Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Memoir Month #3

If you’ve been coming to the coffee shop regularly, you know that we are focusing on memoirs, this month. With all the nasty weather we’ve experienced, I almost wished that I’d chosen something a little cozier to snuggle up with during these cold, dark nights. As we’ve learned from Mary DeMuth, most memoirs, including her own (the newly released Thin Places) are not “cozy” books to read. Most of them contain experiences so difficult to read that one wonders how the author survived. Yet, the story of the ways God heals our brokenness is endlessly fascinating. So what do agents want in a memoir? What can get the attention of someone who can help sell it?

To provide insight to these questions, I have an excerpt from an interview with an agent. The interview was originally posted on
Guide to Literary Agents.

This excerpt features Laney Katz Becker of Markson Thoma Literary Agency. Laney was an agent at Folio Literary Management before she joined Markson Thoma. Prior to becoming an agent, Laney was an advertising copywriter and freelance journalist, as well as an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction.

Guide to Literary Agents (GLA) asks for three tips from Laney Katz Becker (LKB), but she generously gave twice that many.

GLA: You say you love memoir, and a few of your recent sales - Unsane Childhood and then First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria - are those great books writers love to see – i.e., memoirs written by people who are NOT celebrities or politicians. Give us your top 3 tips on writing memoir and catching your attention.

LKB: Love this question. Everyone thinks their story is interesting to others, but more and more publishers are worried about “platform,” which is why we see so many (too many!) celebrity books. But even if you’re not famous, you can do yourself a huge favor if you have some following/audience/readership. Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a regional radio show, a regular column in your local paper …something!

“When it comes to memoir, I’m a sucker for voice. I want it to feel fresh and compelling. I want to like you on the page. I also want a fresh story. I’m not interested in the dysfunctional family memoir, or the abuse (drug, sexual, etc.) memoir. I’m sorry, I truly am, but I feel like I’ve read that story too many times and I just don’t want to invest months of my life working with an author on a proposal if it’s a topic/story that doesn’t wow me. BTW: that’s another thing. I sell memoir by proposal only. And no, it doesn’t mean if you’ve already written the whole book it’s better. Proposal. Only. I also like a memoir that exposes me to a different culture or country. I like stories that allow me to walk in someone else’s shoes. In both fiction and memoir, I like racial stories.”

Information like this is extremely valuable if your writing goal is to publish a memoir. Make yourself a checklist from this excerpt that you can use to critique your own manuscript. Then take a chance and send Laney Katz Becker a proposal. What do you have to lose?

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