View Full Version : a question...

05-31-2007, 03:16 AM
So I've been working on my memoir and I'm about 21,000 words in to it at last count. I have the begining, middle, end and a substantial amount in between written. The basic flow of it is worked out, so I've been going back in and filling out the stories, specific events, etc..

I'm the kind of person that works better when I have a goal to work towards and would find it much easier if I had some sort of general guidelines as to how long a memoir should be (a range is great). Could anyone offer some insight?


05-31-2007, 03:29 AM
I'm currently writing a memoir and when I got my contract, it gave the page count needed. My agent had told me that "people don't want to buy hardcover books of less than 250-275 pages."

Hope that helps.

05-31-2007, 03:34 AM
So I've seen anywhere from 250 words up is average per page. So that would mean about 60,000 words give or take. Sound about right?

Another question-
At what point should I start looking for an agent? (I'm very new to this process)

Thanks so much!

05-31-2007, 04:03 AM
A lot of people (including Miss Snark) say that memoir is sold like fiction, ie you need the entire book completed before you can get an agent/publisher. That was not my experience, as I got a great agent and publisher based on a proposal with 2 sample chpts. 5% of the agents I queried wanted to see either more chpts or the whole book. The rest did not.

My personal opinion is that after perfecting your killer query letter, your proposal and sample chpts (which includes having them critiqued), it's better to spend the rest of your time developing some kind of platform, rather than writing the whole thing. Not knowing what your memoir is about, I haven't a clue what that might be for you. But, without some kind of built in readership that a platform gives, it's very very hard to sell anything, including memoir, these days.

Good luck!

05-31-2007, 04:22 AM
I think I have a rock solid platform already. My book is about the love between a mother and child. Begining with my mother's love of me, how I picked up the pieces to move on after her death (with her help, yes that implies a lot and I mean every word of it) and finally how I have chosen to give my children the love of a mother that I so desperately miss.

What I am elluding to is that over the years I have experience a large number of tangible events that have showed me that Mom is still around... just different.

My book will appeal to:
people going through Cancer, their family and friends
people who have lost a parent and are looking for how to move on
Mother's who have a deep love and connection for their children
Anybody looking for signs that there might be some sort of life after death without being unrealistic about it. I let the reader come to their own conclusions after I share events that occured.

So to sum it up- it has wide appeal to lots of people for different reasons...

Thanks! The more I get in to it the more I excited I get!

05-31-2007, 04:47 AM
Kadea, you don't have a rock-solid platform. What is meant by a "platform" in publishing terms is media presence---i.e, established celebrity, media contacts (i.e., you know Oprah, you've gotten a celebrity to write a preface to your book, you have a blog that gets 10,000 web hits per day, you've published other books that have sold well, etc). Publishers today want you to have a built-in readership---i.e., on the day your book is released, 50,000 people will go out and buy it on your name recognition alone. If you don't have that, it's EXTREMELY difficult to get a memoir published, no matter how good of a writer you are.

Minimum sellable length for a memoir, I'm told is 75,000 words. 85,000 is better. Maximum is 100,000 words. That means you need at least 350 manuscript pages.

And Kadea, I've gotta be honest----your memoir is not sounding very compelling or original. Indeed, it's a cliche. You need to find a way to "punch it up," make it more compelling, especially from a media perspective. If you can find a way to tie it into a current news event, that is helpful. If you can find a celebrity/established author to endorse it, even better. I have a memoir that has all of these things going for it, and it STILL is proving a hard sell. It is tough, tough, tough in the memoir market these days. Good luck.

05-31-2007, 06:09 AM
My mistake. The "lingo" is still new to me. I confused platform for target audience.

A couple of lines of the top of my head obviousely haven't done my story justice. I will work on that.

05-31-2007, 06:45 PM
So I've been working on my memoir and I'm about 21,000 words in to it at last count. I have the begining, middle, end and a substantial amount in between written. The basic flow of it is worked out, so I've been going back in and filling out the stories, specific events, etc.

