Writing Wednesday: How to Write a Query for a Memoir


While I was at BlogHer doing the Path to Publishing workshop– in the MIDDLE of Path to Publishing, actually– it came to my attention that neither I nor my co-leader knew how to write a query for  memoir. I thought it was nonfiction and therefore out of my area, so I hadn’t even looked it up.

I tried to find out on ze Internets, and got conflicting results. No one concrete answer.

In nonfiction, you have a proposal, sample chapters and perhaps an outline. And some articles said that’s how you sell a memoir, too. But other (also reliable) sources said memoir is sold like fiction and you need the whole thing.

Thus I sent out the Batsignal on Facebook, and emailed my agent, Dan Lazar, to ask.

This is what I found out:

  • It all depends.

Is that concrete enough for you?

My friend Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing responded first.

Alison wrote a proposal, which was 100 pages long, and didn’t have a full manuscript. But she had a solid, long career as a journalist/columnist.

Alison also said, “My friend Wendy Lawless initially tried to sell Chanel Bonfire in proposal form, but she says she didn’t yet have an alluring enough platform. She ended up writing the entire book, and sold it that way.”

Then Dan responded with this:

“If you’re a new author, a full manuscript helps very, very much — but honestly it’s not essential. That’s why you’re getting mixed opinions. If an author has a great title, and a great voice, and a great concept… usually a few sample chapters and a strong outline will do the trick. Most of the memoirs I’ve sold have been on proposal.”

So, to sum up:

  • The best thing to do is write the whole memoir.
  • If you haven’t written the whole memoir, write a few sample chapters and an outline and try to sell it that way.
  • If that doesn’t work, write the whole manuscript.

There you have it.

That’s the funny thing about advising people on how to get published. You talk to ten different authors and it worked differently for each. All you can offer are guideposts, what worked for you, and hope it helps.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

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