View Full Version : I'm going to start soliciting an agent for my memoir

William Blake Bradbury
12-14-2004, 10:24 AM
As everybody and his freakin' paterfamilias knows by now, I am a (deep breath) pseudo-asexual, secretly-homosexual rape victim who dated a self-mutilating, adulterous bi-sexual, until an encounter with a gay psychology professor in a London hotel room forced me to confront my true self (God, I love saying that. I think I'm going to change my name to that). Unless I'm sorely mistaken, that's one mouthful of a story. When you throw in the two years of psychiatrists and mental hospitals and a 90-pound weight gain/loss (I'm currently at a stable 109; I'm 4"11, natch), as well as the bizarre tortures I experienced in high school, throw in a repressively puritanical mother and an emu farm, I think I have the workings of, at the very least, a 280-page (that's 70,000 words) memoir. I've just sent out 5 copies of the short essay version of this to: "The North American Review," "Zoetrope: All-Story" (as autobiographical fiction), "The Missouri Review," "Boulevard" and "The New Yorker" (also as AF). Now, I'm really itching to try to glom onto an agent and I'm wondering: should I wait and see if any of the literary reviews publish this essay (does it even have a chance?), or is it attractive enough to be sent out sans the burnish of previous publication? Also, I'm chuffed when it comes to hammering out the query letter for this. If anybody's read "Gender-bendery" (featured, in its most embryonic form, in the "Share Your Work" section), could they maybe [grinds toe of shoe in ground and hangs head in embarrassment] help me write the query letter, or maybe come up with sample ideas for a query letter. I'd be much appreciative (acknowledgment page appreciative). Anyhoo, thanky, thanky, eggs n' bakey, all:hat (by the way, in case anybody ever wonders why I, a devout anti-smoker, always choose the fedoraed, Ray-Banned chain-smoker emoticon as my signature, it's an homage to the noirish coolness of Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant; i.e., self-satire;) )
Laters. :hat

aka eraser
12-15-2004, 01:25 AM
A credit in any of those pubs would help catch an agent's attention for a while William but to keep their attention you need to be able to show them a finished product. A memoir isn't "typical" nonfiction and is unlikely to be sold on the basis of a query/proposal; most especially from someone who doesn't have a lengthy history of being published.

The first thing an agent who's interested in a query will say is "Send me the first 50 pages/three chapters." Then, if still smitten, it's "Send me the full ms."

If you say "Sure. Gimme a couple/few months" you've wasted their time.

Hold off on the agent hunt til you're done.

William Blake Bradbury
12-15-2004, 08:18 PM
Muchos, gracias, senior. :hat

12-18-2004, 06:21 AM
I'm afraid Eraser is quite right.

I shot gunned out nine non-fiction book queries and twenty hours later I got four glowing "Let me see more, please" solicitations. Having just started the manuscript, I left myself a very uncomfortable dead zone in which I won't be able to supply TOC outline and sample chaps until I get my
ass in gear and rocket them off. I never expected enthusiastic responses, nor phone calls from NYC agents. Gee, after all, this ain't' supposed to happen, right? Well it did. Now I'm stuck with not only who am I going to choose, butrisking the damage of the other agents finding out about the other agents who got the identical pitch. Now, if it had beenBook publishers, I might have ended up in a bidding war somewhere off down the road.
The point is, be ready, or surely there might be hell to pay.


12-18-2004, 10:18 PM
Triceratops, not to be mean, or anything, but I seriously think that move was unwise. (But you probably already knew this.)

Of course you don't need to write the entire nonfiction book before soliciting an agent but you should have a good portion of it written first. At least a few chapters.

12-19-2004, 12:56 AM
Thanks Wolf,

It just goes to show you that a good thing can end up bad. We must prepare for every contingency. This one crept up on me like a black mamba, and I didn't see it coming.


12-19-2004, 05:09 AM
Well, my experience is limited to one agent (mine), but I didn't need the entire manuscript when I pitched her. I started with a chapter, and then sent her another three-four upon request. We worked together over the past several months as I finished the book, fixing a few (ahem) problems with the narrative as I went along. Now the book's finished, and my agent loves it. We're going to pitch to several major publishing houses at the top of the New Year.

As for finding an agent? I sponsor a book giveaway contest on my blog, The Zero Boss (http://www.thezeroboss.com/). My agent represents several of my past and future guest authors. Don't limit yourself to the slush pile - find inventive ways to network, both in cyberspace and the so-called "real world". It can pay off.

12-19-2004, 07:14 AM
You can query a non-fiction book with only a proposal and perhaps a sample chapter or two. Most agent/editor would work with that.

But memoirs, as Eraser pointed out, are somewhat different, especially literary memoirs. A lot of that depends on the author's style and ability to tell a story, much like in fiction. So a lot of agents/publishers handle literary memoir like they would a fiction. Many want to see the whole ms. if they're interested.

12-19-2004, 07:18 AM
maestro: you may be right. My work is, strictly speaking, a memoir. However, my agent and I didn't sign a formal agreement until I completed the book, and she saw that I had a solid narrative arc. I don't know if that's standard or not for all nonfiction, or peculiar to memoirs...?

William Blake Bradbury
12-19-2004, 08:44 AM
Please read the post below. Those it applies to (and you know who you are), think well upon its implications. Those it doesn't, please disregard. Thank you.

