MEMOIR PART THREE – Wrapping up
In the final part of this series about memoir writing I’m going to answer a few popular questions that have come my way recently. I hope you find the information useful.
Q1. Can you write more than one memoir?
- Definitely. Imagine your life is a big, juicy apple pie. You’ve cut it into six pieces but not all of those pieces will have perfect pastry or an even distribution of apples. Attribute themes relevant to your life. They might include:-
- Crossing the Gobi desert ( adventure)
- Meeting my soul mate ( love and romance)
- Surviving five redundancies. ( resilience)
- Learning to paraglide, aged 80 ( daring)
- How I fought a deadly disease ( inspirational)
- Living in a van post- divorce ( misery/exciting)
You can do this as a real exercise before you start your memoir (be it first, second or third). If you are hoping to be published, here are a few pertinent points you need to consider.
- Is there enough solid information to put in a memoir? ( 60K words minimum required for commercial publication)
- Which theme are you most passionate about? This will set the tone of your book. If living in a van was full of misery with few bright spots, then you might want to avoid that one. Misery memoirs such as Angela’s Ashes were very popular 10-15 years ago, but I think we’re all “miseried” out.
- Publishers and agents have been inundated with stories about battling the corona virus and surviving lockdown in remote parts of the British Isles. As I understand it, they are not encouraging any more. I’m afraid to say this applies to fighting illness stories and surviving impoverished childhoods. To be taken on the writing has to be so powerful it compels the agent to read beyond the first page. (More on agents shortly).
- Out of the above selection, I’d go for the redundancy survival theme. We all want to know how people triumph over adversity. Redundancy is a threatening spectre which hovers over thousands of lives at this time. I really wished I’d talked more to my father about his memories of the 1930s and written his story.
- Finally, readers never seem to tire of war stories.
Q2. How do you get the reader gripped by your story?
By making you and your supporting cast credible people. We all behave badly at times or do the unexpected. This is what makes us human. Let’s say you crossed the Gobi desert in 1950 alone. You might want to portray yourself as fearless, ready to take on a bear, or brave the icy cold nights when in reality most of the time you were terrified and wanted to go home. Write down these feelings and how they contrasted with the times your trip was so endorphin infused you vowed to spend the rest of your life as a goat herder. Take your reader on an emotional journey so that they feel they are walking alongside you.
Q3. I’ve done some terrible things in my life. It is best to avoid them in my memoir?
- Join the club. If you are confessing to murder, then I suggest the police station because you don’t want to die with that on your conscience. Facetiousness aside, I’ve confessed to stealing a bar of chocolate from a corner shop when I was five. It was a dare. I got smacked legs and had to pay the shop keeper back out of my birthday money. I blush when I think about it. We all make mistakes from which we learn a hard lesson. If your “terrible things” are relevant to your story, then think carefully about how to write them. It might be a question of prefacing with - This is shocking admission, but I slept with the milkman in the end. Maybe it was the hazelnut yoghurts he delivered every Friday that made him so attractive, but I mustn’t blame him. It solely my doing, and I bitterly regret it. Confessionals are another form of memoir but do be careful. You could end up with a divorce or a death threat.
Q4. How do I get published?
The Big Question. Well, these days you can self-publish. I’ve done it twice with the help of a very reputable company but it wasn’t necessary. I could have easily done it myself and saved the formatting costs. If you’re looking for a publisher, there are a number of excellent independent publishers who are listed in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Many of them, however, specialise in commercial fiction: romance, crime and psychological thrillers. They are sold for £1.99 on kindle ( more for paperback) and are designed to get readers hooked on that author. I haven’t seen many looking to publish memoir.
If you are really serious, then you need an agent. Again, you can find a long list of UK agents in the above mentioned yearbook. Sort through them carefully and make sure they are interested in memoir. Check what they’ve already published. See if they are a match for your work and personality. Their biographies help with this.
Read their submission requirements VERY CAREFULLY and follow them to the letter. If not, they will not read your work. This is because they are inundated with so many submissions, you have to stand out above all others.
It’s hard work and requires dedication. That said, memoirs are becoming very popular these days as discerning readers are on the hunt for authentic stories. Our age gives us an advantage and we shouldn’t be knocking off the years to sound/look/appear more sexy. (Hey, you can be sexy at seventy!)
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this mini-series, and I do hope it’s been of benefit and even entertaining. Thank you to Robin and Autumn Voices for giving me the opportunity to share my ideas.
My memoir, Chasing Peacocks, is out on submission to six agents, the recommended amount or the first tranche. I could wait up to 12 weeks for the rejection! But, we must be positive. I’m confident I have an impactful and unique story, and if nobody wants to pick it up, I shall be privately printing 12 copies for family and friends in hardback with a glorious peacock cover. Not everything is valued in £.s.d. ☺