In any given week, Divertir Publishing receives 25-40 queries. Lately I’ve noticed that 2-5 of these weekly queries are for memoirs. I suspect this is in part because one of our more successful books, Tears for the Mountain, is the account of an author’s trip to Haiti after the earthquake to deliver medical supplies (the book hit #1 for the Social Policy category on Amazon when it first came out). I also suspect it’s in part because authors are advised to “write what they know,” so more authors have turned to writing memoirs.
Because of the number of memoirs we receive each week, I tend to be very selective regarding what I will forward to others for review. When considering memoirs I look for the following:
- Have I heard the story before? I know that everyone thinks their life story is unique, but the truth is there are a lot of people who overcome addiction (and who don’t), who graduate from college and move back in with their parents because of the economic climate, who see ghosts and UFOs, who think they’re vampires (seriously), and who think a “universal force” has guided them to be where they are in life. If there isn’t something unique about a memoir, chances are I will not make it past reading the synopsis.
- Is the story engaging? I hate to admit this, but I have pretty boring life – there are nights my life makes CSPAN look exciting. If your story makes a reader long to watch parliamentary proceedings, you’ll lose the reader and never get them back; there are too many other forms of entertainment out there. I recently received two memoirs where, because of all the back story at the beginning of the manuscripts, I never made it to what was supposed to be the interesting part – and most readers won’t either.
- Does the author whine? The sad truth is that sometimes people find themselves in less-than-perfect situations. It’s how they react to these situations that says something about who they are. Did the author act as an inspiration to others, or did they pitch a tent in Dewey Square and protest how unfair the world is? In case it’s not obvious, I’m much more likely to publish the manuscript by the person whose words inspire others.
- Is it well written? Because of the large number of people writing memoirs, a manuscript is going to stand out only if it’s very well written and polished.
I recently asked an author I know to review a query for a memoir. While I won’t go into the details of her review, one of her comments was “What makes the author stand out?” It’s a fair question, and unless an authors tells a story I haven’t heard a hundred times before in an engaging way with a well written manuscript, chances are the author won’t stand out. That is, unless they pitch a tent in Dewey Square and protest how unfair Tools of the Publishing Elite can be – in which case they’ll be “unique” for all the wrong reasons.