View Full Version : Question about humor/memoir

10-18-2008, 03:23 AM
(I hope this is the right place for a question like this. If it's not, moderators, please move it)

I posted the first drafts of a query letter for a humorous memoir on the SYW query thread and was told essentially two things: 1) query needs to be funnier/improved (certainly that's true) and 2) It will be tough to get an agent/get published without having some kind of platform.

Is No. 2 necessarily true? I'm sure that having a built-in audience (for example, being a columnist or celebrity or a previous best-seller) would help get a humorous memoir published. There would be no question then that there is at least some group of people who is likely to be interested in buying your work.

But won't a good query and funny MS do the job whether you've got a built-in audience or not? I mean, if it's funny, it's funny, and people will read it, right? That's how I found authors like Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs -- was at a bookstore, read the jacket and was intrigued enough to buy. Had never heard of either of them until I picked up their books.

It's not like I'm writing about myself as if I was a historical figure, oblivious to the fact that I'm not and nobody cares about my life story. They're just funny stories. That they're about a nobody shouldn't matter if they're funny/entertaining to read, right? Or am I completely screwed up in my logic here?

10-18-2008, 01:53 PM
If you have had comments in SYW then perhaps you could ask those who replied to discuss this further or be more specific?

10-18-2008, 04:41 PM
When I got EQUINE LIABILITY published, it was the end of a long process. I realized to get from here to there, I needed some solid things I could point to. I became involved with the New Hampshire Horse Council. I started out with regional magazines and progressed from there to national magazines. I went out and spoke publicly. (My publisher approached me after one of my talks.)

When I queried, I had two publishers interested in me. One of the publishers knew my background, so I didn't have to work that with her. The other publisher did not, and we had several discussions before we decided that it wasn't going to work. Definitely part of those discussions was what could I bring to the table (among other things, through my magazine connections, I got excerpts of my book published in national magazines).

So I know how vital a platform is to nonfiction.

You do pick up some readers by people wandering into the bookstore and finding you. However, this is one of the hardest ways of selling a book out there.

One thing I've learned in query letter hell (QLH) is how difficult memoirs are to get published. I believe it is Susan Breen who has done a lot of research on this issue trying to get hers published. I've read some of the agents and publishers on the subject. Bottom line is that they're just a hard sell.

It appears that Saderis was discovered in a club, given a radio show and went on from there. That's a platform. I can't quite decide with Burroughs, but it seems like something similiar might have happened with him. Authors that I'm aware of in your subgenre have a similiar background.

You also have the 'in' to starting a platform. You work for a good sized newspaper as a columnist. One of the questions in my mind, and I'd guess in a significant number of agents and editors is why can't you get your newspaper interested in this idea? You've got the connections to make it work. My nice assumption is that you've never thought of this. My less than nice assumption is that your editor shoot the idea down. And if that's the case, who am I to question his judgment? Now I'm well aware that either of these assumptions could be completely wrong, but guess what, people make assumptions all the time.

What a platform does for you is show the agent/publisher that you have a built in audience. Much as I might like your humor, the only way I'd invest time and/or money in you is if I know I'd get it back again. By showing me a built in audience, I stand a better chance of getting my money.

Working on a platform has benefits for you. It will enable you to polish and develop your style through reader feedback. You'll be able to find out what bombs with a limited audience (and I guarantee you that some of your material will bomb). And when you go to get your book published, you'll be dealing with the publisher with some strength. Strength means more money in your pocket.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

10-18-2008, 05:16 PM
...won't a good query and funny MS do the job whether you've got a built-in audience or not?

Of course, but it's gotta not just be funny, but rip-roaring funny. If you can manage that then don't sweat the marketing stuff. If an agent or editor frequently lol while reading your query & MS you'll make a sale.

10-18-2008, 05:19 PM
Hi Brian - Think about it another way - why would I or anyone want to read your (or anyone's) memoir? There are plenty of funny, interesting, sad, etc. stories in my/our own families to remember. In my lifetime (a long one) I could probably count the memoirs and autobiographies I've read on one hand - they have only been of very notable people with exceptional lives.

If I were in a bookstore looking for a book and was in the memoir section (about the last place you'd find me), for me to be attracted enough to a book to even think about buying it there would have to be one heck of a catchy blurb on the back cover - the only man to replace a hen sitting on a nest and hatch eggs - or something.

Now move to another section of the bookstore and throw a collection of funny stories about growing up in the old days on the Upper Penninsula of Michigan (Cully Gage) or backwoods stories (Pat McManus) and you'd have a much better chance of seeing me at least crack the book. Which I think is back to platform - not necessarily famous platform, but credentials for being the best person to tell the stories.

This is rather blunt; I know it, but it's also reality for people like me. To have any chance at all you have to establish why you're the best person to tell these stories and why anyone would care about the stories. If you can do that, you might have a chance. Puma

10-18-2008, 07:02 PM
So what would you suggest I try for a platform? I suppose I could submit what I've got to magazines and try to get them published. I'm not approaching our publisher about them -- our paper is entirely the wrong place for publishing these stories. They're far too long and as far as I know, we've never published anything humorous except an editorial cartoon.

But what else besides simply sending the stories to magazines?

10-18-2008, 09:34 PM
Do you do a Sunday paper? Do you have a living section? Do you have a funnies page? I'd start out with columns that are somewhere between 500 to a thousand words. (Make them fit. Learn to write to length.)

My first articles were given away for nothing. I was looking for the credit, not the money. Think your publisher might not like a thousand words free, once a week, for six months? Especially if you can be filler when he needs it? In your columns, give a blog address. You want to get your readers interacting with you. (That's how you show real readership.)

After six months, start approaching other papers. By the way, this is how every comic strip that I know of started.

If your newspaper is really out, find some small regional weeklies or monthlies and make the same sort of offer. Basically you're investing in your future. (For most writers their first novel is an investment in their future -- they probably would have made more money working at McDonalds on an hourly basis than they did writing.)

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe