Breathe. Write. Breathe. - 18 Energizing practices to spark your writing and free your voice by Lisa Tener

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Breathe. Write. Breathe.

18 Energizing Practices to Spark Your Writing & Free Your Voice

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Literary Agent Regina Brooks on How to Publish a Memoir: 3 Must Haves

Can you get a publisher for a memoir? Yes. Yes. Yes. Memoirs sell. There’s nothing quite like a bestselling memoir and publishers are still looking for them. Competition is fierce, though.

Regina Brooks
Regina Brooks, yours truly and Randy Kamen-Gradinger at the Harvard Medical School publishing course in 2010

When my friend and colleague Literary Agent Regina Brooks told me she just signed a contract with St. Martin’s Press for her new book,  How to Write, Sell and Market Your Memoir, I asked if she’d share a few insights pre-publication.

She generously agreed. So here are the 3 things Regina said every memoir needs:

1. A Strong Hook: What’s the book about? Can you couple two disparate subjects together in a surprising way? Does your book offer a fresh perspective on an evergreen subject? What will make readers grab it off the shelves and say, “I have to read that”?

2. Incredible Writing: Read your book aloud several times to hear nuances. Every sentence, ask yourself, “Am I making it real for my reader? Am I being specific enough?” Get readers in your target market to give you feedback. Definitely hire an experienced editor to help you polish your book. Even veteran writers hire editors–it’s hard to edit your own work.

Regina Brooks

3. Author Platform: Ugh, I know. Authors often feel despondent when they hear this one. “How will I ever create a platform?” Plank by plank–you can and will. Many of my clients start out stomach clenched and end up falling in love with this part of the business–after all, the more you reach people with your message, the more impact you’re making with it.

Regina says, “I’d like to dispel the myth that good writing requires a solitary life. On the contrary, I believe, the memoirist should engage with the public and drum up interest in the book’s subject. Far from serving as a distraction to the work, it can heighten an author’s enthusiasm and creativity.

“Building a platform is about learning to conceptualize and strategize campaigns that cause buzz, dramatically fueling word-of-mouth and boosting your chances of attracting attention in the publishing world and beyond. With eyes focused on the bottom line, today’s agents and editors look for authors who not only write well and have great ideas (hooks), but those who come with an established audience too.”

The good news? Regina says that if you get two of these three down solid, an agent or

David Donahue's Photo
The wellspring of creativity and ideas for your memoir. [David Donahue’s Photo]
acquisitions editor is often willing to help you with the third. So, where are you starting?

If you’d like a chance to get feedback on your memoir,  how-to or other nonfiction book, or you’d like to pitch your book idea to top agents, there are two great opportunities coming up:

1. If your book is related to health, medicine, psychology, well-being or related issues, consider joining Regina and me at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course: Publishing Books, Memoirs and Other Creative Nonfiction on March 30-April 2 [Editor’s note: the class is March 14-16 in 2013]. Regina and I will be there along with several acquisitions editors and other top agents.

2. For a greater variety of genres, try the International Women Writers Guild’s Meet the Agents event on April 17, or get there on April 16 for  Susan Tiberghein’s workshop, “Memoir and Metaphor: Illuminating Your Life through Writing.” Despite the name of the organization, men are welcome.

Have any questions about your memoir? Regina and I will answer your questions here when you post as a comment.

And if you’re interested in writing a book for Young Adults, you may want to you should really write  a bookcheck out Regina’s book WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS.

Update: Regina’s latest book, You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your Memoir, is now available and I highly recommend it!

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Ron Schachner says

    My grandmother wrote (almost) daily in a journal from her teenage years till the day she died at age 86. The journals follow her childhood growing up on a Nebraska farm, through nursing school in Omaha, NE, and into life as a wife and mother.

    I would like to publish her work. What I have now are her exact wording from hand-written journals from 1928-31, 1937, 1954-55, 1957-1959 typed in Word format. I don’t have the material set as a book. Wondering where I would go from here. It’s a lot of material if you add up all her journals, enough for several books.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Ron Schachner

    • Tonic says

      I’m writing a memoir from since I was an offspring, though I’m not sure which tense to use especially from child’s perspective

      • Tonic says

        Moreover, I write about how 4 of my parents died in the same year when I was 19 years. I wrote the book to help others overcome the same obstacles I went through.

      • Lisa Tener says

        Thanks for your questions, Tonic. Tense is a very personal choice. In general, I do recommend past tense because it’s the easiest to write and sustain (but don’t use passive voice–verbs like “Was,” “is,” “am,” “had,” etc.). The choice to use present tense is usually in order to make it feel immediate, but there are other, more artful ways to do that. The trouble with a memoir all in present tense is that it can tire out the reader and be harder to sustain. Sometimes, you can go back and forth between past and present but be careful with that as it can confuse readers. I could see wanting present tense for a child, but again, it may be hard to sustain and tiring on the reader over time.

  2. Laurie Shock says

    Dear Ron,
    I recommend that you first find a really good book editor to help you sort and through the journals and evaluate how to condense the best of the entries into one book either in journal form or written into a narrative. If you are a writer, you can work with the editor to create a working manuscript. Once you have that then you can decide whether to self-publish the book yourself or begin submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers. I suspect you also have great supporting photographs that could accompany the manuscript which could be quite powerful.

    If you cannot find an agent or publisher to take on your book, then you can self-publish traditionally (on a printing press etc.) or you can explore Print on Demand (POD) companies where you create your own book and they can be ordered in single or multiple copies. Blurb is a good option.

    Good luck!


  3. Deb Childs says

    I have written a memoir about losing my boyfriend to colon cancer four years ago. The controversial hook is that by reading the story, you may save your own life or the life of someone you love as you learn how the health care system is limited in its ability to save your life from cancer. The hope is that readers will be inspired to give up the passenger seat on the bus and take the wheel. I am struggling over the title–mention cancer or not,etc. I am looking for advice about the best, most cost effective way to make my book a success, which is to reach and be read by a wide national audience. I feel paralyzed in letting it go. I have written a self-published book for a health care exec that was very well-received, but this is my first book of my own and the fact that is in memory of the love of my life makes it very important to me. Any advice? Thank you in advance.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Sounds like your “hook” might be good for media coverage. It’s not clear to me whether you intend to self-publish or traditionally publish. If traditional, you’ll need to build an author platform to interest agents and publisher and the writing will need to be excellent. Probably the fastest way I’ve seen some of my clients build a following is to start their own blog and then get a gig blogging for a high profile site like WebMD, the Huffington Post, Psychology Today or something like that. While that isn’t something you can do instantaneously, you can, over time build relationships to help you do this. One course that does a great job of teaching you how to do that is Eli Davidson’s course on attracting massive media. You can listen to my interview of Eli here and you can also find out more about her course through the link on that post.

  4. Gail says

    I have spent more than 3 years “collecting” via life experience,painful,comic,exhausting and shocking stories to be included in a memoir I am working on.. My story will expose (acting almost as a “bookend” to refute portions of a 2008 published partially true memoir written by the gay son of a golddigging, plastic-surgery addicted, shrewd woman who married her 2nd husband for money, then deserted that spouse immediately after he suffered a life-threatening traumatic brain injury and their luxury life ended. He was a handsome, sensitive test pilot, champion sailor and tennis player, and provided her with a wonderful life of worldwide travel, ease, shopping, etc. She shopped at Louis Vuitton, planning her getaway from him while her husband was suffering in the hospital! The son’s (he is her son from her previous marriage) memoir makes light of his evil mother’s antics while her husband suffered, lost, property, career, home, etc. I am now recently married to that wonderful, sensitive man…and have seen enough of that evil woman’s antics to make readers’ hair stand on end in shock, disbelief, laughter, and disgust.I am going to write about the medical treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury, an alchoholic filthy housekeeper of an ex-wife with fake boobs, nose, hair, and face,our medical system, and California divorce proceedings…and more! Do you think anyone would find it interesting?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Gail,
      I would examine your reasons for writing the book, both personal reasons and bigger vision reasons. What will the book do for your readers? How will they benefit.
      While it sounds like this woman did terrible things, how is it affecting you to feel the feelings you feel about it? Is the best revenge to let it go and live a happy life?
      My litmus test for writing a book is how much good it will do in the world.

  5. Edwin Bliss Struve, MD says

    I have written a memoir, A Mohegan Shaman’s Millennial
    Odyssey. My mother was a Mohegn Indian from a long line of midwives and healers. I got my MD at Hopkins, and did my residency at Harvard. I practiced in Peru, Botswana, and Papua New Guinea and among the Choctaw of Mississippi.
    My first book deals with my experiences with Choctaw
    shamans and sorcerers, and represents a serious contribution to medical anthropology. My book represents
    a unique “inside view” of the actual practice of shamans
    and sorcerers in one of America’s most traditional tribes
    during the 1980s.
    It also deals with murders by the Ku Klux Klan and police of Neshoba County (think Mississippi Burning). It is a “good read” which anthropologists believe should be published.
    I am currently writing about my experiences in the Highlands and Papua new Guinea
    I need a literary agent, as I have hd no prior experience
    with publishing. I receive regular mailings from SEAK,
    and saw that you help physicians who write to navigate
    in the publishing world. Your assistance would be much
    appreciated. Thank you for your kind attention.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Edwin,
      It sounds like a fascinating read. You’ll need a book proposal (I recommend starting with Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal 4th edition) to attract an agent and publisher. Feel free to e-mail me (lisa at lisatener dot com) to explore further.

  6. Kim English says

    Hi Lisa – I am looking to write a story about the tragic death of my 16 year old niece. It is a story of torture; a battle for life, until the decision to embrace death hurts less than the fight for a miracle that is not medically plausible. If anyone wonders what the last moments are like when you say “goodbye” to a child. This memoir tells the horrifying story of the hours, minutes and seconds that tick by, until the words “it’s Time” (while barely audible) are finally whispered.
    Any thoughts or feedback are greatly appreciated
    Kind Regards,

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Kim,
      It sounds like a very challenging story to write but I can hear your passion to write it–let that passion support your journey. I think, too, it will be important to find a way to bring light to the darkness of it for readers to be carried along. I know Regina Brooks has just written a great book on writing memoir. It’s not out yet, but look for it on in the future.

