Jul 13 Written by 

True-Life Editing, Example 3: Escape from Hungary

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A first-time author came to me with 36 creative-nonfiction pieces about escaping with her parents from wartime Croatia and then from revolutionary Hungary, and what happened in between and afterward. Family members in those countries starved in camps or lost everything; the government cut up people’s houses into apartments and soldiers or families of strangers moved in while the owners now dwelt in what had been their pantry. All these stories were well told. Then, in chronological order, followed nonfiction pieces about the author’s adult life in the U.S., ranging from comic to deeply tragic. Together these pieces formed a memoir.

They were a lifetime’s work built up over years of writing-workshop attendance, and the author either published them now--in her seventies--or never.

The manuscript’s content was as the author wanted it, including the 10 poems appended. My job was to copyedit and provide feedback on whether the manuscript was good, and, after publication, because the self-publishing company was waiting for my edit, how best to sell it.

So I copyedited and pronounced it good and ready. A self-published author has every right to append her poems to her memoir although I would have advised against it because poetry either frightens people or turns them off, but I said nothing. Through the self-publisher the author had already obtained an ISBN for her chosen title. I wished she’d chosen another title. Life, Love, and Loss could be the title of every memoir ever written, and maybe most novels, too. But after registering the book’s ISBN the title cannot be changed.

I wished the title (subtitled “Short Stories and Poems Based on True Events”) had referred to or highlighted her truly dramatic escapes from country to country, or Hungary, refugees, or immigrants, or a lost old Europe of tailor shops and music lessons. Those childhood wartime memories were the book’s unique contribution to literature, and might interest a readership beyond the author’s friends and family. She modestly told me that the book was for friends and family only, but no author truly means that.

This book cannot be found by googling, even on Amazon.com, where its title is drowned beneath scores of similar titles. Please consult an editor before settling on a book title--if you want to sell your book. Titles matter very much, and the title and cover together are 70 percent of a book’s appeal.

The author took some books to Hungary and happily sold some there and found a demand for a Hungarian translation. Her question to me is: Should she ask her husband to translate it, or a professional translator? Dear readers, what is your advice?
12 Last modified on Friday, 14 July 2017
Catherine Rankovic

Writer, with 30+ years' writing and publishing experience, 20+ years' teaching experience. Last book read: Mrs. Lincoln by Catherine Clinton.