Do you want to write a publication-standard true story that sells? If it’s a book-length work based on your lived experience, and you’ve written it as a personal narrative, you need to pitch this to publishers and agents as a memoir.
Even if there are how-to components, or inspirational elements, or journalistic aspects to the story. If you, the narrator of the story, are telling your own story in this book, it is classified as a memoir in publishing circles.
This might sound really obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers don’t know the genre in which they’re writing – or the category of literature and how it’s named in publishing circles.
And it’s pointless to write an entire book draft without knowing the genre in which you’re writing.
The genre matters – because this is how publishers assess whether or not your book fits and will sell in that category.
The difference between self-published and traditionally-published memoirs
This is the difference between writing for the prestigious traditional publishing market vs self-publishing your story.
With traditional publishing: the stakes are higher, it’s riskier and scarier, and the standards are higher for QUALITY writing and positioning of both yourself and your story.
Self-published memoirs are everywhere, and they rarely sell more than a few dozen to a few hundred copies. Yes, there are exceptions (of course) but one of the biggest reasons I’ve never had any interest in self-publishing is that I really don’t want to have to store, distribute, produce, and manage the project timeline for everyone involved. I’d prefer to focus on making my writing as good as possible and then pour all that energy into the publicity and promotional side of selling the book when it’s out.
I also don’t want to have to think about distribution! I’m reading a fantastic memoir at the moment that was self-published, and I looked into the production company who produced it for the author: $36 000 is their minimum project fee.
AND he’s now having huge issues with ‘bootleg’ copies of the book being sold on Amazon. This is just ONE Of the nightmare scenarios with self-publishing I just don’t want to deal with.
Back to traditional book publishing – and getting your memoir published
Traditional publishing is the highest standard you could aim for with your book – and that’s because publishers know books, they know covers, they know editing and formatting and legalities of this category and they will raise your work to a much higher standard than you could produce on your own.
It’s a bit like comparing playing chess with your husband with being a world champion chess player. Traditional publishing is a global industry and there are many, many, many nuances to publishing that differ depending on regions, specific memoir sub-categories, and so much more.
You need to meet certain standards with the manuscript to get a traditional book publishing deal.
If this is your first book, you MUST work on the manuscript first – don’t write a memoir proposal without having at least 5-10 000 words of your draft written.
Above all else, your memoir MUST be structured to sell.
What does that mean? Well, before I could write, pitch and sell my memoir manuscripts to agents & publishers, I had to find what was most INTERESTING about my story, to compel complete strangers to read it. I couldn’t bury the interesting part somewhere in the middle…. which is what most first-time authors do.
You must find what makes your story compelling as a STORY – not necessarily what you feel like writing about! And start there.
This is the difference between journaling or writing for your own creative therapy, and producing a quality work of literature that will compel readers across the world to finish a book-length story. Structure demands that you DISTANCE yourself from making writing decisions based on whatever you feel like writing that day (or just producing a mass of content based on a long and complex story) – and instead elevating your understanding of what needs to go INTO a story that will make it highly readable and engaging to readers and publishing professionals alike.
It demands you start thinking of this work as just that – a work of literature. NOT a rambling diary you’re about to press on anyone who asks!
Yes, you can still write what you feel like, but that won’t be going in the material you send out to publishers. Memoir is this unique category where you must explore your own motivations to write it well, but then cut out all the irrelevant back story to sell it.
It’s not enough to write 60 000 – 100 000 words on an experience… it must be structured in a way that people will want to read it through til the end.
The 5 structural principles of what sells in the memoir genre are what I guide you to find, write and explore in depth inside The Art of Memoir, because you can write the SAME story, on the SAME themes, with the SAME topic… to silence or rejections.
Then – as I discovered in my first book publishing experience – rewrite the SAME story with better structure, following these principles and have it sell within weeks. This happened to me! I sold a manuscript WITHIN A WEEK after re-writing the manuscript once I knew these principles. And this is exactly why I’m so passionate about teaching them to first-time memoir writers aiming for success in the traditional book publishing market. Memoir is so widel;y misunderstood (and poorly taught) as a category in writing and academic circles.
Writing a memoir to sell to a top publishing house or literary agent
What I’ve found is that the most important foundational element of compelling memoir is also what’s most difficult to clarify immediately…and that’s the HOOK.
We rarely SEE the hook to our personal story because we’ve lived with it for so long!
I didn’t see the HOOK to A Letter From Paris until I’d articulated the story outline to a few different people in publishing. I noticed when they either glazed over or, as one blunt writer friend said “why would this be interesting to anyone not you?”😆. Story is like music. Often it takes one piece of information shared in a different spot in the manuscript, to make it flow or engage the reader so differently!
And as I share in my programme, the HOOK for memoir is so important because it’s how you sell the story AND where you need to begin writing the manuscript. Too many writers work on an entire draft before clarity on their hook.
Would you like to know what’s most compelling and relatable about your memoir? EVERY story is interesting in its own way, but if you’re framing it and telling it with a focus on things nobody can relate to, then it simply won’t sell.
It’s a huge shift in your inner narrative, to see what makes your personal story interesting AND compelling. It gives you the clarity and confidence to write it well.
✔️ Are writing a true story based on your own experiences and you want to do it WELL – you have high standards for the work you put into the world
✔️ Want to reach your FULL potential as a writer in this very unique (and highly misunderstood!) category of literature, and grow your understanding of story, and narrative, along the way – as taught by a publishing professional, not someone who is guessing or who has never, in fact, written or published a book themselves (this drives me bonkers).
✔️ If you plan to self-publish your memoir, will show you how and why and where you need to focus to maintain a reader’s attention on your personal story. So many of my writers have finished drafts within months of signing up. Because memoir does NOT need to be messy, murky and complicated! And – most importantly, you can’t edit a blank page.
To your growth and expansion and your incredible true story