PDA

View Full Version : Are Readers Burnt Out On Memoirs



muse64
10-10-2008, 08:34 PM
Read a review of a book this morning....I think it was in the SF Chronicle. The reviewer made the comment that many readers are pretty jaded in terms of auto-bios. He mentioned the whole mess when Whats His Name who had been on Oprah..when it turned out that his memoir was a fake.

And then there was a young woman who wrote a book about ghetto life....got great reviews and also turned out to be a lie.

Are folks concerned about this? Do people think readers are rather down on memoirs. Particularly confessional type ones.

adtabb
10-11-2008, 01:28 AM
I've heard that a lot. Especially survival memoirs. It seems every person has a survival of abuse story these days. No matter how courageous it is to write it, people don't want to read it anymore.

Actually, I find them depressing, even though I wrote one. It was good therapy to write it all down, and lt the demons out so I never had to think of them anymore. It's all down on computer disk, somewhere.

jerrywaxler
10-13-2008, 04:45 PM
I was teaching a memoir class and a woman in the class, a journalist, said she is not permitted to use the phrase "child within" in her writing because her editor is so disgusted with it. The comment took my breath away. How can anyone afford to be burned out by the story of human potential? I think anyone who tries to shield themselves from the wild, crazy, exciting world of the inner lives of themselves and each other diminishes themselves.

So as in any writing, find the ones who want to read your work, cherish their opinion, reach out to resonate with their desires, and allow those other people who have lost interest to work out their own issues. They aren't your responsibility. :)

Jerry

scope
10-13-2008, 11:43 PM
I really don't know, but I do read on some agent interviews that more agents than usual say they aren't all that interested in memoirs at the moment.

But there's always that exception -- thank goodness.

adtabb
10-13-2008, 11:52 PM
So as in any writing, find the ones who want to read your work, cherish their opinion, reach out to resonate with their desires, and allow those other people who have lost interest to work out their own issues. They aren't your responsibility. :)

Jerry

True, and as with any situation, if your writing is there to help one person, who never saw all the other similiar stories (or yours is so great it finally impedes them to action) it will be in the right place at the right time!

Keep dreaming and writing.

benbradley
10-14-2008, 12:55 AM
Read a review of a book this morning....I think it was in the SF Chronicle. The reviewer made the comment that many readers are pretty jaded in terms of auto-bios. He mentioned the whole mess when Whats His Name who had been on Oprah..when it turned out that his memoir was a fake.
Well, the whole thing (James Frey, "A Million Little Pieces" featured in this expose from The Smoking Gun (http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0104061jamesfrey1.html)) wasn't TOTALLY fake, I'm pretty sure he did go to 28-day treatment and AA meetings at Hazelden, though there were plenty of exaggerations and outright lies in it. And I thought he was a total wimp on that last Oprah appearance. But other than that...

Are folks concerned about this? Do people think readers are rather down on memoirs. Particularly confessional type ones.
The Frey thing is a few years old, and I suspect people are forgetting about these by now. I don't know about agents and publishers, though - no doubt there are higher standards for books claiming any sort of factual experiences.

I was teaching a memoir class and a woman in the class, a journalist, said she is not permitted to use the phrase "child within" in her writing because her editor is so disgusted with it.
Oh, the codependency movement, the big cross (no pun intended) between "traditional" 12-step programs and the new-age movement. I pretty much bought into the "inner child" thing myself for a little while. John Bradshaw ("self-help" guru, not the football player of that name) was perhaps the biggest name in the field, with all his books and PBS TV shows repeated during pledge drives. But I think the field had its big heyday in the '90's, I don't think it's as popular now.

There ARE publishers who won't have a problem with phrases such as "child within" - there's Hazelden Publishing, associated with the treatment center:
http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/authorsubmission.page
Though there's this:
"Hazelden discourages submissions of poetry, fiction, memoirs and other unrelated non-fiction, dissertations, and art."
But my guess is that doesn't preclude a "self-help" book that has occasional personal reflections by the author.

There's also Health Communications, "Changing Lives One Book At A Time" - with a tagline based on the popular slogan "one day at a time" from the Serenity Prayer, they surely won't blink at the words "child within" in a manuscript:
http://www.hcibooks.com/

Can I at least write about my Inner S.O.B.? ;)
[quote=jerrywaxler;2845305]The comment took my breath away. How can anyone afford to be burned out by the story of human potential?
Do you even know what you just said... those other two words I bolded are another keyphrase I recognize - there's a "Human Potential Movement" which I see as an umbrella term for lots of things I might call "secular religions," but still fall within "new age" thought (and I hesistate to use the word "thought" in this context). The Wikipedia page on it is interesting, especially the "See also" section with a long list of groups, some quite recognizable ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Potential_Movement
I need to check out that book in the "bibliography."

