By Jennifer S. Wilkov, host of the “Your Book Is Your Hook!” Show on WomensRadio
The Literary Agent Matchmaker™
As authors and writers, we’re always learning about resources and industry tools that we can use to improve our book project performance and the enjoyment of our writing and marketing experiences. Today let’s talk about memoirs and why we write them.
As a new friend of mine likes to say, “It is all about me, isn’t it?”
When it comes to memoirs, the response I give to writers is…No, not exactly. It’s also about the reader.
I really enjoy working with memoir writers as a consultant. The biggest disconnect I often have to address for the writer is:
1) WHO are you writing your memoir for?
2) WHY are you writing it?
Oftentimes, the answers to these two questions will also determine whether your memoir will sell.
See, as a memoir writer, you must write it for you – to document, clear, understand and process what has happened to you. A memoir by its very nature is cathartic.
If you want to do this for your own health and well-being, then go for it! I cheer you on and I applaud you for it.
If you want it to be a wildly successful book for others to invest 8 hours or so of their lives to read and benefit from yours, you may want to give it a bit more thought.
How you write your memoir and who you write it for will make a difference in whether a literary agent will want to represent your book and whether a publisher sees the value in publishing it.
Here are some guidelines to help you:
1) Memoirs that are incident-based are more interesting to most people and most industry professionals. Books by business people like Sir Richard Branson or even some celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy’s book, Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey to Healing Autism or your favorite musician are not about their whole entire life from the moment they took their first breath. They are about the particular part of their lives they want to highlight and share.
The focus is on their career or a particular topic or time in their lives. The book and story serves the reader in some enlightening or entertaining way and has a clear beginning, middle and end.
2) Be honest. No one wants to invest their emotions, time and money into reading a book and connecting with a story that is supposed to be true only to discover that it’s not. It’s not only disappointing for the reader, it creates a lot of disgust too. Just look at the reactions to what happened when questions were raised about Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, and books from other writers that weren’t true.
3) Determine if there is something more you can offer than just your story such as insights into what you learned and how the readers might practically apply this to their own lives.
4) Decide if you want to share more than just your story. Do you intend to write more books? Books that take off from your story? A memoir is also a great start to a career or a compliment to boost your career as a speaker.
If you intend to do more with your story than just tell it, write it in a way that it can be leveraged. Think twice about your title, subtitle and chapter titles.
5) Be responsible with family members and friends, especially if you want to take your memoir to film or television. If your memoir includes anecdotes about members of your family, close friends or co-workers, or if it reveals family secrets that others may want to keep hidden from the public, think twice about making your book a memoir. You may want to discuss that you are writing the book with the folks you intend to mention to at least make them aware of it and, if plausible, gain their support.
If you intend to pitch your book to the film or television industries, keep in mind that the producers may want a release signed by each person you name in the book to avoid legal issues or delays with the film later on.
6) Invest in a great editor before you attempt to get published. Many writers make the mistake of not having their memoir reviewed by an editor prior to seeking a literary agent or publisher. Although you may want to “say it the way you say it,” if your grammar, spelling, punctuation and line of thought are off or distracting in your manuscript, no one is going to enjoy reading it.
If you value your story and your work, take the time and invest the money in a solid round of editing by a professional. This is not the area to cut corners or ask a favor from someone you know who teaches English during the school year to high school kids.
A memoir can be written in such a way that it benefits both you and the reader.
Your book can also be your hook to bigger opportunities and career growth.
The truth about memoirs is, like any bestseller, first you need to write a great book. Begin with the end in mind. Consider how your tale benefits others. Evaluate what you want to do with it and how you intend to contribute to the Greater Good with it.
Whether your story educates, enlightens or entertains the reader, when you write your story, there is no doubt you will leave a legacy for yourself, your family, and the human race.
How you choose to leave that legacy via the publishing world is entirely up to you.
If you want to be published with your memoir and have a literary agent represent you, use these simple guidelines to help you get a leg up with your book.