  7. Phil says

    Hello Lisa-

    I am currently writing a memoir of my childhood. By all measures it was perfect, in the suburbs etc. Until my parents got divorced and my mother became severely addicted to cocaine. It details my experiences with family that would not help, losing friends to murder, going hungry, and the abuse I endured. My anger and emotion is very apparent in the writing. No one thinks this happens in suburbia.

    However, now I am a PhD candidate and consider myself to be rather successful. it started as a therapeutic release for me, but I realize that this story might help someone to know that you are not destined to live the life someone else has chosen. I don’t aim to make a profit.

    Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated,


    Any thoughts

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, Phil. It sounds like an inspiring and also harrowing story. I think you are right that it can help others. Given that you are not necessarily in it for profit, I am guessing you will not be motivated to do the significant amount of work it takes to build platform and interest traditional publishers–which is fine. My guess is that self-publishing would be the best route for you. Or even an e-book on amazon and other sites. If you use your keywords right, you might be able to find readers who are searching about parental drug addiction and suburbia. And you may also reach a wider audience as well. The question is how else you might reach them. You could blog. But it really depends how much work you want to put into it. I would also recommend getting a professional editor to make the book polished. Make sure you get references and see examples of their work. This is also a subject that may interest TV talk show producers, once your book is published.

  8. Tricia says

    Hi Lisa,
    I began to write a memoir about my journey as a young mother trying to raise my 4 children, each spaced apart, each in very different stages of life. While doing so, trying to overcome the ghosts of my own past and breaking the cycle. A large focus will be on my oldest teenage daughter who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and the effects it has had on my struggle to break that cycle and be the best mother I can be to all of them. With all the times we have been in crisis mode and trying to find information on how to parent a Borderline teen while maintaining stability for the other children, I have found very little. Would you have any thoughts on this that may help steer me? Any advice is most appreciated.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Writing a memoir can be very tricky because of the feelings it brings up. I recommend calling a friend before and after writing to help support you. Perhaps plan to go for a walk in nature with a friend after writing.

    • Lisa Tener says

      It sounds like a book that could help a very specific niche of moms and dads. I am reminded of Anne Burnett’s book, Step Ahead of Autism, that helps parents be the best parent they can for their autistic son or daughter so that their child has the best possible outcome for them. You might use her book as a model. My Quick Star to Kick Start your book may help you getting started with the book as it guides you step by step to to get started (all the pre-work before you actually write, including structuring the book). (anne’s book)
      My self-study Quick Start to Kick Start your Book is found here: (which includes CD and workbook)

  9. rob says

    Lisa: I am a former successful attorney who lost his license, went to prison, battled addiction, attended 12 step, matriculated in and out and in and out of rehab, came from crazy upbringing, engaged in therapy for bi-polar disorder following major manic and deep depressive episodes, gambled, sex addiction, etc. People say i am cursed but i am still ll married w/ children and believe i am fortunate. Is there a book here that isnt cliche?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Rob,
      It’s all in how you write it: 1) what details, events, “characters” you decide to put in and what you leave out 2) making it real for the reader (show; don’t tell; use all your senses to make it real for the reader; include quirky details) 3) inviting us into your world (authentic, discover your voice). To do that may take working with a professional for some guidance (I’m happy to recommend someone who specializes in memoir). But, no, I do not think it would be cliche. Now, can you sell the memoir? That’s a different question based on 1) It needs to have something fresh about it (that can include your voice, stories, etc.) 2) You need to develop some kind of platform (blog, mailing list, speaking or something) 3) the writing needs to be great–again a professional can help draw that out of you / teach you if you need support in that arena.

  10. Susie says

    Hi Lisa,
    People tell me I should write a book about my story. I don’t know how I got here…I’m a 48yr old late in life lesbian..not so unusual right..The thing is I don’t know how I got here. I have a wonderful husband, 4 great kids, a beautiful Guyanese 31 yr. old girlfriend, partner, who is trying to get pregnant,for the last 18 months,I won’t tell you how. I have had so many really incredible, unbelievable, painful, heart wrenching, suicidal moments that I keep thinking will end. They just keep coming and I don’t know how much more I can live through. I have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. People tell me parts of my story are not that unusual but others are unlike any they could imagine.I have recently looked back through my journals and feel like there must be others that feel the way I do…I want to tell my story ..I guess so I will find others that have been through similar experiences. Do you think it’s worth it?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Susie,
      My guess is that deep inside you know if it’s something you are driven/drawn to do. Do you feel excited and passionate about writing it? If so, then my guess is that it will be worth it. Also, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself what your vision and goals are for the book and any related endeavors.

  11. Heather says

    Hi Lisa,
    I have been thinking of writing a book of my story for several years now but just can’t figure out where to begin. I had what I consider a “nervous breakthrough” a couple of years ago and promised myself that if I survived to make it to the other side of health and sanity that I would write the story down to share with others going through the horror I lived through. While I was in the throws of severe panic and anxiety I was able to find plenty of books written by PhDs and MDs theorizing about what happens when one psychologically breaks down, but no true tales from anyone who had experienced it personally.
    I am wondering if I need to write a proposal to submit to an agent? Where is a good place to start that highlights the process for me? Many thanks in advance.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Heather, Congratulations on your inspiring book idea. It sounds like it could be a fascinating account and compelling read. For memoir, agents and publishers will want to know that the whole book is written and polished, so you’ll need to do that first. However, while writing the book, you may also want to start working on your platform–your reach.

      Agents and publishers are very concerned that an author has what it takes to promote the book and reach readers once it’s published. I often recommend blogging as a way to start growing your platform. You may also want to start connecting with people who are experts in this arena on twitter (perhaps journalists who write on the topic) and you can also consider a facebook page. You want to think too about who your particular readers will be and where they tend to “hang out” online.

      If this seems overwhelming just begin with the book. If you need help getting clear on structure, what to put in the book, what to leave out, etc., e-mail me and we can discuss whether one of my book writing classes would be best or if working with a memoir expert to help you structure the book and edit it is a better way to start.

      Once you write the book, we can address the book proposal (or use the Michael Larsen book as a starting point). I do also help people write and polish their proposals and connect with agents.

  12. Barbara Amaya says

    Hi Lisa,
    People who know my story usually tell me I should write a book. I know there are thousands of books about surviving sexual abuse and drug abuse out there. I suffered these things and much more and as a result I ran away from home during the crazy age in this country known as the 60s at the age of 12. I left school in the 7th grade.I spent years on the streets of New York city, the Minnesota Strip was one of my hangouts. I learned to cook from pimps and criminals. Sometimes I feel I was raised by animals, except animals are much more trustworthy than most of the people I knew then.I have many stories about what I went through in New York. I reunited with family members after 8 years in New York and never went back. My first legit job was as a fish gutter in Pasagoula Mississippi. Many years later after having a beautiful daughter who questions me about my past, I chose to tell her about it in hopes that it can help her somehow through her own struggles. So my question is do you think I can get this memoir published? Are there too many memoirs out there like mine? Somehow my memoir has also turned into essays about my experiences and my relationship with my dysfunctional mother and my dauther.I have started a blog to build a platform and have thought about self publishing. I want to do the right thing to get my story out there because I know it will help other women. Thanks for reading this, Barbara

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Barbara,
      It sounds like an amazing story. It would certainly be easier to self publish–great that you are blogging to start a platform. It is harder to get a book deal for a memoir nowadays. Sometimes it helps to self publish, do an amazing job of selling your books and if you sell 15,000 or 20,000 you can probably get a traditional publisher. In the meantime, maybe you can give talks in schools or churches, or find other ways to grow your platform.
      There are memoirs getting published by traditional publishers. They’ll be looking for something unique about the book, tight, compelling writing, and platform.
      Good luck.

      • Barbara Amaya says

        Hi Lisa, thanks for your reply. I have thought of speaking in schools and churchs. And I have a horrible fear of public speaking, but I know I have to get over that. The detention center I was locked up in as a young girl is actually still here in Virginia.I wrote about several places I was locked up in at ages 12 and 13 years old. I escaped from 4 of them. I wish I could speak at the detention center to troubled youth, but I don’t know if they do that type of thing.I contacted them a while back looking for records but forgot to ask about speaking. I know memoir has gotten a bad name lately, but I also think with the popularity of reality shows it might still be a genre that gains status once again. I’ve tried to offer something different with my memoir, even though it is very sad and has traumatic horrible events, there is actually some humur to my story incredibly. I believe having my sense of humur has been one of the things that has keep me going. Lisa can you tell me the difference between memoir, creative non-fiction and essays? I think I mentioned my memoir writing has turned into several essays. Instead of chapters, stand alone stories, or essays. Do you know any online ezines or magazines that target memoir, or personal essays? I found but was worried my writing might be too ‘gritty’ for them. Thanks so much for your advice and your blog, Barbara Amaya

        • Lisa Tener says

          Memoir tends to have a narrative element. Create nonfiction, as well, but creative nonfiction also gets creative, as the name suggests–adding the details of what you imagine may have happened in addition to what you actually remember. For example, in a section about your grandmother, you may imagine a dialogue between her and your great grandmother whom you never even met. Essays would be more stand alone, as you said.
          I do not know the right place for you to submit essays, but you might contact my colleague Ginger Moran who writes many more essays than I do and may be able to help you both identify appropriate venues for the essays and polish your writing to improve your chances of success.

          • Barbara says

            Hello Lisa, well I’ve been busy these last few months and I just completed my non-fiction book proposal. I have been speaking in various venues about my past expericences as a trafficked minor and more. Most recently at the screening of the documentary film Nefarious: Merchant of Souls for a great audience of over 400 people. In addition to speaking I also blog often at my website, all of this is great platform building to further my chances of getting published. Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.

