When you’re pitching an Agent or Publisher or Editor with the goal of securing a book publishing deal, you want to use the right terms to show you know the genre and the business of book publishing.
You also need to understand that the FIRST goal is to get an agent or a Publisher to request to see more of your story. So, the pitch needs to be super short and sharp and leave them wanting to know MORE.

There’s certain terms that will REPEL an agent or potential publisher in a memoir book pitch, so make sure you’re not using any of these in your query letter or verbal pitch, if you’re talking about this story at a writing conference or pitch-fest, or via twitter, for example.

So many writers get this stuff wrong with memoir, and that’s because memoir, being personal story and ALSO literature, is the most widely misunderstood genre, and one that’s not taught like novel writing or academic or general nonfiction.

So – back to your pitch, which will most likely take the form of a query letter sent via email.


PITCHING YOUR BOOK TO AN AGENT OR PUBLISHER: YOUR FIRST GOAL

To pitch to get a book deal, you need to achieve one thing only: share what the story is about, as quickly as possible.
This is your one and only job when you are writing a pitch for your memoir.

And i know it’s hard, because pitching a memoir is unlike pitching any other kind of book. It’s a personal story, it’s your own experience, and this makes you more vulnerable when you pitch a memoir than if you’re pitching a fictional novel, because the events are your lived experience, and often as writers, we mix up rejection of the STORY (and how we’re positioning it) with rejection of OURSELVES.

And it’s this very fact that we’re pitching our OWN stories that makes us get this part of the pitch wrong.

MY EXPERIENCE PITCHING MEMOIRS THAT LED TO BOOK DEALS

So you know I’m speaking from experience, I’ve written and sold two memoirs. My first memoir, LOVE AND OTHER U TURNS, sold after I sent a query to a publisher who then immediately asked for the full manuscript. That’s always the first goal: to get the Publisher or Agent to request to see more.
My second memoir, A LETTER FROM PARIS, sold on pitch alone.
It was a short synopsis that sold the story and got interest from a Publisher and a literary agent, and then I put together a short book proposal which my agent then sent to a number of Publishers. A pitch is included in any number of these ‘sales’ documents that sell your memoir. The query letter and the synopsis are the first things you’ll need to have ready for your pitch. It’s important to know these don’t just include a story pitch, but a pitch for YOU as the author, which shows your position in the publishing marketplace. But for the purpose of simplicity, I’m just going to focus on the story pitch itself and how this needs to be presented for an agent or publisher to be interested in your book.

(The Book Deal Accelerator teaches you how to write all of these documents, with step-by-step examples and templates, too.)

Now, if i hadn’t mastered the following part of the pitch, neither of my books would be published.

And it was really from years of pitching essays and articles to media and publishers as a freelance journalist that I mastered the art of the nonfiction pitch.

If i hadn’t known how to sell a story to a potential editor or publisher, I wouldn’t have been able to make my living writing personal essays and nonfiction features, columns and articles for print and online media for over ten years. The majority of work came from ‘cold’ pitches, meaning that I sold an idea to an editor before I wrote it. This came from condensing the idea into the most compelling pitch, and tailoring it to the specific editor and publication.

 

THE GOAL OF YOUR STORY PITCH

The goal of any pitch is to quickly convey the STORY of what you’re pitching and what makes it compelling to a wide audience. This is how you sell a story to a potential publisher or agent. The HOOK is what will sell a story. Read that twice. 

If it’s a memoir, you are pitching the story you have created from a personal experience, and proving that it’s sellable to a wide audience even though you’re not a famous figure. The HOOK will show a potential agent or editor how your story is DIFFERENT to a thousand other pitches on the same or similar experiences.

 

WHAT WRITERS GET WRONG WHEN PITCHING THEIR MEMOIR
This is what so many memoir writers get wrong in a pitch:
  1. Memoir writers pitch what their life has been about up until this point (this is not relevant to an editor, unless you’re sharing publishing credentials)
  2. Memoir writers pitch how much they love writing or why they must write this book or why someone else said you should write it
  3. The pitch is too long: Memoir writers pitch their life story or express extra details on why people need to hear their version of events (this can hold an element of anger or venting and including your whole life story – not THIS story that you’ll cover in the memoir – overwhelms an editor or potential agent)
  4. Memoir writers pitch why and how they’ve suffered in their life and include a list of horrendous or traumatic events – usually in an effort to prove why their life has been unique or interesting, but this misses the point of the pitch and can trigger the person on the other end receiving this overwhelming sweep of awful information.

