Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What does 'not right for my list' mean anyway?

Okay, so I received this response from an agent, which came in less than 24 hours of having sent a query and 5 pages of my memoir to her.

"Many thanks for querying me. This certainly sounds like an interesting premise for a book, but I'm sorry to say it's not quite right for my list at this time. I appreciate your trying me though and hope you find the right home for your work very soon. Please feel free to try one of my colleagues with your project."

Thrilling-until I read it was "not right for her list at this time". I've heard this a few times. Would you please explain what that means? How does a book not fit a list? Does she mean maybe later she would be interested?

Also, she suggests I try one of her colleagues. Upon checking the company website, I see no one else lists memoirs as a genre they represent. Why would she say this? Or...maybe this is a canned response?

First, don't read anything more into the speed of the reply than you just queried when she was working through her inbox.. I've replied to people within MINUTES and it was for both positive and negative outcomes.

And yes, this is a form rejection.

But as to your question, what does "not right for her list at this time" mean: you have a list too. It's all the books you own. My guess is you probably own quite a few. But you don't own every book you've ever looked at or heard about. You probably don't even own every book you've thought "hmmm...sounds good" when you read about it or saw it.

Same with my list which in this case is novels I've asked to represent. Some novels appeal to me. Some don't. That really doesn't have a strong correlation with "good" or "publishable." I have some VERY good novels on my list that haven't found a home. I've seen some novels published (not mine of course) that I thought were dreck. And I haven't taken on every novel that sounded good in my incoming queries either.

What you don't know from this response is whether the book isn't appealing to her, or you've got a query that doesn't do its job. Make sure your query has enough of the plot (YES you need a plot in a memoir!) to be enticing, and you haven't described your female characters as blond bombshells, or feisty (or other gender specific words that annoy the snot out of us right now). A quick trip through QueryShark might help if you haven't been there before.

And I will say this: memoir is very tricky. It's a crowded category and the competition isn't diminishing. The biggest problems I see with memoir queries is what they don't have: significance for the reader. An interesting life doesn't always make an interesting story. You need a third act, and you particularly need it if you're not famous.

We've talked about memoir here a couple of times.

A general post on querying memoir

A post on what to leave out of a memoir

A longish post on significance and platform (yes, platform helps in a memoir)

This might be a good time to invest in a writing conference as well. A chance to actually talk to an agent may help you identify some problems you don't see, or get insight into what's not working in your query or project. 


luciakaku said...

It's been personally really helpful to watch other woodland critters spin their hamster wheels over form rejections with phrases like this so I know what not to read into the replies I'll eventually get.

These days, in my writing group on FB, I tend to be the one saying, "Slow down, they just said they don't want to spend months and months working on that particular book. 'It didn't grab me' doesn't mean your book needs an overhaul. Let me know if you need me to send you breathing instructions." Even though I haven't even STARTED querying.

*adjusts Reider badge so it gleams in a conveniently placed beam of light*

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ah, how perfect, just when I jumped back into the memoir pool. It's a little crowded in here where it's shallow. I'm going for the deep end. I may have to tread water for awhile but oh the fun.

Breast stroking to the side of the pool to click on the links, even though I think I read them a few dozen times before.

Sam Hawke said...

OP, you'll drive yourself mad trying to find deeper meaning in a form rejection. Whatever the words used, it means the same thing: not for them. There's no secret code. I've seen forms that are curt, even rude (my favourite that I received in the trenches was something like, 'sorry for the delay in responding but anyway we are not interested', including the bad punctuation) and forms that are so, so nice, from agents who have clearly agonised over the least hurtful way of turning you down. And though you might learn something about the agent's personality from their form, you won't learn anything about your own work. Go onto Query Tracker sometime and have a read of the comments. No matter how nice the form there will be people complaining bitterly about it or demanding to know what it means. Don't be one of them.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dried off and reread the links. Yup, I remember them well.
Light-bulb moment.
My 72,000 word memoir isn't a memoir at all. It's a collection of published pieces wrapped in the beach towels of life. (Beach theme today).
I am doomed.
That kind of stuff is on no one's list but mine.
I'm screwed.
Back in the pool.
Question: Will my Reider badge keep me afloat or take me under.
Holding breath...

Stephen G Parks said...

