Post #113 – Memoir Writing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
5 Hurdles to Publishing Your Memoir
By Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently seeking an agent her memoir. Pamela’s first book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic is now available.
Last week I was walking in the Shawangunk Mountains of upstate New York, the dramatic backdrop of my memoir. (I have special affection for these mountains because I went crazy there and managed to survive the ordeal.) Since then, I’ve retreated many times to these mountains to walk and find the missing pieces of my story. But this time I came back with family and friends to relax and enjoy the spectacular wilderness.
As I walked the old carriage trails through the mountains, I thought about what a writer has to go through to see her memoir in print. (These stages or steps are not unique to memoir writers, but they do apply.) When the fifth and final hurdle occurred to me, though, I was surprised. And yet it felt right.
Following are five steps to seeing your memoir in print:
1. Completing the manuscript to your own satisfaction
For me, this step was extremely difficult. Maybe it was because I had never written a biography, much less an autobiography. Or perhaps it was because I had to slip and slide around quite a bit before finding my footing (story). But mostly it was because I had to think so hard to find the right words. You know how cliquish words are; they clump together like seventh grade girls at a school dance. This clumping or bundling of words offers a convenient escape from the hard work of thinking. But a memoir, more than anything else, is a product of your mind, a reflection of the way you think about what happened and how you shape those events into a story. There’s no escape; you have to think long and hard – and dump the word-clusters in the garbage can.
2. Finding an Agent
Writers know how difficult it can be to find an agent. If an agent isn’t reading queries at the moment, and if you can’t get a publisher without an agent, where does that leave you? It reminds me of when I was looking for a waitress job in my twenties. No one would hire me without waitress experience and how the heck was I supposed to get experience if no one would hire me? (Ultimately I lied about having experience and kept getting fired. After about ten one-night jobs, I had earned at least a little experience.)
Finding an agent (or editor) is like searching for your true love – that one person who will, if not love, then at least understand and commit to you. This takes a bit of magic (i.e., good fortune) and a lot of faith. So, believe! But should your faith waver, your submission schedule never should. Commit this to memory My faith may waver but my submission schedule never will.
Also, be sure your memoir package is polished and ready to go (this includes query, synopsis, proposal, and sample chapters). Agents will ask for various pieces of this package, and the less time you have to spend preparing your submission, the better.
3. Finding a Publisher
Of course, once you find an agent, the agent has to find a publisher. If he or she does, great! If not, or if you decide to change agents at some point, your book is now “contaminated” because other publishers have passed on it, and the pool of potential buyers has shrunk accordingly.
Such stories and statistics can be daunting. But don’t give up. If necessary rework your manuscript, shifting the focus, and try again.
I recently had a dream in which I went to my friend Kay for writing advice.
“Keep working,” she said, even before I had a chance to open my mouth. (Kay is a successful and extremely persistent writer.)
“But I’m happy with my memoir,” I told her. “I don’t want to change anything.”
“Keep working,” repeated Kay.
“I suppose I could work on my Italian book, or other children’s books,” I mused aloud.
Kay just smiled. “Keep working.”
4. Finding your readers
You want to find readers, thousands of them, who will love your memoir and tell others about it. To some extent this will come from your own efforts but (sorry!) once again there’s that elusive magic – or, to put it another way, TLF – timing, luck and fate. But though these things sometimes go against you, they can just as mysteriously show up to support you. Hopefully, you’re working on your platform and engaging in some social media to increase the chances of this happening.
5. The Fifth and final hurdle: Acceptance
You have to be sanguine – or at least flexible – if any of the above don’t pan out the way you had hoped. But although acceptance is important, it is most emphatically not resignation. Acceptance of obstacles and reversals allows you to reconsider the strategies you’ve put so carefully in place. In other words, Plan B. This can be anything from tweaking your proposal to self-publishing.
Hopefully writing your memoir has been a rich and rewarding journey. And remember, whatever you may think about your life, one thing is for certain: it is not unexamined.