          • Lisa Tener says

            Barbara, you are so brave to speak out and tell your story after so long. Reading your home page I had to wonder, What happened to your daughter? It sounds like a very powerful book and likely to succeed. It also sounds like you are doing just what you should be i building your platform. Good luck with your proposal and finding the perfect agent for it.

  13. Danielle says

    Hi Lisa,
    I am a teacher and mother of 3 children. I am writing a book about my experience. When I was 9 months pregnant with my first child, my mother passed away after a short sickness. Immediately after, I dealt with having a child and adjusting to no longer having a mother. That is my hook. In the book, I want to explore 1) the struggle between grief and happiness – all happening at the same time, 2) how the regular struggles of being a new mom are enhanced by the fact my own mother had just passed, and 3) dealing with motherhood in genera and being a “mom without a mom”. I would appreciate any insight about where to start. Thanks in advance.

  14. Juli Dixon says

    “A Stroke of Luck: A true story about a stroke that gave a 12-year-old girl a second chance at life” tells the story of a child’s difficult illness that peaks with a terrible incident. It is a mother’s story about how her child comes out the other side of a very dark period a changed young lady with a new lease on life. The story is told in the form of a sort of journal although it wasn’t written until the girl emerged from the other side of the illness. It is punctuated with actual journal entries, letters, and emails written during the journey. The story is one of heartbreak, hope, and healing on the part of the girl, Alex, and all who know her, especially her mother – me.
    I am a well-published professor of mathematics education, however, I am out of my element here. The book was reviewed by those who know the story, including Alex’s neurosurgeon, and those who don’t and it faired well. I believe that the completed draft of the 77,000-word manuscript is ready for an agent but I do not know what to do next. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Juli, Agents will want to see about 50 pages (your best 50, doesn’t have to be the first 50). And then, if they are interested, they will immediately want to see the rest. Many agents also want to see a book proposal, which is more of a marketing document and business plan for your book. It’s challenging to publish a memoir without some platform (following online or offline). So, you may need to work on what’s called “Platform building” before you can get an agent interested. I’d be happy to discuss this more with you and I recommend looking through my other blog posts on platform building as well. Here are a couple of posts to get started:
      Blogging: The fastest way to grow your platform.
      How to get on TV.

  15. Yemi D. Prince says

    Kindly let me know if you have an agent in mind for my complete memoir.

    Thank you very much.


    • Lisa Tener says

      Congratulations for completing your memoir. I generally only recommend agents when I’ve worked with an author and seen their memoir first hand, since I have a reputation for sending very polished and marketable works and also, if I haven’t seen the book, I really can’t say who I think would be interested. I can recommend that you look at a copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Editors and Literary Agents or Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino and search the web to see what types of book each agent is looking for. Best of luck.

  16. Jane Little says

    I am writing on behalf of a woman who is 81 years old and who has written her memoire. She was in and out of foster care, attempted suicide at age 15, then came into our home as a foster child. She credits my family with literally saving her life. She eventually joined the Air Force, was married and was in an extremely abusive marriage for years. She eventually divorced, became a leader in the American Legion. Through it all, her’s is a testimony of the work of God in her life. She now lives with her daughter and wants her story to be told to inspire others. Neither she nor her daughter have the resources to afford self-publishing. What would you suggest she do to have her book printed?

  17. Lisa Tener says

    Jane, it sounds like a compelling and inspiring story. Generally, I would advise people not to skimp on a quality cover design (which helps sell books), decent layout, and editing (to make sure the writing is compelling and there are no errors. One option would be to go to or another crowd-funding site and pre-sell books in order to raise the funds to publish it.

  18. Chris says

    My name is Chris. I would love to write a book about my life as a foster kid. I want to publish a memoir about my life, my struggles, an how I did not let it affect me too much. Any recommendations?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Chris, It sounds like an inspiring story. I’d start with deciding the theme of the memoir. That will help you clarity what goes in and what stays out, since you can’t put everything in one book. Make the “scenes” come alive with specific (and quirky) details using all your senses so readers can “see” what you saw, feel what you felt. You may want to focus on a short period of time, rather than your whole life. Some great articles can be found at And you can also purchase my quick start to kick start your book self-study program to help you get started writing: Feel free to ask more questions on this blog.

  19. Holly says

    Hi Lisa,

    Over the last year, I wrote a memoir about my years with my children’s father, tentatively titled Red Man ~ White Woman: Love and Deceit with a Seminole Medicine Man. The stories within, which take place from 1994-2010, explore the viability of love’s survival when it’s shared between a white woman and a Native American spiritual leader, whose lives are inextricably linked to a shared volatile history rooted in war, oppression, and broken promises. The book is filled with many distinct emotional, cultural, spiritual, and political elements: Native American culture as experienced by a non-Indian, idolatry of a spiritual leader, hypocrisies of a spiritual leader, interracial relationship and biracial children, love triangle, surrogacy, litigation, and political and philosophical perspectives of an indigenous leader who resists assimilation and refuses to succumb to control by the “white man’s government”. To me, the book is a modern, cross-cultural love story — a loving tribute to my days with the love of my life, and I have taken extraordinary measure to pour genuine emotion into each word, line, story, no matter pleasureful or painful.

    I am at the point now where I am researching agents and publishers, and trying to determine the best next steps. My questions for you are: I read in a blog about queries for fiction that the writer should not list the elements of the story, but should express the plot of the story. In the case of a memoir, in a query letter, should I focus only on telling the main ideas of the manuscript? Is it beneficial to attempt to show the diversity and complexity of the memoir within the query letter, or is it better to express the main elements, but not reveal all the components?

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.

  20. Stuart Horwitz says

    Hi Holly,

    Lisa asked me to guest respond, as I have been helping writers with many of these same issues as of late.

    I think when memoirists try to portray their work they too often bleed their work dry of emotion, flashback, drama — in short all the things that make it a great read! They place the emphasis on the non-fiction element of their story (because it is true) in their synopsis, query letter, etc. and try to extract themes instead when what we really want as the reading public is to be gripped by character and action!

    So I would err on the side of painting the picture of what you have written with bold colors — hope this helps!

  21. Tammy says

    I am writin my own memoir. Ive overcome so many obsticles in life. Sexual abuse, bullying, cutting and I committed murder at 12. MY mom was my victim. I don’t fit the profile and people who know me know would be overthrown. I am having a hard time with chapter organization. I am going past present past present. But unsure of my “real” hook. Basically all I am trying to ay is Ive done the WORSE thing and turned out the BEST woman thanks to God Himself. ANY advice would be appreciated.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Tammy,
      Thank you for reaching out with such a personal story. It sounds compelling, powerful and inspiring. You definitely don’t want to confuse your readers with when things are taking place. One rule of them is that you start the story from “The reading present” which could be in the middle of the story or at the beginning. Once you establish the reading present, only go back once in time (do not flash back within a flash back). Does that help? In terms of a hook, one rule Stuart Horwitz once taught me is to identify the central theme: “How murdering my mother–the worst thing someone could have done–turned out to be a gift.” Then, only parts that serve this story go in.
      If you have a budget to work with a writing coach, I can recommend someone to help you get clarity about the hook and content/organization. If not, try writing an outline and then you can deviate from that but it will help you to have some structure.

      • Tammy says

        Thank you so so much. That made total sense. Would love to work with a writing coach. Thank you again, this was the very first time I reached out for help and got way more than expected :-)

        • Lisa Tener says

          I’m so glad that helps, Tammy. I’d love to work with you. Right now, my focus is on the participants in my Bring Your Book to Life Program which begins Oct. 2 by teleseminar. It’s a high end program with lots of one on one with me. If you’d like to explore just e-mail me at lisa at lisatener dot com. If you are on a budget, you can start with my Quick Start to kick start your book (the pre-work for my course). It’s $97 and more info here:

  22. JosieO says

    I am working on a memoir about my relationship with my husband. I’m portraying it as an nontraditional love story with a bit of a dark comic edge. He has a personality disorder and cheated on me for five years while I was completely clueless. He attempted suicide when I found out about the affair, but followed it with a life altering epiphany that brought us closer together and made him a new man. In sticking through the struggle, I’ve gotten a better husband and my children have a better father. I think my willingness to divulge my secrets(and my husband’s support in telling them) gives us a candor on a taboo subject that will make an interesting read, particularly for others struggling through the aftermath of an affair.
    I have an MA in English, and although I took many workshops, I have yet to publish creatively- most of my work has been journalistic and business related, so I’m a bit out of my comfort zone.
    My question is this: I’ve read (in “You Should Really Write a Book”)how important it is to connect early in the process with potential readers. Would you recommend a sort of blog about the writing process, or some other kind of connections to start finding a base? Also, do you believe a story like this is better fitted to traditional publishing or self/e-publishing?
    Thanks for your advice!

  23. Shandreka says

    Hello Lisa, I am currently writing my memoir expressing my struggles as an abused foster child. The reason why this memoir is so important to me is because it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s I realized that I couldn’t live a normal life until dealt with what I’ve been through. I was very successful but I never loved myself. I just want to help those that felt the same way I did and going through the same struggles I’m going through. I was reading some of your blog’s and you mentioned that building a platform is a great way to start. I will like to start blog, but I don’t have any idea how to start one. I love any suggestions that you may have.
    Thank you

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Shandreka,
      It sounds like you have a powerful story to tell that will be healing for you and can help others. Your question is a great one–and I’m thinking it deserves a whole post of it’s own. I will shortly write a post on How to Start a Blog. If you don’t hear back from me within a week with the new post, please remind me.

