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If my memoir won't sell as a 'memoir' can I do something creative with it so it will?

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REMLIG

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I'm a newbie here and I need some guidance.

I've written and completed a 77,000 word (memoir) manuscript and now I'm looking for an agent. I have sent out about 150 query letters, synopsis, and/or book proposals. (I have not sent out the proposal that are requesting sample chapters yet. I have list of about 25... I'm holding off on that because its costly to send each package with SASE it is $10- each.) I have about 30 queries that I am still waiting for a reply on. But, I'm getting rejection letter (not all form letters) that are saying things like "memoirs are difficult to sell in today's market" and/or "the economy is bad for memoirs".

So, I wondering if I can do something creative with my memoir manuscript?

It is written uniquely in third person and the readers don't get the clues that I am the person writing the story until about halfway through the book, and even at that, they are left wondering, is it or isn't it. My pen name is two letters like A. B. and my last name. The readers don't know if I am a man or woman. I thought perhaps I could redo some of the book slightly if need be, and not sell it as a memoir.

But how would I know what genre to list it under? It would still be nonfiction I know. Would be it just a story told by an author, instead of being a memoir?

And, as a last resort I was thinking of turning it into (oh god I can't believe I'm going to type this) -> a novel. As I prepared my book proposal and marketing analysis I'm learning that novels are what women buy, and women buy the most books.

I welcome any ideas or thoughts?

PS - I have had the manuscript critiqued by a few editors they say the same thing -- "its a really good story" and "it has the ability to be a best seller". But, I know if I can't land an agent it will never get published.
 

REMLIG

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fourlittlebees -- Who is [email protected] Fr3y?

Do you mean James Christopher Frey the author of A Million Little Pieces - My Friend Leonard - Bright Shiny Morning? I don't know anything about him. All I remember is he was a guy that went on Oprah and lied a lot, got caught, got sued and lost his credibility. Is that the same guy?

I really don't want to pitch/sell my book as (oh god I've got to type that word again) a novel. That is why I'm think of keeping it nonfiction and tell it as a story written by someone else about me. If I remove one of the letters in my name, my name is the same as both my parents. And thus I could tell the story from the prospective of one of my parents. I guess I would be their ghost writer so to speak. They have already stated that they would allow me to do that. They strongly believe in the story.

But how would I know what the genre would be? Any ideas?
 

wax_and_wick

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It could be that your biggest problem with selling it as a memoir is that it doesn't seem like one. Third person and the reader not really knowing it's you writing it are unusual and might be an issue.

If the readers aren't sure the narrator is you, how can you expose enough juicy details? Unless the events that unfold are very interesting indeed, I think this would kill a memoir.
 

PinkAmy

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You've got to be honest with your readers. For nonfiction and memoirs, people don't want to feel tricked. I agree with wax&wick- readers need to be on the journey with memoirists and third person feels removed.
You could get into legal issues by publishing fact as fiction or vice versa.
Have you tried getting a few betas to see their take on what might be holding you back?
 

khobar

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You're putting the cart before the horse in making getting an agent and/or publisher your top priority. Consider this - if a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Imagine getting an agent and publisher and have no one know about your book.

I was at a workshop recently and I can tell you this is a major problem for a lot of writers. When the host asked who had a book already published, most of the hands went up. When she asked who had their first book coming out this year, just about the rest of the hands went up. I felt very small at that moment as I kept my hand down. But then I realized they were in the same boat as me, and I had the advantage because I wasn't working against time. You see - you can get all the way to publishing and then have the publisher cancel the contract. I think that would suck.

Curious - why are you presenting your memoir in the format described? Is this your gimmick or are you trying to hide something? I know a little about the latter.
 

CACTUSWENDY

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Only a personal opinion here. Take with like a grain of salt.

By being in 3rd person you have put distance between yourself and the reader. From my understanding, limited as it is, a memoir should be in 1st person.

Since you've finished it in 3rd it will come off as a novel. (I'm not afraid to use that word.lol)

A hard thing about a memoir is that unless you are well known, have made the news, or only one of a kind, you might have problems selling your book. Everyone has a story about themselves. Why would I think you are so special enough that I would want to read about your life? If you check on Amazon you will find tons and tons of 'life stories'.

If you are a no body, have not been the first one it's happened to, or your life only involved those around you, I think it will be tuff to sell. (This is not being said in a mean way.)

Now, as for being a novel, (Not afraid again to say that word.) You can pitch it in the genre that it applies to. I have to ask. Why does the term...novel....bother you so much? The whole purpose of your story is to get it out there. I bet there are lots of stories sold as novels that hold grains of real life in them. If your story involves real life names/people you might want to change the names so you don't get a law suit later on.

Again, this is only my take on this. Best wishes with this.
 
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REMLIG

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More questions

Wax and Wic -- The agents that are taking the time to write me back (not form letters) aren't rejecting me because of the writing style or that its written in third person they are blaming at a bad market to sell memoirs. Some have told me my book/proposal is rather interesting but it's a really hard market right now.