DO NOT DO THIS IN YOUR MEMOIR PITCH!

  • Please don’t send anyone – potential agent, editor, publisher, (or me) a list of awful things that have happened in your life with a plea to make it a book. A pitch is usually unsolicited, which means the person reading your pitch has no idea what’s coming and that kind of information is not easy to receive.
    Agents have some shocking stories about memoir pitches, and ones that should have come with a trigger warning! I also have an inbox full emails I’ve had to hide from view from writers dumping a list of horrendous experiences with the expectation that I will then respond with information on how to turn that into a book or a pitch. Ugh! Please don’t do this.


It’s important to know that a list of traumatic things that happened to you does not mean you have a compelling and sellable story. Everyone has trauma if you scratch the surface, what’s compelling is a unique or admirable or transformational way of dealing with it.

YOUR work as a writer is to find the STORY and the MEANING in the experience. Not to just tell people what’s happened to you. The purpose of the first draft of your memoir is to tell yourself what happened, so that you can then organise it into a compelling story that makes sense and grips a reader. To learn how to do this, you might like my free masterclass on the 90 day memoir draft and revision method I teach.

Are you (really) ready to write the pitch?

When you’re at a place where you can separate what happened to you from the story that will appeal to and sell to a wide audience (which might require you cutting and culling significant events from your draft! Because they do not serve the STORY), you’re ready to write your pitch.
This is why I always say WRITE some of the story before you start working on the pitch. You need to have a firm grasp of the overarching narrative before you can condense it into the most compelling line, message, lesson or theme.

TERMS TO AVOID IN YOUR MEMOIR PITCH

If you’ve downloaded 4 steps to writing a bestselling pitch you’ll know to avoid using certain terms in your memoir pitch because they will repel publishers and agents, and I’m going to mention one in particular: 

AVOID USING THE TERM ‘AUTOBIOGRAPHY’ IN A MEMOIR PITCH

If you’re pitching a memoir and you’re not a celebrity or well-known figure, using this term will blow your pitch.

Even though it’s technically correct (a memoir generally goes in the biography / autobiography section of a bookstore), using AUTOBIOGRAPHY in your memoir pitch repels a potential publisher in two ways: first, it implies that you haven’t done the work to find the STORY in your book, and TWO, it’s frankly, a bit terrifying to a publisher. 

Using the term AUTOBIOGRAPHY in your memoir pitch will make a potential agent or publisher think you’re about to send them a 500 page life story they will need to wade through. They don’t want that. They want the story.
The term ‘diary’ is another no-go for a memoir pitch. EVEN IF you’re working on a memoir that’s come from diary entries, the agent or publisher doesn’t need to know your process, they need to see and be captivated by what’s compelling in the STORY, first and foremost.

My 3 Steps to a Bestselling Memoir Draft and Pitch shows you how to take an idea to full draft and pitch AND deal by mastering 3 steps.
The Bestselling Pitch bundle includes extra videos on pitching a memoir to a publisher and identifying your hook, which is crucial to a pitch that gets an agent or editor asking to see the full draft or proposal.

YOUR JOB IS TO FIND THE UNIVERSAL STORY AND SIGNIFICANCE FROM THE EXPERIENCE

If you’re having trouble locating the compelling story in your memoir, make sure you download my free guide: 4 steps to a bestselling memoir pitch.

  • In my pitch guide for memoir writers, you’ll learn common mistakes with memoir pitches as well as the simple steps to identifying the STORY in your memoir. Because while memoir comes from your life, it is NOT your life story. 

Unless you’re Harry and your book is called SPARE. In which case, the minutiae will still be compelling because you’re breaking an enormous taboo that’s been running since medieval times, and that is exposing the intimate details of the royal family.

 

Did this help you with your pitch? I’d love to know!

MORE RESOURCES FOR NONFICTION WRITERS REACHING FOR SUCCESS IN TRADITIONAL BOOK PUBLISHING:

How to find your Story Hook
How to write a Query Letter
The Book Deal Accelerator nonfiction publishing process for first-time authors
1:1 Book Coaching Sessions (I can look at your pitch in these sessions)