  24. Miranda says

    Today I had an inspiring conversation with a guy that I met at a local restaurant that really opened my eyes to writing a memoir (or a book). I was diagnosed when I was 16 with a disease that has lead to multiple surgeries. Most people with this disease usually are diagnosed in their 40’s or 50’s. I am currently 22 years old and the man I was talking to was probably around 30. He was nervous about having surgery. I have had the same surgery performed 3 times and he and I started talking and it seemed like I really helped him out. I would like to write my story to help and inspire other teens and young adult with the same disease. However, in between my surgeries, I had a lot of personal battles within myself. I ended up turning to drugs and sex to help me cope with the pain and personal fears I had about the future and what my life would be like. I now have been clean from drugs for almost 2 years, refrained from sex, and even started a relationship with God again. What advise can you give me on starting an outline and do you even think that my story will be able to get out to the teens and young adults around the U.S.? Also, I am not very confident in writing. I love to read but writing isn’t exactly something that I excel in. Thank you in advance.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Miranda. It sounds like your story has the potential to touch and help many people and that your meeting today was a confirmation of this. You may just write it as an e-book and it doesn’t need to be long. See where it takes you. Here are some suggestions to get started. Read the “memoir” related articles on this blog. If you can invest $97, I’d buy “quick start to kick start your book” which will help you start your memoir and gives directions for writing your outline. Also read the articles on They will be very helpful too. You can use the internet, perhaps even blogging to reach your audience, but first write the book.

  25. Sara says

    Recently, my adoptive mother passed away and I found out about a month later through facebook of all things. I have always wanted to write a memoir, but have held back because of a childhood need to “please” her. I was taken away from my biological parents when I was five, adopted by my foster parents when I was eight, then unadopted by these same foster parents when I was twelve and placed back into the foster care system where I aged out. After I was unadopted my adoptive parents were then allowed to adopt two more children. I am teacher and have recently earned my doctorate degree. I find that my students are drawn towards the “Child Called It” types of stories. There are parts of my story that deal with sexual abuse and I was wondering, how do you balance writing a detailed and interesting memoir with professionalism as a teacher? Also, is there a market for this type of story? I haven’t found anything out there that discusses “unadoption” as it relates to a child.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Sara,
      It sounds like a compelling story–both because of what you went through and where you are now. The “unadoption” angle does sound quite unique and the facebook angle is also great for PR once the book is published. I agree that you need to think about the professionalism and how comfortable you are about your students being able to find out such intimate things about you. I do a process I call “meet your muse” where we can ask your muse for advice. E-mail me if you want to explore. You can try it on your own, but it does sometimes help to have a witness like me lead your through it. Here is the “meet your muse” audio which you can try first and at no cost. Then, if you feel you need a personal connection, just e-mail me.

  26. Jim says

    A very different memoir. Inspirational.

    In 1962 after undergoing bilateral hip arthroplasties I was invited to convalesce in Monaco for six months. To go from a hospital bed in Massachusetts to Monaco was quite THE experience. While there a paparazzi ran a story in France Dimance about me and my sponsor/friend.

    I was upset and returned home flying to London via Nice for a three hour layover at London Airport. Stewardess pushed me in wheelchair across the tarmac towards waiting plane when horde of reporters chased after us. I thought it might be the ‘paparrazzi crowd’ again and rushed to plane.

    I was told on plane they thought I was Doctor Soblen..a convicted spy that skipped bail in NYC and fled to Israel. US extradited him and he was returning to states but attempted suicide. He was treated and was to fly on same plane back to US as me and as his limosene approached the plane he swallowed cyanide. I wrote one of my plays about this episode 20 years later.

    I returned to college…got my degrees in psychology….worked as rehab counselor for years before retiring and becoming a prize winning playwright.

    I am now 81 and in failing health. I think my story is inspirational but am not sure I should tell about it. I HAVE written it but am not sure if I should have it published due to the privacy of some people I met and wrote about.

    Is a puzzlement.


    • Lisa Tener says

      Sounds like you have a very interesting story, Jim. Sometimes I do a guided visualization with clients that I call “Meet Your Muse” where you go inwards to get clarity on a decision to do with your book. Sounds like this would be a good example where it might be very helpful. You can try my free audio first and let me know if you get an answer from that. If it would be helpful, I can also do a half hour consultation with you for clarity. One thing to note, you can have a disclaimer saying that you’ve changed names and a few details to protect some people in the book.

  27. Lisa Tener says

    Publishing memoir is so competitive. It’s the author’s job to convince an agent. However, you may want to hire an editor to give you feedback on the memoir and its potential. I have someone in mind who would be great for that. If you are interested just e-mail me lisa at lisatener dot com.

  28. Cheryl says

    Hi Lisa,

    Throughout my life I’ve attached easily with animals (particularly horses) and have always felt comfortable in the presence of animals while harboring a deep distrust of people. I worked as a horse professional for a number of years while strategically building a world around me where I would never have to rely on or trust others while surrounding myself with horses and my dog.

    During my time as a young adult and as a horse professional I secretly engaged in many destructive behaviors spawned from a deep self-hatred — in short there was a very real part of me which sought to destroy me through negative self-talk and physical abuse including a suicide attempt. I was fairly convinced I was crazy and someday, someone was going to find out what a horrible person I was.

    When I was 30 I rescued a horse. The process of healing the horse brought some healing to me. About 1.5 years later the same horse and I were involved in an accident which literally shook loose repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. The accident and the relationship with this horse have facilitated healing for me, helped me understand why I distrust others, why I hated myself and why I needed to be totally independant of everyone. I also believe the relationship with the horse has ultimately saved my life. I am still in the healing process (I’m 36) and I’m working on a memoir to tell my story with a focus on how horses and two special dogs have helped me find my path to healing.

    I am trying to figure out the best route to get the book out to people who will be helped by my story. I am not sure if self-publishing is the way to go or if I should be looking for a publisher? I also wonder if it is a good idea to self-publish first with the idea that a publisher could pick up the work later? Does that happen? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Cheryl

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, Cheryl,
      It sounds like an amazing and unusual story–the kind that might become a movie or TV movie, too! It’s certainly a competitive market out there. You would in all likelihood need to do some “platform” building in order to interest a publisher–that means blogging on a national platform or public speaking to tens of thousands a year–it would need to be significant. You may just want to self-publish. Either way, write the best book you can,hire an editor to make it as good as possible — and do everything you can to spread the word. Have a detailed marketing and promotion plan. If you sell around 15K copies, a publisher is likely to want to pick it up.

      • Cheryl says

        Thanks for the feedback; this helps me figure out what my next steps are. I do have a blog which I haven’t been very consistant with. It is here on my website: I struggle with what to write…I have many things I could blog about but I don’t know if I should write about things which will end up in the book (I don’t want to “give away” my story)? Do you have a recommendation for blog content? Should I have my blog somewhere besides my website (in order to reach more readers)? I really appreciate your input; it is very kind of you to help all of us like this. Thanks, Cheryl

  29. Lisa Tener says

    Cheryl, These are great questions. Absolutely keep the blog on your website. Search engines like Google love content –so you’ll get better results from search engines (coming up higher for keyword searches by users)if you have your blog (lots of content) on your website. I would do a combination of blogging information tangential to the book but that would interest the same audiences, and sharing some stories/information that’s in the book. Don’t give it all away but do share some–maybe even say something like, “And if you want to know more about how I xyz, subscribe for free (and give them a way to share their e-mail address and first name, though mail chimp or constant contact) and I’ll let you know when the book comes out…” Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  30. erin says

    I have just completed my memoir. My story starts out by describing the ongoing sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of an older man who lived across the street. The secret relationship with this man began at around the age of four and went on for about a year and a half. It goes on to tell about my life growing up in Toronto with my colourful, liberal minded but at times mentally unstable mother who was, in those days, a fairly well known journalist. Both my mother and father were journalists. After my parent’s split, my mother went on to meet a very charming and charismatic alcoholic who she fell madly in love with and who she eventually married. Their twisted, passionate, chaotic and tragic love story, robbing me of many more years of my childhood. My story has a spiritual message in the end. I am not religious but I am deeply spiritual. I tell how I went from truly thinking I was different and bad, to the core, full of self loathing, to finding self love by getting help and by letting go and choosing to forgive. So many people who have suffered similar things are held back in life, imprisoned by their shame, just as I was. I have been told by those who have read it that they found it compelling and that it was a book that they were not able to put down. I have a friend who is a published author who has said that he thinks it has a real shot and that he believes that more than one agent might be interested. He has also said that he would be happy to recommend it highly to his own agent. He thinks I should pursue other avenues as well though as he thinks it may be of interest to eastern agents due to it’s eastern flavour. Finances are a huge problem at the moment. I have no money whatsover to pursue self publishing. I am beside myself anxious to get it out there. My friend is away over the holidays and won’t be sending and recommending it to his agent until the new year. Do you have any suggestions for who to send it to in the meantime or how I might get the ball rolling? Or should I just be patient and wait for him to give me and my book that all important and coveted introduction/recommendation to his agent?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Erin,
      Congratulations on completing what sounds like a very moving, compelling and inspiring memoir. My best advice is
      1. Edit, edit, edit–get that writing to where it’s above and beyond. As my agent said yesterday, when I asked her about her interest in a client’s book, “Good writing won’t cut it in this market. If you have a book with a strong narrative element, the writing has to be superlative.”
      2. Start developing a following. Perhaps a blog would be a good place for you to start.
      3. Get Mike Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal. You’ll most likely need that for agents.
      Wait for your friend to return and work on these 3 things rather than rushing to contact agents.

  31. Lorraine says

    I suffered all forms of abuse as a child. I was a promiscuous teen in a small town, where all was known by neighbors and friends. Determined to break the cycle, I married and had 3 children; one of whom was diagnosed with Autism. I have gone from lying on the floor begging for death to rising up to become the president of a non-profit group.
    I have worked tirelessly to redefine myself within the community. I have built a platform by writing a column for my local newspaper, etc.
    My memoir, which is in progress, serves to SHOW how I coped and that impoverished, abused, children can grow up to be successful, even against the greatest odds.
    I am not sure if I should self-publish or look for a publisher. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Christina says

      Wow! I think you and I have lived very doppelganger-like lives! What did you decide about publishing?

