Writing an excerpt from a book-length memoir is a fantastic way to get noticed by your dream agent or publisher.
It’s also a great way to force yourself to condense your book-length idea into a shorter piece. It gets you focused and really clear on the most interesting angle for your story, and it can also give you access to valuable feedback from a professional editor.
What makes memoir so powerful is what makes it so scary to write. It’s personal, it’s intimate, it’s giving complete strangers an entrée into your most profound, painful or extreme moments.
By getting an essay or excerpt published before you write the book, you can be reassured that your story is meaningful and worth pursuing. These are all reasons I think you should try and get an essay published on the topic of your book-length memoir.
Securing a book deal from your essay isn’t unheard of – in fact it’s one of the best ways to get a book deal, or at the very least, interested from a publisher or a literary agent.
At the end of this post I’ll share how to boost any essay or excerpt once it’s out there in the online world (to maximise your chances of getting that publisher interest).
But first, where to pitch?
Narratively focuses on ‘human stories, beautifully told’. There’s a section devoted specifically to memoir and you can pitch directly through their submissions portal.
Sarah Krasnostein’s award-winning The Trauma Cleaner started as an essay on Narratively, which is what led her to secure her publisher.
TIP: Subscribe to their Memoir Monday email recap, co-curated with other memoir heavy-hitters such as Guernica and Tinhouse. Reading these essays will up your memoir-writing game!
I love LitHub. Their long-form essay section is a personal favourite, and you can subscribe to updates on the ‘writing life’.
Again, submissions go through the web portal, but it’s quicker if you have a direct contact.
Much like Narratively, Longreads specializes in essays and first-person pieces. You can see, from a quick glance, how wide the topics are. Submissions are online.
The Atlantic favours long-form essays, and a by-line in this magazine would make your book proposal almost a done deal. The submissions process is all online, too, which makes it super easy.
Lola’s Story is one of the most beautifully-written first-person pieces I’ve read recently in The Atlantic.
This beautiful online journal favours travel memoir, and their submission guidelines outline in more detail, the areas they’re generally looking to commission.
I had an excerpt from A Letter From Paris published in Hidden Compass last year and the team was absolutely lovely to deal with. You can read my essay, here.
6: Any website or blog with an audience curious about your memoir topic
What niche is your memoir topic? Let’s say it’s about a rare form of blood transfusion – what blogs or online platforms are available in your genre? Is it Dr Oz? O, the Oprah Magazine? The Irish Times health liftout?
Writing something in the first person around your topic (even if it’s health, or how-to, perhaps it’s even about building furniture?) can get you noticed by exactly the audience that you need to tap into for a book-length work. Read widely on your topic, and pitch a piece to your favourite blog. Bonus points if it’s widely read.
What to do when your essay or blog is published
If you’re looking to secure a book deal on proposal only, use your essay (your most beautiful, polished piece) front and foremost in your book proposal.
Share it widely on social media. Share it in your own networks, tag the heck out of it on twitter, instagram, facebook, wherever your potential editors or publishers might be hanging out. Make sure you’re easily contactable, and that the post contains your social media handles.
Do you have a blog? Share it there, too.
When it comes time to pitch your book, you’ve done half the work: you’ve given a beautiful snapshot of the story to come, an overview of the story, a teaser, if you will. And any potential publisher or editor will have a published piece in front of their eyes that shows you can write. Bonus points if it’s shared widely: proof that there’s a captive audience, ready for your book.
I hope this has inspired your to get cracking on a shorter piece if the entire book is overwhelming you. This is just a tiny little snapshot of the opportunities to get a memoir essay published online.
One more thing: Read widely, write often, and keep pitching.
And remember: it might take awhile to get something published, but when it’s out there, you’ll forget about all the rejections.
Happy writing, friends!