There’s a difference between an autobiography and a memoir. As an article by Joe Kita in Readers Digest explains, “An autobiography is the story of an entire life, but a memoir is just one story from that life. You can only ever write one autobiography, but you can write countless memoirs.” And he adds, “It’s a much less intimidating project if you view it that way.” (“How to Write your Memoir,” Readers Digest)
Last week’s blog described John Geertsema’s book, The Geertsema Chronicles, as a successful autobiography. The book outlined Geertsema’s life and experiences in mostly chronological order, from his ancestry, to his childhood in Holland, to his military service in America, through his marriage, career, children, and retirement.
A true memoir
By comparison, Cancer Freedom is more of a true memoir. In it, Bea Hoek is not trying to share her whole life; instead, she limits the book to her cancer experience because her purpose is specifically to encourage other cancer victims. Cancer Freedom does not talk about Bea’s childhood, her teaching career, her musical interests, or her travels. It talks about her cancer.
Bea originally wrote her book in response to requests from people who heard she had cancer and were curious about how she dealt with it. She found herself spending hours on the phone, retelling her story with people all over the country who “knew someone who knew someone” who knew her and just had to call for advice, or reassurance, or a sympathetic ear. The calls became more frequent, more numerous, and longer, and finally Bea needed a more efficient way to share her story.
She had kept a journal throughout her cancer journey, and she came to me for help turning those journal entries into a book that would make sense to the general public.
At that time, the only way to get published was to go through a traditional publisher, so we began querying publishers. Baker Book House (now called Baker Books) was the first to respond. They ended up publishing the book under the title Surrender or Fight: One Woman’s Victory Over Cancer.
Naturally, not every memoir will be picked up by a publisher. But our book had these things going for it:
- It’s written for a well-defined market. That is, it was written by a cancer survivor, for people with cancer.
- It is practical, encouraging, and authentic. It simply explains what you as a cancer patient can do to manage your emotions, your side effects, your family, your cancer experience. Because it’s written by a fellow cancer patient, it rings with authenticity.
- It filled a niche. There are more cancer books available today than there were when this book was first written, but at the time, as Bea found out, there were not many religious cancer books available, by authors who give credit to God for ultimate healing. Bea wanted to fill that niche because it was a need she felt when she was going through her cancer struggles and looking for reading material.
- Bea is a natural marketer. Even before the book was written, she had built up a network of people (her telephone ministry) who would be interested in it. And before Baker actually published it, she began spreading the word and offering people photocopies of the manuscript. People were already eager to own a copy of the actual book by the time it was finally printed.
- We did our homework. When I started the query process, I targeted publishers who specialized in religious books and who were willing to accept manuscripts from unknown authors. I wrote compelling letters that focused on marketability. (It’s important to remember that publishers are interested in books that make money!) When we got permission from Baker to send them a proposal, I studied their guidelines and followed them exactly. I wanted to demonstrate that we were eager to work with them to get our book to the marketplace.
So Baker published the book, and for the next couple of years Bea and I were involved in the occasional local book-signing event together (see photo), and Bea had a number of opportunities to be interviewed on various radio programs. In fact, the book sold well enough that Baker asked us to write a second book, which we did. Cancer Lives at our House did not do as well as our first book—partly because it wasn’t as well-written (my fault), and partly because it was for a less well-defined audience.
Anyway, both books are out of print now (though you can still find copies online here and there), and when I started LifeLines, I wanted copies available as writing samples for potential clients. So I contacted Baker, and they reverted the rights back to Bea and myself.
Updating and re-releasing
I re-set the type and updated the content. I also gave the book its new title—Cancer Freedom—and a new cover design. Because there are so many more publishing options available today, I’ve been able to make Cancer Freedom available in a variety of formats, most of which cost more time than money. Bea’s story of survival and faith is being shared as an ebook, an audiobook, a downloadable PDF, and a print-on-demand paperback!
Sales are not huge, but Bea never intended for her book to be a cash cow. Her first priority was to efficiently minister to people with cancer by sharing her own story.
I’m happy to help her do that! Thanks to God’s healing and medical advances, Bea herself is still living a full life—25 years after her original cancer diagnosis. And thanks to social media and other technological advances, Bea’s memoir continues to live on for a whole new generation of cancer survivors.
While supplies last
If you’d like to purchase a pre-printed paperback copy of this living memoir (while supplies last), click the button at left to place your order using PayPal. (PayPal is a safe way to use your credit card to pay online, without revealing your credit card info to the seller.) Whether or not you have cancer, you might find Cancer Freedom a helpful example of how a well-done memoir can be a blessing beyond your original plans!