Dear Pamela, Memoir Advice Columnist, Responds to Your Memoir Questions

by Pamela Jane on November 16, 2016



Pamela Jane New Book CoverDear Pamela is back! She’s been busy with memoir coaching, designing a new cover for her memoir (shown on the left although it is not yet into production), working on a book series, and speaking to memoir writers.

She’s generously sharing an audio of a recent interview that we both think you’ll find useful. [5 Tips for Writing a Gripping Memoir (hint: the big mess you’re trying to avoid to write the story is the story.)] Scroll down under her column to play the audio.

She also tells me that your most recent questions have inspired her and she sends her thanks. She’s addressed several questions below and will continue to answer your questions over the coming months. So if your question isn’t answered today, check back in January when she’ll turn to additional ones she’s received.

And remember, if you have more questions about memoir writing that you need answered, please leave them in the comments section of this article or you can send questions in an email to me — Matilda@WomensMemoirs.com. Be sure to use the Subject Line: DEAR PAMELA. Thanks. — Matilda

How long is this process and do I need help along the way?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

“I have a couple of questions. How important do you feel getting a writing coach or helper is with a memoir? And, secondly, how long  does it take approximately to write a typical memoir?”

Yours truly, Michelle-Needs-Advice

Dear Pamela

Dear Michelle-Needs-Advice,

Thank you for your questions!

First, full disclosure: I am a writing coach and editor, so I may be biased about whether or not you should hire a coach. That said, I’ll give you my honest answer, which is that there is no objective truth about the necessity of hiring a writing coach for your memoir. The decision is personal and depends on your writing process, where you are in your story, and if you personally feel the need for a companion or helpmate along the way.

When I began my own memoir, which took me over twenty years to complete, I hired a writing coach simply because I wanted company on my long and lonely trek. I also wanted objectivity because I was so immersed in the story it was sometimes hard for me to see where I was headed, or when I got off-track. I belonged to a writing group at the time, but I didn’t want six or seven people critiquing my early and very amorphous drafts, because I knew multiple points of view would confuse or derail me. Also, with my children’s books I was used to being published by major publishers which brought attention and (I hate this word but here goes!) “validation” to my work. Writing alone in a room with no feedback year after year was a hard sentence, which is why I hired several writing coaches along the way.

(By “hard sentence” I do not mean it was not worthwhile, or that it was a grim task. Writing and publishing my memoir has been one of the most gratifying and rewarding things I have ever done.)

Below are two quick tips for you.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

Tip #1. Not every coach is right for you.

I had a few outstanding coaches, and one or two terrible ones. Go with your gut on this, and read my post about hiring a coach here:
Tips for Hiring a Writing Coach

Tip #2. A writing coach does offer advantages

The only objective argument I can suggest in favor of hiring a coach is to enable you to present a clean, well-edited manuscript to an agent or editor, both of whom are more likely to accept your memoir if it is well-written and researched, and carefully thought-through. You may or may not be able to accomplish this yourself. (But do trust your own vision for the book and don’t let anyone else tell you what it’s about!)

And Michelle, as to your second question –

“How long does it take to write a typical memoir?”

Obviously, there is no factual answer and no typical memoir, either. Much depends on how well you know your story starting out, your writing process, and the time you have to devote the work. I think the best advice comes from Isak Dinesen, who said about writing her memoir, Out of Africa:

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, without faith and without hope…suddenly the work will find itself.”

Good luck on your journey, Michelle!



How do I get a memoir published if I don’t want to do self-publishing?

Dear Pamela, memoir advice

Dear Pamela,

“Since agents and publishers shy away from memoirs written by ordinary people who are not well-known, what is the best way to get our memoirs published if we are not interested in self-publishing?”

Yours truly, Betty-Considering-Publishing

Dear Pamela

Dear Betty-Considering-Publishing,

Betty, you are right; it is difficult to get a memoir published when you are not famous! However, the good news is, it is possible. The proof is that I did it, and I am not famous. The solution is not to give up, ever. Repeat this to yourself every day:

Giving up is not an option.