I think the problem with this rejection is that it doesn't read as a form rejection - it sounds like a personalized one, which leads to a lot more introspection.

I once got what I thought was a personalized rejection on a short story ("strong story, but not quite right for us") and quickly sent them another story I'd been polishing. Yep, got the exact same rejection. Only then did the lightbulb turned on; this was their form rejection.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ah, the lovely form rejection. I have come to love these as they are far superior to the NORMAN. For me, not knowing is worse than rejection. At least with rejection, I can determinedly scratch an item from my list and move on. As for memoir, I will leave that to others who read and write in that wheel house. That's not me. I have an irrepressible urge to add a dragon to everything.

Lucie Witt said...

Hang in there, OP.

It's difficult to resist reading into form rejections. On one hand we're not supposed to take them personally. On the other we're supposed to analyze them for signs our query or manuscript itself needs work.

Welcome to the hamster wheel club. There's plenty of room and we meet everyday.

Colin Smith said...

I agree with what my fellow Reef-dwellers say about form rejections. They are basically meant to be a nice way to say "No." You can't reason with a form rejection because it's a No. The alternative to a form rejection is the agent stomping on your feelings by telling you your query or pages suck like my daughter trying to get that chunk of strawberry up her smoothie straw, or trying to offer specific comments when, really, she just wasn't into it. After all, when you pour your high school heart out to the beautiful Suzie P with the long blonde hair, would you prefer she said, "I'm sure you're a nice guy, and I'm flattered you asked, but I'm just not into you that way," or would you prefer she detailed your dullness, and your lack of personal hygiene, when no amount of body wash will change her mind? Sure, she probably says the former to all the guys, but that's a heck of a lot better than the latter.

When you get a form rejection, just cross that agent off the list and move on. Don't analyze. Don't spin wheels. She's just not into your story. It's not you. It might not even be your query, or your pages. It's just a "No."

It's the personalized responses you need to pay attention to. When an agent dares to tell you she likes your story, and you have great potential if you'd only take a bath, you should go buy some soap. :)

JSF said...

One thing that keeps me going lately is a layman's understanding of relativity (I think.) I formulate it as there is no central authority controlling right or not-right, which is a borrowing from conversations I've had and books I've read. I sometimes browse the book store by strolling down an isle and reading titles that catch my eye. No specific section. I think there are probably as many tastes as there are people, and those tastes change on a whim. Just as there are significant events that attract different people for whatever reason experience attracts. It seems to me there is a place for all books, it's just a matter of finding that place, and finding that place at the right time. And thanks, Janet, for this great blog (in case I haven't told you lately.)

Robert Ceres said...

I think the only replies that mean anything at the query stage are 'please send the full,' or some form of negative criticism. I rejoice at either one. I really believe that many agents spend almost zero time on most queries no matter how good the query or how good the writing.

Robert Ceres said...

I also think agent workload for reading queries would go way down if all agents put a real one liner about why they are rejecting.

I found four typos in your query.
Your writing too choppy for my taste.
I couldn't get into your MC's head.
Too much backstory.
It seemed like your opening scene was too improbable...

All might send a writer back to the drawing board. Of course that's never going to happen. But for the agents who do provide this kind of pithy feedback, you've really earned my goodwill.

Mark Thurber said...

E.M., I would definitely read a memoir with dragons! I enjoyed reading the older posts Janet linked to, especially Gary Jansen's interview about his memoir with ghosts. I'm a big fan of memoirs, even/especially vignette-y ones where nothing earthshattering happens (great example is Mark Salzman's LOST IN PLACE about growing up in suburbia), but they certainly have to have a voice you want to spend time with and a lot of selectivity in what they describe. Or dragons.

Susan Bonifant said...

Sam Hawke: Bingo.

"And though you might learn something about the agent's personality from their form, you won't learn anything about your own work."

We can't really do much with a "no" other than develop a healthy response to it which includes not turning on your work, and not turning to Twitter, Query Tracker or any other place where you could slip and fall into an asshat puddle.

Like everything, getting over the sting of rejection becomes easier with practice. If you're efficient, and don't dawdle over hidden meanings, you'll get that practice. Eventually, your auto-response can become an efficient "oh well," as you move to the next.