FWIW (probably not a lot, but this is simply by way of comment), the memoir with which I am most familiar was written and polished over a period of some 25 years (more like 40 if you go back to its inception). It runs to over 100,000 words and is a work of remarkable literary and historical merit (just plain brilliant, as far as I am concerned). The query was rejected by one publisher after another because the query letter did not do what a query letter has to do to pique a publisher's interest. With luck and work the manuscript found a home with a small press and is being published this year.

Suggested lessons: think in terms of the whole as well as the parts. Polish, polish, polish. Get critiques from those who can and will give honest and able commentary. Take your time. I am pretty sure that "wide appeal to lots of people for different reasons" is NOT a recipe for success. Much too vague. There is no way to target marketing to "lots of people" on the basis of "different reasons." Read widely among published memoirs. Find out what works and why. Read the reviews in Publishers Weekly to see what is being published in the memoir genre.

The comments by Sakamonda on platform are valuable. Do you speak to groups? Write newspaper and magazine articles? Have a blog? Have a large mailing list?

You might want to consider reapproaching the memoir as a novel instead.


05-31-2007, 07:01 PM
You should also stop whatever you're doing right now on the memoir and research competative titles (you'll have to do that for your proposal anyway). You need to see what's out there in terms of memoir with similar stories/themes. Then ask yourself, is my approach/theme/story/voice so significantly different (as well as extraordinary) that this can sell? If the answer is "yes," get it critiqued so you have an objective opinion.

05-31-2007, 10:38 PM
Thank you for your input!
Yes, I have been working on this memoir for almost a decade, in essence. I wasn't sitting down and writting it, but I have been working on how best to say what I want to say. It's a beautiful story and inspired many people at the time it was occuring. I was very young at the time. I have waited for the wounds to heal so the book can be from the perspective I feel is important. The stories and events have been rolling around in my head for years. If I had written the book 9 years ago the book would have a very angry tone, but instead today it is one of beauty and hope.

I come from a long line of successful writing talent and very successful/talented marketers. I also have some top notch PR connections. When I wrote about target markets I was being vague because I have not sat down and written my query letter yet (I plan on begining that shortly), so I haven't gotten to the point of perfecting my selling message.

What I have done though is work on the piece itself. I have already done a number of revisions on what I have written so far. I have polished it a number of times and I am sure I will still polish much more in the future.

What I have found is that I have been able to ellicit substantial emotion from readers of my story (they were not family members or even know any of the people in the book). I know I must be on the right track because they each thanked me repeatedly for sharing it. I have found that different people identified with the work for different reasons, each took something different from it.

Right now I am working on making my book what I want it to be. When I have a chance I am absolutely going to research other similar titles, but I can't make my book something it isn't. While writing I don't want to be overly influenced by other works. I want my story to be purely mine and not worry about what else is out there yet. (I know this will be a concern later though)

I'm not saying when I'm done I'll be the next big thing. But what I am saying is that when I am done with this process, I will do my best to get it out there in hopes of touching people's hearts and inspiring them in their own lives. If for absolutely nothing else, this book will have provided me closure for the most definining period in my life. I will be quite happy with that.

Thank you for all of your input. Believe me I have learned a lot from reading these boards, especially from the process of how publishing (and getting to that point) works. I will post at least part of my story on the SYW board when I feel it is at that point. But given the calibur of writting talent that frequents this board I am going to be very sure I have done absolutely everything I can with it before putting it out there, I don't want to waste anyone's time.

This got a lot longer than I planned, but I felt there was a lot I wanted to say...

Thanks again for the input

06-01-2007, 04:58 PM
I gotta be honest, Kadea. Despite all you have written about your book, I have no idea what it's supposed to be about, or why I would want to read it. That's not a good sign. Perhaps the most important skill a writer needs to have is the ability to compel reader interest in a sentence or less----i.e., power in brevity. You should be able to boil down your entire book into one powerful sentence that makes any potential reader want to read it. (It's called a QUERY). If you can't do that, you'll never be able to land even an agent, let alone a publisher.

