February 05, 2023

How to start writing about your cancer?

Yesterday I received a comment on my post ‘Should You Write A Cancer Book?’ from an osteosarcoma survivor named Tamara wrote: “I would love to write a book and share my experience with those that are just starting the journey but I don’t know how to start.”

Though cancer is a monumental experience that we’d like to convey to others, our written story is only as compelling as our words make it.  More important than how to start writing about cancer is to start knowing yourself as a writer.

Take time to experiment and discover your writing style, tone, and creative process.  Do you want to convey emotions, practical solutions, a journal, or something else altogether?  Do you enjoy writing in a descriptive, detailed, realistic, dreamy, or matter-of-fact tone?  Are you a linear thinker who needs a logical plan for a project, or are you prone to passionate tangents of thought that eventually weave together?    Do you need a disciplined writing schedule or are you more productive if you only write when you are moved to?  The only way to find the answers to these questions is to just practice writing about anything.

Remember the song: “Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start”? This is the anti-thesis of how I write.  I start out in left field and prefer to not know where I am headed. I let ideas flow but also heavily edit my work, eventually trashing parts I love but know don’t serve the piece as a whole.   I am not even particularly concerned with the accuracy of my own memory.  During surgery, treatment, and recovery, I profusely wrote in 12 spiral bound journals.  I never referenced them nor included any of the material in my book.

My cancer book began by sitting in a big empty studio, blasting Belle and Sebastian, and making drawings on paper towels that were meant to become modern dance choreography.   I had never written non-fiction prior to the publication of my book Everything Changes; for a decade before my young adult cancer diagnosis I was a choreographer.  My program notes for the performance grew so lengthy that I ditched the performance and turned the program into the seeds of my full-length non-fiction book.

Figuring out how to write about my cancer sounds like a daunting task.  Be easy on yourself. Maybe start writing about something entirely different for a while.  It just might lead to your cancer story.

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March 27, 2023

Should You Write A Cancer Book? #3
Tale of Two Publishers


Breastless in The City
I’ve started a series about cancer and writing. (See #1 about self publishing, and #2 about writing mentors.) This post is about different size publishing houses.

Five years ago, with no formal training, breast cancer survivor Cathy Bueti wrote a book about being a young widow dating through cancer treatment. She landed an agent (we’ll cover that in another post) and they shopped her book around.

Cathy writes: “My agent eventually got an offer from a small, one-year-old press that published medical guides and wanted to expand into the trade market. My book was a good fit. I hoped for a big house, but as a newbie… I accepted the offer.

“Breastless in the City was published in 2006. In 2008 my small press publisher left the biz and sold the company. A few months later my title, along with other books of theirs, was acquired by a large publishing house. With the large house, a new editor and I worked for six weeks revising the manuscript to bring my story to a wider audience. The new edition of Breastless in the City will be released this May in hardback.”  (You can pre-order it now on Amazon.)

Here are some of the main differences Cathy found between the small press (SP) and the large publishing house (LP):

Editing Process
“The SP edited my manuscript and asked for my input. With the LP, the editor and I worked together editing chapter by chapter adding more scenes, background info, dialogue, and content about my life after cancer. It was emotionally difficult to dig into this deeper, raw content, but it added much to the story.”

“I thought my book would be on the ‘new arrivals’ table at bookstores. Not so. Stores want to stock their shelves with sure sellers.  Your publisher has to ‘sell’ the idea of your book to the store for them to even decide to carry it.” (A note from Kairol here – Publishers have to pay big bucks for table space in stores. I’m psyched that my publisher just did so for my book, but not every publisher has the cash or desire to, and extremely unlikely that a self-published author can afford it.) Back to Cathy:

“With the SP, Breastless in the City was in a few Barnes and Nobles in NYC, my local store, plus a few others. I had to create a demand; not easy as an unknown author. The first edition sold about 800 copies.  My LP has a special sales department that helps with distribution, so that is quite different already.”

Marketing Promotion
“The SP gave me more individual attention but had no in-house marketing department, nor the funding to push sales. At the LP, I am in close contact with their in-house marketing department.”

“In both places, a lot the promotion falls to the author.  You have to hit the pavement, connect with others, and spread the word by reaching out to organizations, survivors, blogging, and connecting on the internet.”

Do you journal/blog about your cancer experience? Have you ever worked with an editor or thought of having someone edit your work, even a friend or family member? Does having an editor’s eye seem frightening or exciting?

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