William Blake Bradbury
12-19-2004, 09:32 AM
I did a little spelunking today in the Share Your Work section. I was appalled by what I unearthed. A young man with the admittedly profane tag of "Tetheradik" htmled a piece onto a post called "The Milkman." The piece was not well received. Not only was it not well received, but several members of this group, members who have time and time again berated me for my own razor temper, simply tore this author apart. They avalanched him with hateful names, firebombed his ms. and pretty much engaged in acts of incendiary derision the likes of which I've never seen, and I've attended four creative writing courses. Again and again I have apologized to the individuals who made these vicious comments-nay, attacks-against this man. Time and time again, I have hung head and felt absolutely shameful. Well, combing back over my so-called inexcusable responses, I consider them models of restraint compared to the way others treated this man. My professionalism has been questioned, my morals blitzkreiged, and by people who demonstrated even less restraint than I. These people questioned an author's motives, all without giving him the benefit of the doubt. They never even tried. Even Cary - sweet, lovable Cary - turned diabolical on this poor fellow. The authors of "Fight Club" and "American Psycho" also produced works of supposed "racism," but sensible critics realized the authors weren't acting as racists, they were exaggerating racist attitudes in America, in order to illustrate their utter vileness. Mark Twain did the same thing with "Huckleberry Finn," and, frankly, those who attacked this man sounded very much like the sanctimonious parents who wish to drag "Finn" from elementary school book shelves. Not only that, but when a well-meaning member tried to step in and play mediator, to cry for level heads and rationale, he got it point blank in the gut, too. I...am...speechless (good thing I'm typing this). I am shocked. I'm disillusioned. They say we rarely see ourselves as others see us, as we really are, so when you people criticized me, I assumed I was acting in an inexcusable manner, I just couldn't see it. But now all the advice I cherished and took to heart, all the "good-hearted" chastisement and reproach which I weathered, it's all become questionable now. What's that saying from "Minority Report": "Careful, Chief, yuh dig up the past, all yuh get is dirty." Tonight I saw a very ugly side to this site and the people I've grown to trust, a trust which I find severely distrubed, now. I don't know what else to say. I'm disappointed in some of you. I hate being disappointed in people, but I am, and there's nothing for it:(

12-19-2004, 11:29 AM
That was a long time ago (actually, long before I even joined AW, so I've never read it). Some of the people are no longer here on AW. Some has become more diplomatic (I know Cary once told me how regretful she was about some of her earlier posts). And I think most people here try to look at things with an open mind (don't even start with the whole "censorship" debate again. :lol ).

But in all fairness, the author did ask for "brutal honesty" and I think people were entitled to their opinions, just as much as the author had the right to post the WIP. And I would not pass judgment and say who was right and who was wrong. I did think some people over reacted. However, I think some people also questioned what the author's motive was with a screen name like that, and that was his second post on AW... to provoke, titillate, maybe even offend? He could have posted a warning (which has since been put in place)... I think some people, because they were not warned, felt violated.

But I wasn't there. I could only guess.

But this is the Internet. Does it mean you should give up on AW or people around here? Nope. But you also should not trust everything you read or everyone you meet here. Just as you may not trust some of the people who posted the scathing remarks, perhaps you should also question the author's motive. It could be really pure and innocent. At the same time, I'm skeptical (again, given the screen name + that being the 2nd post).

Just my belated opinion. Thank goodness I wasn't there.

William Blake Bradbury
12-20-2004, 07:31 AM
No, no, no, I think you missed my point. It's not that people were brutally honest in their posts concerning the work itself, it's that the author himself was personally attacked and without provocation. His work may have been provocative, but a good critic attacks the WORK, never the author. Now this is the important point, so I'm putting this in capital letters: WHEN AN AUTHOR ASKS FOR BRUTAL HONESTY, HE MEANS FOR HIS WORK; THIS REQUEST DOES NOT OPEN THE WRITER UP TO CALLED HURTFUL NAMES; TELL ME WHAT YOU HONESTLY THINK ABOUT MY WRITING AND BE BRUTAL IN THAT SENSE, BUT DON'T MAKE IT PERSONAL. Those people who answered in an inflammatory sense were making their critiques personal. I'm a paid journalist and the first rule about editorializing: DO NOT MAKE PERSONAL ATTACKS. These people did, they were out of line. And, to be fair, they should have been more fair with me, in turn. :smokin
Oops, darn, forgot my hat:hat

12-20-2004, 10:47 AM
You cannot blame an entire board community for the actions of one or a handful of posters.

Of course making personal attacks was out of line, but we here at the Water Cooler are responsible for our own actions and not resulting from the actions of others. Some of us here actually can and will make constructive criticism of work when we wish to.

I remember the post you are referring to. In my opinion, I felt the writing wasn't very good. It did have some racist comments, as others pointed out, but here we are looking at the story itself and not somebody calling anybody a racial slur.

And even when personal attacks are made against a writer BECAUSE of something they wrote, this doesn't mean it'll happen with every single piece of work shared. It only means someone with nothing better to do with their time is trying to feel good about themselves by lashing out at a complete stranger. I know what that's like; I've been on the receiving end of this type of thing. My advice? Get over it. A person who is personally attacked by some troll can respond to it, if they wish, but they CANNOT let this keep them from sharing their work. If given properly, criticism can help a writer improve their work. Look past the personal comments for something USEFUL. If none is given, ignore it.

If, however, your hesitation keeps you from safely posting a sample, then it might be a good idea to share it with someone who you trust. Someone you know.

Just my opinions and suggestions. I'm not speaking for everybody else here. Take it as you will.

12-21-2004, 03:42 AM
Oh now I get it. Yes, you're right. Personal attacks are bad.

That's why we have the guidelines now. Personal attacks are not tolerated in SYW.

William Blake Bradbury
12-21-2004, 04:16 AM
the first five minutes of "Wonder Boys" and the first 30 minutes of "Storytelling" to get an accurate depiction of how most writers secretly or openly regard their fellow competition, er, writers. Now where's the little winky...ah, here he is...;)