Anthony Ravenscroft
06-03-2007, 05:19 PM
You've got to have a whole lot more than "I've had a really interesting life & I've overcome personal tragedy." That describes at least ten percent of the population, & I don't mean that comment in a sarcastic way. Your writing might possess the soul of wit & have a sparkle that fair leaps from the page... but if the agent/editor doesn't get past the cover letter, it'll never happen.

06-04-2007, 12:45 AM
Thank you for your comments.

Yes, I do understand the importance of a powerful query. Once I have gotten further in my book I will turn my attention to creating it. I am very confident I will be able to create a letter that will grab the attention of whomever reads it and will pique their attention.

I have a proven track record of creating marketing pieces that recieve a 25% positive response rate to a business contact unfamiliar with the company (feel free to check out that the industry standard is less than 6% response rate for a mailed piece). I know how to properly draw attention and get a response. I also know that creating the perfect piece takes time, many revisions and a tremendous amount of research in to the target audience.

My intent of this thread was not to ask whether my subject is valid or whether it is saleable. I am still in the begining stages of writing my book and was just asking for some insight as to what you do at what point. I like to have a gameplan. For example, I did not realize I should even consider writing my query letter until the book is complete, now I know different. So my first few responses on this thread were literally off the top of my head, thoughts that had rolled around in my head and not the final draft thoughts of a query letter.

As many creative people know... the final version may not even resemble the first thoughts. It is a process of evolution to get the final message/product.

My apologies if this post seems defensive, I just feel that I had to make it completely clear that I did not lay all my cards on the table and am not interested in discussing whether my story line will sell. My questions were on average story length and at what point to pursue an agent. I made the mistake of not making my full sales pitch in my post, I had no idea it was going to be perceived as such and would not have responded off the top of my head.

Thank you again for your responses, but please in the future do not continue to discuss my sales pitch, I'm not asking for input on it right now. Please respect that.

06-04-2007, 06:52 AM
Thank you for your comments. . . .
You are welcome. Best wishes for success with your endeavors.


06-04-2007, 09:02 AM
Thank you Ken. Best of luck for you too!

06-04-2007, 05:02 PM
I would also strongly recommend you reconsider not reading other memoirs that would compete with yours because "they might affect your writing." This is a foolhardy decision. Good writers are first and foremost good readers. You should ALWAYS be actively reading contemporary authors in your genre, whatever that genre is. That will help provide a context for your work. Constantly reading as you are writing (as an example, I read 6-7 books a month--or more---while writing and working full-time) is one of the main ways that your writing will improve. Ask any published author and they will tell you the same. Reading other writers is one of the main ways you develop craft. Learn by example.

Susan B
06-04-2007, 07:35 PM
Hello Kadea,

Just wanted to share my experiences re: how to proceed with memoir. It can be confusing because memoir is something of a hybrid--sometimes treated like nonfiction, sometimes like a novel.

I had written what I thought was most of the book (though it wasn't in final form) when I realized that nonfiction is normally pitched with a proposal + a few sample chapters. So I stopped working on the book itself (it was probably about 70,000 words) and did research on proposal writing. Wrote the proposal, had it almost done, started working on the query letter.

My first group of queries (12) resulted in 4 requests for more. But everyone wanted something different! 1 agent wanted the proposal, 1 wanted 2 chapters, 1 wanted the first 100 pages, and the university press editor wanted table of contents and 2 chapters.

I passed up an early offer from an iffy agent, had to keep querying for about 6 months till I ended up with a good NY agent. (Most of the agent requests did turn out to be for the proposal.)

My agent has been sending out the proposal to interested editors. It has been frustrating, with lots of regretful no's because memoir is a tough sell these days, you need a platform, etc. (So that's what everyone is trying to caution you about. It's unfair, but it's the reality. It's become very tough in the last few years, without a particular "angle" or some kind of platform--or absolutely stellar writing.)

Currently, I have 2 publishers who remain interested after having read the proposal. They both want the full manuscript before making a decision.

Oh, the length question: It's ended up at 88,500 words.

Best of luck to you!


06-06-2007, 12:25 AM

Thank you for your post! That is exactly what I was looking for!

An update: I took the earlier posts to heart. I have begun to think about how to build a platform AND have been looking in to similar types of books (one in particular that was a NY best seller). I have been formulating how my book is similar in subject but takes a different/fresh approach to the subject matter (yes, I noted the publishers too). I am now planning how to best build my unique platform to be in place when I send out query letters, etc. I may not be world famous, but I will have something. That is quite vague, but that is because I am still mapping it out in my head. I am a Virgo to the core and like to have a roadmap in hand before I begin.

I am on a roll with writing my story and at least for the moment feel it is important to not deviate from it. I feel that with my specific subject it is better that I get a good portion written so that I have a clear idea of the theme. The book message, so to speak, has taken on a slightly different tone since I began. I don't want to waste an audience I may or may not have with an agent and/or publisher before my story is polished.

Thank you and best wishes to you too!


Susan B
06-06-2007, 06:47 AM
Glad it was helpful! Let's hope for a good outcome for all of us!


06-06-2007, 03:56 PM
PrevostPrincess, when you were writing your query letter/book proposal, how did you address your projected length/the unfinished nature of your book?

I am working on this right now, and when I try to address this, I find my attempts clumsy. I have done my annotated chapter outline, and I have approximately one-third to one-half of the memoir done.

And to answer the original thread, I've heard a memoir should be the same length recommended for novels. I'm aiming for 60,000 to 80,000 words in the final version.


I agree that you CAN get an agent before the book is finished. I know it has happened. John Grogan, the author of Marley and Me, found an agent based on an 800 word column and the reader responses to that column. He did, however, write the book before the agent began shopping it to editors. I know of other examples, but this is a fairly recent successful example.

06-06-2007, 08:55 PM
I addressed that the book was unfinished the same way you would for any NF book. In my query, I said I was "seeking representation for my memoir, Leave the Driving to Him for which I have a proposal and two sample chapters."

Occasionally, on requesting to see more, an agent would want me to "send the manuscript." I would reiterate in an email that all I had was a proposal and two sample chapters. The agent always then said, "OK, send that." I never had one say at that stage that they needed to see an entire book to even consider it. Out of the agents who did read the proposal and sample chpts, (in which I wrote that the book would consist of 12 chpts of 20-25 pages each), one said she would need to have two more chpts to try to sell it, so wondered if I'd be willing to do that, and another said she'd love to see it when it was done, as felt she could only sell an entire memoir. These two were 5% of the agents who saw the manuscript. So, at least in my experience, it is not at all important to have the whole memoir done before sending it out.

(As an aside, I've written screenplays for years, those were all written on spec and obviously the entire thing has to be done. I've been optioned for a little bit of money, but never produced. I know this was why I was so adamant about not writing the whole memoir before selling it; I've just written so much "on spec" that I refused to do it anymore.)

I also don't recall that any of the editors my agent sent the proposal and two sample chpts to (all at big publishers) ever said, "we need to see the whole thing first."

In the proposal, I had a paragraph summary and title for all the chpts that I had not yet written (ie ten). Apparently, this sufficed. Do not worry if you think you can't be precise as to what will go in each of the chpts you haven't written yet. Editors know this isn't an exact science and things will get switched around.

I know this is not the conventional wisdom about how memoir is sold, but it was my experience. (And, we did get a pre-empt.) If I didn't answer your question, please post again.

06-06-2007, 11:55 PM
So you've heard it both ways now . . . Doreen sold her memoir from a proposal. I sold mine from a complete work.

Both of us were taken up by Random House imprints, and even though she's with Broadway and I'm with Crown, it's reasonable to assume the same review standards were applied to both our works, and both of us "passed the tests," but with differing approaches.

She says, in essence, "They took my book with just a proposal. So I didn't risk writing a whole book for nothing."

I say, "Editors liked the fact that I brought a complete, compelling work. I think I did better than I would have, had I just brought a proposal and sample chapters."

The fact is, both our approaches worked, and there is no way to know what might have happened if I'd sold a proposal or she'd sold a complete book. And the same is true for any of you.

A compelling, well written story is going to find a market. It that definition of "compelling, well written" that's the million dollar question.

And I know platform matters, etc. I guess the answer is . . . there is no answer. There are just different ways that worked for different people.

06-07-2007, 12:14 AM
John, I completely agree.

My main point was that so many people say that like fiction, you MUST have a competed memoir to sell memior. In my case this was not true, and judging from the reactions of the agents I queried, it's hard for me to believe it's true in most cases.

Whether you'll get a better deal coming with a whole book, as John says, there's no way to know.

(And by the way, my first memoir, I Know You Really Love Me, also sold on just a proposal and two sample chpts to Macmillan, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. No agent/editor ever suggested I needed a finished manuscript first.)

06-07-2007, 12:53 AM
Thank you for the insight!

I guess what it really comes down to, is author preference. I think my best road is similar to yours John. For me, it doesn't really matter whether it is published or not, I want to finish it for myself. I have found a tremendous amount of healing from getting the words on to paper, so to speak.

I will hope that a compelling story (also well written/ easy to read), a subject that affects millions of people every day, the begining of a platform, my enthusiasm to actively market the book (plus PR contacts) and my general personality will come through as I approach agents then publishers.

Thanks again for all the posts! Everyone, best wishes on all of your books!

06-09-2007, 10:41 PM
I believe the standard for a completed non-fiction manuscript is 80,000-85,000 words, to answer your original question. It has to do with paper and printing costs as well as resulting from studies done on book lengths preferred by readers. In the case of memoirs they should fit the non-fiction standard. Here's a good thread about it. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1366415#post1366415

Somewhere else (it might have been Miss Snark's blog) it was stated that we should use Times New Roman font at 11 point, or maybe 12. 10 is too small and it should be no bigger than 12.

I have found outlining to be a big help. At first I just jotted down the beginning and end, and the bigger highlights in between. As my writing has progressed (cureently 58,500 out of 85,000 words or 193 out of 283 pages at average of 300 words/page) my outlining has become more specific. I have left out a lot of events that I initially thought were important, and decided to add some other events that weren't originally going to be included. Now I've got a good rhythm going and it's smooth sailing but it took me a while to get to this more organized state. No matter what state I was in, I kept writing. That's important. Keep writing.

Did you ever read Stephen King's book On Writing? I found it to be great fun as well as very informative.

Keep going girl!

06-10-2007, 03:14 AM
Thanks Polly!

That's what I did too. I sat down and figured out how to divide my book in to three sections then figured out how I wanted to begin and end each section. Now, I am just going back and filling in the pertinent stories that occured in between. I bet it is easier to do that when you are re-telling a real story. You don't have to worry about how the characters evolve from point A to B to C as much in the begining. You just go back and fill in real events that you know are important, you lived it, you should know! :) The over all flow/theme of the book came easliy to me.

I am also finding that I feel the need to go much more in to depth about events that I thought I would. I am lucky because I have one of those crazy detailed memories. I drive my husband nuts when we are arguing! He'll say something like, "You never told me that..." I will go back over the exact time, place, cars driving by us, clothes he was wearing, where we were going and exactly what was said in the conversation in question. You can practically see the steam come from his ears when I do that. Eventually he'll learn to just admit he forgot... :)

I'm actually really excited, because I just sat down and wrote 2,000 words in the last hour or so. It was elaborating on an event that I only had about one paragraph on, but I think it is important for character building. I'm up to 28,000 words, knowing full well I have many more stories I have to pull up and tell.

I'll make Stephen King's book on writing the next one on my list. I am in the middle of a investigative journal style one right now.

Thanks again Polly! :)