Selling memoir: Isn’t your family alone worth it?

Recently I disappointed a couple people by telling them their stories would not sell to the public.  Many (probably most) people do not realize what a harsh world publishing for commercial sales is. Everyone has interesting stories, but most of us are not skilled writers with stories that will capture the attention of strangers who will pay money for them. Then there is the marketing part, where authors have to get out there and make their books known to the world through social media (without spamming), by getting news media interested (really difficult), or by public speaking (OMG!). Many authors fail at marketing, and their books then drown in the river, taking the money spent to produce them down the river, too.

How much does publishing cost? If you can find a publisher, it will cost nothing. But publishers want already edited (you pay for that) manuscripts with a reason lots of people would buy the story. They want a sure thing, and they expect the author to be a salesperson. The self-publishing route has a big learning curve, and you must spend your own money for editing and for manuscript text layout and cover design. This is not cheap, and few of us are talented enough to do this very well ourselves. Not doing it well risks getting no sales beyond your friends—or worse, bad reviews. If you have some writing talent, a fascinating story and a passion to share it, and some sales skills, then learn all you can about writing and publishing and go for it. Have a spare $1000+ if you need to publish it yourself. Maybe try the e-book route first. Beware of companies that call themselves publishers but are in reality selling you their publishing services (editing, design, printing). Being “accepted” by them does not mean they think your manuscript is great, that just means they will accept your money.

I have published two historical and cultural memoirs that have made a net profit, but I know my own memoir would not sell to anyone outside my family. I am not disappointed. My family would like to have my stories, and their appreciation is what is most important. Family-only stories will not need to be perfectly written or published in an expensive, professional way. If money is an issue, an MS Word document with simple cover page can be taken to the local copy shop and inexpensively bound. If you have some money to spend, work with a publishing services company to pay for a cover design and standard book binding, maybe even a simple edit, and only order the number of copies you need for your family (with some to spare for future generations).

Isn’t your family worth the time and effort to write your stories? Someday a grandchild or great-grandchild may think they are the most interesting stories they have ever read—priceless.


Me teaching about the hard world of publishing for sales


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
This entry was posted in lifewriting, memoir writing, publishing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Selling memoir: Isn’t your family alone worth it?

  1. Quite honestly, most of my family would not appreciate my memoir, I don’t think, about my mother’s mental illness. I think writing for one’s family and writing to publish or self publish are two very different types of writing endeavors, and would result in very different memoirs. I understand one must be realistic, but again, depending on what one wants to write….

  2. You never know, Valorie. My remark about grandchildren or great-grandchildren is a true story from an elderly woman about her family-only book. Our own children may not care, it’s the future that may. Mental illnesses are common, and someone in your future may need your story for support, even if it were just printed and bound at a FedEx store. That tie to someone they know of in the family can be important. Also, as people age they can start appreciating their family history and parents’ stories more.

    But, true that family-only is very different from publishing for sales in that one is casual and fine for non-writers, the other is a business endeavor requiring writing and marketing skills, and often a lot of money many do not have to spare. My mother’s memoir started out as family-only, and it is still written mainly for family, just fixed so that strangers who like history and culture enjoy it, too. I want to dispel the thought that only “rich” or famous people or those who are good writers can or should save their stories.

  3. Great points LInda, and don’t overlook the option of using Amazon’s CreateSpace for generating only a few copies for family. It may cost less than printing locally. I’m probably going to use it to produce a single copy for my own use. You can delete the project after ordering, or leave it on CreateSpace without publishing on Amazon. You do not need to add a royalty markup if you want family and friends to be able to order additional copies later at the base cost.

    • I am trying to find more info on this. Apparently you can approve the proof copy but then do not choose any distribution, so that the book does not appear on the Amazon website. Then order personal copies and delete the book files from CreateSpace when done, or keep the files inactive until you’re sure you don’t want any more copies. And does it require an ISBN even though it will not be sold to the public? Of course, using a CreateSpace ISBN is free. CreateSpace does offer services like cover creation and interior formatting for reasonable fees.

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