Most writers think that writing and selling your memoir to a top Publisher is all about the manuscript, so i want to bust a few myths here.
I shared a pie chart in a recent webinar and I want to give you the breakdown here.
This is what writing and selling your memoir really takes, OK? The sooner you start working on the missing pieces in the pie, the better for you and your book deal.
The manuscript is only a third of the piece of writing and selling your memoir
Most writers think it’s ALL about the manuscript – tinker here, polish and perfect it there, make sure there’s no typos, pay for an editor pay for a critique, edit revise rinse repeat until you’re READY ready ready before you even PREPARE to pitch it as a book or even DARE to speak to an agent or a publisher. News flash: it will NEVER be finished and it will NEVER be ready and it will NEVER be perfect).
But the manuscript is only ONE THIRD – yes you saw that piece of the pie correctly – ONE THIRD of the book deal itself. Plenty of amazing memoir manuscripts are published and plenty of awful ones are, too. Plenty of amazing memoir manuscripts are NEVER published and only one per cent of manuscript submissions result on a request for full manuscript. And this is those who’ve made it through getting an agent!
So why is this? What else should you be focusing on?
A significant piece of writing and selling your memoir is marketing
If you want a publisher or an agent to take you on, you need to be able to do the most basic of marketing yourself as an author and a writer.
The reason you need to know how to market is because in traditional publishing, when you sign a book deal, THEIR responsibility is in paying for production, distribution, editing, cover art, bookseller discounts etc etc. Only a marginal amount is left over to go to a publicist or marketer who will be working on 10-30 other books at a time (and, another news flash, your publicist PROBABLY won’t have time to read your book completely.)
What I shared in the webinar is the ins and outs of the money side of traditional publishing. It’s an industry, and a business, and for a traditional publisher to sign you on as a new author, they need evidence of need for your book which you will show in your marketing plan and your digital platform and your query.
Do you know how to pitch the story succinctly? Do you know how to follow up? Do you know how to engage with social media, find your captive audience (this varies WILDLY depending on your story) and get them engaged? Are you showing your potential agent or publisher that you KNOW who your audience is and you’re speaking with them regularly?
And by potential audience, I don’t just mean ‘readers’. You need to dive deeper than that. James Clear got a GREAT book deal for Atomic Habits without even writing the entire manuscript. Why? Because he spoke to his niche – people interested in productivity habits – weekly. He build up a free email newsletter where he shared valuable information with these people and engaged with them. By the time he pitched his book to Penguin Random House, he had an engaged email list of 160 000! And these are people who are specifically interested in the topic of his book! No wonder the book deal was a done deal, and a good one, at that.
In 2022, it’s easier than ever for authors to find their potential audience. You can literally set up a website in the blink of an eye – or an email newsletter.
The toughest part of writing and selling your memoir is mindset
Putting yourself out there is bold and scary and risky and vulnerable and frightening. Marketing your work (see above) – PARTICULARLY when it’s your own story, AKA a memoir is unbelievably triggering and traumatic if you don’t have support. And even when you’re writing and selling a non-fiction that isn’t a gritty true story, you still have to be bold and engage with complete strangers to market and sell your work.
No longer can authors sit in their garrets, tapping away and hiding behind the keyboard. It’s scary finding your market and talking to them. It’s scary sending your memoir book proposal out to agents and Publishers and waiting and waiting and waiting for feedback (and knowing how and when to follow up).
It’s scary pitching your work and potentially getting rejected or ghosted by an editor or having a Publisher say “wait three months for a response, and if you don’t hear back, we don’t want you.” More than that, it can feel completely disempowering if you don’t have someone encouraging you and showing you how to thrive in what is a completely bizarre industry, how to fast-track the process and more. Traditional publishing is tough and strange and still operates as a business in a way that keeps the real details of how to prosper hidden unless you’ve been published before. Which is ridiculous!
This is exactly why i share so much about the publishing process and sales and pitching in my programs. This stuff is NOT taught in writing school – but it’s so important if you want to get the best possible deal for your work. And if you want a career as an author, not just one book.
Most first-time authors only sell 250 copies of their book, and this is enormously disappointing if you’ve been working on your memoir for years. But there’s ways to thrive and it starts by understanding that marketing and mindset are just as important as the manuscript itself. If you want to be a bestselling author it starts by getting a great book deal, and the marketing and mindset stuff needs to be a priority as much as the manuscript itself.