Whether the "human potential movement" ever originally had anything to do with the ordinary meanings of the words "human potential" I don't know, but from what I've seen, it hasn't for the last several decades.

But it appears memoirs are still being published, by unknowns as well as big stars, as in this thread earlier this year:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=94319

Laurel Crowned
10-15-2008, 07:34 AM
I just attended the Maui Writers Conference in September with the same question. I've written a memoir and was shocked to see how many other people at the conference had written one too. The agents and editors I spoke to, as well as the presenters, pretty much said that memoirs are glutting the market. Everybody has a story to tell. I was told that there were a lot of books out there on Bipolar Disorder... but I had to make mine stand out from the crowd. It couldn't just be another "bipolar recovery" book. It couldn't be self-gratifying. There had to be a reason why someone would want to read my story for themselves. I needed to work my particular angle. I have enough of an angle that one agent called it "intriguing."

Since everybody has a story to tell and so many people are trying to write those stories, the reader has a lot to choose from. I don't think readers are tired of memoirs. If they were, there wouldn't be a market for them. The market hasn't dried up yet. If it's well written, of interest, and marketed well a memoir can find its audience.

jerrywaxler
10-16-2008, 06:21 AM
There are dozens of benefits to writing a memoir, all of which you reap while you are attempting to rise up to the standards of the agents looking for the Next Big Thing.

Memoirs teach you about yourself, they release your isolation and offer your life journey to others, they teach you the inner workings of storytelling, they give you the most intimate glimpse of a protagonist's inner workings you could ever get through any other type of writing, they dredge up great anecdotes that you can use for a hundred different pieces, they make it easier to talk about yourself in parties and speeches, and the list goes on. And it's all yours. No one can take it away from you, although of course the next step is to get paid for it.

The agents don't really mean that your story is just like everyone else. A well told tale is always utterly unique. What they mean is that you need a unique two word synopsis. The two words "bipolar recovery" are already in use.

This challenge of finding two or three words to describe a book, and then requiring they be unique is torturous. Glass Castle and Running with Scissors are I guess "dysfunctional childhood" books, which happened to make their authors famous.

I just think it's so interesting and so much fun to keep trying. I look at all these challenges as good excuses to work harder and more creatively.

Good luck! Have fun! Work hard!
Jerry

jerrywaxler
10-16-2008, 06:31 AM
Hi BenBradley,

"John Bradshaw ("self-help" guru, not the football player of that name) was perhaps the biggest name in the field, with all his books and PBS TV shows repeated during pledge drives. But I think the field had its big heyday in the '90's, I don't think it's as popular now."

I went to see John Bradshaw deliver a lecture about how to harness shame. It was just last year in Philadelphia. The audience was mainly interested in addiction, but I was mainly interested in memoir writing. Shame is something many memoir writers dance with, and learning about it can help a writer go deeper, and be more authentic.

To read my essay about "John Bradshaw, shame and memoir writers," take a look:
http://memorywritersnetwork.com/blog/good-shame-improves-memories/

Jerry

Ritergal
10-16-2008, 09:48 PM
I just finished reading the free ebook (http://www.aurorawinter.com/ebook.htm) version of Aurora Winters' memoir, From Heartbreak to Happiness. The book begins with the death of her husband from heart failure at the age of 33, and concludes nearly a dozen years later. At least the first half of the book follows her on a near-daily basis during the initial intensely raw stages of grief. Obviously not everyone experiences grief the same way, but I'd never had this sort of intense, up-close-and-personal look at the topic. It is an eye-opener, and well worth the two-plus hours it took to read through the 283 pages. I may buy a handful of hard copies as gifts for grieving friends.

There is still plenty of room on bookstore shelves for memoirs if they benefit the reader in some way, i.e., inform, teach, entertain, inspire, encourage, or whatever.

Finding the way to produce that benefit is the challenge.

BTW, I have no doubt that giving away free e-copies will result in the sale of at least a literal ton of hard copy books. Download it and take a look yourself at how she wrote it and what she said.

muse64
10-17-2008, 11:01 PM
Hi All,

Been enjoying this thread. Great discussion. And hey...props to me for starting it...hehe.

Anyway, I think part of the dynamic here is the tension between the author's relationship to the manuscript/book and the readers relationship to the same piece of writing.

The author may find the process of writing a memoir to be quite liberating. There is something inherent to autobiographies that make them a powerfully empowering process for the author since one has to look at ones own life and make sense of it. That is a compelling reason for writing a memoir by itself.

But then there is the dynamic between the finished book and the audience/readers. Just because thewriting the book was liberating for the writer does not imply whatsoever that it will be a valuable experience for a reader. Maybe yes or maybe no.