  32. Sharon Christensen says

    Our daughter passed away 2 1/2 years ago at the age of 30. She was a single mom with mental illness issues, leaving behind a now 14 year-old son (who we are raising). She did not pass away because of the mental illness directly, but some of the psych meds she was on, which also caused her to become obese, contributed to it along with an enlarge heart. She literally “dropped” in the middle of the night.

    She wrote many entries in journals throughout her approximate 6 years in psychiatric hospitals, group homes, etc. I would like to put these entries, along with our observations, into book form.

    Which is the best way to go about this? Many thanks.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Sharon, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I do have a book writing course and am happy to discuss with you whether it’s a good fit. You can also start with my Quick Start to Kick Start Your Book self-study program which helps your clarify the book concept and structure. One thing that will be important is to make sure that there are some ways the tragedy is transcended–whether it’s through humor, your own personal growth, spirituality, etc.

  33. smb says

    As with many others here, I’ve been told I should write my life. I don’t necessarily think my life has been that extraordinary, but through my own writing career and travels, I have met some amazing people: the first African-American Senator from my conservative state, explorers to the South Pole, and three young vets from the Iraq war among others. I’ve often thought my own journey might be told by telling the stories of these others I have met. I’ve given my introduction to several folks who tell me it makes them want to keep reading. But as we all know, friends say such things. Anyway, any direction as to whether this is an appropriate hook would be helpful. Thanks for the time–

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Shawna, It sounds like it may work best as a collection of essays about your encounters. I do have a book writing course if you are looking for more in depth support–or can recommend a book writing coach if you prefer to work that way.

  34. Rusty Lanier says

    I have a complete manuscript on how I beat addiction. After 32 years of drinking and 13 years of smoking crack cocaine, I came to my wits end. On the night I would commit suicide I promised God if He would help me get clean and sober, I would write a book on how it all happened. “Waiting to Die, Wanting to Love” is a 209,000 word memoir on how I got through the hell of a half way house. I saw the clinical director sexually harass a female counselor… and kiss a female patient saying, “I just want to find out what makes you irresistable!” It was shortly after that they say I tested positive for alcohol use, even though I was never given any official documentation from the laboratory who did the the testing. The clinical director then coerced another patient to lie to police and file a false police report.(which is in the book) Meanwhile, I discovered a female counsleor married one of her patients.. if not unethical, in the least, poor judgement. In an effort to clear my name I take a lie detector about the above situations and pass in flying colors. I am clean and sober three-and-a-half years and the manuscript is complete. I’ve been rejected 40 times so far in traditional publishing circles. Friends who have read the book say it is powerful, inspiring and “real” to them. Can you help me find an agent. This is not a”run of the mill” addiction memoir. Mine has a higher calling.. and gives hope to anyone who may read it. Thanks

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Rusty, it sounds like a compelling story. As you know from your comments, it will need to be fresh and stand out. It also needs to be polished–memoirs nowadays (unless you are a celebrity) have to have excellent writing. And you’ll need to develop a following–perhaps consider blogging–in order to sell your book to an agent and a publisher. You might get Regina Brook’s book: You Should Really Write a Book, and also consider Michael Larsen’s book How to Write a Book Proposal.

  35. Kristy says

    I would like to write a memoir based on my experiences struggling with and overcoming bipolar disorder, self-mutilation, alcoholism, and a crack addiction that ultimately left me homeless. I escaped from the state psych ward (briefly) when I was 16. I assaulted 5 officers while on a drunken blackout at 21 and was incarcerated in a state prison rehab for 18 months. I have many journals chronicling these years and my struggle managing my mental illness. I was able to quit drugs shortly before becoming pregnant with my first child, which was the result of a one-night stand and broken condom. I have remained drug and alcohol free for nearly 3 years, free from self harm for a few months longer than that, and continue to struggle with my mood disorder as a new parent. So much of my youth was spent horribly lost, mostly because I chose to be in denial about my condition. I want to share my story so I may never forget how much I’ve grown since then, and to let others know there is hope beyond their illness, or addiction, or obstacle. And it didn’t take 12 Steps, or finding Jesus. Simply, it just took acceptance, and the notion that I deserved more than the misery I kept surrounding myself with.

    It’s just so much, should I narrow down the subject matter to focus more on the struggling with bipolar symptoms? Because mania really triggered my drug cravings. Or should I focus on quitting drugs? Or even the self-mutilation? I feel it’s something that’s very misunderstood and in recent years become prevalent among young people. Maybe I can focus on raising awareness about that?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Kristy,
      The challenge in writing memoir is often to figure out what not to write about–you want to put it all in. Choose one theme and then you can decide what serves the theme and what is not. As my colleague, Stuart Horwitz, says, “Your book can only be about one thing.” Having said that, I see your challenge–which do you focus on? Try my meet your muse visualization exercise and see if it gives you clarity.

  36. Tiffanie says

    Hi Kristy,
    I have a manuscript ready to go, but I don’t know what my next step should be. My memoir is about two things that are intertwined, by that I mean losing my mother at the age 9 to schizophrenia and while struggling through infertility for 8 years as a young adult those deep seeded memories came flooding back to me. The pain of not having a mother and unable to be a mother was devastating the word “mother” became a double edged sword. I wrote about all my fertility treatments and including a failed adoption. I also write about my mother’s family members who also suffer from mental illness including; schizophrenia, bipolar/mania and suicide. I also touch on a couple other topics such as; growing up in a an Irish Catholic family, homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s (my uncle) and emotional as well as physical abuse. Several weeks after finally having a baby, my mother passed away unexpectedly at age 55, I felt the need to validate what happened to her life due to her disease and to bring peace and closure to the mother I lost both 23 years ago (emotionally) and again after her physical death. I really don’t want to give up on this, however I feel every person has an important story to tell…what makes mine unique? I feel even if it is never published I am so glad I wrote her/my story and I really would love to share her beautiful spirit.

    • Lisa Tener says

      When we have a deep desire to share our experiences in writing, there’s a reason. I’m a firm believer that you have a story to tell and that telling it will help you and your readers to heal. I recommend Regina Brooks’ book “You Really Should Write a Book” to guide you. And trust in one step at a time if you feel overwhelmed.

  37. Marie Campbell says

    Hi there – Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’ is my first book and was written as a result of research into my Jamaican mother’s past, her family and their history and culture. What I discovered filled me with such admiration for her, I wanted future generations of my family to know about my mother. It’s had some great reviews and I’m now trying to turn the book into a screenplay.

  38. tonie taylor says

    I am writing a memoir of my brother’s death in the Bexar Co Jail 6 after turning himself in for misdemeanor warrants. It is about fighting for justice and the truth. Politics and procedures, the horrible publicity and heartache for my family. Is there an outline you could recommend and a publisher that would be interested in this kind of book?
    I am a big book reader and I haven’t found a book on this subject.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi TOnie, I would recommend reading Regina Brooks’ book: You Really Should Write a Book. It would lead your step by step through the process.

  39. Jane smith says

    18 year old girl drops modeling contract to go to war torn Africa to volunteer for 6 months in tiny village and gets caught in the dangerous fringe of civil war. It is an epic story of a young girl who becomes a woman, a fish out of water, An inspiring tale of survival and overcoming racism. It feels like a cross between “Hotel Rwanda” and “I dream of Africa”. It’s a complete memoir, edited by a highly respected author with significant presence in the book world. I have a top agent, plus the platform of being an actress with a lot of movies and magazine covers… My agent says he has pitched it but won’t tell me to whom and is completely Apathetic and the book is at a stand still. I don’t want to go the self publishing route. Am lost. Any thoughts?

  40. Regina Brooks says

    First off please note that selling a memoir can be very tough. All parties involved must be wedded to the idea and the concept. The author should have an idea about how they plan to sell the book, and how it can be positioned in the marketplace. It’s always easier if the author has prepared a proposal to accompany the manuscript. I always find that a proposal really helps the editor see the vision beyond just reading the book.

    Here’s something to keep in mind. Agents are juggling numerous responsibilities at once and sometimes what might appear to be apathy is the agent really trying to figure out how to repackage or angle the project. Also keep in mind that every rejection that comes across his desk is felt by the agent as well. Sometimes it can take a minute to regroup.

    If you are feeling like you are not being heard, schedule a time when you can have a heart to heart with the agent about the submission strategy. Don’t be afraid to ask the agent if they still feel engaged with the work and or if they have any alternative ideas.

  41. Christina says

    I’ve decided that I want to write an inspirational memoir about how life has thrown one traumatic event after another at me, including abuse and abandonment, and I have somehow coped, survived, and found the positive in other people and situations, no mater how bad it got. Ho should I approach the book proposal and insure its salability and interest?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Christina,
      1. Write the best book you can–hire an editor to insure that (If agents are interested, they’ll want to see the entire memoir after the first 50 pages, so you want the whole book to be ready.
      2. Humor helps, though not essential.
      3. Develop a following–can be through a blog, twitter, lots of ways, but this is important to agents and publishers.
      Good luck!

  42. Valerie says

    I’m currently writing a blog about undergoing breast cancer treatment while parenting 7 and 8 year old boys. I would like to develop it into a book about all the crazy ups and downs, the huge setbacks, and how I got through them with humor and hope. Should I query agents or self publish? I’m fortunate to have a platfrom because I work in local news in a major U.S. City and am well connected on social media and the blogosphere. I look forward to hearing your advice!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Valerie,
      Wow. It sounds hugely inspiring. There’s not a one size fits all answer, but here are my initial thoughts: Great that you have a strong platform–that will be important to agents and publishers. Because of that, I’d be tempted to try interesting a publisher and agent. Surviving cancer is a tough genre–lots of books/stories but not a whole lot that are bestsellers. On the other hand, Crazy Sexy Cancer shows that these books can sell well, so you have a shot at interesting them. Be sure to say what makes your book stand out from the crowd. Humor will definitely also help–and it seems to me the parenting part can help attract a strong niche following that can spill over into the broader audience. The advantage of traditional publishing is that it’s easier to get national coverage and the “credibility” of a publishing house helps you make it through the gatekeepers at bookstores. I’d say go for it. You’ll need a proposal plus the whole ms. on hand for when they request it. So I’d get a strong editor–I can make a recommendation if you like. Just e-mail me lisa at lisatener dot com.

