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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Publishing a Memoir -- Strategies & Tricks of Memory

They're like fallen leaves, memories. They arrange themselves in nature's beautiful random order beyond our ability to perceive, like weather, like a life until you're looking back on it and suddenly see an organizational purpose. And are amazed into writing about it.

The thing is, who else wants to see it? Why is that mysterious, suddenly perceived arrangement important to anyone but you? That's the question a memoir essay or book must answer. Answering it doesn't guarantee publishability, but it does put you in the running.

So I wrote a memoir book: Rocket Lessons. So I got an agent who sent it around to all the big NY publishers. So it didn't get picked up. So she said, "Put it in the trunk and make it your second book." So I wrote another book -- not a memoir, this time fiction, though it's arguable that any memoir is  fiction -- and it found an agent. Rinse, hopefully not repeat.

Thing is, I don't want to make my memoir my second book after all. I don't want to revisit it because -- drumroll for things I should have known before I started writing a book -- publishing a memoir is incredibly hard. Enter self-publishing and/or small press publishing. Which is almost the same thing, only with someone else's name on the cover page as a kind of bonafide.

Publishing a memoir is hard, but all the big publishers have had a hit-out-of-the-park with one. The Angela's Ashes, Glass Castle kind of hit. Will your memoir be "outta here!" famous? Without any idea of how such phenomena occur, I do know that you can build an author platform for your memoir by publishing excerpted essays and blogging, publishing related pieces of fiction and poetry, and by getting yourself interviewed on topics related to your memoir and life experience contained in it. Those all help persuade an agent and publisher to go with your arrangement of the fallen leaves, that there's something universal enough in it -- as in some way every story is a story we all can relate to -- enough to publish.

Some useful links about publishing memoirs:
Jane Friedman on truth in memoirs
What do top agents want in a memoir?



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