Before you write anything, remember, there are an awful lot of books in the world. Too many books. That’s why your memoir won’t sell.
Remember all the established authors, and big promotional campaigns your book has to compete against. That’s why your memoir won’t sell.
Stacked against those kinds of odds, your book doesn’t stand a chance.
But does that matter?
Why are you writing your story anyway?
Memoirs and biographies are enduringly popular. There’s a persistent appetite for all sorts of real-life stories, and everyone and his/her dog is getting in on the act. (And yes, there are plenty of dog biographies out there!)
So let’s just get one thing straight:
Your book doesn’t have to sell a boatload of copies to be worth writing. Your book doesn’t have to help a certain number of people to have value.
If you want to write a biography or memoir, simply to get your story out to family and friends, you should. Writing anything can be its own reward.
But if, on the other hand, you want to get your story published, and maybe even sell a few thousand copies, you’re going to need a different approach. And this is where we’re going to be a bit cruel to be kind …
Your memoir won’t sell because nobody needs to hear your story!
Or do they? You tell me …
- Why do you think anyone simply must read your story?
- Isn’t there another book out there that already covers the same ground? Why is your book better?
- What do you have to say about your life and your experience that anybody else is going to relate to?
- Is your story accessible? Does it genuinely invite the reader in?
- Is the type of story you’re telling popular? Find out what’s selling well now, so you can see in what ways you’re en vogue.
- And ultimately, why is your story worth £9.99 of anyone’s money?
If you can’t answer these questions with vigour and conviction, you’re going to find it very hard to get your book optioned by a publisher.
Yes, the appetite for new books is vast, but the time, money and patience of publishers isn’t. And unless you can impress upon them how your book is different, and how it is brilliantly written, you are going to get a lot of knock-backs.
Don’t be too discouraged …
If you have a story to tell, there is still plenty you can do to get publishers to sit up and take notice.
Five ways you can help your memoir stand out
- Look for publishers who specialise in your niche. You can even ask their commissioning editors if they have any particular requirements for new entries into existing lists or imprints. Perhaps you can tailor your story a little bit to match their specific requirements.
- Do your research. Make sure you know a) who your competitors are, and b) why your book is better than theirs!
- Make your writing shine. If there’s one thing that might – just might – convince a publisher to take a chance on a story that has been told before – it is if you can tell that story better. Be distinctive. Be bold. Write beautifully. Write with passion and precision. Make every word count. Make every sentence matter. Think like a fiction writer and build in dramatic momentum, drama, pathos, and suspense into your story.
- Use your reputation. If you’ve built up a strong online profile, or you’ve garnered a reputation as a speaker of note on your subject, cash in. Anything you can do to show your potential publisher that there is a ready-made fanbase out there – eager to hear what you’ve got to say – will help to minimise their financial risk.
- Make sure your submission to publishers does your book justice. If it isn’t nigh-on perfect why should anyone think your book will be any better? If it doesn’t grab them by the heart and hold them tight, why should they think your book can rose their emotions? You need to spend time making your submission hard to turn down.
Tell me why your memoir deserves to be told
Armed with the expectation that your memoir (probably) won’t sell (huge amounts) you can set about writing your story in the right way. And you won’t be fazed by outlandish expectations. And if you write a carefully crafted, compelling story that shows a real grasp of relatable human drama, you’ll give your book a better chance to succeed than many of the biographies and memoirs that cross a commissioning editor’s desk.
Over to you …