My split personality: the technical writer and the memoirist – Cindi Michael
By Cindi Michael
I’ve published five business and technology books and dozens of articles, over a span of ten years. And yet, my most important and hardest writing has been my memoir, The Sportscaster’s Daughter. Here are five ways publishing technical books and the memoir have been different.♥
Starting Over and Protecting the Innocent
Because my father is famous in certain circles (George Michael of The Sports Machine) and because our family story is the dysfunctional, tragic sort, I have had to separate my author names. Cindi Michael is new to Twitter and blogging, while the technical writer has over 15,000 Twitter followers. My split personas are not so much a secret, but rather, a necessary separation for two very different bodies of work. This memoir has forced me to build a new brand and platform from scratch.
It’s been a confusing thing in my personal life too. Do I promote on Facebook? My friends could care less about my technical writing, and new friends have no idea that my father was a famous sportscaster or that I have such a sad family story. My children never met their grandfather, so it seems inappropriate that they should be associated with his name. In this way, while friends and family are often pivotal promoters of a new writer, for me, it will only be some friends who know about this book, because I am trying to protect the innocent: my husband and children.
In writing my business and technology books, there is the first draft, the technical edit, the copy edit, and the proof read. I revise, accept, and reject edits at each point along the way, working on multiple chapters at the same time. The publisher pays for all these edits.
In memoir and novel writing, the publisher expects to receive an almost ready-to-go, fully edited manuscript. The writer is responsible for the editing costs, which can run from $2000 to $10,000 depending on length and type of edit.
No Agent Required
In writing user manuals and business books, I didn’t need an agent. I had a well-defined readership and the publisher has actively sought writers in our space of big data and analytics. I’ve even helped business colleagues get their work published.
For a memoir and novel, an agent is required to reach a traditional publisher. In the last four years since the first draft of my memoir was complete, I’ve written to about 40 different agents. There were nibbles, and even one agent who hung onto my manuscript for a full year; she ultimately decided that, while her front-line readers all liked the book, she just didn’t want to represent another memoirist. I’ve pitched agents at several writers conferences, with varying degrees of request for a follow-up or the full manuscript. But it was at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York in 2015 that I heard author Kristen Harnish (The Vintner’s Daughter) speak about agents and hybrid publishing. She has an agent, and her book is published by HarperCollins in Canada and She Writes Press in the U.S. Agent optional.
My memoir is important and riveting; it has the touch of fame, with my father, the sportscaster George Michael. But it’s not the blockbuster fame that stories from the likes of Brooke Shields or OJ Simpson generate, the ones that agents and mainstream publishers gravitate toward. Further, the time to publish with She Writes Press is about a year, whereas with traditional publishers, it can still take another two to three years. I was ready to move on, and whatever extra hook my father provides to this story, his fame has a shelf life. She Writes Press seemed the perfect fit for me.
Big Bucks and the Long Tail of Writing
Some writers make big bucks on their books. Most of us do not. The more lucrative work is in the long tail that comes from a technology book: speaking, teaching, and consulting fees. Royalty fees on five books over a ten-year period have offered a predictable trickle of income. Meanwhile, so far, this memoir has been an unpredictable trickle of payments out. I suspect I overpaid one editor, without a clear understanding of the cost or the deliverable. With She Writes Press, the costs have been very clear.
With my technology books, the publisher handled all publicity and I had a platform from which to refer to my books. With my memoir, I’ve invested another chunk in a publicist. I consider it a smart but long-term investment. Even the now well-established author Jodi Picoult once told me how much money it takes to become known. I do have a few more book ideas — fiction — percolating away, so I hope my marketing efforts are more than just a one-time payback. Some early readers of The Sportscaster’s Daughter think it would make for a great move. I can but dream! At this point, though, I am simply hoping to break even.
It Started with a Poem
I have always been a writer. In junior high, it was sing-songy poems; in high school, dramatic short stories, and in college, everything from journalistic essays to company manuals to more short stories. But in college and in the 1980s, I was just learning word processing. The local area network usually crashed, twenty pages into a piece, and there was no way I would rewrite that story from scratch. I fell into the technology space, determined to recover my corrupted Word Perfect documents, and later, to figure out how to stop the network from crashing altogether.
After college, I realized I could more easily get a job as a systems support person, but there were no paid jobs for aspiring short story writers. At night, I continued to write my stories and go to my writers workshops. By day, I wrote newsletters and mini software user guides. So when attending a technology conference in 2002, I noticed a user manual for some software, but no books for the product that I specialized in. I wrote to McGraw Hill, the publisher of one of the manuals, and submitted a proposal. They accepted and I signed for a $10,000 advance to write a 650-page user manual — I who thought I’d never have the stamina to write anything longer than a short story.
I may have a split personality when it comes to writing genres, but at heart, I am one writer.
After moving from Maryland to Switzerland to Texas to Michigan, Cindi Michael now lives in rural New Jersey, not far from where she spent the golden years of her childhood. She’s happily married to an Englishman and is a die-hard football and swim team mom. Her day job as a technology and big data expert takes her to clients around the world, and she is the author of five business and technology books. She holds a BA in English from the University of Maryland and an MBA from Rice University. She has won two creative writing awards for her short stories.