I find that hard to believe because when I did my marketing analysis I did in depth research, it is clear memoirs are in the top 10 category of books people buy.

PinkAmy -- What are betas?

Khobar -- I think I follow your drift... Do you mean create a buzz about the book and the agents will want to handle it?
 

FocusOnEnergy

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And here I thought I was the only one who decided to write their memoir in third person. It's not uncommon, but it's not common, either. For my project, I found it worked better that way when I went back and changed something that felt awkward to something that was totally natural.

I agree about readers feeling tricked, though. I wrote in third, but used my real name. I have to, it's a memoir, and anyone local reading it would know it was me even if I changed my name.

Someone who read the first couple of chapters of my first draft thought I should rewrite as a *shudder* novel. She thought that it would be more interesting if there was a romance between the character that would be based on me, and one based on someone who is one of my colleagues at the paper. I yarked up several hairballs in response to that suggestion. No. Way.

Instead of calling it a memoir, or using the n-word, you might investigate the genre of "creative nonfiction".

Or just go balls out, and use your real name and not play coy or make people wonder. That could be one of the things that is making people shy away from it. It is far easier to sell a product that fits into a neat category or can be described by referring to other familiar products.
 

PinkAmy

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Betas are readers who read your manuscript and give you honest opinions on where you can improve. The best ones aren't friends or people familiar with your story, because they might not pick up on confusing parts, since they know the back story. Choose people who are good writer or good at conceptualizing stories or good at whatever you think might be lacking. There's a section on AW for BETAS, but folks usually don't offer to newbies until they have a certain number of posts under their belt. You can probably find someone to swap manuscripts with though.
 

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Memoirs are a hard sell unless you're a celebrity of some sorts these days or you have done something extraordinary that few people have done before, because the market is flooded. Take a look at the memoir section of the bookstore. What would make yours stand out from all the others? What makes your life so interesting to anyone but you or your family?

Personally, I would fictionalize the story.
 

REMLIG

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Creative nonfiction, fame and whats in a name...

FocusOnEnergy -- I agree with you regarding the reasons why. I did the same thing by writing it in third person. I felt it gave me a much broader range to write about myself and those in my life by doing so. It made the story much more interesting instead of writing I, I, I, my, my, my.

The "creative nonfiction" is an option I am quite interested in. A very close friend and published author suggest creative nonfiction as another option. I guess my question is, how do I find an agent that handles creative nonfiction. Back when I was researching in Writers Market Guide and the other publications that list publishers and agents there were only a few that listed creative nonfiction as a genre they handle. Now in retrospect I didn't keep track of who they were. I can go back to the library and look again. But, creative nonfiction looks like it's a new genre that opens up a few more options. Thanks for the idea.

I do use my real name, I just abbreviate my first and middle name and use initials. And as I mentioned before, it could also be both my parents names if I removed one letter.

PinkAmy -- Thank you for that great idea. I will look into the other things this site has to offer.

Thanks for the heads up about being a newbie. I guess I need to become more actively involved and start posting.

Yes, I did have other professionals read it. One was a seasoned pro with 50 years of experience. Both gave me a lot of help in their critiques. I did as they suggested and I really think it made all the difference in the world. They said that once I land an agent the agent might have me change a thing or few but for the most part I'm on the right track. But as you suggested another reader with a different perspective will always help.

Illiterwrite -- I'm finding out about the fame thing. I might now be (yet), but almost everyone in my life and in the story is. More on that later. lol The problem is if I fictionalize the story I'm afraid it will dilute that fact. I guess that is why I'm holding off doing that, but if it's the last resort I will.
 

FocusOnEnergy

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REMLIG,

I just did a search on AgentQuery.com, putting "creative nonfiction" in the search box, but not picking a genre, and I got 280 results. Look for "narrative" or "literary nonfiction" as well.

It's not so much a new genre as one that isn't as familiar. Usually creative nonfiction is just called "memoir" because most readers know what memoir means. Creative nonfiction sounds too much like and oxymoron, which is why I call mine a memoir, even though it's actually creative nonfiction. The fact that it's written in third person kind of gives it away as not being straight memoir.

First person gave me an I problem. Although there are a lot of techniques for avoiding overuse of I, me, my, the flow of third person worked better. It also allowed me to take my conflicted thoughts and turn them into actual characters that argued with each other, conspired together, and provided occasional comic relief.

That worked much better than having it be me going through a lot of mental conflict and angst and trying to express that without it turning into some sort of psychodrama. That's the creative part of it.

Focus
 

PinkAmy

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The important part is going to be whether an agent thinks s/he can find a publisher for your book, so you might have to deal with some agents who won't look at your MS to find out that third person works for the story you're telling.
I think all memoirist have to deal with the I problem. Varying sentence structure helped a lot, also making sure I was showing the story and not simply telling the story helped a lot too. I'm sure there are agents out there who will jump on the creativity of a 3rd person memoir--you just have to find the right one (like we all do, LOL).
 