You'll never look forward to rejection of course, but you may read a "not for me," or a "don't have the passion that this deserves," and be glad to see a status more than a "still out"on that Query Tracker pie chart.

Sam Hawke said...

@Robert Ceres - their workload would go DOWN if they did that? How? Form rejection is, I assume, a one button job. If they have to personalise each, they're not only spending time responding instead of just hitting a quick button, they're also increasing the chance that the author will respond (here is a version without typos! Why didn't you like my MC? The backstory was important because XYZ! My opening scene really happened to me!). Much as it might be nice for authors, I can't see how it could be a time saver for agents.

Janet Reid said...

Robert, you think we haven't done that?
In my formative years, I often "helpfully" wrote notes on queries.
Particularly the ones that really needed it (spelling, homonyms, word count.)

Geeze louise. The BLISTERING replies I got back would have set your hair on fire. I mean letters with really objectionable language.

It took a while but I realized a query is NOT a solicitation for feedback. There is but one question to answer: do you want to read this novel. And only two answers: yes or no.

That is the reason Chum Bucket's first rule is: you don't get to write back with insults or complaints.

Mark Thurber said...

To Sam's point, I receive quite a few inquiries from folks all over the world asking to be visiting scholars at our university research program. We are small and have very limited capacity to accommodate this, so in almost all cases I send a form rejection without giving a specific reason. Listing a reason just provides an opening for a counterargument.

I woke up this morning to a friendly form rejection from one of the agents I queried, proving once again that Janet has ESP.

Mark Thurber said...

That said, if an agent is so kind as to provide detailed feedback on MY query or manuscript, I promise to respond with nothing more than a big thank you! :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

My query sucks.

Or at least, that's what I'm guessing, from all the form letters I keep getting.

It would be nice to get a "Your query sucks", but I'm probably the only person whose response would be, "I'd better redo my query, then." Sounds like nobody else realises how useful "your query sucks" really is.

Ah well. Back to watching "Hercules vs the Moon Men".

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I'll take a form over a NORMAN any day of the week. And some forms are nicer than others, true. And some short story markets (maybe agents too? I don't know) have what I think of as a hierarchy of forms (another neurosis, I'm sure). There's the "Thanks for letting us read your work, best of luck with it elsewhere" form, and there's the "thanks for letting us read your work, best of luck, please think of us again with something else" form, and other progressions. So then sometimes, when you get that first personal on a piece (or start out with a personal on a piece!) you feel as though quasi measurable progress has been made.

Form or personal, I have never replied to a rejection.

Colin Smith said...

Heidi: Here's my take on that, and may Janet flay me with hot spaghetti (al dente, of course) if I'm wrong:

If all your rejections are generic form rejections, then your query isn't doing its job (i.e., enticing agents to read your novel). If, however, you are getting some personalized rejections that indicate the agent liked the premise of your novel, but didn't resonate with the pages (didn't connect with your MC, felt it started at the wrong place, etc.), then the problem probably isn't your query. Of course, this assumes the agent asked for pages as part of the query submission. If their query guidelines didn't ask for pages, and the query worked, the agent would want to see them.

Colin Smith said...

And no. I'm not into 50 SHADES OF PASTA.

Jenny C said...

Sorry, OP, that you're not having better luck querying your memoir. Take Janet's advice and have an agent look at the query at a conference. Good luck!

I've been thinking more about yesterday's post. I really feel awful that there are people who take advantage of writers and send out letters like the one Janet received. My conclusion is that if you want to be a published writer, there is simply no way to get around writing a query letter yourself. Yes, you can ask for lots of advice and critiques and read articles on how to write a query, but you must be able to summarize your own novel and no one can do that for you.

Joseph Snoe said...

On memoirs.
Two summers ago at a conference, I talked with several aspiring authors who wrote memoirs, often women writing about their unusual and usually near-crazy mothers. I assumed the chances for their publication were small since they were not about famous people or events. But the premises for the books were fantastic, better than the fantasy or thriller or crime book premises I heard.

One lady started by telling me her mother was buried alive four hundred yards from our hotel on Town Lake in Austin. And then there was how her mother was so beautiful she went to Hollywood, and got involved in drugs, and drug dealers killed her; and how the facts came out in the murder trial. Another grew up living in the back seat of a car and changing schools on a regular basis whenever her mother parked the car in a new place. Way different from my childhood years.