  43. Nilanjana says

    Mine is an epistolary memoir which explores the true nature of love and the part spirituality plays in it. Anselm a brilliant 23-year-old German student falls in love with the 43-year-old Nilanjana, a copywriter and spiritual aspirant. They write to each other regularly until his second visit, offering glimpses of the spiritual principles related to the Path with which both are familiar and their separate lives – Anselm struggling with his degree in Mathematics and Nilanjana trying to fit her job in with her spiritual practice. She is also in the process of divorcing her abusive husband and has a nine-year-old son who does not live with her.

    Anselm aims to get a job in India and marry Nilanjana, but on his return, when he discovers that this is not possible, he begins to sink into depression. However, there is another reason for his breaking away – he knows that Nilanjana’s Guruji expects her to give up sex and he loves her enough to let go, but Nilanjana struggles with it until she understands the true nature of love: Love is not attachment. Love can let go and still be eternal.

    Do you think this memoir would appeal to lots of readers? I aim to complete is this month but I don’t know whether I would want to build a platform for it. I would prefer to write it under a pen name. Any thoughts?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Speaking from my own experience, I do find it intriguing as a potential reader. The writing would have to be very strong in this market. But, yes, I think it has potential. You might write it as fiction under a pen name. If you write a memoir under a pen name, how would you promote it and get the word out? I assume you would not do any TV interviews, but maybe radio, digital and print? But you’d need to create this identity of your pen name.

      • Nilanjana says

        Hi Lisa

        Many thanks for the tips. There Have been memoirs written under pen names though. I suppose memoirs would draw more readers than fiction especially with such a subject?

  44. Christopher says

    Hi Lisa:
    I’ve written a coming-of-age memoir that traces my development from a six-year-old child/sibling rape victim, through an anxiety- and drug-addled adolescence, and into a healthier adulthood. It’s the shattering and reassembly of my psyche, and of my perspective on life. The book simultaneously chronicles my older brother’s devolution — it’s a chiasmus in that way, and it all exists within the context of a lower working-class family that really believed upward mobility was possible, and really does love each other. The story is charged with anecdote and violence, with drug use/trafficking/manufacturing, and also with compassion. And it does end with hope. My question is this: Every agent who has read the book has praised both the writing and the story, but has become gun-shy at the prospect of selling it. They all point to the publishing houses and say “They’re very cautious about this kind of book.” The writing is there, and the story is powerful. The platform is important: These things happen in families, and only when we’re willing to enter the conversation can we begin to learn from them, heal, and grow. I think this scares people. I’m beginning to feel buried underneath these responses. For a book like mine, is finding an agent really just a matter of numbers, of playing the field long enough to find that right person? Or is this trend (I say trend because books like The Glass Castle, Lucky, and The Liars’ Club were all incredibly well received.) in the industry going to persist, and keep its foot firmly against the other side of the door?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, Christopher, Kudos to you for overcoming such challenges and for writing this book. It speaks volumes that agents are telling you the writing is there and the story is powerful. Does any of them mention platform? Do you blog or have a website? Is there a way you reach people? That may help you if you can develop that. I would keep trying and also work on platform if you can. Worst case, you can self publish, but see if you can get an agent first. Sometimes it can take 25 or 50 tries for a memoir. It may take finding just the right person to champion it. There are no guarantees, but I’d say keep at it.

      • Christopher says

        Hi Lisa,
        Thank you for your support. It means a lot. They haven’t mentioned platform; their concern about the trends the houses are following right now seem to dominate — people are writing funny memoirs right now; look at Dan Menaker (God bless him.). Though, I’d like to build a platform for this. It’s important. My concern is that I’d feel criminally out of place. Much my struggle has been reconciling my idea of myself with my actual self, and working to remove the blinders and the veils to see myself and surroundings objectively, and honestly, and without pretense or pride or purpose, ultimately to be grateful. We’re all so overwhelmed by our pasts and our daily struggles; I would love to help people see through it, but the thought that creeps in is: Who am I to assume expertise here? I’m no licensed therapist or guru or someone who has any business telling anyone else how to live. And I certainly haven’t had the largest share of misfortune in this world. All I can do is share what I’ve figured out: my truths, until those truths take their respective turns and become my new truths. I don’t know quite how to take those reins. A platform is about filling a need. Does anybody need this? Change is the tradition to embrace, and people who love each other should stick together — I know that much, but only that much. I’d like to reach people. I’d just be afraid that once I did, I wouldn’t have enough for them. I’m rambling, but there it is. Thank you again, Lisa. You’ve given me many important things to think about.

        • Lisa Tener says

          Hi Chris,
          When you ask, “Who am I to assume expertise here?” I would envision you blogging more from your own experience rather than as an expert–and people love to read about others’ experiences. So, I don’t think that’s a problem. Maybe you want to list out your questions that you’ve asked above and then do my “meet your muse” exercise and ask your muse for answers. The exercise is here and it’s free:
          It’s an audio download.

  45. natalie says


    How would you write or style a year around the world? I am hoping to start writing up my memoir this year before I forget all the memories!


    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Natalie,
      One obvious way would be to organize it sequentially, in the order things happened and have each chapter be a location or country you visited. However, you might start the book with a very dramatic moment and then flashback. You would want to think about theme of the memoir and that will help you decide what goes in and what to leave out. As my colleague Stuart Horwitz says, “Your book can only be about one thing.” What is that one thing?

  46. Andrea Clemens says

    Hi Lisa,
    I have completed my memoir about educator sexual abuse, a troubling topic that seems to grow every day in the headlines. I have not found a book out there written by a victim. I have documented my journey, from the grooming process, through the abuse,and finally to breaking away from this teacher after 10 years. The extra hook is that years later, I was contacted by local police who indicated that this teacher was in custody for abusing two 14 year old girls, 10 years later. My book describes in detail the decision- making process involved in coming forward and speaking out about my abuse and assisting the DA in securing a plea bargain from the teacher, where he was previously claiming he was innocent. This case received media attention, and since that time I have appeared on talk shows, have conducted seminars, and have provided interviews for other media outlets. I am determined to raise awareness of educator sexual abuse to help prevent more lives from being destroyed.

    So…my question is: do you feel I have a shot at finding a publisher for my memoir? I really want the distribution assistance from a publisher vs. self-publishing. It seems so difficult to break through the trade market with memoirs. Any feedback from you would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!


    • Lisa Tener says

      First, I want to say how brave you are and congratulations for completing your memoir, Andrea. Your book is going to make a difference!

      To answer your question, it’s hard to say for sure, since memoir is a competitive category. Having said that, a client of mine and Bring Your Book to Life Program graduate just last week received a publishing offer for her memoir about triumphing over anorexia. So, yes, new authors are getting book deals from traditional publishers for their memoirs. And she has some following but not a huge one.

      And having just returned from presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference, several acquisitions editors from publishing houses emphasized that they are always looking for terrific memoirs from new authors with fresh voices.

      Having said that, there is certainly no guarantee. Here’s what publishers–and agents–will want to see:
      1. Wonderful writing. Make sure you do a great job editing. I recommend hiring a professional editor for a developmental edit and then a copyedit.
      2. A compelling book proposal–this includes a powerful promotion plan.
      3. Some author platform> (your current reach to your market) This will vary from huge for the larger publishers and medium or even not so big but with potential for the smaller publishers. Sounds like you already have some platform, so that’s a big plus.
      4. A compelling angle–I think you have this–a very specific market and media friendly topic–and you’re willing to speak publicly about it.
      So, yes, particularly if the writing is excellent, I think you do have a chance.
      If you are looking for help with your book proposal, I’d be interested in exploring with you. You can contact me here.

  47. johnny miller says

    Why is it so ***** hard to get a literary agent to sell my memoir.It looks like down the road I will have to self publish! My story tags are gay, memoir, eccentric, bohemian, true crime, roman a’clef book & classic Hollywood film. And soon to be a new documentary out this summer.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Johnny,
      It’s certainly a competitive market. Have you gotten any specific feedback from the agents you queried?

  48. Dana Marie says

    Hi Lisa,
    I am grateful for all the good advice here. I am just starting my memoir, relayed through prayers I wrote when I was being recruited and manipulated into a destructive cult 25 years ago. I was in for almost a year, until my family rescued me through an intervention. While traumatic at the time, It would become one of my greatest blessings. My fear is naming names. Do I have to be afraid of a lawsuit if I name the group? Can I change names to protect the innocent? Do I have to use my real name? Thank you for any comments or suggestions!

    • Lisa Tener says

      HI Dana,
      While you’re writing, I suggest you use real names to keep it real for yourself. You can change the names and details later when you show it to others. Secondly, there could be legal issues–you should probably discuss that with a lawyer. Third, a pen name can be challenging–you’d need to create a presence with that pen name on social media and perhaps traditional media. It’s something to think through. How will you promote the book and get the word out? A pen name might work but it provides certain challenges in the marketing phase.

  49. Cheryl says

    Hello, I wrote a while back about the memoir I’m working on and felt compelled to update. I just finally (after two years) finished the story — as in I got it all written down. I am currently editing the draft of the manuscript and have found about 35 “beta readers” for the manuscript. I plan to have them read it and then give feedback anonymously through an online survey. About 10 or 12 of the readers are people I know. The remainder are members of EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association) who will have experience in equine assisted therapies which is one of the groups this book should appeal to.

