If you’re aiming to get your memoir to submission-standard, you probably think you need a critique or a developmental editor to take it to the next level.
Day after day, I find the same email in my inbox from a writer with big dreams: “Louisa, it’s taken me years to find the manuscript structure and make sense of it all…I have a memoir draft and I’m not a beginner so I don’t need a class… I just need to re-write the end of it and I’m looking for some feedback… so how much will you charge me for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit?”
I don’t offer memoir critiques. Not now, not ever. Here’s why:
(I review and re-write your sales documents inside my book deal mentorship, but that’s only when you’re ready for the submission process and have a workable memoir draft…)
If you’ve already paid for a developmental editor or critique, ask yourself this:
The thing is, you might have HAD a critique already, or paid for a developmental edit…. way back on draft two or three of this memoir you’ve been working on for years.
So why haven’t those edits / critiques made you ready to query?
I think it’s important to ask yourself that question, before you consider my reasons for not offering manuscript critiques. If you really dig deep, you might find you come up with the same answer I did, which is that the feedback and critique model (and the belief it’s based on, which is that someone else can make better meaning of your story than you), is flawed.
👉 I took manuscript critiques off my website five years ago and teach writers to develop a manuscript inside The Art of Memoir instead.
What I felt in my gut, when I (briefly) offered memoir manuscript critiques and edits to first-time memoir authors with a draft they wanted to improve, was that it was doing more harm than good. It wasn’t the best use of the writer’s time and attention, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking money for something that wasn’t ultimately going to get both of us the outcome we wanted! To have the writer (and the manuscript) feeling ready to query!
Here’s why I stopped giving manuscript critiques to memoir writers and why i developed my individual process The Art of Memoir instead:
Reason 1 – feedback on your finished draft is not enough to get you there!
It takes a LOT more ‘feedback’ and research and coaching and teaching to show a writer how to develop a memoir and get it submission-ready than you can give in a standard critique of 10-30 pages. And a developmental edit, even if it’s 2-3 iterations (which it would need to be, to include enough to-and-fro coaching and answers), is a completely inefficient way to teach you this process, too. The questions and their answers, change the meaning and development of the story, the feedback given, and the suggestions…. and this coaching and teaching need to happen at the writing stage… before the entire draft has been written and an outsider such as an editor becomes involved, which brings me to the second point:
Reason 2: As soon as you change your understanding of story, the narrative you tell about your life and your personal history changes too.
Memoir writers can only craft a manuscript from their current level of understanding of narrative structure and storytelling (and themselves) at any given time. Giving structural or style or character arc or other lessons and explanations around various points of the draft via a critique or an edit, then grows a writer’s understanding, which then changes how they write the story… so again, it needs to be given as close to the beginning of the writing process as possible! Wouldn’t you want to learn the fundamental elements of narrative and storytelling as you write, so you don’t need to go back and change everything? Also, it’s very fun to learn this stuff (as you write), and turns it into creative play! It’s personally transformational, too.
J, one of my Art of Memoir students came in having already written her memoir, feeling she was too advanced for a ‘writing class’ and wondering if she could just sign up for the editing component.
She wasn’t ready to start the submissions process but she also didn’t think she needed the full process and programme. Like many writers, she had a basic knowledge of the Hero’s Journey. But she signed up and dove right in anyway… and it completely changed the way she saw her story (and herself).
“One of the Hero’s Journey modules brought clarity to an unconscious default mechanism that has been thwarting the show my whole life and I never recognized it until now…And it’s turning my book on its head. This module alone is priceless and life-transforming.
I’ve praised your name so many times this week—the way you show up as a wise, loving guide through your prompts and explanations and encouragement and clarity. You give us the tools and the information and light needed to investigate the shadows and dig deep! “
Sharing these self-coaching tools via story examples in The Art of Memoir rather than a critique in a FUN way (I use some comic examples because hey, true stories ARE funny, even when they’re tragic) gives you the best of learning from a developmental editor with none of the bad. You get to relax (and LAUGH) as you consider the less attractive elements of your true story.
