written travel memoir.
Weave Your Story like a True Storyteller
A travel memoir needs to read like fiction to keep a reader engaged and let them access the deeper essence of your story. This means you need to incorporate the essential elements of storytelling, such as:
- a clearly defined setting
- well-developed characters, including a protagonist and antagonist
- a strong plot
- conflict that creates tension and builds suspense
- a well-considered theme
- a narrative arc.
These elements help you engage your audience and evoke an emotional response, which is the ultimate purpose of every good story.
When writing your travel memoir, it is important to be honest about your experiences. Readers don’t expect you to be perfect; they actually much prefer to read about someone human, who makes mistakes. Rather than trying to make yourself look good, tell your audience about your regrets, embarrassing moments, the way you messed things up, the things you didn’t like or the silly things you said. Keep it real and allow readers access to the depths of your soul so they will be able to experience your inner transformation for themselves.
As an editor and book designer who works mainly with self-publishing authors, I am privileged to regularly receive a wide variety of manuscripts, all of which are representative of the writer’s passion and belief that their knowledge and expertise should be shared with others. This is especially true of PhD graduate Paul McNamara, who dreamed of igniting a passion for mathematics in secondary school students by communicating his unique slant on this often-dreaded subject. Paul is on a mission to ensure that young people don’t end up like me – someone who has always been ‘maths phobic’ and has shied away from this important subject field! Hence, it was such a pleasure to help him achieve his vision when he self-published his mathematics textbook, The Derivation of Mathematics: Mastering Secondary School Mathematics, earlier this year.
As a school student, Paul had a keen interest in mathematics but felt that it would have been much easier for him to learn the subject if it had been approached in the right way. He was fortunate to have a father who was a mathematics teacher and had a deep passion for his chosen profession. With his father’s help, Paul conquered the basics of Newtonian physics and special relativity by Year 10. His love of mathematics was established at this point and has been an ongoing theme throughout his life.
After completing his PhD in physics and working in the computing industry for many years, Paul was ready for a complete change of direction – embarking on his journey to help school students learn mathematics with ease. In tandem with writing the textbook, Paul has developed the Mastering Secondary School Mathematics program which is designed to complement existing mathematics courses by creating clarity and interest in this subject in students.
Breaking into the Field of Educational Publishing
As with any book, newly published textbooks have to compete with existing books that may have been used in universities and schools for many years. Before embarking on the potentially long and arduous journey of writing a textbook, it is important to consider how your publication will fare in such a competitive industry.
The motivation for writing a textbook may be financially-based, to gain industry recognition or the desire to share a lifetime of accumulated knowledge with the younger generation. However, motivation and knowledge alone are not enough to ensure your book is well-received within your industry. First and foremost, it is crucial to evaluate the competition and ensure that your new textbook will have a point of difference that is sufficient enough to persuade university professors and schoolteachers to switch to a new resource. If the current textbook is long and tedious, it might be time for a shortened, more to-the-point textbook on the same topic, or for a series of textbooks where the information is delivered in more manageable chunks. If the current version is outdated, then an updated version can be very timely. The most effective option is to write a textbook on a topic that has not been previously well covered.
Points to Consider When Writing a Textbook
The four important things you need to consider when writing a textbook are outlined below.
First, you need to decide on the topic you are going to cover. As mentioned earlier, the best topics are those that fill a gap in the market. If this isn’t possible, it is important to ensure that your book has a real point of difference.
Second, you need to decide on the age or reading level of students who you are targeting your book towards. It is much easier to write for a target audience that you have experience dealing with; however, if you do decide to branch out to a new age group or study level, you could consider running some classes or connecting with your chosen group to increase your knowledge and experience.
Third, make sure you keep your audience firmly in mind and focus your writing accordingly. Teachers with specialised knowledge are perfect candidates for textbook writing because they already know how to talk to students. Academics without teaching experience can often forget that the audience for their textbook is a group of students. Instead, they write in the same way they would for journal articles, which are directed to peers with assumed knowledge on the topic. To help avoid this pitfall, a friend or family member with the right level of knowledge on the topic can be a valuable resource for double-checking the appropriateness of the language used in the textbook.
Fourth, testing the textbook before publication is a vital step. It is essential to ensure that your textbook is readable, understandable and useful before committing to the publication process. The most valuable test is using the textbook in a real-life scenario, such as in a tutoring group, or school or university classroom.
The Rewards of Publication
A textbook can take many years of hard work from conception to publication, but it can be an extremely rewarding process. As well as offering the potential for significant financial rewards, educational publishing can help to propel an academic’s career and bring personal satisfaction by serving as a summary of a lifetime of hard work. For Paul McNamara, the reward of self-publishing his textbook will be to enjoy witnessing his book and tutoring program opening up the undeniably beautiful and important world of mathematics to secondary school students. In this way he can help them to discover a passion for a field which has so many applications in the modern world.
Over the course of this year, I had the pleasure of working with author and editor Bronwyn Blake, helping her to achieve her long-held vision for the Gulf Women Project. After spending time with a group of women living in remote regions of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Bronwyn became passionate about curating their interesting stories for future generations. As a result, she suggested that it would be a wonderful idea for them to publish their life stories in the form of an anthology. At first, the women thought she was joking; however Bronwyn gently pointed out the importance of sharing their stories with a wider audience. Bronwyn volunteered her time for the project, spending many hours teaching first-time authors how to write and then editing their stories in order to turn them into an anthology. The book, Gulf Women: Voices from Remote North West Queensland was a mammoth effort and one that will see all book sale profits returned to the Gulf community.
