Kerry Kriseman Shares Memoir Writing Tips

Words and Photos by Carlene Cobb
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What’s your story?

Kerry Kriseman Shares Tips for
Writing, Publishing and Marketing Memoirs

NEA/Pinellas Recovers Grant Update

Everybody has a story to tell and perhaps a memoir to write. The opportunity to write a book was one of the few silver linings around that dark cloud called COVID-19 that kept people sequestered at home for two years. Some folks decided to write their memoir to fulfill various goals, from creating a written history for the family to becoming a best-selling author. The enormous satisfaction of writing a book, opening the box from the publisher, seeing your name on the cover and holding your book in your hands is an unparalleled joy.

Writing a memoir is also hard work.

To help authors better understand how to write, publish, and market their memoirs with greater confidence and success, Kerry Kriseman, St. Petersburg author of Accidental First Lady: on the Front Lines (and Behind the Scenes) of Local Politics approached Maureen McDole, poet and Keep St. Pete Lit founder and executive director to discuss a memoir writing, publishing and marketing workshop.

Workshop leader and author Kerry Kriseman

Kriseman’s memoir was published in October 2021 by St. Petersburg Press. The book recounts her 22 years as a political spouse to her lawyer-turned-politician husband, Rick Kriseman, St. Petersburg Mayor from 2014-2022. She said friends and colleagues encouraged her to write the book before she ever thought of the possibility, and she liked the idea of trying her hand at teaching a memoir workshop based on her memoir-writing experience.

“What’s Your Story? Memoir Workshop” was born. Keep St. Pete Lit sponsored it and Kriseman taught it at The Factory, St. Petersburg.

Twelve participants registered for the four-session workshop. Most attended all four sessions – a few chose specific classes that best fit their needs. They were in various stages of their projects, some just beginning to write the first draft and others nearing manuscript completion.

“What I enjoyed was being able to share my experience from the perspective of an average person doing this,” says Kriseman. “Most people wonder if they can finish it. Will anybody want to read it? You have to get past all that. I was pleased that I was able to share something that everyone can hopefully use, including the camaraderie and hearing their stories. I also learned from the others.”

Kerry Kriseman’s memoir, published by St. Petersburg Press – cover photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times

The class began at the beginning – the writing process, brainstorming and sharing what their stories could be. Kriseman invited participants to share their writings, clarifying there was no pressure to share. In-class activities included writing on the spot, sharing ideas that emerged, and giving encouraging feedback.

Kriseman emphasized the importance of the narrative arc, which is the main premise of the story and the GPS of the story’s action — from exposition to conflict and crises building tension to the story’s climax and resolution, with characters showing some type of change and growth.

They explored questions to help define the premise of their stories in progress. “Why am I writing this story?” “What is the story’s mission or premise?” “Who will be interested in reading my story?” Kriseman assigned homework to draft the preface and first chapter of their book.

“I was glad she assigned homework,” says Georgia Earp, who was just beginning her memoir. “The classes had a nice pace and a lot of discussion. I found it inspiring and engaging. Kerry was well organized, well prepared and she gave us great handouts. I attended all four classes.

“I liked the little village we had there. I’ve written twelve pages after taking the class.” Georgia adds that she is getting together with some of the people from the workshop to continue their book brainstorming.

Georgia Earp appreciates joining a community of writers

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“It Takes a Village” is the name Kriseman gave the class that covered knowing your audience, weaving your theme into your writing, and enlisting the help of others by getting feedback from beta readers, friends or an editor. Participants were invited to share their memoirs’ themes.

“In one class Kerry asked us to think of something that makes us proud of our family,” says Robyn Crosa. “I am inspired to write my memoir because I am proud of my family. I am proud of where we come from and everything we have overcome. I want to share my experiences of being the granddaughter of immigrants because I think it is a relevant topic in light of what is going on in our world.”

Kriseman mentioned that she learned to be flexible about her projected timeline for finishing her book, particularly when her work was interrupted by several months of chemotherapy, when she did not always feel up to working on the memoir. She encouraged others not to feel pressured by expected timeframes.

“I worked on the book from spring of 2018 to fall of 2021,” says Kriseman. “There’s no perfect timeline. Some people work on books for years.”
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“Getting Published” explored the rapidly evolving options in today’s book publishing and marketing industry. Traditional publishing, self-publishing/vanity press, and hybrid/boutique publishing were discussed with the inherent pros and cons of each. Kriseman stressed the importance of clarifying the benefits, costs and author responsibilities within various packages offered by each publisher to choose the best path for you and your book.

Her choice was a traditional publisher, St. Petersburg Press, and she has been happy with that choice. However, a different path may be best for another author. Researching all options is an essential element for each author and each project.

“Marketing Your Memoir” offered Kriseman’s advice to authors to be “politely shameless” about marketing their book and to plan for pre-launch marketing well in advance of the book’s launch. She gave a lot of information about social media, how to find book reviewers, software for creating promotional content and an author website, and the huge value of offering speaking engagements about your book.

“Always have copies of your book with you everywhere you go,” she says. “You never know who you may meet who needs to know about your book.”
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Raubi Marie Perilli is ready for more KSPL classes

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Raubi Marie Perilli, founder & content strategist of Simply Stated Media says, “I write in a commercial capacity for work, and I just started getting back into creative writing. When trying to embark on a creative endeavor, it’s especially important to find people who can support you and understand what you’re trying to do. I’ll be looking forward to other classes. I’m excited about having a place to go to get that inspiration.”

Considering today’s multi-faceted business of writing, revising, publishing and marketing books, fitting all the tips and tricks into a limited time is challenging. Though it is not yet confirmed, there may be a sequel to the Memoir Workshop in the future.

Accidental First Lady is definitely on my reading list for this summer,” adds McDole. “Kerry is a wonderful teacher and all the students raved about her. We hope to have her teach again with us in the fall.”

“There is so much more I could have shared,” says Kriseman. “You could spend a whole session on marketing through social media and a robust email list, preparing for speaking engagements, marketing through your website. Getting everything in was a challenge.

“I’m grateful for the reception I’ve gotten on the book. Grateful to Maureen [McDole] for giving me the chance to teach.”
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Keep St. Pete Lit is a recipient of the Pinellas Recovers Grant,
provided by Creative Pinellas through a grant from the
National Endowment of the Arts American Rescue Plan.

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