And this gives you the ‘space’ and wisdom to then go back and re-write parts of it with some welcome ‘air’ and lightness around the heavier elements (particularly if your story involves a trauma or painful memory).
The Art of Memoir is a more efficient model to take you from page one to draft 7 rather than an edit for one more big reason…
Reason 3: Poking around in your personal history and writing for long days and nights about memories can be painful without boundaries, tools, and expert guidance.
Let alone asking someone else to give you an ‘opinion’ or ‘critique’ on these unformed and unfinished attempts to make sense of things!
Writing a full draft with a limited understanding of personal narrative and how it pertains to human psychology, unintentionally reinforces ‘bad’ habits and feedback loops in how you ‘tell’ the story to yourself. Which makes you less likely to want to finish it, less likely to enjoy writing it… and it’s a giant waste of time!
This is what I learnt for myself when my first memoir was rejected because it was missing the vital components of sellable personal narrative as I’d written it with limited understanding of how readers relate to personal story. I had to rewrite the manuscript completely (!) to get it to submission standard. I’m talking 120 000 new words. The previous (rejected) draft was over 100 000 words too… That’s a lot of new words. How much more efficient it would have been if i’d HAD the tools from a developmental editor before I’d started?!
The Art of Memoir offers the benefits of a book coach and a developmental editor for memoir… with none of the bad.
I started creating the material for The Art of Memoir in 2019 after my second memoir was published. I coached a writer privately through the curriculum for the first iteration, to check the way I explained certain principles made sense no matter where she was in the process.
This was C, who had 300 000 words and three separate ‘books’ when she found me. I didn’t read any of it and instead gave her a set of exercises and access to a series of 8 recorded masterclasses, checking her progress with a weekly zoom.
This was a writer who had paid for three critiques, done half a dozen workshops, and been working on her manuscript for ten years.
Like most memoir writers, she thought a critique was the only way to get over the messy middle of the process and get it finished.
But within a WEEK and from simply doing the exercises you’ll find in Foundations for Success, C had her HOOK, 3 Acts and midpoint, two desires, and even wrote herself a short synopsis. She had revised the entire 300 000+ word manuscript and turned it into ONE narrative with a start and a finish by the end of our 2 weeks together! I repeat: I did not read her book to show her how to do this. I simply gave her the techniques and the exercises you’ll find inside The Art of Memoir, and checked her progress week-by-week, answering questions as she went through the material.
This is still how i ‘coach’ the process to writers. Rather than a 1:1 zoom, you watch pre-recorded videos and ask questions on a web page. It works whether you’re a beginner or an advanced writer, because what you need to master is the same whether you’re on draft 1 or 10.
The principles I teach inside The Art of Memoir apply to ALL traditionally published memoir and ALL compelling true stories.
By seeing how they work in finished books and movies, you have that necessary ‘objectivity’ because you’re not staring at your own story over and over again. And by learning to analyse stories, structure, character and narrative as an editor would, you become so much better at writing (and reviewing) your own! It gives your mind a chance to wander and play and consider new ideas! That’s the fun part of creating a ‘world’ that is writing an entire story! … it’s play, it’s growth, it’s liberating, and it’s the only way to write a book-length true story and feel empowered in the process, for me. If you’d like the benefits of critique (to learn about narrative and better your work) without the inefficiency of that feedback model of book coaching, The Art of Memoir is, in the words of J, “like nothing else out there.”
The Art of Memoir will take you from page one to finished draft of your memoir manuscript to a submission-ready standard. It will save you thousands on edits and revision classes and years of confusion. And, more importantly, it’s about changing you from the inside out as you write – and re-write- your story.
And if you have your draft and you’re chomping at the bit to start the publishing submission process? I’d love to see your application for 1:1 book deal mentorship. More on that in this video right here.