I think if I ever get through the 50 or so books on my bedroom credenza and floor, I’ll pick up a memoir or two.

Brigid said...

Oh yes, a reason = something to argue with. I imagine most agents lack the time, emotional energy, and scotch to sign up for that.

"Your writing isn't strong enough." "That's only because I spent more time on the novel than the query, here it is!"
"You have terrible grammar." "I thought you're supposed to know that the STORY is what's important!"
"I found five mistakes and a complete absence of publishing knowledge." "You should do more in helping amatures instead of being obsessed with money."

Off-topic: Found a list of terrible sentences in published books. It's an interesting contrast to some of the slick sentences Janet's highlighted for us lately, but I want the backstory on Lee Child's.

Sherry Howard said...

Chum Bucket? Did I hear Chum Bucket? I look at Gossamer every day hoping for a sign of life. It seems like it's been a long, long time.

I think writers need a clear vision of what an agent does relative to the queries they receive. As JR said: yes, no. We don't expect our mechanic to wash our car. His job is only to work on the engine. He could wash our car, but that's just not his job.

Writers with a strong supportive community have realistic expectations about querying.

Cheryl said...

I think the problem with this particular form rejection is the way it's phrased. "Not right for me" means I don't want it right now. "Not right for my list" sounds like it doesn't match.

Donnaeve said...

QOTKU, a small typo: correalation should be correlation.

It's called form rejection as an industry practice, but remember, form rejections come in different...forms. Each agent will devise their own. This could be confusing I suppose, if you're on the receiving end, especially if one seems more "chatty/friendly" vs one that was terse. That's about all I can add to that.

I'm not a big reader of memoirs, but I definitely have a few favorites. One of them was AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE by Lucy Grealy, a very sad, tragic story, but absolutely mesmerizing from page 1 to the end. A talented writer/poet, I would love to have known what sort of writer she would have become had she lived. Her best friend, another writer you all are likely familiar with, Ann Patchett, followed Grealy's memoir with TRUTH AND BEAUTY, a story about their friendship. I couldn't put either of them down. I'm actually reading another memoir at the moment, BETTYVILLE by George Hodgman. What makes it stand out is not only his humor and wit (as well as his mother, Betty's)but the fact that it's a story about caring for an aging parent. A first of it's kind, I think. I'm also waiting on my copy of THE BRIDGE LADIES to arrive.

I imagine OP has read lots and lots of memoirs and has done the due diligence in their query as to why their life story is unique/different, mainly answering the question, what will this story mean to anyone who reads it? What makes it unique or different?

Linda Strader said...

I covered all of those bases, and think my query letter and memoir fit the bill. I have a full ms out to an agent at the moment, but of course, keep querying. I just wondered about the "list", and appreciate the clarification.

John Frain said...

What a great analogy between readers buying books and agents taking on manuscripts. The logic smacks you in the face. Seems so obvious after you read it.

I'm intrigued about the advice to consider a writing conference, and I'm considering the same advice. I know preparing for a writer's conference has been talked about here before, so I'm off for a trip to the archives soon.

Thanks for this post, Janet. Oh, heck, for all of 'em.

Craig said...

Even here I have noticed a bunch of rabbit droppings about what is dead in the industry and what isn't. Because of how our Queen presents herself I think of her like a contractor with a clientele that adds business to her company.

This can not always be the case. Different companies have different values and different bosses boss differently. That leads me to believe that many rejections have more to do with timing then anything else.

We will never know what is said in office meetings at Literary Agencies. I know that there are lead agents and company presidents who have egos bigger than my house. I can see them controlling everything. That would include how many YA, MG, vampires, memoirs or cozy mysteries their agents can sell per week, month or year.

Since we can not know the inner workings of such things querying is a crapshoot. So keep querying because someday will be your lucky day.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

My first thought when reading the response was, "This must be a form rejection." But I can see how it's confusing. An interesting premise for a book sounds like specific feedback. Maybe I'm reading too far into it, but it seems a little unkind to have that kind of specific-sounding feedback in a form rejection.

