Jul 13

True-Life Editing, Example 3: Escape from Hungary

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 then some about her life in the U.S. They ranged 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 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 also 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 friends and family. She modestly told me that the book was for friends and family only, but no author truly means that!