Memoirs are a special kind of writing

I am currently writing a memoir entitled: The Inside Story –  Memoirs of the Otago Microbiology Department. I was reminded of a blog post from Bookbaby that had a list principles of storytelling that one should adhere to when writing a memoir. A memoir is not an autobiography – it doesn’t cover an entire life. A memoir is about a particular phase of a life, one with its own beginning, middle, and ending. A memoir is akin to fiction in its being a story; but it is a true story.

It is a collection of memories and the meanings attached to them.  My story is about the unique NZ academic experience that is different, but also shared by other academics around the world that worked during the period 1970 – 2010.  It is about the character and esprit de corps of the Department and the personalities that loomed larger than life.

Even though they are facts, memoirs have an element of design, a condensed version of real life, that should adhere to the same principles of great storytelling as fiction does.

There are several challenges associated with writing a memoir. Deciding how to cope with each challenge before you begin to write your memoir will greatly aid the process of getting your story down on paper (or online).

More details from Bookbaby

1. Decide which span of time you are describing

What is the opening and what is the ending? This is the same as a novel; all good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an ending that contains a climax and brings about a resolution.

2. Decide whether you are sticking with pure fact, or whether you are going to embellish

Embellishment might only mean changing the names of those involved to protect privacy. Deeper changes might involve the omission of key events, changes in the true chronology of events, or slight changes to help focus the story. For example, two people who helped you along your way might be merged into a single composite character to help the “plot” and the reader. Fiction has a similar balance, but it is often in reverse. Pure imagination is inspired by aspects of the truth. For example, a fictional character might be based on a friend.

3. Decide how personal you are going to get

The whole purpose of writing your memoir might be to air out everything that happened, especially if your experiences might help someone else know they are not alone in what they are going through. On the other hand, you might be willing to share certain aspects of your life, but not others. Decide where to draw the line and how it will impact the story. Of course, this applies to everyone in your memoir as well. While you might be willing to share details of events and actions that took place, the real people involved may not be, and you’ll have to deal with this. Fiction has a similar aspect in that each author puts some personal experience and a private world view into any work of fiction, it’s just a matter of degree, and what is private is never explicitly defined.

4. Decide the message of your memoir

What was the purpose of taking the time to write the memoir? How is this message specific to you but universal? How can others relate and what can they draw from it? This is where the power of personal narrative lies. This spirit of the memoir is the magic of the genre. Leave out the mundane details and focus on what makes this a story different from anyone else’s.

You may discover new angles to the story you’re telling. As humans, we grow and learn constantly. Writing your memoir will likely change you as a person. You might be surprised as you dig deeper into your story, and especially as you get feedback from others, that you see things differently from how you first saw them.

It’s easier to write a memoir when it’s far enough in the past that you have fully processed what happened and have gained perspective on the events. If you are still in the process of trying to understand those events, it might just be too early to write your memoir. Then again, writing, with all the analysis and retrospection it requires, can be a great trigger for moving ahead in life by gaining distance from the past.

For more advice on writing memoirs, see previous post.

eBooks — FAQ’s


Back to basics about eBooks. Here are a few FAQ’s about eBooks from BookBaby. We use the services of BookBaby since it provides an eBook distribution network in 170 countries and puts your book on the shelves of Amazon, Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, the Sony Reader Store, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, eBookPie, and others. For more information about how we can do the heavy lifting for you, visit our bookstore.

1. What is an eBook?

Electronic books – or eBooks – are digital versions of a manuscript. An eBook can consist of text, images, or both. An eBook requires special dedicated files to be created from digital files like Word or PDF. (See below for more information about these eBook files.) eBooks have been around since 2007, when Amazon introduced the Kindle, followed by the Barnes & Noble Nook and the iPad from Apple.

2. How do people buy and read eBooks?

eBooks are downloaded directly to all kinds reading devices. They can be read on almost any modern computing device including dedicated eReaders like the Kindle or Nook. These devices are mainly used to buy and read eBooks. Many people read eBooks on smartphones – all iPhone and Android devices have eBook reading apps available as downloads. Others use multipurpose devices – tablets like the iPad and Surface – to consume eBooks.

Readers can buy eBooks from thousands of online retailers around the globe, including Amazon. The Kindle BookStore is the world’s largest online eBook store, with hundreds of new titles added each day. Other popular eBook retailers include Apple’s iBookstore and Barnes & Noble. In addition, authors can sell eBooks directly to readers from their own websites.

3. How do I turn my book into an eBook?

It starts with having your content on one of the popular digital file formats, such as Word or a PDF. These source documents will then be converted into two special eBook files. One file type, .mobi, is used in the Amazon Kindle device. The other file, called an ePub, is used in all other eBook reading devices, apps, and programs.

