How to Publish Your Own Memoir in Months

I had an amazing opportunity this spring and summer to collaborate with Glenn Chelliah to develop, edit, and publish his memoir, My Emigration to the United States and Achieving the American Dream. We began work on this book in March, and he received finished copies to give to his family for his seventy-fifth birthday in September.

Glenn’s family, particularly his adult daughter, had wanted him to record his life story both for his family now and future generations. Together, Glenn and I wrote chapters on his life growing up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), his college years in Philadelphia, his career in the pharmaceutical industry, his family life, and his travels around the globe. We had no expectations for how long the book would be when we started, and it ended up being a nicely sized 144-page volume, including several family photos (in color) and Glenn and his wife’s family trees in an appendix.

Here’s how this project came together, in the event that you’d like to consider writing your own memoir:

Developmental Stage (March through Mid-May)

  • Glenn submitted outlines of potential chapters of his book
  • Glenn and I met via Zoom to discuss how we wanted to collaborate on the writing process
  • I referred to the outlines Glenn provided, expanding or refining the prose, reorganizing thematic elements, and asking pertinent questions
  • Glenn sent feedback on chapters to me and I incorporated his suggestions
  • Glenn and I reviewed the final manuscript one more time for redundancy, missed information, and flow

Production Stage (Late May through September)

  • I sent the manuscript to a trusted copyeditor to review the manuscript for grammar, usage, and style
  • Glenn and I reviewed the copyeditor’s changes and queries and finalized the manuscript for production
  • Glenn and I worked with designer Gary Rosenberg at The Book Couple to typeset the book, design the cover, and upload the final files to Ingram and Amazon for printing
  • The designer sent Glenn and me page proofs (after approving the design) to proofread
  • The designer created a cover for Glenn’s feedback
  • Glenn and I worked on back cover copy for the book and sent it to the designer
  • The designer finalized pages based on our feedback and uploaded the finalized pages and cover
  • Glenn ordered and reviewed a finished copy of the book and made a few changes that the designer incorporated
  • Glenn ordered finished copies of his book via Amazon to give to loved ones (he can reorder at any time, or you can order one for yourself)

In just six months, Glenn turned his “someday” dream into a reality and is now a published author. His family and friends can read his life story, and future generations will understand their roots in Ceylon and the life Glenn made for himself in the United States.

You can purchase a print or ebook here.


If you are interested in self-publishing a memoir or another type of book, let’s talk about how we can make your dreams a reality. The flow of the project I listed above is quite typical for publishing, and we can customize the timeline to meet your needs. The book does not need to be long or contain any specific elements. It can be as unique as you are.

Recent Work

Despite my absence here on the blog in the last few months, I am still working away on both editing and writing projects! I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with some individual authors lately on large-scale publishing projects, particularly books and dissertations. Here are a few words of praise I’ve received recently, in the event these hearty endorsements convince you that I am capable and easy to work with for your own project.

“Great job, no complaints. I would be happy to hire Natalie again.” —Barbara, author of a forthcoming book on writing for academia

“Natalie does great work and it was a pleasure doing business with her.” —John, author of a forthcoming book on tuning instruments

“I am reviewing the editing and it is wonderful. . . . Thank you so much.” —Michael, author of a forthcoming book on boating and sailing

Do I Need a Writer, an Editor, or Someone Else?

If you are unfamiliar with the publishing process, you may wonder how a writer, editor, copyeditor, or proofreader can help you. I have worked on projects in all of these roles, and here’s my brief overview of how they serve a publication.

Writer: You may need a writer if you have a lot of ideas but you can’t seem to get them down on paper. A writer can take your stream-of-consciousness thoughts or interview you to create the document you intend to publish. That may be a website, a book, or something else. Writers can also create documents with prompts you give them or a research topic to investigate. I write for many different clients and some of my projects have included writing articles, ghostwriting books or blog posts, summarizing case studies, and more.

Editor: This is a very general title and I would lean toward putting the word “developmental” in front of the title as it concerns an individual seeking help. This person can look at your work so far and give you ideas of how to reshape or retool it to meet your intended audience. A developmental editor can also help you work on flow and ask probing questions to help you dig deeper into your document. At a publishing house, an editor may also be a managing or acquiring editor. A managing editor coordinates all aspects of the publishing process and an acquiring editor finds content to publish.

Copyeditor: This person will copyedit a document that is in very good shape and almost ready for publication. This person uses a style book or style guide (and a dictionary!) to correct grammar, usage, and style errors. A copyeditor may also point out sentences that need clarification or suggest adding headings to improve readability. A copyeditor will also format references in a bibliography or notes section as well as inquire about permissions for artwork or long passages that you borrowed from another source. Your copyeditor may also be willing to fact-check a document if you request it.

