Memoir length?

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Karin1130

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Hi everyone. I am an experienced writer (27 years), but this is my first nonfiction book. I have written what I originally thought was a memoir but now realize it is an autobiography. The book starts in my adolescence and continues through my 50's. It tells of being brought up by my Al Capone era Mob grandparents and alcoholic parents. It details overcoming sexual abuse, a brutal beating and hospitalization, life in an orphange, and abandonment. It culminates in how I learned to forgive and overcome my past through spirituality and by discovering that I could talk to angels. The book is 120,000 words. It has been rewritten and edited many times. Is this an acceptable length for an autobiography or memoir? I have researched similar books and lately they are running anywhere between 300 and 400 published pages. Thanks in advance for your help. P.S. Hope I posted this correctly.
 

CathleenT

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Karin, I'm afraid I don't have enough experience to give you an intelligent answer to your question.

I posted this to say that if you don't get many responses on this thread, it's probably because people thought you were responding to the original poster, not that you had a length question of your own.

You may get responses; sometimes threads evolve to where there are many posters on them with the same question. But if you do not, go ahead and start a new thread. You can call it 'Another question of length - nonfiction, 120,000 words' or something like that.

The way you start a new thread is to go to the upper left hand corner. Underneath the User CP link on the toolbar is a button for new threads. It will post on the correct forum.

When you're done, you might want to click on the User CP link. That shows 'rep points,' which are essentially just nice little messages that we send each other that aren't too long. If you click on it, you'll find one from me.

Welcome to AW! :)
 

Old Hack

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There's no need for Karin to start a new thread, as I've created one for her!

I've copied these two posts out of their original thread, and will now move it to our Memoir room, where she'll get the best response.
 
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cornflake

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Hi everyone. I am an experienced writer (27 years), but this is my first nonfiction book. I have written what I originally thought was a memoir but now realize it is an autobiography. The book starts in my adolescence and continues through my 50's. It tells of being brought up by my Al Capone era Mob grandparents and alcoholic parents. It details overcoming sexual abuse, a brutal beating and hospitalization, life in an orphange, and abandonment. It culminates in how I learned to forgive and overcome my past through spirituality and by discovering that I could talk to angels. The book is 120,000 words. It has been rewritten and edited many times. Is this an acceptable length for an autobiography or memoir? I have researched similar books and lately they are running anywhere between 300 and 400 published pages. Thanks in advance for your help. P.S. Hope I posted this correctly.

Unless you've been president, or are on the road to being president, heh, that's wildly too long.

I'm sure someone more familiar with the genre will come along with a more definitive answer, but I'd wager you should top out around 80,000 words.

How are you planning on pitching this? I can see some issues with traditional Christian publishers, a few ways, and with traditional publisher others.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Memoir is best at 70-90K words. 100K is often acceptable if the writing is stellar. 120K is probably not going to sell.

I'll also warn you that autobiographies without a good character arc are almost impossible to sell...unless you're famous. On the other hand, a memoir with a strong character arc that covers a large bit of temporal ground will appeal to enough people to make it potentially viable.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal, memoirist
 

KC Casey

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You're fine to query a 120k word memoir. Janet Reid will look at it, for one.

The book would be about 400 pages, so it's at the top end of acceptable but others that length have been published (celebs mostly, Angelica Huston, David Geffen, Bill Graham, and I think the both David Sheff's memoir is over 110k words). Besides, for all you know, 25% of your ms will be cut by your publisher's legal dept.

Don't worry about it yet. Just query, and best of luck (for what it's worth, I'd read all 120k words of it...sounds fascinating).
 
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cornflake

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You're fine to query a 120k word memoir. Janet Reid will look at it, for one.

The book would be about 400 pages, so it's at the top end of acceptable but others that length have been published (celebs mostly, Angelica Huston, David Geffen, Bill Graham, and I think the both David Sheff's memoir is over 110k words). Besides, for all you know, 25% of your ms will be cut by your publisher's legal dept.

Don't worry about it yet. Just query, and best of luck (for what it's worth, I'd read all 120k words of it...sounds fascinating).

Unless Ms. Reid hops in to say she'd look at it, I don't think you're safe saying that.

It's closer to 500 pages, going by the old standard, but neither that nor that lots might be cut is the point.

Querying overly long mss. that don't need to be that long is going to get a lot of rejections that might have been different responses to a more standard wc. If there's some reason the OP has to need a lot of words (the OP was president, or is Angelica Houston, for instance), that's a special case, and the OP would still have to make clear that every word was needed.

