Ok, enough of the car crash stuff. I may be sporting some broken ribs, so I’m wrapped up with no place to go. I may as well blog ’til the beagle returns from carousing with her poodle friends and mixes up a batch of margaritas. While I’m waiting, let’s talk memoirs.
We all think our lives are hideously fantastic and anyone with a firing synapse would lurve our stories. Hence our love affair with memoirs. The truth is that most of us are pretty damned dull, and our stories would leave most yawning and poking our sides with a sharp stick just to stay awake. Yet many times each week, I receive memoir queries that result in instant death rejection. The reasons vary, but I’d like to bring up the main reasons I pass.
Keep in mind that all these elements are interrelated.
Who Are You? I don’t care that you’re not a household name because there is a huge audience who loves reading memoirs and biographies. What you lack in name recognition you make up for in content. You need to have a strong platform in order to create demand for your particular topic.
If you’re Uncle Fergus and spent your early life on a farm making moonshine, then I’ll expect you to have some sort of platform that will have readers flooding to hear you speak or attend your events. A platform for Uncle Fergus could be that he now works for Jim Beam. What a hoot that would be, eh?
But if you’re someone who had some interesting times back in the day and you now crochet toilet paper doilies for a living, then this isn’t a platform conducive to creating demand.
What Is Your Message? Since I don’t necessarily care if you’re a household name, that leaves one thing in your favor; your message. What’s your story? Whether your theme is inspirational or educational, your life has to say something and deliver some sort of punch that will stay with the reader for years.
It’s about making an impact, and that’s why I love memoirs so much. These are real people who did real things, and I want to grow, be inspired, charmed, or learn something from their adventures.
Going back to Uncle Fergus and his moonshine still on the farm; I had an actual query along these lines, and my first question was, “who cares?” Sure, there are narratives about times gone by, but they must offer some muscle behind their perspective. Uncle Fergus may have been quite a character in his time, but so what? So is the beagle, and god forbid anyone ever write about her.
I get a ton of bi-polar memoirs, which is a huge topic, and I turn every one of them down. So why did I accept Mommy I’m Still In Here? Because Kate McLaughlin offered a perspective unique to everything currently on the shelves. She talked of hope, of success, of faith, of staying together no matter how bad it got. And it got terrifyingly bad. Hers was a book that I knew would bring inspiration to thousands and didn’t have the same oft-repeated message.
“Cancer, divorce, mid-life crisis, I’m learning to stand on my own two feet” are overdone categories that they’re cliche, and that’s why I usually avoid these topics. I’m not a fan of literary Peeping Toms, and many of these memoirs have that feel to them. There isn’t a message, but more of a “hey look what we endured.” To what end?
If you are writing a memoir, define what you have to say and why anyone would care. “Look at what I endured or overcame” stories aren’t appealing to me unless they have a specific purpose. This is my biggest reason for rejecting memoirs.
Who Is Your Audience? Most writers of memoirs are normally too wrapped up in their own stories to understand that they need to appeal to a specific audience. They lack objectivity, so their first inclination is to state that “this book is for everyone!” Well, no it isn’t. Most memoirs have a target audience and can branch out from there provided the subject matter has wide appeal.
If you’ve written about your experiences of overcoming cancer, you know your audience is cancer victims and their families. But you must have the platform and message to attract them. If your memoir has more inspirational elements, then you need to dig a bit deeper to define where that audience can be found – which gets me back to Who Are You?
What Is Your Competition? I call this Been Thar, Done That. If you have a story that centers on any of the usual suspects: cancer, divorce, midlife crisis, bi-polar, death, then you MUST know your competition in order to determine whether your message is unique to an over-impacted category.Otherwise, how do you know if you really have a story at all?
You must also know exactly how and why your story isn’t a retread of fifty other books that cover the same topic because we’re gonna ask. This is the material we use when pitching your book to the genre buyers and reviewers. Unique = happy editor, sales teams, and genre buyers. Same-same = rejection.
Sadly, the lack of knowing one’s competition makes up the bulk of my memoir rejections.
As you can see, writing is no longer a matter of “If I write it, they will come.” Nope, we gotta let readers know who you are so they’ll run to their bookstores, kicking and screaming the doors down to buy your book.