Memoirs are published every year by “ordinary” people who have extraordinary stories to tell. Below are tips that may help you.

Dear Pamela Advice and Tips

Tip #1. Polish, polish, polish.

Polish your query, synopsis, and proposal to a high shine. Make sure you pull out a good logline or tagline for your story. For the definition and examples of loglines and taglines, click here.

A well-polished logline or tagline will grab an agent or editor’s attention right away, and tell him or her that you know your stuff (i.e., your story).

Tip #2. Pay attention to what is requested.

With a great manuscript and proposal, it’s time to look for an agent. Conduct a detailed search for memoir agents at sites such as agentquery.com. Then here’s the tip…carefully follow instructions for submitting. So many writers take what they have and submit it. Instead, pay close attention to what each agent wants. Right away you are ahead of many others.

Tip #3. “Some assembly required.”

Those dreaded words, “some assembly required.” If you have ever had to assemble a bike or a dollhouse on the eve of Christmas or the night before a birthday, you know what I mean. Yet it is worth the effort to have all the pieces ready to go.

And so it is with your memoir. Assemble all the pieces of your submission package in advance, so you are ready to submit to an agent or editor’s specifications. These may include, among other things, sample chapters, synopsis, query, and marketing plan. The order of putting the package together will vary from one agent or editor to the next. But having each polished and ready to go, means you don’t have delays between the time there is some interest in your memoir and when you submit your package.

Tip #4. Be visible.

You can’t be every place. You can’t get involved in all the possible social media. But it is important to have some visibility on the Internet. Make sure you have online presence such as a website, Facebook page, and Twitter handle.



Good luck, Betty. Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes!


Want to hear more from me? Here’s an audio of a recent interview. Hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

Here’s Pamela’s interview: “5 Tips for Writing a Gripping Memoir (hint: the big mess you’re trying to avoid to write the story is the story.)”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.




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If you have a question for Dear Pamela, please
leave a comment below or send an email along
with your question to Matilda@WomensMemoirs.com
Be sure to put DEAR PAMELA in the Subject Line
+++++++++++++++++++


Who’s Dear Pamela?

Pamela Jane is a children’s book author, and coauthor of Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic

Her new memoir, An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story which Story Circle called “a fine, five star read” describes how she, an idealistic young newlywed, dreamed of a bucolic future in a country house while her husband plotted to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills, a conflict that resulted in explosions of various intensities, drove her mildly mad, and ultimately led to her becoming a writer.

You can see Dear Pamela’s Memoir Book Trailer below. Follow her @austencats.

Recent Essays by Pamela Jane

The Ambivalent Agnostic: An Adoption Story (In Literary Mama)

Just Wait! A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause of Action (In The Writer)

Gradually, Naturally, Gracefully (In Mothers Always Write)

I Can’t Have a Baby Because I Have a 12:30 Lunch Meeting (in Mothers Always Write)






First Editing ServicePamela Jane heads the First Editing Service and invites you to contact her if you are interested. Click Here for more information.

The First Editing Service offers a great (and inexpensive) way to see where you have been and where you are going. Pamela’s understanding and insights have helped others with their memoirs and can help you move forward on your writing path.

Reviews of An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story

“…Jane takes us masterfully through her story of a lifelong writer struggling to emerge.” —Deborah Heiligman, author, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist

“…a fine, five-star read!” – Story Circle Reviews

“…incisive, funny, and touchingly candid…” —Howard Rheingold, author, The Virtual Community and Net Smart

“…a harrowing story that invites the reader to experience the thrill and danger of the Sixties from a place of safety and acceptance.” —Tristine Rainer, author, Your Life as Story

“…an inducement to all writers who aren’t afraid to take their past experiences and use them towards the future of their dreams…” – a comfychair

“Jane’s memoir…of the hundreds of memoirs I’ve read, is the only one that gives us the opportunity to go into the heart and mind, behind the flashy images of the Woodstock and hippies of the Sixties.” – Jerry Waxler, author The Memoir Revolution

Want to know more about the background of Dear Pamela’s memoir? Read this article in The Writers — Just Wait: A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause of Action.

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