It makes perfect sense to me that agents don't send one-line explanations for their rejections. But many authors (like OP) might be confused into thinking this is a personalized response. So they might not work on their query as much as they may need to, because in their mind, they got positive feedback on their premise.

To twist a phrase, it's damning the author with false praise.

I might be too sensitive - but either way, I'd prefer a not right for me without a kind phrase that may or may not be true.

Lennon Faris said...

Form rejections get really confusing when the agent is kind enough to use your name. I'm beginning to get really annoyed with the places who ask for sample pages WITH your query letter, and then give a form rejection. Don't they know that the writer is trying to deduce something from this? It would be nice to at least have a gauge as to where the 'no' came from. Does my query suck? Is it my writing?

Robert - how I wish they would do that. But alas it's a business arrangement. You're not wasting their time as long as you potentially have something to offer them. If you don't, they owe you nothing.

Donnaeve said...

Linda Strader, good luck with your memoir, in that case! You should know coming in as the OP, QOTKU would answer the question, and even give you more than you bargained for...cause, ya know, she's very generous/knowledgeable, and genuinely likes to help.

Of course, then you have to deal with all of us too, with our wee woodland critter minds on a hamster wheel.

Robert Ceres said...

Janet, whoosh! I thought that agent workload would go down because writers would not send out so many terribly bad queries with so many terribly bad writing samples. At least I get the impression there are a lot of bad queries and bad manuscripts. I've sent a few. But I can't fathom any writer who could respond to a non-form rejection with any comment other than, "Wow, thank you so very much." But, as my family remind me often enough, I don't seem to live in the real world. A world that gets less and less polite as time goes on. The mistake in my thinking, I suppose, is that I assume the best of people, and I assume that writers genuinely want to write really great stuff.

For the agents who responded to me with a non-form response, thank you, even though some of that feedback was negative (but still constructive.) If I meet one of you at a writer's conference please let me buy you drink, or allow me some other way to express my gratitude.

For writers who ever respond impolitely to an agent, shame on you. I hope I never read your book.

And for Janet, sorry for raising your blood pressure this morning. I do get it, "a query is NOT a solicitation for feedback." Perhaps a good sub-header for the column.

Adib Khorram said...

So far in 2016, four of the agents I follow on Twitter have done "query feedback" windows, wherein queries sent within a certain timeframe would get a brief personalized response.

I got four different responses. What one agent loved, another didn't respond to.

I think, if EVERY agent did that ALL the time, it would drive writers even crazier than we already are.

I actually like form responses. That way I'm no longer in limbo, but I don't have to take any more out of it than "not for me."

DLM said...

As to the "colleagues" part of the query; it's vague. It *sounds* like a pointer to fellow agents at the same agency, but I find myself thinking it is perhaps just an unfortunately-phrased way of saying "keep querying, someone else may want this." If that was the intent, it is curiously phrased but still a fairly boilerplate R.'

Donna and Janet - I kind of like correalation, though ...

Panda in Chief said...

I agree with Adib; a form response tells you that you can cross that agent off your list and move on to the next group of queries you are sending out. I know we are not supposed to respond to rejections, but when I get one that is obviously personal and says some encouraging thing, I can't help but respond with a quick "thank you" email. So sue me. No don't just kidding.

I have never thought of writing a memoir, but I have read some good ones, including some graphic novel form memoirs. I just don't think my life is so interesting that it warrents one.

Good luck, OP. I hope you find the right agent for yours!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Read it or not read it breaks down Janet's job like, fit 85,000 words into a log line, breaks down ours. Seems fair to me.

Julie Weathers said...

First off, OP, congratulations on finishing your memoir. That's a great accomplishment. I can't imagine writing one. It would be terribly hard.

I've come to the point in my life I automatically assume everything is a form rejection. Then on second or third read, I'll notice they mentioned something specifically about the story or writing. I think I have eight agents who asked me to submit future projects to them.

Back in a previous life when we used to get all rejections hard copy, I received a choose your own adventure rejection letter. It had a list of reasons they had rejected that I could check off.

____We're dunderheads and don't recognize great writing when we see it.

____The dragon ate our office manager and we are in mourning.


I don't remember all the excuses, but they were funny and I laughed. At the end, it said, "Yes, this is the dreaded form rejection, and we apologize, but wish you great success with your work elsewhere."

