June 2011


In my last post I discussed some tips for getting your memoir down on paper. Today I’d like to talk about how to increase your chances of getting it published.

First, I’d like to say that these tips can apply to either self-publishing or mainstream publishing. In many aspects, the rules of the game are the same. Even though you don’t have to beg and fight for a publisher to get your work into print if you self-publish, either way you’ll find yourself doing the majority of the publicity for your book.

1. Find your book’s unique hook . This is similar to determining how to differentiate your memoir from all the others that have your same theme as you’re endeavoring to write your book. But when it comes to presenting your memoir to a publisher or marketing it after it’s published, it’s essential that you are able to pinpoint how and why your book is different from your competition. Otherwise, you have no way of making it stand out on the shelves or on the pages of Amazon.com. Again, find the unique angle your book has, and market toward that. Make sure your potential audience knows exactly why your book is different–and better–than the others as they read the back cover.

2. Make sure it has universal appeal. While on one hand your memoir needs to have a fresh, unique angle and hook, at the same time it must contain a universal theme. If your story is so different that only 1% of the population could relate to it, publishers will know that sales will be slim. Here the key is to hone in on how your unique story can be made to appeal to a variety of readers.

If you’re having a hard time locating its universal theme, keep backing up from your story to determine how best to generalize it. When you boil your story down, what is it really about–what’s the root? Is it a divorce story? Is it a get-rich-quick story? Ask yourself what underlying currents are in your story that a majority of people can relate to. Then, make sure this comes through in your proposal, or in your book’s marketing material, if you’re self-publishing.

3. Plan ahead for a platform. An author’s platform is the buzzword in book marketing nowadays. Because memoirs are personal stories, unless your readers already know you (or of you), who would be interested in hearing your story? It’s your job to create a buzz not only for your book but also for yourself. You do this by establishing a platform for yourself (and therefore your book) long before the book gets published.

You can do this through websites, blogs, writing articles about your topic, or having speaking engagements. The more people you can get in front of on a regular basis who represent your target audience, the better chances you have of catching a publisher’s attention. But platforms don’t magically materialize overnight. It takes time to build a platform for yourself, so start early!

4. Get objective critiques. No matter what you write, you should always have it go through a critiquing process. I believe memoirs should be subjected to even more rigorous critiquing than other work. Because you are so up-close and personal with your memoir, it can be very difficult to look at it objectively. As writers, we tend to see what we want to see–especially when the story is about us! Many people who write a memoir will show it to their family and friends to get their opinion. This is fine, but definitely don’t stop there. Because they know you, they’ll be as subjective as you are!

Take your memoir to people who don’t know your personal story. Find out if you really have a story to share. Make sure it’s interesting to those who don’t know you. And determine if you’ve done a good job at telling your story. Only then will you know if it has any potential with publishers; or, if you’re self-publishing, if people will actually buy it.

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Let me begin my apologizing for my lack of blogging lately. I was off on a much-needed vacation with my family, and I’ve instituted a new rule for my vacations: NO WORK! When it got to the point of associating my past vacations with the writing and editing projects I had brought with me to work on, I knew it was time to enact this policy. My clients aren’t real thrilled about it (although they do understand), but my kids are ecstatic, which is more important to me 🙂

While I was gone, however, I had time to browse the bookstores. I noticed that the trend which began perhaps 3-4 years ago is still going strong; that is the resurgence of memoirs. There was a time many light years ago, when memoirs were all the rage. That seemed to have faded away, and many thought it may’ve been gone for good–to the point where no-name writers didn’t even attempt to write a memoir for fear it would never be published. But with the rise of best-seller memoirs, such as Tuesdays with Morrie and Eat, Pray, Love, and even some that will now go down in infamy (A Million Little Pieces), many authors are now tackling this genre–some with great success.

But writing a memoir isn’t as simple as recounting your abusive childhood days or telling what it was like to grow up with the Royal family. It’s hard work to express your story in an interesting manner that makes it worthy of publishing–and then to actually get it published.

In this first post, I’ll explore some tips for memoir writing, then I’ll take a look at ways to improve your chances for publishing in Part 2.

1. Differentiate your story. If you browse your local bookstore shelves, chances are you will find numerous titles written about the theme of your own story (divorce, childhood, addiction, etc.). Your job is to figure out how to write yours in such a way as to give the theme a fresh look or angle. Even if yours is similar to another that’s already published, you can present it in a totally new light. So, before beginning to write, determine how to make yours different from the others that already exist. Only you will know how to do this since it is, after all, a story about you!

2. Define your hook. After you determine how you’re going to approach the theme to your memoir, take it a step further and actually write out what you believe to be your story’s hook. One way to get a feel of a book’s hook is to look at the back jacket of a book or marketing copy that has been written about it.  How is the story summarized in only one or two sentences that not only tells you what it’s about but also the author’s approach to writing it? This is what you need to capture for your own story.

For instance, if your theme is an abusive childhood, your hook may include how your childhood has affected your own parenting and your quest to break this generational cycle in your family. It is imperative to define your hook as specifically as possible for the purpose of Tip #3.

3. Stay focused. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I see when editing memoirs is the author’s inability to stick to his hook, sometimes even his theme ,throughout the story. It’s easy when you’re writing about your experiences to go down varying paths of memory lane. But all this does is confuse the reader and take you further and further from the purpose of your story. Having a clearly defined hook will help ensure you stay on the main road and not take the tempting rabbit trails that are inevitable along the way. I like to actually have the hook written out somewhere where I will see it as I write (or edit) to make sure that every path taken somehow relates back to this hook.

4. Be objective. This may very well be the toughest part of memoir writing. After all, you’re recounting very personal experiences, so naturally, you’ll be subjective in your viewpoints. But, for the sake of your readers, you must periodically step away from what you’ve written and pretend that you are a reader who knows nothing about you. Re-read your story as this reader, noting areas where perhaps you’ve rambled on too long, places that aren’t relevant, or simply to determine what’s really interesting to those who have never heard your story. Of course it’s all interesting to you…but will it be to anyone else?

5. Write after you’ve healed. This is a tough one. Many people will argue that writing is healing. I agree with that 100%. But that type of writing should be reserved for your own personal use. If you’re writing for publication, make sure your healing is complete (or at least nearing completion). Nothing will turn your audience away faster than reading between the lines at your anger and bitterness. Plus, if you are healed, then you can lead your reader down that same path of healing. Remember the adage: Hurt people hurt people. The last thing you want to do is hurt others through your writing because you yourself are still hurt.

Hopefully these 5 tips will help you as you begin to write your memoir. Next time, I’ll discuss some ways to better your chances at getting your story published.