    My next step after editing based on beta reader response is to find a professional editor to work on it.

    Any thoughts on this as a process that will hopefully lead to publishing? I am still not sure if self-publishing is the way to go or if I should try finding a publisher?

    My other question has to do with how to concisely tell what the story is about (like the “back cover” information). I want to grab people’s interest but not give too much away. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks, Cheryl

    • Lisa Tener says

      hi Cheryl,
      First, I would definitely recommend a high quality editor whether you self publish or pitch the book to agents and/or publishers. It needs to be in the best possible shape. So, I would say that’s your next step. Later you can decide whether to try to traditionally publish or self-publish. One step at a time. Great about the beta readers. With so many readers, though, I would be careful not to get overwhelmed by all that feedback. See what resonates for you. When the time comes I have a great editor who rides horses, so she may be a great fit–let me know when you are ready for that.

      • Cheryl says

        Hi Lisa,

        I have finished my first draft of the manuscript and have it out to beta readers now. So far the feedback has been very positive and helpful. I am really encouraged by their words.

        I tried to write a little blurb about the book on my website ( which I’m hoping will generate interest. This was not easy as I’m not sure how to boil down this story into a couple paragraphs.

        I am interested in the editor you mentioned. The one with horse experience. Can you help me connect with her?

        Thanks, Cheryl

  50. Marilyn Lambert says

    Hi there, thank you for this amazing resource. I am looking for a professional to take a look at what I have of my memoir so far (150 pages, 8 chapters out of an outlined 12). Of course, I realize that I would need to pay for this. I’m not quite to the point of submitting to an agent or publisher – the book is not finished, and doing the work required for the proposal (researching sales projections and creating a platform) takes a lot of time – but I would love feedback now and to ask questions of a professional who has read my work. I live in Kansas and all I can find are conferences and workshops that don’t offer one on one feedback. I have looked into hiring an editor, but I am not sure if that’s the best option (partly due to not knowing how to find a good one and avoid a scam). If you could point me in the right direction, I would be eternally grateful. I understand if you need more information to do that; I just didn’t want to clutter my request with information that may be extraneous.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Great question Marilyn. At this point an editor is fine. However, it’s ideal to have someone in touch with the market and publishing if you plan to traditionally publish. I would definitely ask for references or a sample of their work if they are willing to share it. If you are thinking you’ll want help with the book proposal (which I always advise as you can make a proposal much better) it’s a good idea to find an editor who has experience with proposals, agents and publishers (acquisitions editors) as well.

  51. Crissa says

    Thank you for this article!

    I’m currently working on building my platform (blog:, and I’ve self-published a few e-books. Currently, I’m seeking an agent or publisher interested in a memoir type story that is told in a fictional format (overall plot is fictitious as well as names) but the story is based on my childhood and early adolescence struggles. The hook in my queries is as follows: Eve, a young woman, grapples with intense night terrors and anxiety that stems from an abusive childhood with her adoptive parents, her teenage homelessness, and rape; she discovers an alternative form of therapy that quickly transforms her memories, perception, and consequently, her overall future well-being.

    I’ve queried a couple handfuls of agents, most of which encourage me to continue searching. Any recommendations or thoughts you could give me would be greatly appreciated!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Crissa,
      Kudos for all your accomplishments–the e-book, your website, writing the fictional account–and all the healing you’ve done.
      If you can get any specific feedback from agents, that’s helpful–whether it’s about what to focus on in editing it ore any other advice to make it marketable, such as platform building. So, feel free to e-mail them back briefly after a rejection asking if they have any specific feedback or advice on next steps. It is a competitive market right now, so the more you can build your following, the more that will support your memoir. There are no guarantees of publishing, but if you’d like to connect with a high quality editor, I have someone in mind and you can just e-mail me to refer you.

  52. Caroline Bailey says

    Hello! I am finishing up a book about my life as the youngest female known to undergo a hysterectomy (age eleven). I have a blog where I share my experience with barrenness, as well as, fostering children, adoption, and faith. I also use it to encourage others who are going through tough times. I am at the place now where I am trying to discern if I should forego seeking an agent, or just self-publish. Any advice? Thank you!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Caroline,
      Wow, it sounds like a powerful story. To get an agent in this market, the writing will need to be excellent/compelling. Most likely, you’ll need to have some platform or following. How many unique visitors does your blog get per month? Your story does seem to be a media friendly story–which will help with agents and publishers. Have you ever been on TV/Radio or interviewed for newspapers or magazines? Do you have a mailing list? All these things would be helpful.

  53. Heather M. says

    Thank you for this post. I found it quite helpful!
    I am writing a memoir based on notes my girlfriends and I wrote to each other in junior high and high school from the late 1970s to early 1980s. I’ve saved hundreds of these notes and am almost finished transcribing them. I think this is a very unique platform and am excited about providing others with this particular window into the past.
    However, other than my WordPress blog, website copy and a few poems, I have written nothing. I really have no idea where to start. I learned online today that I need to figure out how to write a “query letter” to a literary agent. Quite frankly, any advice you can provide will be immensely appreciated.
    Thanking you in advance,
    Heather M.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Thanks, Heather. I do have lots of posts here on how to write a book proposal–you will want to read every one, in addition to buying Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal to guide you through the process. Another book I recommend for memoir is Regina Brooks’ You Should Really Write a Book. Also, look through all my posts on writing memoir (using the search function on this blog in the upper right column).
      If you don’t have a big following, it may be quite a challenge to find a literary agent and/or publisher who is interested. You might consider self-publishing.
      Whatever you do, do not query an agent until the entire book proposal is ready to be sent to the agent (it’s completely polished). Also, if an agent likes what he or she sees, the agent will want to see the full book, so that needs to be in tip-top shape and completely edited, as well, before you send a query. Again, search this blog and you will find posts on query letters, how to find a literary agent and more.

  54. Jess Marie says

    Hi Lisa,

    I am writing a memoir about my journey living with Poland Syndrome, a rare syndrome I was born with that left me without my major and minor pectoral muscles on the right side of my body. The doctors told my parents when I was born that the full effects of my condition would unfold as I grew into a young woman, but most likely my right breast would never grow. By middle school, my family and I realized it was true and I was only growing one breast. Afraid to tell others for fear of being ridiculed and bullied, my family and I dealt with this mostly alone. I had my first breast augmentation surgery when I was twelve, followed by another at 15, a third at 18, and my fourth just last year at 24. My memoir would focus mostly on my middle and high school years, where I struggled with accepting myself as a woman and seeing myself as a human deserving of love. My faith in God, my humor, and my family all helped me get through those difficult times and I want my writing to help other girls, or any child struggling with body image issues or self-hate to know they are not alone. I currently teach language arts at the very same school I attended as a student and I see how every child has struggles they are going through at this age. I started a literature club with eighth grade females in order to talk about body image, peer pressure, being a woman of faith, and more, but I have not told any of them my personal story. I worry that discussing a topic such a my breasts would be inappropriate in my school setting. My passion in life is helping young girls to love and accept who they are and I would hope that my story could do so on a wider basis. Do you feel my story is unique enough to succeed if I put in the work to get it published? Thank you for any feedback!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Jess,
      It sounds like both an inspiring and dramatic story and one that could help many young women/girls with body image. You do pose an excellent question: if you write about your middle school years, the most obvious audience would be middle school girls, but would schools bring you in if the topic includes breast surgery/breasts. I don’t know but I am going to ask a couple colleagues with more experience with middle grade and YA and ask them to comment.

    • Rebecca says

      Lisa, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that if she’s writing about middle grade years, then her ideal audience should be middle grade readers. But yes you are also absolutely right that many schools might not welcome her book because the body part in question is a breast (gasp!). Public schools are publicly funded, and therefore everyone feels they should have a say in the curriculum, reading lists, fundraising events, etc. Principals have so much on their plates in dealing with government restrictions, regulations, and requirements, as well as parent requests, and student complaints, that they just don’t want to invite even more trouble of any kind. If presented with two books about body image, and one is potentially controversial, my guess is they would opt for the safer choice.

      HOWEVER…the main difference between the middle grade market and the teen market is content. Teens today are considered young adults and content about sex, drugs, and social deviance are considered acceptable–even in schools. Of course it has to be written respectfully and there has to be educational value. Jess, I think your book would be just fine in that regard. Body image is a HUGE issue in this market and schools are always looking for meaningful, valuable speakers and programs to help teens overcome negative self-perception. Keep in mind, some schools will still shy away from your subject, fearing backlash from parents or other groups, but school principals are very smart– they know their communities. If they feel their students and families are mature enough to read your book and have a meaningful discussion about it, they will not hesitate to bring it into the classroom.

      Just my two cents. I’m having a meeting with an editor at Simon and Schuster on Thursday and I’ll ask what she thinks. It’ll be interesting to get her take on this. Thank you for sharing your story! :-)

      • Jess Marie says


        Thank you so much for your detailed response. I agree a high school target audience would be a better choice for my story, especially since teens can be the most vulnerable to the media’s influence (I know I definitely was at that age!). My goal is to help them understand the negative effects our society’s media has on self-perception and how to overcome it like I did. I am also interested to hear the editor’s thoughts on this subject, so thank you in advance for asking!

  55. k terry says

    How would you recommend approaching a platform around a book (and newbie author) on a sensitive or confidential topic? Such as an exposé or “tell all,” for lack of a better term? If it would behove the writer to keep her topic under wraps until publication, and there is a built-in readership (due to the popularity of the topic being exposed or “told all about”), would an agent be forgiving or accepting of the lack of platform (especially if it’s well written and a story worth telling)?

