I said I would share some of the things I learned on my course in LA and so I thought I would start by looking at how ‘memoir’ is not the same as ‘autobiography’. Celebrities will tend to work on or most often have ghost writers work with them on telling their life story and this is autobiography. Memoir can cover only a small period of someone’s life, maybe even only a month if that’s the story you want to tell; it’s based on memory. Often memoirs do cover larger time periods, but they tend to focus on a key story or aspect of someone’s life. Often they are filed together on Amazon and the terms used interchangeably but they are different.
Many many people claim to have a memoir in them and there are many reasons why people write memoirs; often as a legacy and often therefore by people who have lived their lives and want to leave behind their story or part of it. And so some are happy to write it, self-publish it, maybe even find a small local printer and give copies to family.
If you want to find a traditional publisher it will be a lot tougher because you have to have such an interesting and unique story people will want to buy it and one of the resounding messages that came out of the West Coast Writers Conference was that profit is the major factor when it comes to selling and therefore accepting books. Not really rocket science is it? It has to be a commercial decision.
The first session I attended was about pitching your memoir to an agent and they talked about the reasons we write memoir and how self-publishing has ‘opened more doors’ for people but not without its downfalls. One of the quotes that stuck with me was this: don’t self-publish unless you know why. Interesting.
They also spoke about the value of the indie publisher with memoir as the ‘big 5’ tend to look at celebrity memoirs so why look at you? What is so interesting and unique about your story?
Not only does your story need to have a unique selling point, it also needs to have universal appeal: what does this mean? It means simply it will sell more books!
It needs a unique voice and a new way of representing a subject.
Certainly in the US memoirs are sold to agents from detailed proposals rather than complete manuscripts so that has to be right. And they need to know what is so special about you and what makes you the expert!
And the other thing that stayed in my head was this: if you are going to write for today’s market, you have to be today’s market.
Many memoir writers will be older and so tend not to have a public social media platform, many really don’t want it, but if you are writing today, then you need it!
Aim to make your memoir between 60-80,000 words.
Consider who your reader is and look at what other books are out there on a similar subject and how well they have sold.
And the final message that came across from this first session was this: if you are going to write memoir, you need to understand story and you need to be able to write fiction.
I will leave you with this and continue tomorrow with some more pearls of wisdom… as I look at my lecture notes and share what I hope will be the most useful bullet points.