It is very difficult for a new writer to get noticed these days by agents and the big traditional publishers. Agent Rachelle Gardner receives hundreds of queries a week from hopeful writers jockeying for her attention. Gardner recently wrote a blog post specifying the type of books she is interested in representing (each agent has specialties). She is interested in books with a Christian slant and in memoirs, but not “personal stories of overcoming adversity… unless your story has built-in marketing potential and an obvious media hook.” Someone then asked if that meant her Christian-perspective story of overcoming cancer twice was not of interest. Gardner was kind enough to explain further.
Publishing is a business. A big business. And it is not doing so well these days. The traditional publishers are looking for sure bets: celebrity stories, big name authors, hot-selling current themes (think vampires). If you are not famous, you have an uphill battle. Your manuscript had better be written really well, have a subject attractive to the masses and yet have a twist that sets it apart. “Misery” memoirs of drugs and abuse are a dime a dozen. The cancer survivor is one of millions, as Gardner noted. She says, “Memoir is a demanding genre; it will only sell if the writing is stellar, and the story is crafted in a way that is very compelling. It usually needs a unique hook or a fresh spin on a common topic.” This is true of any genre: what makes your story stand out from the rest, but not be too different.
The average person will not have a standout memoir that can be sold to a publishing house. Those who truly believe they have a sellable story will need to develop serious writing skills, to research by reading top-selling memoirs, and to study similar memoir stories to see how to tweak to be unique. Consider approaching small publishers that accept memoirs. If you can do presentations related to your memoir theme, consider self-publishing and doing back-of-the-room sales. Again, publishing is a business. For some, it is an expensive hobby.
For most, it is not important to sell their memoir to millions. For most, it is too much trouble to self-publish and market. That does not make their story less important or valuable. A memoir is what you leave behind for those you love, for those who want to remember you forever and tell their children and great-grandchildren about you. Your memoir may not make a million, but it will be worth a million to your family.You don’t need the publishing world to verify that.
Read Rachelle Gardner’s post, Writing Memoir
John Kremer’s Self-Publishing Hall of Fame
On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction