How long does a Memoir have to be?

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Pamster

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I posted the first chapter of my memoir's rewrite in first person since the other version wasn't able to catch the interest of any agents, and I am wondering how long one must make a memoir to be able to interest an agent. Is 60,000 too short? The previous version was in the range of 70-80K but I don't think I can make this one quite that lengthy since it's in first person. So what do you think the bottom end of the industry standard is? 50K? 60K?

Thank you all in advance for the advice, I hope that I can do it right this time, so far it feels right but then I haven't gotten any feedback yet on the posting I did two days ago, so I am eager to hear what you think about the length issue to put my mind at ease as I am about 20K done on the first draft. :)
 

snook

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Jeez I hope not, mine aboutmy dad is about 41K.
 

Pamster

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Well I hope to be able to get about 50-60K, have you gone back and edited to see if you can add another 10K snook? Its in the first edit I think I will go up from 50 to 60, because I know I left out some things I want to include. Good luck with your memoir! :D
 

snook

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I know what you're saying. I'm handicapped by my engineering training; I was trained to make the most impact and cram the most info into easy to digest and concise packets. That does not make for long stories. I'm querying, hoping for some interest before I wax poetic, if you get my drift.
 

snook

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Oh, about 10, I'd say. Got a few form letter rejections so far.
 

Ritergal

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Pamster, I didn't see your draft, but your comment about not being able to make it so long because it's in first person ... huh? How does that shorten it? I have a hunch that you are shortchanging descriptions, and that's what breathes life into a story, makes it sparkle and shine. Ditto for dialog.

Snook, this applies to your "Engineer Brain" too. Concise is good. Precision is perfect. Then take those bones and flesh them out to make them real. Set them in a context (scene). Add some color, texture, sound and smell. Not too much. Three or four carefully chosen details will sizzle.

I do a stand up workshop on Sizzling Descriptions. Wish you both could attend! Are you interested in an online version? I'm looking for a couple of "beta testers" ... Anyone interested can contact me privately. It won't get off the ground for a few weeks, maybe January.

BTW Pamster, love the turtle!
 
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snook

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That might be a plan, count me in.
 

Pamster

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Thanks Ritergal! I love my pet turtle, he's awesome! Thanks for the offer of help, I am almost done with the rought draft and hope to crank out another ten thousand on the first edit adding more details and dialogue. BUt the original question remains to get a good solid answer, what so you think on length, is 50-60 K enough to have sellable Memoir? :D
 

SusanH

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Mine is 61,000 and counting. I am polishing right now. I go back and add drscriptions if I find a sentence not flowing. I've had 7 rejections from a BAD query and with the help here I have a new query and just sent out 10 queries and waiting....

I had a red ear slider I rescued when she was the size of a quarter. I rescued a second one. When the big one got to be the size of a large dinner plate we gave them to a friend that has a farm with three ponds on it. They are happy turtles now....lol.... sorry about the off topic...

Picture539.jpg
 

Pamster

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Awww! Love the turtle pic! :D Glad you got help on your query, I know a bad query can set you up for failure, that is why I love the Query Letter help forum here at AW. I think I will be able to get to 60K but I don't know that for sure, I hope I can on the first edit, but it might take two passes or even three. :)

Thanks so much for posting Emerita and for sharing the awesome picture! :D
 

Nandi

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FWIW...my memoir is 91.5K. I have been told that memoirs, like novels, should aim for the 80K to 100K range. I agree with Ritergal about enriching the story with description and dialogue, as you would with a shorter piece of creative nonfiction, to make the tale come alive.
 

Wayne K

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I hope you're right Nandi. I'm around 108,000 for mine. I have a second that I can't get over 75,000 with. I think it's perfect at 75, and I don't want to add or subtract
 

Kirsten I

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Well, I'm trying to cut mine down from 139,000+! I'm down to 130,000+ and still revising. I don't know which is harder--to lengthen a book that's too short or to shorten a book that's too long.

Thanks for the info on length, Nandi. I just have 20,000 more words to cut.
 

SusanH

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I have been cutting out what I think are boring parts and adding more to the dark parts. I hear different things. I don't know if people want funny and happy? Or drama.....
 

Nandi

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I have been cutting out what I think are boring parts and adding more to the dark parts. I hear different things. I don't know if people want funny and happy? Or drama.....

Emerita, what you're pondering seems to be which writer's voice to use. I think this is one of the toughest things to come to grips with because most of us are so close to our work--and the events we're describing--that it is hard to be objective. I have found that a writer's group or manuscript critique can be help me to see things I couldn't see on my own.

Of the many memoirs I've read during the past few years, the ones that seem to be the most successful are those that somehow come across with a lighter touch...a self-deprecating, bemused, yet genuine voice. Personally, I find that voice very difficult to sustain, especially when writing about darker events, which might be why I'm having a hard time securing an agent. My hunch is that this is what agents and publishers like to see in memoirs. A writer who does this very well, in my opinion, is Annie Lamott. See, especially, her Traveling Mercies.
 
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ResearchGuy

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. . . how long one must make a memoir to be able to interest an agent. . . .
The issue is saleability, not length. Length might affect saleability, but does not determine it. Audience, timeliness, quality of writing, platform -- those make the big difference. (IMHO.)

FWIW, one superb memoir I know very well (I was instrumental in getting it to publication) weighed in at a little over 100k words. The agent with whom it was briefly signed wanted it slashed ruthlessly, presumably to make it easier to sell to a publisher (and informed the author of that desire only AFTER the agreement was signed). Author refused (the cuts the agent wanted would have ruined the book) and got the agreement canceled. The book was published by a small press and has since been picked up for a new edition by a large independent publisher, with only minor trimming for the new edition. But it is a compelling story, beautifully written, and with an audience (and with some awards gathered along the way, one of them quite substantial).

--Ken
 

SusanH

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me too. Thanks. I keep adding to mine everyday and I'll probably have over 100,000 words by the time I get picked up....so there will be room for cutting.....
 

Kirsten I

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Well, if any of you ever need to cut 35,000 words from your prose, try changing the font. My book grew to over 139K in Times Roman, and cutting was slow and agonizing until I changed the whole book to Courier. Then I cut with abandon. Story moves better at 105,330.

Now, although the industry standard is supposed to be Courier, a Simon & Schuster senior editor of nonfiction narrative told me today she prefers to read manuscripts in Times Roman. A NY agent told me she doesn't care what font we use.

Anyway, changing the font is very helpful for editing. You might also be able to add material that way, since your manuscript will look so different.
 

Pamster

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I am surprised they wanted Times Roman for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. But I'll go with it, I know what you mean about changing the size of your MS by changing a font though, good point. :)
 

Ritergal

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Actually, I don't know what you mean about changing the size of the manuscript. You must be referring to page count. And I think you also mentioned file size. You are not changing the word count, and to my understanding, that's what editors and publishers look at. Page count will vary wildly, depending on a combination of page size, font, line-spacing and all sorts of other variables.
 

Pamster

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Yup, I was referring to the page sizes difference in size. I don't know whether it changes the file size itself though, I imagine it could...
 

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