Gulf Women was officially launched in July 2017 in Burketown, Queensland. The book launch was held in the Nijinda Durlga Shire Hall and among the hundreds of supporters were thirty of the fifty-five women who contributed their powerful stories to the project. Drought, bushfires and floods are regular occurrences in their remote way of life, as are pet crocodiles and snakebites, and these women travelled far and wide (some meeting in-person for the first time at the launch) to share in the joy of seeing their amazing stories published.
Gulf Women is a collection of short stories from a group of rural women writers. However, anthologies can also be collections of poems, plays, songs or even a combination of these different formats. Most commonly, an editor compiles the collection and publishes the content in the form of a book, thereby providing emerging authors with the opportunity to have their work published without having to write an entire book themselves.
Anthologies: A General Overview
Anthologies always have an overarching theme – like the women of the Gulf region. However, the real art of editing an anthology is finding how the many additional themes within each piece of work link together to create smooth transitions and a cohesive body of work, rather than simply being a random collection of many individual stories.
A lot of work goes into editing an anthology, but it can be a rewarding experience. A large proportion of the work associated with producing an anthology revolves around forming relationships with published authors and potential writers. This in turn creates a small community of people who feel connected to the editor and his or her vision for the anthology, and who also share a feeling of accomplishment when they hold the printed book in their hands.
A Collaborative Experience
The collaborative process of sharing life experiences lends power to a good anthology and offers something unique to its readers. In the case of the Gulf women, sharing their stories of their lives and their ability to exist within a harsh environment gives their anthology a strong collective voice. However, it’s not only the writers of an anthology who share something unique. Reading an anthology is a different experience to reading other genres, such as a novel. In reality, the editor of an anthology is similar to a reader of other genres – selecting those stories they like and discarding those that they don’t will complement the collection. The key difference is that they publish their preferences for other people to read.
Some readers are not fond of anthologies because they consider them to be essentially recycled content; however, others like this ‘second-hand glimpse’ which forms the essence of an anthology. The editor of an anthology must allocate sufficient time to decide what material to include and the best way to structure the book. It is important that the published book not only contains stories they are personally interested in, but also stories that other people will enjoy reading.
Explore Other Worlds
Anthologies enable readers to explore a world they may not have experienced before by providing insight through the eyes of multiple writers. This may be a place, a culture or simply an experience that many have shared. Instead of offering one viewpoint or one theme, anthologies offer variety to the reader, which often keeps them engaged with the book. Some readers collect anthologies that they consider to be the best pieces from a given era or critical theory. These can be a time-saving resource for students because it saves them from having to scour countless books to find what they need.
A well-researched and well-produced anthology has the capacity to amaze, enlighten or delight its audience and the ability to completely redefine the future of both reading and writing. With a good editor and some remarkable stories, anthologies can be a powerful communication medium for a group of like-minded writers.
For me, the advent of a New Year is always an opportunity to pause and to review the events of the past year. It’s a time to celebrate your successes and to consider ways to improve the not-so-successful outcomes. One success I was very proud to have been involved in 2016 was the release of my client’s (Jim Reay) third book – The Run. According to Jim, The Run is ‘a thriller mystery which goes inside the psyche of the revolutionary fighter … their willingness and need to kill or die for a cause’.
So with this concept firmly in mind, I wanted to share with you the step-by-step process I followed to design an eye-catching book cover that would effectively encapsulate the theme of Jim’s novel.
Step-By-Step Process for Designing a Book Cover
STEP ONE: The Client Brief
Jim collated his initial ideas for the front cover of his book in a Word document (see image below) which he then forwarded to me. This original client brief is an important starting point in formulating the final cover design as it offers an insight into the author’s vision for their book.
STEP TWO: Researching Background and Central Figure Photographs for Front Cover
The next step in creating the book cover design involved searching an online stock photo library (DepositPhotos.com) for two suitable high-resolution royalty-free photographs – a background image of a small fishing boat adrift on the open sea and a central image of a masked terrorist – to purchase on Jim’s behalf.
Some of the watermarked photo options I identified during the research process as possible options are shown below:
Images of a fishing boat on open sea with sunrise or sunset background
Images of masked terrorist
STEP THREE: Editing Selected Stock Photos Using Photoshop
From the range of watermarked photo examples I provided to Jim, he selected Background image – 2 and Central figure image – 5 as his preferred options to purchase for the book cover design. With these two high-resolution photos forming the basis of the cover design, I then commissioned a Photoshop artist to edit both photographs in order to create a cohesive ‘look and feel’ for the cover of Jim’s book.
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of both photographs are shown below:
Original and Photoshopped version of background image for the book cover design
Original and Photoshopped version of central figure image
STEP FOUR: Putting it all Together
With the two stock images having been edited in Photoshop, it was time to put all of the graphic and text elements (including back cover blurb, tagline, author website URL and ISBN barcode) together to create the book cover design. At this point, I experimented with different font faces and colours for the title (plus subtitle if appropriate) and the author’s name on the front cover of the book so that Jim could make his final decision regarding which colour palette and font style he preferrred.
Two initial example book cover designs for The Run are shown below:
STEP FIVE: The Final Tweaks
Jim’s liked the yellow colour palette and font style of Version 1 of the book cover design examples. At this stage, all that remained for me to do was to make a few final tweaks (including capitalising the book title and changing the blurb to white text on a dark shaded textbox) to produce the final book cover design.
Below is an image of the final book cover design for The Run: