Writing an essay around the topic or theme of your memoir is a great idea for getting exposure, getting paid (!) and many more reasons, but you may not know it can also lead to a book deal.
Having a top editor or publisher see your story gain traction online can fast-track your submission.
One caveat: it’s still going to take work. You’ll need to develop your proposal and/or the manuscript. But having a piece online is like having your synopsis out to ‘shop’ before you’ve even submitted your book proposal.
The great thing about getting a book deal from an essay, though, is that you’ve proven you already have an audience. Those hundreds of comments on your essay or emails from readers means your story resonates. This is why editors seek out books from viral stories: they’re online proof that the market is there for your book.
Read on for the wonderful times a memoir essay has led to a book deal and click on the links if you’d like to study the essays for tips. They’re all amazing examples of condensing a book-length memoir into a shorter narrative arc.
Stephanie Land’s essay in Vox led to her book deal for MAID
The essay was published in July 2015 and went viral, with almost 500 000 hits in two days. Land wrote in her online blog that she’d been developing the essay for two years.
When MAID came out less than four years later, it hit the New York Times bestseller list within weeks.
- Moral of the deal: publishers see what the public likes – if something goes viral, there’s a good chance it will sell well as a published book, too! Also – the apple may take ages to ripen, but falls fast from the tree!
Kristi Coulter’s memoir Nothing Good Can Come of This was sold after this Medium essay went viral
- Moral of this deal: you don’t have to be published in the New York Times. Medium is a great place to get published because people vote for your story in terms of popularity with ‘claps’. If it resonates on Medium, you can be sure it will resonate with the wider public.
Sasha Brown-Worsham’s memoir, Namaste The Hard Way, was sold after an acquisitions editor saw this essay in The New York Times and contacted her out of the blue
Ironically enough, Brown-Worsham says the essay was originally a pitch she’d written an agent to sell the story.
“The agent told me she didn’t see a memoir but that the pitch was lovely and I should sell it as an essay….then the essay sold a memoir. Lightning strike luck!”
- Moral of this deal: An essay is a good way to hone your pitch! Also – don’t take one ‘no’ as the final 🙂
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee is another example of an essay going viral leading to a deal. After this piece about her stroke at age 33 went live in Buzzfeed in 2014, she was contacted by two editors at big houses and eight agents. She ended up signing a two-book deal with Harper Collins. Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, her memoir, was based on the Buzzfeed essay. Her novel (the second book in the deal) is forthcoming.
- Moral(s) of the deal: Buzzfeed gets a LOT of clicks & publishers LOVE platform. The essay is long (a clear sign you’re up to a longform work such as a novel), her writing is superb, and the story has multiple hooks (she didn’t realise she was having a stroke, is just one). Strong hooks doth a strong pitch make!
Kelly Sundberg’s exquisite essay for Guernica led to her book deal for Goodbye Sweet Girl
Theo Nestor’s How To Sleep Alone in a King-Sized bed was born from this essay in Modern Love.
Audrey Shulman’s Sitting in Bars With Cake deal came from the blog she started when she decided to take 50 cakes to bars in LA over the course of a year in the hopes of snagging a boyfriend.
- Moral of this deal: you can even get a book deal from a blog. They key is traction, and visibility. Read this piece where she describes how it all unfolded.
Lastly, Cheryl Strayed wrote this breathtaking essay for the Sun magazine that eventually became WILD
- Moral of the deal: write the most beautiful work around the pain of your story that you possibly can. People will see it.
Regardless of whether your essay leads to a book deal, honing your story via a shorter published essay can only strengthen your book proposal and helps you finesse the story.
Here’s five more great reasons to pitch an essay around your memoir.
- It helps you condense the narrative arc
- It raises your profile
- You can earn some money if you’re pitching to a paid publication
- You learn which parts of the story really resonate with readers
- You start building that elusive thing called ‘platform’ and you can add it to your book proposal
Did this inspire you to get an essay on your memoir topic out there? You might like to read this post on six places to pitch a memoir essay.