Welcome back to Notes from New York. Today we have a shorter post, less about writing and more just a query tip in general regarding memoirs. When I first started interning I hadn’t read many memoirs (or much nonfiction in general), but within the first month, I had read several samples and two full manuscripts. The two full manuscripts were both well written and engaging. One came from a writer with a strong journalistic background and platform who had an exceedingly interesting life to boot. The other came of a writer who also had an interesting life, but did not have much of a platform to speak of.
Guess which one drew more interest from the agent?
Yes, that’s kind of the hard thing about memoirs and nonfiction in general. Any editor or agent is going to look at your life story and judge it not just on quality of story, but also on marketability? It’s not that a memoir from someone without a platform can’t sell, but it’s certainly less likely. It’s one of those difficult facts about the nonfiction publishing world. If you don’t have a platform through your work or even through social media, an agent is going to wonder if you can advertise yourself. Memoirs, unlike fiction, are deeply personal and require more self promotion.
On another note, don't try to sell your memoir as fiction. Agents can usually tell a memoir masquerading as women’s or contemporary fiction. They’ve been in this business awhile, and you don’t want to try to get an agent by lying. That’s not to say you can’t use your life as influence for a fictional novel, but remember that there is a difference between real life and fiction. Real life doesn’t have a concrete story structure, for instance, nor does it always have a complete arc.
And lastly, if the agent doesn’t accept memoir…don’t query them with memoir. Not even if they also represent women's fiction, romance, etc. Unless specified otherwise, that means the fictional genres, not memoir. It seems like common sense but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who ignore submission guidelines.
That’s it for today. Happy writing!