Memoir is a very tough sell these days. Although you see memoir in the deal news on Publishers Marketplace, for every deal made, there are probably ten thousand memoirs that didn't get picked up either by agents or publishers.
One of the big reasons is that most of us do not lead plot driven lives (thank all deities large and small!) and character driven books are excruciatingly hard to write if you're one of the characters.
When I talk to memoir writers I always ask five questions:
1. What choices did you make?
2. What did you sacrifice in making those choices?
3. How are your choices relevant to me?
4. What surprised you about yourself in this book?
5. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?
Your memoir has to be about more than what happened, and it has to have significance beyond your life.
If your memoir doesn't have those things, it's usually not suitable for a trade book deal.
That is not to say you shouldn't write it or have it published. More and more of these kinds
of memoir will be how historians research how people lived.
But there are excellent memoirs being published. A recent one that resonated with me is Vikki Warner's Tenemental which at first glance is about her adventures owning a three family house and renting apartments to a cast of characters that could find work in a Fellini film.
But it's also about much more than that as a good memoir always is.
And although I'm certainly never going to buy a house in Providence, Rhode Island, or a have a plumber on speed dial, the book gave me a lot of insight into aspects of my life too.
For example, in the introduction Ms. Warner says "I have chosen to own a complicated home" which I identified with having chosen to live in a converted tenement which is totally unlike the places I've lived before, or that anyone in my family has lived.
And "If you live among new ruins (ie dilapidated houses) you have to constantly remember not to take them as an indicator of your own worth in the world." I liked that because once a (now former) client said to me "I hope this book sells well so you can move out of that closet you live in" not realizing I'd actually chosen "the closet", and I really loved it.
And lastly "we are safe from perfection" which I think I may have tattooed on my forearm just so I remember to read it every day. The context of it in the book is probably different than it is for me now, but that's the power of lovely insightful writing: it means more than what it's about.
I got a real sense of Ms. Warner as a person in this book; she did not present herself as either a paragon of virtue or vice. She was a three-dimensional character, interesting, compelling, real. And that's a hard thing to do when writing about yourself!
If you're working on a memoir, this is a book you should read as part of the "100 books to learn your category"