Or perhaps the real question ought to be, does such a thing even exist? Memoir is the most popular form of nonfiction writing today, and recent trends show that people will continue to invest in them.
Great news for writers, right? Not exactly. While fiction, poetry, and other nonfiction writing can be planned out and adjusted to suit a popular audience (and even written according to the specific needs of that audience or publishing house), memoir is written after the occurrence of actual events in the author’s life. Sure, they can tinker with it to develop a coherent theme, tighten up paragraphs, and make the story reader-friendly. But the events that led to the memoir cannot be planned in advance and shaped into something marketable. In other words, the plot isn’t really up to the author. They are limited in their story choices, when compared to the imaginative world of fiction.
Enter Writer’s Digest, with a helpful article on how to get your story noticed.
For this article, several publishing experts and agents sat down to answer a few questions and help lead new talent in the right direction. The best advice? Simply write well and focus on developing the narrator’s voice. This is the thing that all experts agreed sets a story apart and makes it relatable and interesting to readers. Choose a story or experience that is unique, rather than something that people are familiar with. This article specifically points to stories about overcoming addiction, surviving a war, and surviving a disease such as cancer. While these are all interesting, and in many cases, devastating stories, they are a dime a dozen in the arena of memoir. Recent popular memoirs include Orange is the New Black, a story about one well-bred woman’s yearlong stint in a correctional facility, and Wild, in which a woman treks the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself after her mother’s death. Both stories offer something fresh and unexpected. There are not a lot of already-published stories with similar premises, allowing these books to take off on their own.
Here are a few other things that publishers look for when they receive a memoir:
1. Premise – is the story fresh and interesting? Do I want to read this?
2. Does the writer bring me into their world?
3. Does it entertain? Is it a page-turner? Does it have momentum?
4. Does the story have universal appeal? Is it relatable?
5. What makes your story worth reading? Why would someone want to buy it?
Tips for memoir writers:
1. Check out the memoir section at your bookstore, and make sure no similar stories are already on the shelf.
2. Send the proposal to 10 agents, reworking the story again before sending it out to the next round of 10 agents, and so on. Be willing to work with your publisher.
3. Start promoting yourself now and building up a platform (readership, social media fans, a strong resume, in other words). This shows a publisher that you already have a small audience to get the word started.
This is a very helpful interview for me as a hopeful writer of memoir, and I highly recommend checking it out. There are also plenty of links to other helpful articles, such as “How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query and Cover Letters,” which are relevant to all publishing fields.