Until Super NY Agent sent back the rejection with the list of specifics on Far Rider I had no idea what was wrong with it. Even the rejections that asked me to submit new material were fairly generic. I loved the writing, but the story didn't quite draw me in or I didn't love it as much as I need to in order to offer representation. There might be praise for certain parts, loved the humor, battle scene, great MC, etc, but nothing specific about what was wrong.

I'm sure this is self-preservation mode as many writers don't like people telling them their baby is ugly.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I heard "not right for our list" a lot when my agent was shopping a book I co-wrote. One editor said it was "laugh-out-loud funny, but it's not right for our list." I eventually figured out that when a publisher says it, it means, "It's not like what we're already selling, and we don't know how to sell things we don't already sell." Sound cynical? Yeah, I thought so. But that doesn't mean it's not true.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

If you ever have any questions about what your rejection letter means, feel free to review this heavily researched post I wrote on the subject.

BJ Muntain said...

There's a saying about getting published: "It's about getting the right story across the right desk at the right time."

Regarding lists: Yes, this was a form rejection, but the 'list' is a real thing. Janet explains what it is, but there are other reasons a book may not fit an agent's list: they have another book in their stable very much like yours already; they're moving away from your genre so they're not picking up others; they have too many memoirs (as Janet said) on their list already; they already have a very full stable of authors and are being extra picky in choosing new ones - all reasons that are NOT the fault of the author, has nothing to do with the author's skill or imagination, and everything to do with the agent's own time management.

Duchess: Form rejections don't mean your query sucks. They just mean you didn't send that query to the right agent yet. If you're unsure about your query, have you tried to submit it through Query Shark yet? Or have you gotten any feedback on it at all?

Adding Dragons: A memoir, by EM Goldsmith

Blurb: A lovely woman in the wilds of America-land learns to accept rejection as she works hard at getting her fiction published. When she adds a dragon to her life, though, she becomes an instant media star, immediately making her fantasy stories best-sellers. She then spends the rest of her career wondering if her success was the result of her hard work and talent or of the dragon's celebrity influence. The dragon - fuelled by its own celebrity and bored with EM's introspection - leaves to go to Hollywood, while EM retires to her quiet home to write more fantasy.

Josh Johnstun said...

Once upon a time, I took part in Chum Bucket and it was awesome. With some kind words of encouragement, Janet told me that my book sounded like one that was already on her list--one that already wasn't selling. That taught me a lot about what I'd written, and suggested why interest in my project was low.

Lesson learned, I'm going to try making my next project stand out.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Stephen's post on rejection letters is pure gold. Have a look. Hopefully, you will laugh. I don't think you should seriously send an agent condoms. I could be wrong.

BJ - this is the problem with dragons - media whores the lot of them. I wonder what Game of Thrones has to pay them. I have it on authority that many of the deaths on the show are actually the result of dragon tantrums that end with actors getting eaten. Oh well, so I will just keep writing fantasy. On a happier note, I feel certain I will soon have enough form rejections to wall paper my bathroom.

DLM said...

Stephen K. - hee!

(Sherry, I know you are concerned for Chum Bucket, but if it helps any, Gossamer himself is full of life. He and the pup are the main reason I continue to be alive, some days...)

Some here know, I have begun to contemplate the possibility of self-pub. Days like this at the Reef, as much as I learn - honestly sort of inspire the idea just a little more. We have so little control. I'm in the process of learning ... just how much control do I *want*? Or can I take on? I feel like I am "good enough" for traditional publishing, but then I am losing the conviction that this is the route I am best suited to take after all.

The world, it's a changing place. Either that, or I am fickle.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh, dragons are so 2012. In MY novel, I have flying bears that are as big as a house, have scales instead of fur, and can breath ice-fire. I call them Ursons, and they'll be the hottest thing since vampires. Eat your heart out, Martin!

In all seriousness, E.M., books with dragons are x10 more likely to catch my eye than any other. They just make stories better! I would definitely read a dragon-based memoir, even if it turned out the dragon was a diva. :)

DeadSpiderEye said...

