Tales of facing incredible obstacles and breaking through impenetrable barriers make for mesmerizing reads. Cancer. Abuse. Political asylum. Betrayal. Certain death. Lightning rod moments. These types of stories can be sculpted into heart-wrenching, Kleenex-needing, all-night reading marathons. Personal journeys turn even the casual writer into a best-selling author, based on the quality of the story (if not the quality of the writing). This is why it is not uncommon for authors to come to me saying, “So many people have told me that I need to publish my story!” Well, that is some excellent affirmation!
The decision to tell your story may be obvious for some, and an agonizing decision for others. But once you determine that your story is something to share with (and hopefully benefit) a wider audience, how do you decide if you’re ready to do it? And what does it even mean to be ready? Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help establish whether now is the time to turn that manuscript into a book, or whether you should let it sit a little longer.
Are you through the tunnel and on the other side?
When in the midst of a crisis, instincts put us into survival mode. We find a way to put one foot in front of the other, eat, sleep and stumble our ways through those critical days. This may be a great time to write a book; for some, writing can be therapeutic. However, this is not the time to have a book launch. If you are still trying to scrape by day to day, then you are not in yet in the right mindset to put your full energy behind promoting and marketing your book.
Have you learned everything that you can from this experience?
We can only take in so much: the heat of the sun, the grandeur of the Coliseum, the taste of the pistachio gelato, the buzz of the crowds. Upon further reflection, the time spent in Rome could have implications on your opinion for preserving heritage buildings in downtown Winnipeg. As a reader, I want to experience both the obvious details and the upon-further-reflection insights. Readers feel cheated if the conclusion of your book is simply what happened next, and not how the events impacted your thinking.
Who are you now?
When there is distress, we are changed. Yes, human beings are resilient and we can heal and move on, but every experience we have shapes who we are. Readers want to see your growth through your journey. They want to see the difference between who you were before and who you are now, and understand the lasting imprint this experience has left on you. Are you stronger? More willing to speak up? Have you gained confidence, or lost it? You may need some time to pass in order to properly identify and articulate how you are a different person because of this experience.
Will editing your book be an emotional nightmare?
Editing can be a freeing experience, but also a somewhat scary one. It’s like letting a stranger hold your young baby, and perhaps also change her outfit, and maybe cut her hair. If you burst into tears at the thought of anyone changing an “a” to “the” in your manuscript, you’re probably not ready to begin this process.
Are you burning bridges?
Relationships are complicated, particularly in situations of abuse. While you have the right to tell your story, once a book is in print your words are forever out there for people to read. Some tell-all memoirs have poured gasoline on a fire and turned into very public spats. Everyone, even the most horrible villain in your story, needs to be treated with respect. As hard as it is, when in doubt, err on the side of grace and caution in your treatment of others. You may be in the right, you may be entirely innocent, but dragging someone through the mud does not look good on anyone. Be wise.
Who are you writing this for?
One key point to figure out before you considering publishing: is this book for you, or for the world? Many people write for cathartic reasons, be it journaling or venting or poetry. But you need to be able to slightly remove yourself from the emotion of the moment in order to fully engage readers in the story. If you include too much inside information, mentioning people without introducing them, refer back to situations without explaining them, then you need to go back and revise those sections if you plan to share this with the public at large.
Autobiographical works continue to be a large segment of the market, and for good reason. It can be enlightening to get a glimpse into someone else’s life and inspiring to read the adventures of someone overcoming opposition.
Within the community of faith, there is the added motivation of testifying to what God has done, and leaving a legacy for future generations. Share your story—once you’re ready—and you may have an impact on people known and unknown for many years to come! Or, as Jon Acuff once said, “Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past so it doesn’t become their future.” A worthy calling for any writer.
Jen Jandavs-Hedlin has worked in the publishing industry for over a decade and is passionate about helping authors to share their stories. She enjoys cooking, reading, writing, and organizing her home into boxes and containers. Jen lives in Winnipeg with her husband, and their canine companion, Montgomery.