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.


Novel Stuff

08 19 09 001Did I mention I have a pub date for my novel?  Or month, anyway.  May 2010.

I know this because I just got a copy of my bound manuscript.  The cover art hasn’t been done yet, so this is a pretty plain looking book.  But, it looks like a book, more like a real book than anything else I’ve ever seen with my name on it, and it even has the copyright page in it.  Copyright 2010 by Margaret Dilloway.  It’s close to 500 pages, but on the back it says it’s 288. 

The book with my name and copyright and Putnam's info.
The book with my name and copyright and Putnam's info.


The book also smells really good.  It smells clean, sort of like fresh-washed cotton, and a bit sweet.  But that might be the Lucky Charm marshmallow that promptly got squished on the back of it.

 Next comes the ARC, or Advance Reader Copy, which is an even nicer bound copy.  It might even have cover art on it.  I’m not sure how long that takes. 

 And this week, I got my copyedited version back electronically.  I have to agree or disagree with the copyeditor’s remarks. The copyeditor seems like a reasonable person– I have no idea if the copy editor is male or female.  The only thing I’m having trouble with is a sentence in my author’s notes. The CE explained to me why the sentence is grammatically incorrect– something about how the subjects don’t agree in the sentence and the grammar rule that breaks– but I still don’t know how to fix it.  Maybe this will require an e-mail to my mother in law, who has a Master’s in English and is a grammar queen. 

08 19 09 006

Writing Acknowledgments

I turned in my (fingers crossed) final manuscript draft last week, leaving me fully free to fret about all the moving details, most of which I have no control over.

So now I’m trying to concentrate on writing my acknowledgments and Author’s Note sections. This is a lot harder than I thought. Who do I thank? Do I thank my 3rd grade teacher for reading my first book, “Mr. Flags: Tap Dancer Who Lived in a Tree” aloud to the class? Do I thank that one class, where I got into an argument with someone who thought I should write like James Joyce, but some of whom had good comments? How much detail should I go into? Do I need to thank the anonymous Internet photographers for providing me with photos of Japan?

I’m going to have to read a few Author’s Notes/Acknowledgments and find out.