It's rather odd, the criteria publishers apply to selecting memoir and autobiographical work; it has to be said, that from my point of view, they do it so badly that it's quite hard to imagine a less satisfactory circumstance. Very occasionally a work will receive broader circulation but more often than not, readers will find themselves facing £400 a pop for the vanity press edition on e-bay, yeah thanks Mr. Penguin.

It seems there are two avenues to success in this area, the, I was there approach, which will reflect some individual's contribution to a conspicuous historical event: Titanic, 9-11, that kind of thing. You have to get into the market early with that one, saturation and market fatigue are seen as major obstacles. Then there's the, I'm a celebrity, therefore special in ever way, even the the tone of my farts need to be recorded and transcribed for posterity. If you happen to be a celeb, page count is the major consideration, because it's never getting to a paperback edition and the hardback needs to be weighty enough to make an effective door stop.

Yet a few authors have negotiated this indifference in the publishing trade; I would call Fever Pitch a memoir, albeit one with some licence and what a fine work it is, shame about Nick's girly fiction though.

Donnaeve said...

There's a project...based on E.M. and Bethany Elizabeth's it possible to write a book that reads like a memoir, but has a DRAGON IN IT? 8>O

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna- splendid idea. Bethany, BJ, and I could team up for "A Dragon in a Shark's World" kind of thing. I have written at least 3 dragon inclusive stories in my A to Z challenge. I seriously can't help myself. They really do spice things up- even when metaphorical.

Colin Smith said...

Oh, I don't know. Stories with fire-breathing lizards do tend to drag on. :D Dad humor. I'll get my coat... :)

Julie Weathers said...

I've been reading a lot of memoirs lately. Many are kind of dry, but Mosby's Memoirs by J.S. Mosby was a pure joy. Not only did he offer a bibliography and research notes verifying what he said happened at certain points. Lee had actually ordered Stuart off before Gettysburg in some ambiguously worded orders, which now reside in a Virginia historical society. He wasn't off on a glory ride as many portray.

Aside from that, he relates a lot of little, personal incidents that are variously intriguing or hilarious. It gives a real look at the personalities of the men who served with him as well as the events.

It could have been another dry as cotton text book read, but I was laughing my way through half this book. He didn't even really want to write a memoir, but felt he needed to set the record straight on some things and offered facts supporting his views.

My point being, I'm not a fan of most memoirs. Suck me in with an intriguing story that makes me laugh and cry and I'm your minion. Don't give me another sob story. If I want to be depressed, I'll get on the scales.

Theresa said...

A long time ago, a friend of mine used to send a fill-in-the-blank rejection/acceptance letter (kind of like the one Julie mentioned above) along with her story submissions to small publications. The rejection options were all humorous, so at least she had something fun to read from her SASE (yes, a long time ago). The last fill-in-the-blank was for an acceptance, something along the lines of Yes, send this piece of brilliant work immediately so we can publish it and pay you lots of money.

Timothy Lowe said...

You can always copy and paste the entire form reject (if you suspect it) and google away - oftentimes you find people posting on blogs with "I got a personalized rejection read..." with the same exact wording. I once got "although the writing is good it's not quite there yet" (which I agree with now, even if it was a form) and "I am not a fan of multiple perspectives".

You know when it's specific enough to be real personalization, and yes, I agree with Robert - thanks to any agent who offers that to a query especially. Even to a full MS. Form rejects on those are harder to cope with (but still pretty common).

Katie Loves Coffee said...

First, good luck to the OP! I love the idea of taking it to a conference for feedback. I invested in a short class to try and troubleshoot a rejected full last year and feedback on my pages from an agent that came along with it helped guide my next steps. While I wait for a response on a partial (squeak, squeak, squeak goes the hamster wheel), I've decided to do something similar again.

Like many others on the reef, I'm so grateful for any personalized feedback but a form is so much better than a NORMAN. This is as good of a time as any to thank the Reiders (Colin, I think?) for introducing this absolutely perfect term to my vocabulary. :)

Judy Moore said...

"You need a third act, and you particularly need it if you're not famous."

I'm writing a memoir, and I'm not famous. My query letter has resulted in four of the nine female agents I sent it to asking for pages, four form rejections, and one no-response. I received three personalized rejection letters, and they couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. They all liked the writing and the story. One even said she'd like to hear the end of the story over a glass of champagne with me. What they all told me was that it would be a hard sell, that I needed to either be famous or have a very strong "platform." These days a "platform" requires a lot of Twitter followers. I have 51.