Some authors can convert their files themselves using third-party software applications. But for most writers, eBook conversion is a complicated process and can be difficult to do correctly. The coding can get very intricate and complex.

That’s why many authors turn to a company like BookBaby for professional eBook file conversion. At BookBaby, we inspect your Word or PDF document to make sure it conforms to eBook file specifications and then convert it into both .mobi and ePub files for all eReader types. BookBaby then sends a format proof of the eBook files that you can load and view on your own device. At this stage you can still make changes or corrections to your book.

4. What kind of books can be eBooks?

Just about any kind of book can be made into an eBook. Most text-based books work very well as eBooks because they have a simple layout. This is called a “dynamic” layout, because the book’s appearance will change depending on the screen size of the eReader. (More information here and below.) Books that have a lot of pictures or graphics often need a different conversion process, called “fixed layout”. We recommend this kind of conversion for children’s books, cook books, photography, and art books. (Note: BookBaby performs fixed layout conversions for books destined to be sold in Apple’s iBookstore only. For more information about what kind of conversion you’ll need, go to the BookBaby website.

5. Will my eBook read and look just like my printed book?

All of the content of your printed book will be in your eBook, but it won’t look exactly the same. Why? Think of it this way: A printed book stays in one format, for instance a 6×9 trade book. Each page stays exactly the same – forever! But an eBook page can and will change based on several factors including the screen size of the reading device being used and the reader’s personal preferences. For more information about why eBooks don’t look like printed books, I invite you to read “Why Doesn’t My eBook Look Like My Printed Book?” on the BookBaby Blog.

6. How long will it take to create an eBook?

There is no simple answer to this question, it all depends on your book files and the time spent reviewing your eBook proof. Here’s the process:

  • When you send your Word or PDF book file to BookBaby, we’ll inspect all of the contents to make sure everything is right.
  • Next we convert your file into both a .mobi and ePub, and send you a digital proof. Your first proof will arrive in about 6-8 business days.
  • Then the ball is in your court! You’ll need to review your proof and contact BookBaby with any changes. This can take five minutes… five days… or five weeks.

Most eBook conversions take two rounds of proofs. How long does the “average” conversion take? You can generally expect this part of the eBook creation process to last between 12-15 business days. Please note: If you’re doing both a printed book and eBook at the same time, BookBaby will work on your printed book file first and then your eBook. That way we make sure both versions of your book are exactly the same.

7. What do I need to do to get started on my eBook?

First, you should have your book professionally edited. That goes for any kind of book, printed book or eBook. There’s just no substitute for another set of eyes combing your manuscript to eliminate typos and grammar issues.

When you send us your edited book file in Word or PDF format, I recommend you keep everything very simple. Because there are so many kinds of eBook readers and devices, a simple book file is best for the sake of consistency. Avoid any kind of special fonts or type treatments. Remember It’s the content of your book that’s most important – not a fancy typeface. For more instructions how to prepare your file, download BookBaby’s free guide, Preparing Your Document For eBook Conversion.

Not getting website traffic?

Not getting (enough) traffic to your website?

If you want advice, there is no better resource than Ramit Sethi. His course(s) will advise you on website traffic and teach you all you need to know about running a successful online business. Click on the ad below and it will take you to his free sign up subscription and you are on your way.  If you just wanted a one-page preview, then continuing reading this post without clicking.

About Ramit

Paraphrasing from Ramit Sethi…

The most common mistake people make when they’re starting an online business is the idea that “if you build it, people will come”.  Then, without even hesitating or seeing if anyone would actually pay them for their idea, they jump right into the tactics. They get a domain, a website and start writing hundreds of blog posts.

And then, after two or three months, what happens on their site?

Nothing at all. Virtually no traffic.

Most people do this because it’s easy to sit around building websites and printing business cards all day.

It’s actually harder to go out and talk to people to see what they want.

Don’t build the website first. And don’t even think about what product you’re going to build or how you’re going to price it and package it just yet.

The first thing to do is understand:

  • Who is my customer?
  • What do they want?
  • What does my competition look like and say?
  • And why should people come to you for a solution?

Okay you alreadt have a business idea and a website, what should you do next — build up a subscription list to get those valuable emails – (see previous post). There is nothing better than an email list for your business.

Here are  three good reasons for this:

  1. Email outperforms every other marketing channel online. Don’t listen to experts telling you about Instagram and Pinterest and all these random channels. Email outperforms them all.
  2. You own your email list. Google and Facebook can change their rules anytime. But they can’t touch your list. It’s your asset. And most importantly, it’s your relationship with readers.
  3. An email list can scale. You don’t need much more effort to sell to 10,000 people than you do to sell to 10 people. That is scalability.

