At one point or another, it seems every writer has (or has had) a memoir in the works. So what do agents think makes the grade? Here’s the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series (the
quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were
creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows. Break free of the saturation!
No. 10: Memoirs—Saturation & Separation
“I guess I approach the entire genre as though it’s already completely saturated. The key is finding a story, or a way to tell it, that separates your book from everything out there. When I’m working with a client, I try to steer them away from, ‘I was born in a big/small town, and I liked listening to punk music, and I hated my mother and blahdee blahda blah blah.’ If you want to separate your story, find a way to tell it that focuses 100 percent on the reader and cuts out all the writing that is just there for your own ego. What do people want to read? I think they want to read one great story after another, with all the usual navel-gazing exposition cut out. And this is exactly what I try and get my clients to write. …
“Imagine how hard you think the market is for a completely unknown writer trying to sell their memoir. OK, now multiply that by a gazillion, and put St. Peter at the gate, and he’s in a very bad mood. That’s how hard the market is.
Don’t get me wrong: All of that can be overcome if you have a proposal that delivers. … If you don’t, it probably isn’t going to happen for you. But then, the best thing about publishing today is that it’s possible for writers to go out and, entirely on their own, show what their books are capable of in the marketplace. There isn’t an editor in all of publishing who isn’t going to be interested in an author who’s single-handedly sold 10,000–15,000 copies of their book—which is becoming more and more doable with each passing day.”
—Byrd Leavell, “The Market for Memoirs,” by Jessica Strawser, July/August 2010 (to read the full piece, click here; for our entire issue specifically focused on memoirs, click here)
[And there’s also this perspective, from my friend, agent Mollie Glick:]
WD: What factors in a query or in the opening pages of a memoir will make you want to read more?
GLICK: “Wanting to turn the page! I really look for the same thing in a memoir that I do in a novel. If I have a manuscript with me on the subway, would I rather read the submission than whatever book I’m lugging around that day?”
(Image: Sembazuru [Flickr: Blank Moleskine Pages; CC-BY-SA-2.0 www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
WRITING PROMPT: Carol
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings (next one: next week!). If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.
There are carolers. But they aren’t singing Christmas carols.