If you want to sell your memoir to a publisher, there’s a concept you need to learn.
Memoir is the most complex and widely misunderstood genre in publishing, and without knowing this part of selling a memoir manuscript, it took much longer to both write AND sell my first memoir, LOVE & OTHER U TURNS than it needed to. But this concept was never taught in any of my academic writing and editing courses and degrees, probably because memoir – and creative nonfiction, particularly, is a relatively new genre in traditional publishing.
Since LOVE & OTHER U-TURNS, I’ve written and published another memoir, which i sold via a pitch, and I do believe it’s because I finally understood what makes people buy memoir – both publishers, agents and readers alike.
The term and concept I’m going to share with you is something that you need to understand so that you both write a more compelling story to a wider readership, AND position it effectively for a book deal.
Why memoir sells: RELATABILITY
So this concept is RELATABILITY, and it basically means that unless you have a story that is on a relatable theme or topic, and you tell it in a way that shows the highs AND lows of the experience, the manuscript – and the pitch won’t land.
Let me give you an example. In my first experience pitching a memoir, i knew it was a travel memoir, but I hadn’t effectively identified the universal experience, so the first time I pitched the manuscript, it was rejected.
The reason I know it was rejected because of this RELATABLE aspect is because – in no uncertain words – the publisher told me! Ouch.
This is the thing you need to remember with memoir publishing.
MEMOIR IS YOUR STORY – BUT TO SELL IT, IT NEEDS TO HAVE AN ELEMENT THAT EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO
Yes, you need to write your version of the experience, and that’s incredibly powerful and amazing, to narrate a story and choose what you put where, and have that creative power.
But the reason people READ a memoir is because they relate to your story, NOT because you’re the most unique person in the world or that they care about you or your life or your amazing writing ability. It’s about the story. The story – unless you’re a celebrity, and it’s a celebrity memoir – the story and the central quest or theme of it MUST be relatable.
If you can’t make yourself – or the central characters in your story – relatable – you will never sell a memoir.
RELATABILITY AND BOOK REVIEWS
Something I’ve noticed with memoir reviews, too, is that the more timely and controversial the specifics around the theme are in terms of news and current events, the more widely it will sell, but the reviews will be extremely one way or another.
When someone RELATES to the problems you explored in your memoir, you’ll get a good review, but the bad ones are generally written when someone could not relate to your story or when their OWN cultural or personal background prevented them from relating to it.
I’ll give you a funny example from my own experience. This review in the Guardian of my second memoir, A LETTER FROM PARIS was largely positive, and hey, even if it wasn’t, it’s the Guardian so i was grateful for the review!
But there’s confusion about a ‘baffling’ scene with tray tables on the Eurail and how enamoured I was by the French trains in my memoir. I live in Australia, and in Australia we don’t have high speed rail lines like in Europe and the United Kingdom, let alone really comfortable trains with tray tables, bars and wi-fi. Our train stations also hold none of the magic and historical significance of the Gare Du Nord, London St Pancras, etc etc. So by focusing on that element of my trip to France so much – the trains that I adored – I actually repelled many English and European readers. They were bored by or couldn’t relate to or identify with my descriptions of the high speed train travel!
Thankfully the major theme was from one of the four universal themes that sell, but I shared that example to show you how UNIVERSAL your memoir writing must be to really land with a wide audience.
To master the craft of writing a memoir that is RELATABLE, you need to find the relatable theme from the ONLY four universal themes that sell.
I talk about these themes as well as the key principles to a compelling memoir structure in my free masterclass for writers working on a memoir they wish to get traditionally published. You can learn more and sign up for the free, on demand training by clicking here or on the image below.