For more advice on increasing your website traffic, click here.

Guest Blog and Increase Your Mojo

Or How to overcome your fear of self promotion

Here are some hints on how to guest blog and increase your self promotion without being sleazy. This comes from Ramit Sethi’s Growthlab course: Zero to Launch.

  • How to build authentic relationships with top bloggers (without being spammy)
  • The secret to getting even the busiest and most successful people to read your material (with word-for-word email scripts)
  • A simple way to crush your fear of promoting yourself
Getting over your fear of self promotion is crucial to your online business

Embedded in this fear about selling is a fear of promoting ourselves. And the truth is, you have to get comfortable promoting yourself as you grow an online business.

For more of the same from Ramit Sethi’s Growthlab, click here.


The Right Price Point

While considering monetising some of my online activities, the questions arose:  what kind of product would it be and what would be the price point? Ramit Sethi, a very successful entrepreneur,  has provided some insights (see his pdf): The Ultimate Guide to Starting an Online Business.  Here is the way he visualises online businesses.


High End

Because you are charging a high price, you are likely to have relatively few customers. Think Rolls Royce and Prada. Ramit Sethi’s business model is to produce high quality content, give 98% of it away, but charge premium prices for the remaining 2% — like thousands of dollars. Ramit runs how-to-get-rich courses for the millennials (see audio clip below).

Golden Goose

Products in this section are great businesses; they have the potential for plenty of customers and command a high price. Think Apple iPhones. You get there by making a quality product and you can charge a relatively high  price because the price becomes secondary to the product.

Mass Market

Ebooks are an example of mass market products — the Amazon prices of  $1.99, $2.99 or $4.99. There are so many products there that the probability of someone finding you are very, very small. You are swimming in the shallow end of a very large pool and are unlikely to go anywhere. People have a natural tendency to undercharge when they are first starting out in business. The goal is to find the right price that reflects the true market value of whatever you are selling. You can always lower the price as a special offer at a later date.

Labour of Love

These are products that have few potential customers and can only be charged a low price. These are like weekend hobbies that nobody would pay you for. You may still want to do them to fulfill some inner need, but don’t expect it to make money or be disappointed if you fail to succeed.

Ramit Sethi

Pat Flynn interviews Ramit Sethi on these questions in Podcast SPI222 Here is a short excerpt that focuses on the price point questions that people who are starting out might ask.


The Perils of Memoir Writing

I have recently embarked on a Blog-A-Book project (The Inside Story)  about my place of work, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ. Before retiring in 2009,  I collected and curated the departmental social history and published a precise of the archive as a book entitled: A History of the Microbiology Department 1950 – 2010. The archive itself was hosted on a website, but with the passing of years and changes in staff and departmental priorities the site fell into disrepair.

The Inside Story is being written (using the archives) in a narrative form which makes it more of a memoir than a history. Writing a memoir is associated with certain risks as pointed out in the Bookbaby blog.

1. Don’t use the book to settle old grudges.

It would be most unusual if there weren’t any grievances given the interactions with a diverse group of people working together. I have tried to weave these into the rich tapestry of departmental life.

2. Don’t mention every single person in the department

Some people will be left out since they did not play a key role in my story, but they should not feel that they were unimportant to the life and functioning of the department.

3. Don’t mention every event in its chronological order

By telling the story about the people and the events there will be a certain amount of toing and froing in time as each person enters center stage, but the minutiae of the day-to-day departmental life will not be included.

4. Don’t fail to organize the story

There is an overall chronology to the story — following the flight of time’s arrow. Jotting down random memories may be spontaneous and freewheeling, but not conducive to maintaining the interest of the reader.

5. Don’t write in dry, uninteresting prose

This is not a problem when writing about the lives of bright, over-achieving, egotistical, academics who love to be in the limelight and to centerstaging it.

6. Don’t expect a bestseller when your memoir is really a departmental keepsake

At the end of the day, the book may only be of interest to the inner circle of people associated with the department. It is unlikely to be a best-seller and the best plan is to publish it as an ebook and have a print-on-demand  version as an option.


Following on from the previous blog post, about blogs not being read. This posting is about subscriptions — how to get more readers to your blog. As a consequence, all my blog posts now contain this subscription form.

Get Free Email Updates!

Signup now and receive a free ebook on 'Email Archetypes' by Pat Flynn

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

This is a MailChimp implementation which handles the behind the scenes ‘heavy lifting’ of managing email lists and newsletter campaigns. MailChimp is free and an excellent ‘How-to-do’ YouTube video by Jameson, NYC Tech Club runs through the setting up.