From the six men I queried, I didn't even get a form rejection. Just silence. I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

My questions can you BUILD a platform? And, Twitter followers, the people who like their stories delivered in 140 words or less? Do they even buy books?

I still have pages out with one agent and am hopeful. But I'm not ruling out the possibility of changing my last name to Kardashian.

Steve Stubbs said...

I don’t know if you would like the book, but I am pretty sure you would like the concept. A doctor named Ebem Alexander wrote a memoir of two weeks when he was BRAIN DEAD. There tends not to be much to say about lying in a hospotal bed in a coma. So this concept would normally come under the subcategiory that is known in the trade as a PSN. PSM is a publishing acronym for “Pretty Short Memoir.” You would epect the beginning and ending o be on the same page.


The book is titled PROOF OF HEAVEN because the doc, who was an absolute total non-believer in the Afterlife before going into his coma, is now a believer. I don’t know if they still use this phrase, but I do know in publishing that used to be called the “ Came to Jeer, Stayed to Cheer Metamorphosis.” He says he spent the entire two weeks in heaven and described his experience in detail. I think the book is worth reading if you believe you are a mortalbeing.

I strongly suspect what he is saying is true.

John Frain said...

Judy Moore,

On behalf of my gender, please send me your query. Right now.

I can't do a thing about moving your manuscript along to a publisher, but I can sure as heck look at your query and RESPOND.

That will put you at 1-for-7 with your male audience, a .143 average, the same thing Albert Pujols was hitting with the Anaheim Angels just a few days ago and he's one of the best hitters in baseball.

I'm off to drum my fingers on my desk and wait for your message to ding my inbox...

Colin Smith said...

Judy: I'm definitely no expert when it comes to platform, but I've read stuff, including stuff Janet has said. It comes down to building credibility. You have to answer the question, "Why should I care enough to spend $25 on your book?" Yes, your experience means a lot to you, and those who know you. But those who don't have that background need to be sold on a) your authority to speak to this subject (which is easy with memoir--you are the expert on your experience), and b) why I should prefer to read you rather than someone else.

Unless you have a high-profile job (e.g., your last name is Kardashian, which I suppose isn't really a job, but that's another discussion...), you will need to work to build that audience. Blogs, Twitter, speaking engagements, and the like.

I'm sure Janet will have better things to say, but until Sunday... :)

Theresa said...

Judy, it took a lot of patience to get established on Twitter, but I'm glad I stuck with it. There are actually a lot of book people there, both readers and writers.

BJ Muntain said...

Judy - there are thousands, if not millions, of book readers on Twitter, including book clubs, publishing professionals, and many many writers. I've met wonderful book people on Twitter, including one person currently in my online writing group (I invited her, after meeting her on Twitter) who is now a published author.

I have nearly 3000 followers. I got them through years of sociable sharing. (Side note: If anyone here follows me on Twitter, but I didn't follow back, introduce yourself to me on Twitter. I might not have put the Twitter account to a Reider's name, but I'll follow back all Reiders.)

That said, while a large Twitter following looks good, it isn't the end-all and be-all of a platform... but it can be the beginning of one. Do you follow a lot of people who are interested in the general topic of your memoir? Do you belong to any online groups relating to that topic? (There are even Facebook groups now that you can join.) It seems to me that's where you're going to find your readers.

If you're going to build a platform, you need to work at it. It's not going to come plop out of the blue just because you join a social media mileu. You have to go looking for your readers, and be social. That's how you also build word-of-mouth, which is what really sells books.

Judy Moore said...

Pouring a glass of wine (okay, it's my second glass) and heading over to Twitter now. I'll be at the bar in the back, away from the band covering Prince songs.

John Frain, thank you. I emailed my query letter to you.

Everyone else, thank you, too. You're a good and helpful community.

Kate Larkindale said...

I agree, Judy. Twitter is a fabulous place for book readers. I've met some of my best writing friends there. Beta readers, CPs and just generally all-around awesome people to chat with about books, publishing and the world around us. I think I probably even found this blog through being on Twitter. Let us know when you're all set up so we can follow you.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Colin: Fifty Shapes of Pasta.