Memoirs—To Write or Not to Write

I've been asked to comment about memoir. Keep in mind as you read this that other publishers will have different opinions on this. I have published memoirs over the years. None of them have made money. None of them have even recovered the costs.

Also, in the many years that I was an acquisitions editor, the absolute worst of the worst submissions that crossed my desk were memoirs. Personal stories that "needed to be told." And their query letter often started with, "After fasting and praying for quite some time, the Spirit told me that YOU were the publisher who would bring my memoir to those who really need it and bless their lives."

These were also the people who were most likely to send me nasty letters when I rejected their book.

So, keeping in mind that this is a touchy topic for me, I'm going to do my best but I'm probably going to be more negative than say Knopf or Scribner or whoever published Tuesdays with Morrie.

The first thing you have to ask yourself is WHY are you writing this? Most of the time, memoirs start as a healing effort for the writer. They put their lives in perspective as they write, come to terms with the bad, find little treasures of good, and feel a huge release and empowerment when they're done. Sharing this with their friends and loved ones is a good thing. It's a testament to the human spirit and can often help others struggling with similar issues.

If you're writing a memoir like this, congratulate yourself when you're done. Find a POD company who doesn't charge and arm and a leg to format and publish it for you. Give copies to family, post links online so interested people can buy it if they want. Then celebrate that you've completed something wonderful.

If you want to go bigger than this, know ahead of time that you've got your work cut out for you. You must have a unique story and a unique voice.

As I see it, there are three types of memoirs that sell well:
  1. Celebrity: Political figures, movie stars, sports heroes, buisiness tycoons, and even our own General Authorities. These memoirs sell pretty well, even if they're not the most well-written books because we're interested in these people. We want to know what makes them tick, how they got where they are.

  2. Train Wreck: These are memoirs of those people who just can't get it together. They're accidents waiting to happen and we can't tear our eyes away. These are often people on the edge, the fringes of society. Their lure is because they are so different from most of our realities.

  3. Healing: The most common, and yet the hardest to sell. This is the personal story of recovery and redemption. For this to sell, the author has to take the events of their life and use them to uplift and inspire others who are enduring their own challenges. It must be well-written. It must be unique.
If you think your memoir falls into one of these three categories, and it's well-written, then do some homework. Go look at the memoirs that are selling well. Find some that are similar to yours. Look up their publishers and submit to them.

And good luck to you.


Rebecca Talley said...

You can also use memoir-type experiences and weave them into a novel. I've read memoirs that make me cringe because the author has revealed so much of himself and those in his life that it makes me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for those included. I'd rather read the same kind of thing but in novel form where it's a fictionalized account. Just my opinion . . .

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I think POD is an excellent avenue for memoirs.

I also second Rebecca. We have so many experiences. Why not put them into a fiction novel, telling the truth while distancing ourselves from it? I think fiction, for some reason, really attracts people more than non-fiction. Again...just my opinion.

Elizabeth Morgan said...

I think if some one is trying to sell something about there life and it is a whole book. I will likly not be very interested unless it has some message i need to hear. A fiction novel can show some of the truth with some fiction may help it sell better.

petersteel said...

that was really nice to read that...that was really nice post... it seem great information great job.. for more information regarding Pittsburgh memoir writing, Pittsburgh storytelling, Pittsburgh corporate communication u can visit http://www.jayspeyerer.com/