Querying something 50% longer than standard isn't no big deal, it can lead to automatic rejections, and they can be right - a lot of times overly long mss. hide good work. The OP can do whatever, but trimming to an acceptable wc will likely improve chances.
 

hearosvoice

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I'm way less knowledgeable than others here, but my impression was that 80k is the sweet spot.

Honestly, I'm a little surprised that people are saying too-long manuscripts are a big no-no, b/c it seems easier to cut stuff than create more, but I believe them since I'm a newbie of sorts.

I also was under the impression that if you really have a lot of drama and your memoir reads more like a fiction novel, and you totally slay it, it might justify a 100k word count. But even if you slay it, I think above 100k is a bit much.
 

mccardey

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Honestly, I'm a little surprised that people are saying too-long manuscripts are a big no-no, b/c it seems easier to cut stuff than create more, but I believe them since I'm a newbie of sorts..

I think the issue is that if you're a sellable writer, you'll have done the cutting yourself - before you submit.
 

khobar

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From: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor...ovels-and-childrens-books-the-definitive-post

"Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don’t know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I’ve found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened.

Coming in a bit low (70-79K) is not a terrible thing, as it shows you know how to focus on the most interesting parts of your life and avoid a Bill-Clinton-esque tome-length book. At the same time, you may want to consider the high end of memoir at 99,999. Again, it’s a mental thing seeing a six-figure length memoir."

I think more important than actual word count (for now) is how you are going to set your story apart from all the other alcohol/abuse/abandonment stories that are out there already. You've got Al Capone era Mob grandparents - that could be an interesting angle if you're able to flesh it out. Being able to talk to angels - if that came about as a result of the brutal beating/hospitalization, that sounds interesting too. If it wasn't really the result of anything, not so much.

Have you got a pitch plan? Can you answer "What's it about?" in one or two sentences? Why is the time frame from adolescence through your 50's? Does it really cover all those years or is there a gap? And, have you had anyone beta read the ms?

Good luck.
 

KC Casey

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Unless Ms. Reid hops in to say she'd look at it, I don't think you're safe saying that.

Janet Reid states on her blog that she'll consider an ms up to 200k words if it's well-written. Obviously the writing has to be up to par.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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But since Ms. Reid isn't known for agenting memoirs, that's moot. And no matter how influential she is, no matter how interesting her blog, she's still only one agent. And the majority will not accept overly long manuscripts.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

cornflake

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Janet Reid states on her blog that she'll consider an ms up to 200k words if it's well-written. Obviously the writing has to be up to par ... that goes without saying.

Unless she's talking about memoirs, which I doubt, then it's immaterial to this conversation.
 

cornflake

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She specifically mentioned memoirs, actually.

Since she hasn't seen fit to paw or swim her way into the thread, and this has been mentioned without a link, I went to look.

There's nothing on QS' first page. Her regular blog has only this on the first page w/re memoirs -

About yesterday's chum bucket -

Of course, I often do reply with more than "not for me" because I think it's helpful to say why it's not for me. Sometimes it's because I'm not much on eyeball removal (eww!) and sometimes it's cause you think a 240,000 memoir is publishable.

This is from a post from a couple of weeks ago, entitled 'Dispatches from the query queue.' -

Here's why: I never assume you're joking. When you start out with "my memoir as Felix Buttonweezer's gun moll is 300,000 words in the second person" my first thought is NOT "oh this is clearly a joke."

I stop reading and send the "not for me" form rejection.

So, yeah. If there's someplace the venerable Shark says she's interested in memoirs (or anything) of 200k+ words, it's not where I've looked, though I only looked on the front pages of each. The quotes above directly contradict the claim though.
 

GetShorty

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I think more important than actual word count (for now) is how you are going to set your story apart from all the other alcohol/abuse/abandonment stories that are out there already.

That's the biggest issue facing anyone and it was the same question I asked myself when I started my journey writing my biography. Does my story differ from the many already out there and is it that interesting enough that people will read it. I said yes on both.

I'm currently at 85,000 words and still going but feel I might be able to get it around the 100,000 word mark but was wondering the same as the OP regarding length.


Have you got a pitch plan? Can you answer "What's it about?" in one or two sentences?

I have a pitch plan but is anyone ever totally sure their plans will actually work. Regarding being able to describe it in one or two sentences is something I'll try to sum up. thanks for the suggestion on that.
 

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