Proofreader: A proofreader looks at a nearly published document usually set in its final form. A proofreader will only correct egregious errors like misspellings or the odd (or missing) punctuation mark. The proofreader ensures that everything looks clean and tidy to avoid embarrassing mistakes appearing in the final publication.

There are of course other roles in publishing like typesetters, designers, agents, reviewers, fact-checkers, translators, and more. Before you get too far with your work, however, consider whether you need one (or more) of these types of people involved in your document. Feel free to contact me to chat about your project, and I can provide you with an assessment of what I think you need.

Writing Is Magic

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert is of course the author of the mega-hit Eat Pray Love. I enjoyed this other book by her even more than the bestseller. Her take on the creative process can be helpful for writers as well as for those in other creative fields or for those who just enjoy being creative.

If you are thinking about publishing something or are already part of the world, some of Gilbert’s observations and advice could be quite helpful. I’d recommend you read this book.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

On the creativity that lives within you and how to get it into the world:

And you have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures — and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing these treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think small. (p. 27)

On getting over perfectionism:

We must understand that drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. (p. 169)

On actually producing something creative (and not just tinkering forever!):

You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go. (p. 177)

On curiosity:

Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. (p. 237)

Treading Lightly

Recently, I read The Subversive Copy Editor by Carol Fisher Saller. Saller is a copyeditor at the University of Chicago Press, home of the celebrated stylebook, now in its seventeenth edition. She also manages the question and answer feature on the stylebook’s website, which has been a huge resource to me over the years. I’ve followed happenings at the University of Chicago for quite some time — since the fourteenth edition!

I wholeheartedly agree with Saller’s take on copyediting and the Chicago philosophy in general. One of the sentences in the opening pages of the book sums it up perfectly:

Your first goal isn’t to slash and burn your way through [the manuscript] in an effort to make it conform to a list of style rules. (p. 7)

Unless you want someone to change your work radically (which I would suggest is substantive editing, not copyediting), this lighter and sensible approach to copyediting should put you at ease. When you hand over a manuscript for copyediting, you feel the work is in pretty good shape and that it needs some fact-checking and smoothing (and, in many cases, formatting help for references and bibliographies).

So remember that unless you are submitting an article for a publication with strict guidelines or your work needs a lot of retooling, the copyediting process should be pretty gentle.

Thoughts on Copyediting from a Pro

I just finished reading Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, a longtime copyeditor at The New Yorker. Her book is a memoir/reference hybrid, combining lovely anecdotes about her life as well as grammar lessons. Some passages in the book resonated with me, especially those about the role of a copyeditor:

On the purpose of copyediting:

The whole point of having things read before publication is to test their effect on a general reader. You want to make sure when you go out there that the tag on the back of your collar isn’t poking up–unless, of course, you are deliberately wearing your clothes inside out. (p. 36)

On what writers think of copyeditors:

Writers might think we’re applying rules and sticking it to their prose in order to make it fit some standard, but just as often we’re backing off, making exceptions, and at least trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little. (p. 38)

And on why copyeditors will always be important, despite technology improving:

Because English has so many words of foreign origin, and words that look the same but mean something different depending on their context, and words that are in flux, opening and closing like flowers in time-lapse photography, the human element is especially important if we are to stay on top of the computers, which, in their determination to do our  job for us, make decisions so subversive that even professional wordsmiths are taken by surprise. (p. 113)

Finally, Mary’s enthusiasm of pencils (especially soft-leaded no. 1 pencils!) is particularly endearing in the chapter “Ballad of a Pencil Junkie.” In this penultimate chapter, she also remarks on her lacking handwriting (“I’d had complaints about it since third grade,” p. 171) and shares an interesting observation about those with neat handwriting: “Later, as a graduate student, teaching comprehension, I noted that the student with the neatest handwriting often wrote the dullest prose” (p. 172). The quote reminds me to be gentler on my own children with their sometimes-sloppy (often-sloppy?) handwriting.

This delightful book about the editing life is the twenty-sixth book I’ve read this year for pleasure (only four more to go to meet my goal for the year!). It does not count the hundreds (probably thousands) of pages I have read for work. Nothing makes me happier than sinking my teeth into a new subject or work. I am thankful that I’ve been able to make reading a hobby and a career.

Now Working With Reinvent U

IMG_6118 (2)If you are looking to make a career transition, my most recent partnership might be of interest to you. I am excited to announce that I’ll be collaborating with Nicole Pica of Reinvent U. Nicole helps people with their résumés and LinkedIn profiles as well as provides one-on-one coaching and group workshops. I am working with Nicole to give her clients’ career transition materials an extra look.