I care about language passionately. I grew up in the Upper East Side of NYC, went to a private school and worked my ass off in college to get a BA in English. I have been accused of being arrogant and an elitist and that is, in part, accurate.

I understand that if I survived X and write about X then other people who care about X will read my book. There is nothing at all wrong with that.

It is, however, distinct from the book standing on its own based on its aesthetic qualities...where the subject does not really matter.

I have had a very unique life. In addition to my "upper class" background I have done time in isolation jail cells for months and months, been homeless, did national political organizing, rode freight trains etc...so I could pretty easily just write about X in a confessional type way and just let that be the basis of my book. And perhaps I will do that.

But really I want to master the art, the craft, the voice, the diction, the style. I want to be an Artist in the essential nature of that term...the skill involved in creating.

ok...that's it for now....much praise to everyone who have shared their thoughts so far.

jesse

pollykahl
10-20-2008, 04:13 AM
I'm shopping around my memoir, and what I'm finding is that agents are open to memoirs as long as they are original and well told.

Peachnuts
10-22-2008, 04:43 PM
So are there some 'known' markets for memoirs (agents/publishing houses)?

Great thread and I just wanted to hear if there are some places to try 'first'.

Mine is far from done, but I plan to have it completed in 2009.
I love to read memoirs, they are one of my top two fav genre's to read, if you can call them a genre (the other being historical fiction).

Alpha Echo
10-22-2008, 05:14 PM
I just finished reading the free ebook (http://www.aurorawinter.com/ebook.htm) version of Aurora Winters' memoir, From Heartbreak to Happiness. The book begins with the death of her husband from heart failure at the age of 33, and concludes nearly a dozen years later. At least the first half of the book follows her on a near-daily basis during the initial intensely raw stages of grief. Obviously not everyone experiences grief the same way, but I'd never had this sort of intense, up-close-and-personal look at the topic. It is an eye-opener, and well worth the two-plus hours it took to read through the 283 pages. I may buy a handful of hard copies as gifts for grieving friends.



Thanks for the link - this will help me with one of my WIPs.

How could readers get burned out from memoirs? They are not different than novels except they are true - most of them - and they usually delve deeper into the narrator's feelings, thoughts, experiences. I think there will always be a market for memoirs. If you're experiencing the death of a loved one, it helps to read something from someone who also did. If you're struggling with depression, it helps to hear stories of those who have survived and strived. If your son was killed, it helps to read about someone whose daughter was also murdered.

I think there will always be a market for memoirs.

Blake M. Petit
10-22-2008, 06:04 PM
Personally, I've never really been able to get into memoirs. I don't read a lot of non-fiction in general, and the topic has to be pretty compelling to hold my interest. As the topic of most memoirs is, by definition, the author, it has to be someone I'm already interested in to really grab my attention. This isn't to saythere aren't lots of well-written memoirs out there, they just aren't my thing.

I thought my girlfriend was going to hyperventilate when I told her I didn't care for David Sedaris...

Peachnuts
10-24-2008, 03:48 AM
Well everyone is different Bibbo, and that's ok.
I love memoirs and know many people who prefer them too.
Normal people go through some pretty interesting things in life.
I, for one, won't read a biography, I find them dry. Memoirs are first hand accounts. Juicy stuff. Plus I love other people's business. Might be why my other job is a nurse. Oh I see all the juicy stuff there.

Ritergal
10-24-2008, 12:46 PM
David Sedaris might be a girl thing. My hubby goes nuts when I mention my admiration for David's work. His writing is so cute and girly that I guess I understand.

Lavinia
11-11-2008, 05:49 AM
I was at a writer's conference a year ago where that was the question asked of agents and editors. I was surprised when they ALL responded that it would not make a difference in the ability to sell to publishers. A few said that you can bet that every single fact will be checked and rechecked but most didn't even say that much. Interesting. It was a year ago and I don't know if anything might have changed since then though.

I just think of it as a consumer. Do I shy away from memoir now? No, I don't. I think that's a good sign. ~Karen

scarletpeaches
11-11-2008, 05:54 PM
It really rips my nips that Asda has a 'tearjerkers' section now. All the mis-mems are the same. White cover, child turned away from camera, or showing half their face, complete with teardrop.

Does that mean there isn't a market for them, just 'cause I've reached abuse-fatigue in my reading ability? Hell no. Of course there's a market. That's why they now have their own section in bookstores and supermarkets.

snook
11-15-2008, 06:01 PM
Like some one said, every one has a story to tell. The important thing about memoirs is it's not only for you but your family and friends. It's history and I was shocked to find how interested my son is in his family history and my humor relationship with my dad. He lives for the stories and that's all the motivation I needed to go ahead and write it. If it sells and makes a million that's great; if it doesn't that's OK too. When I'm long gone, my son will be reading it to his kids and that tickles me you wouldn't believe.

Write it.