REMLIG

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PROLOGUE

FocusOnEnergy -- I just spoke with a big name editor in NYC, NY. They said an option would be to add a PROLOGUE to the beginning of the book explaining the author is the leading character. To me it sounds like a great solution.

I agree with you and I feel the same way that you do. Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts.

PinkAmy -- You are so right. It all boils down to if they can sell it or not. It is the key... That is the reason I posted this thread wondering what other options we as memoir writers have.
 

Chrisla

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This has been my experiece.

I, too, have written my family story, and haven't been able to generate any interest from agents. The book (which I had printed for family) has received great reviews from all who have read it--so much so that word of it was spreading to distant cousins, friends of cousins, etc., all of whom urged me to publish--telling me it was a wonderful story, a page-turner, etc., etc.

When I got an honest evaluation from one agent that he simply cannot sell memoirs in today's market, no matter how good, I decided to set it aside for the time being. I think I may go back and fictionalize it later. I've given the family the true story (for posterity), but it could make a much better story if I rewrote it as fiction. Then it might be marketable. In the meantime, I'm giving it a rest, working on a genre book and short stories, which will give me a better chance of breaking into the market place.
 

FocusOnEnergy

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FocusOnEnergy -- I just spoke with a big name editor in NYC, NY. They said an option would be to add a PROLOGUE to the beginning of the book explaining the author is the leading character. To me it sounds like a great solution.

I agree with you and I feel the same way that you do. Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts.

Good idea by the editor. That will deal with the confusion that could arise.

I'm glad to find someone who is doing something similar to what I am, when it comes to writing a memoir in third person. Personally, I think it made the story also much more readable by allowing me to step back from it and have it not just be all about me.

I look forward to getting a chance to see your work in the SYW forum. Please feel free to give me a heads up such time as you post anything there.

Focus
 

REMLIG

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Is my manuscript best as a memoir or not?

At this stage, I'm looking at other options.

I spent time looking into the category of novels and I just don't 'feel it' calling to me like nonfiction does.

The story is a true story that is scandalous and I feel that I will minimize it and the events by allowing it to become a novel.

Although the title has the word memoir in it, I think my book it better suited elsewhere in another genre and simply changing the name of the title.
 

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Lori Witt and I went back and forth with an agent last year for months trying to find a way to do what you want to do, and the overwhelming opinion is that publishers wouldn't buy it.

Last year I got an agent who liked it as a novel, though we pitched it as a memoir. It didn't sell
 

Purple Rose

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You can do a lot to suit your needs if your only goal is to sell the book - change the title, find a genre and rewrite for a good fit,change your name etc. BUT do you really want to change the heart and soul of the book? Sorry to be so harsh but I really am with the other posters when it comes to memoir - be honest.

No one is advocating an all-or-nothing approach. You can leave things out, maybe they're too painful, or too destructive or too boring or whatever. What is important is that whatever you say is true.

You seem to understand this by saying that the value of your story will be diminished as a novel.

So now you'll need to decide what you want to say, why you're saying it and what compromises you're willing to make to achieve your goal.

From much of what I've read on AW, most writers would rather wait forever to be published, or go the self-pub route simply because they won't make edits which they believe will compromise the integrity of their story. I personally salute them.
 

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Memoirs are a hard sell unless you're a celebrity of some sorts these days or you have done something extraordinary that few people have done before, because the market is flooded. Take a look at the memoir section of the bookstore. What would make yours stand out from all the others? What makes your life so interesting to anyone but you or your family?

Personally, I would fictionalize the story.


Is this an American trend as other authors I've spoken to have said memoirs are still a booming market. Most of the best published memoirs I've read aren't from celebrities and haven't done something extraordinary. My favourite recent memoir was about the everyday siutation of a man being fired from a job. I think the key is to ask what can your readers take away from your experiences.

Just my $0.02 worth.
 

booker c

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Being a woman (the majority of memoir readers) I don't think I would be interested in a third person memoir. Good luck with whatever you decide.
 

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I absolutely concur with booker c. I'm female and I enjoy reading about the lives of everyday people. They would have to be written in the first person.
 

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It is written uniquely in third person and the readers don't get the clues that I am the person writing the story until about halfway through the book, and even at that, they are left wondering, is it or isn't it.
putting the book in the memoir category of the bookstore would tend to give the game away. unless the reader might think that you had, perhaps, written a memoir about a person other than yourself.

I almost think that they would want to publish it as fiction so as to preserve the surprise.
And, as a last resort I was thinking of turning it into (oh god I can't believe I'm going to type this) -> a novel. As I prepared my book proposal and marketing analysis I'm learning that novels are what women buy, and women buy the most books.
you know, to me it doesn't sound "turn into". it sounds as if you could have it published as an autobiographical novel and change nothing.

I don't like the idea of your changing the actual content of the book to fit the category. no no no.
 

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