Often I am approached about writing résumés. However, at this moment in time, I am not working on résumés or LinkedIn profiles. There is an art to creating these career-focused documents, and it’s best to use an expert who has insight into this specialized field. I would highly recommend Nicole’s work and her personable approach. As I’ve mentioned before about writing your own bio, marketing yourself is tough work! Nicole will help you identify what you bring to the table so when the time comes to make a career change you are sure to avoid selling yourself short.

image002Nicole brings a wealth of experience to her work. She is a scientist by training, with a bachelor’s degree in biology, and also holds certificates in positive psychology and personal training. One area she focuses on in her work is stress management and stress reduction. I am thrilled that we are working together to help people navigate this challenging (but exciting) time of life.

Client Profile: Real Estate by Katie Kincade

Aside from my publishing clients, my favorite people to serve are busy entrepreneurs, striving to build and grow their business and their brand. My recent work with Realtor Katie Kincade highlights how I can collaborate and help those who are responsible for all aspects of their growing enterprise.

This fall, Katie and I met to discuss writing projects she needed completed . . . yesterday. She had gone to the effort to develop a new website, but between meetings with potential clients, listings of homes in the Main Line area of Philadelphia, showings with her current clients, and closings with those at the end of the buying and selling process, Katie had no time to develop website copy. She needed help!

After our initial meeting, Katie and I exchanged emails for the next few months. We gathered ideas, I wrote drafts of potential copy, and she responded with helpful edits, resulting in the finished material she desired. And it took just a fraction of the time it would have taken Katie to do it on her own. After all, being a real estate mogul doesn’t leave much time for sitting down in front of the computer and writing copy (especially about oneself, which is especially tricky!). When all was said and done, Katie had a robust new website without having the stress of doing it all herself.

It’s hard to believe it, but one of the busiest times of year for Realtors is coming up — spring market. If you live in the Philadelphia area and are looking for a Realtor to help you upsize, downside, or get into your first home, consider contacting Katie. You can check out her website at Real Estate by Katie Kincade.

My New Year’s Advice to You

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As you compile your list of business and personal goals to begin a fresh new year, I advise you to commit to one big (yet small) resolution:

Pick deadlines and stick to them.

I’ve been an editor and writer for more than a decade. Before that I was a great student. And you know what the biggest marker of my success has been both professionally and personally? Meeting deadlines.

Sounds easy for some, I am sure. Sounds insanely difficult for others, I bet. But if you want to accomplish anything, creating goals (with dates attached) should be your number-one measurement tool.

In publishing, final products come to be because of a series of small deadlines. Here’s what a typical production schedule looks like:

  • Content submitted.
  • Content edited/copyedited.
  • Content reviewed by author.
  • Content submitted to production.
  • Content formatted by production.
  • Content proofread by proofreader and/or author.
  • Content published.

These steps can take a day, a week, a month, or even a year, depending on the nature of the final product. But microdeadlines are essential to keeping the project moving. (You may also need an editor to get on your tail sometimes. I am the person for that job!)

So start that blog and commit to posting every week (or more). Redo your website and come up with a production schedule you can follow. Begin writing that long-imagined book and meet with a publishing expert who can help you come up with a workflow. Just do it.

You may be a procrastinator, but if you want to accomplish something big in 2016, pull out your calendar, map out your year, and get to work. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

I’ll be back in January with tips on beginning a writing project.

Highlights, Early Fall

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A recent snapshot of what I do while I work. Thank goodness for warm, comforting beverages!

In my neck of the woods, it’s beginning to feel like that magical holiday season. Trees are bare, the wind is starting to gust, and my children are singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on repeat. And it’s not even Thanksgiving!

I’ve had a successful run of projects this fall, and I can’t wait to share more of the finished products on my Facebook feed. Consider following me if you aren’t already!


My recent work includes:

  • Proofreading a book on the Christmas virtues (it got me thinking about all of my favorite traditions way back in September);
  • Copyediting a manuscript on spirituality for medical professionals, a journal on animal ethics, and a journal on music education;
  • Editing and writing content for small business websites (clients include a marketing company, a Realtor, a fitness studio, a life coach, a video production company, and a graphic designer);
  • Researching and compiling educational tools for a large medical publisher;
  • Drafting a solicitation letter for a nonprofit organization; and
  • Writing articles for Healthline.

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And here’s my public service announcement for those of you sending holiday cards (via Slate). This post reached thousands through my Facebook page, and it’s a good reminder of how to pluralize your last name.

I hope you enjoy these final weeks of 2015!