Here is a quote from Jameson:

Back in the day, all you needed was an optin form that said “Subscribe to our weekly newsletter” or something like that.
But the world has changed! And people want something for free in exchange for their email address.

So try this strategy next time you want to increase your subscriber base.

Offer a free cheat sheet with 5 or so simple tips to your service
Offer a free ebook (doesn’t have to be long)
Offer something…anything!
It will work a lot better than an optin form with no offer.

Okay — I’ll see if it works!!

If a blog is posted and no one reads it

great blog contentThis a variation of the famous “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” While the answer to the latter question is a philosophical one, the answer to the former is: NO.

There are approximately 152 million blog sites on the internet with about 1.13 million blog posts per day. So all the hard work you put into making  great blog content, it will probably go unnoticed unless you have a faith following – but even then people can be busy…

How to Repurpose Your Great Blog Content

Theses are hints that come from Pat Flynn on ways to repurpose your content by creating several different types of postings.

1. Read Your Post Word for Word and Create an Audio File
See a previous post for more information

2. Create an Infographic Related to Your Content

3. Create Social Media Cards with Direct Quotes from Your Post
Easier than an infographic, post them on Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest

4. Create a SlideShare Presentation
Publish it on

5. Use Content as Talking Points for a Live Stream

6. Create a Book from the Blog Post Series
Currently doing this for: The Inside Story: A History of the Microbiology Department

Pat Flynn – On redesigning your website


Pat Flynn is well known for his podcasts and smart passive income (SPI). This blog is about Pat Flynn’s redesigning of his website. Usually one makes incremental, evolutionary changes to one’s website, but there are times when one needs a redesign. Finding one’s ‘voice’ is often such an occasion to refocus the website.

In the podcast about his website (SPI 208), Pat first deals with what worked. The ’start here’ page drew most of the traffic and from there viewers were channelled, depending on their needs to different pages. On his redesigned website he uses ‘filters’ to do this. The other thing that worked well was the ’Resources’ page which provided access to a wide range of helpful web links, again ‘filtered’ links are used depending on the need.

For those of us who spend time posting blogs, we know that most of the truly great blogs are buried somewhere in the archives. Usually only the five most recent blog posts are shown. Ways need to be found to display these featured posts using tags and categories, etc. The search engine in WordPress is not very good, finding keywords which are often out of context from what is required.

In summary the redesigned website is much improved with plenty of open white-spaces and the horizontal filter bar works well on a desktop. Unfortunately, only 14% of the internet usage comes from desktops.  On a tablet or smartphone the filter bar becomes vertical and unresponsive.  I think that the redesign could have been much improved if the focus was on a smartphones-first, then considerations made as to how it would look on a desktop.

Here is a mash-up of his SPI podcast session # 208

Will It Fly: Book Review


This is a book review on Will It Fly? by Pat Flynn that was posted on Amazon. Pat Flynn is the well known entrepreneur of He was featured on the previous posting about self-publishing.

I’m not a “Pat Flynn” groupie. I am a retired academic molecular biologist trying my hand at online publishing. I have enjoyed following Pat’s podcasts and frequently read his blog on smart passive income. I would give Pat the man, podcaster, blogger, motivator, entrepreneur par excellence, five stars. But this is a book review and although it is a good book, it doesn’t live up to all the groupie hype.

Pat is a family man and is a good father to his 5 year-old son giving him plenty of positive feedback and praise for the things he does — making paper airplanes. But that kind of praise in the book: “I’m proud of you”, “once again, you’re doing an amazing job”, “making your future life amazing”,  “ it’s truly been a pleasure to be part of this journey with you”, etc — is off-putting. Also there is an evangelical tone to parts of the book — about serving your customer: “when you serve you get paid back in return”. This flies in the face of the minions that serve and are poorly paid, if at all.

The first part of the book and the exercises  didn’t seem to have anything to do with the question: will this business succeed? It is the super-market version of self-help 101. Using Google-docs to keep track of your research is elementary and the customer P.L.A.N. is ??? The good part of the book began at Part 4 (65% thru the book) the validation process. It seems the act of someone paying you money for your ‘product’ is the essence of validation. All else pales by comparison. Maybe, but I have paid for some shonky products bought off the internet and I shudder to think I had ‘validated’ someone’s business plan. The use of email marketing in the five case studies presented was very enlightening and informative. Also the resources section provides a useful guide. These sections are worth the price of the book. The free ‘Companion Course’ in my opinion, did not fly.

Overall, I am pleased I bought and read the book. It gave me a much clearer and richer picture of Pat Flynn, the man