  56. Paul says

    Hi, my wife found your site and encouraged me to write. Several years ago I wrote a fictional memoir (95 % fact) based on the first 16 years of my life on this pleasant planet (380 pages). I had the good fortune to be born to a paranoid-schizophrenic father and a psychopathic mother and, unsurprisingly, spent a number of years in the state ´care´ system (to use the euphemism). I was inspired to write this book when (on a rare sojourn in the country of my birth some 17 years ago) we were visited by policemen investigating systematic child abuse at one of the centres in which I was interned. They told me of the fate of my then colleagues (either death – drug ODs, AIDS etc. – or lengthy prison sentences) which made me realize (as an incredibly lucky ´survivor´) that I was one of the few people who could possibly provide an insight into this world. Hence the ´memoir´. It´s written in the first person. The style is unusual: like “Bukowski on acid” according to one person who read a few chapters (the narrator does a lot of acid), although I hasten to add without the sexism/misogyny of Bukowski and with a lot more subtle irony and humour. Another person (a published poet) who read a few chapters commented that some episodes were “unrealistic”. Yet these were precisely those episodes which were the unembellished truth. Although irreverent and ironic, the book includes a number of indirect reflections on a variety of serious issues: child abuse (obviously – and two of the characters have since been convicted and still retain their real names in the book), racism, rape, incest, the disempowerment of juvenile ´offenders´, suicide, drug use and abuse and much more. Although now in my 50s, I remain a ´global traveller´, forever outside ´the system´. To date, I have never made any attempt to publish: I have absolutely no idea about publishing and don´t even want to be ´a writer´. But at the same time I feel that this book might have meaning for – might touch – some people. . What would you advise?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Paul,
      First, congratulations for surviving all that–extraordinary. In terms of the book, I do recommend hiring an excellent developmental editor to help you. I can recommend someone if you like. There are also some excellent books on writing. I imagine you have ready many of them–Sol Stein’s books would be helpful, as would Noah Lukeman’s, for general writing and revision. For structure, if you want something methodical, Stuart Horwitz’ Blueprint Your Bestseller.

  57. Paul says

    Hi Lisa, Many thanks for your time and thought. A recommendation of a developmental editor would be wonderful, although at this point in time I don’t have a dollar or dirham to pay her/him. Despite graduating from the state system as semi-literate, I have since studied a bit, and the bits of paper I never use include an Applied Linguistics and an M.A. in Literature. (My wife told me to add this bit: she thinks I undersell myself. It´s not true: I´m still struggling with the concept of selling oneself and how it has become so far extended beyond the world´s oldest profession.) Nonetheless I have never studied anything on writing so I will have a look at your recommendations. re. your congratulations, it made me realise another unusual aspect of my novel: the narrator both laughs at his suffering and ridicules the society which allows it to take place. It is a meeting place of the absurd, the real and the comic.
    Thanks again, Paul

    • Lisa Tener says

      Paul, it does sound fascinating. I’d focus on using the books I recommended, then, and if you decide later to hire a developmental editor I can introduce you. One other option is to figure out a budget for editing: first developmental and then line by line editing–even an experienced writer can benefit from that. Then, try crowdfunding (indigogo or kickstarter) to raise funds. It will be up to you to spread the word for crowd funding–through e-mailing people you know, using social media, etc. Good luck.

  58. Paul says

    Hi again Lisa, Thank you very much for your support, empathy and practical help. People like you make the world a much more pleasant place. I will follow all your suggestions and be in touch anon. I’ve been sitting on this thing for years so a few more months will not hurt. The important thing is that you’ve encouraged me to do something. Maybe something will come of it, maybe not. We will see. Keep up the good work and please excuse the cliche, Paul

  59. John Damico says

    Hi Lisa

    Hi Lisa,

    Out of a sense of necessity, I have written about my years as an abused child. I say necessity, because nearly two decades later it is still going on. Recently on Yahoo! News, there is the account of a seven-year-old boy in Pennsylvania who was kept locked in a room, starved nearly to death, and left looking like a human skeleton. That is why I tell my story, for similar abuse happened to me. We must raise awareness of this problem in order to work toward eliminating it altogether.

    My book is my first step in long range plans I have to get this message out. Once the book is published, I will be making speaking engagements with proceeds from book sales going to non-government agencies working to rehabilitate the formerly abused, to remove children from dangerous situations, and to educate the public on the need for vigilance in spotting abused children. The walls of the house where I grew up spoke volumes about what was going on inside, but nobody listened. I don’t want that to happen to another child if I can possibly do something about it.
    It is, admittedly, an ugly subject, but its disgusting aspect is precisely why it needs to be made public. It is also a story of survival under such extreme conditions from the eyes and ears of a child. An undeniable memoir of the power of the human spirit, and the ability to overcome and prevail; even when the odds are completely against you.

    I’ve just finished the book and I’m really struggling to gain the attention of a literary agent. Any advice you can offer would be much appreciated.

    BTW- my query letter is pretty much exactly what I wrote above I just omitted a few things for the purpose of posting this comment.


    • Lisa Tener says

      Dear John,
      It’s a brave thing you are doing. It is a challenging time to sell a memoir. The keys to interesting an agent and publisher will be 1) Is the writing excellent and is it well-edited? 2) Is enough of the story uplifting or transcendent despite the terrible abuse? 3) Do you have a following or platform (a way you are already reaching potential readers) and how big is that current reach? If not, is there anything in your history that demonstrates you will promote the book (you’ve been on national television for another issue for example) 4) Is the story fresh? Is there a unique or unusual hook?
      If your sense is that these are not present, you might consider self-publishing. You can use the self-published book to help book speaking engagements and garner pr as you go. I would advise, though, hiring an excellent editor for the book no matter what. Good luck.

      • John Damico says

        Hi Lisa,

        I believe I meet most of those objectives. The hook is that this is not just another misery story. The book was intended to give a general audience a sense of hope regardless of the situation. Secondly, the memoir was written as plea to change laws and build awareness of a child abuse across our country. For example, in the State of Florida, the statutes of limitation are 5 years on all child abuse except sexual abuse. I was sexually abused as well but again they did not want to go through the burden of proof to prosecute at this time. Even when the perpetrators (my father and stepmother) admitted to abuse (locking a child in a room for months… even years) the state prosecutor could not try the case due to the laws and the time that has past which was only 15 years ago. It happens more often than most people think and I urge readers to be more mindful of what is going on around them and to report things that they see. This urgent plea goes out to all parents, neighbors, teachers, home service companies etc. Finally, the latter part of the book was written to give a “toolbox” of my unique survival skills that enabled me to get through a truly horrific ordeal but still be able to live a somewhat normal life. The idea is for child abuse victims to be able to pick up this book and when finished reading it, they can walk away with a sense of inspiration and purpose.
        As far as excellent writing, I actually hired a ghost writer since my forte is numbers vs. words. I need to find a good proofreader/editor. Any suggestions could be greatly appreciated.
        I think where I could be lacking is building a platform. Although, I’ve already forged relationships with a non-profit organization in Abileen Texas; I still have not had a chance to build a substantial platform.
        I was thinking about writing to the producers of some daytime talk show hosts in hopes that might be a good opportunity to get my story out.
        With all this being said, do you feel like this book could become attractive to a literary agent someday?


          • John Damico says

            Hi Lisa,

            Thanks for your response. I did send you an email via your contact page.

            Hope to hear back from you.


  60. Bully and Ego says


    The story is on bullying… I have been going back and forth between whether to categorize it as memoir or non-fiction… it is about a “remarkable” eleven-year-old who ended bullying in a school… (there was not a trace of it) But don’t get excited. He may have started a nation-wide movement against bullying but he did so by controlling the bullies. He was frequently called the “miracle child,” and he once referred to a kid the bullies put in the ER as a “building block” towards everyone accepting his vision of building a better school. Deceitful and manipulative, an administrator once called him a “brilliant young man.”

    The manuscript has been sent to an editor, cleaned up, and many agents have already suggested I focus my reader audience to adults only… given the intense nature of this story… this eleven-year-old waved and received the love and adoration of ten thousand volunteers at a parade rally once… he once referred to a suicide as the egg that had to break for his vision to live and breathe.

    – Bully and Ego

    • Lisa Tener says

      Wow, it sounds like an extraordinary story. I assume, then, that the author is part of the story–for it to be considered memoir.

  61. Yvette says

    Hi Lisa,

    Firstly, I’m so glad this thread is still running! Secondly, I went through most of the comments to get an idea as to how to start wrt writing my memoir. It’s something I’m excited to do and something inside me is pushing me to do it. Question is, will traditional publishers find the hook interesting and do I have enough of a following for them to stay interested? I run two blogs, one for normal me and one for bipolar me. The latter blog is anonymous. I haven’t been active so much on that blog as I have found to be quite painfull to write about certain experiences. I’m bipolar type 1 and I have lost so much due to this illness, money, relationships, friends, pride. There’s so much to write about, but I’d like to add context- the memoir will decribe my upbringing in South Africa and show how the bipolar(and not seeking treatment) was fueled by socio economic conditions, and cultural influences. I think many would relate to that. My normal me blog is a lot more succesful and I too was very succesful until I crashed very heavily in 2012. Since then I got married and had 2 more children. I was in the corporate world where I crashed again, too often suffering extreme physical manifestations of my anxiety.
    I’ve been a recovery road for the last 2 months, and I finally feel ready to write, to forgive myself for the past.
    I think the story will help others let go of shame for many things too.
    I’ve been told I write well, but I’m not sure how to improve my write to ensure this story would ensure the agents are interested (in South Africa or elsewhere).
    Any bits of advice would be appreciated, Lisa.


    • Lisa Tener says

      Yvette, than you for sharing so openly in your comment. It’s hard to say whether publishers will be interested or not. Memoir is certainly a competitive category. However, bipolar disorder is a big problem and it seems to me I have not seen a memoir that addresses this. So, if the writing is compelling, I think you may have something that appeals. Yes, growing your platform will help with agents and publishers. And it’s possible when the book comes out perhaps you will be ready to share with your normal me blog audience too? You dont have to decide now but if that has more of a following, it’s an option.
      The most important things you can do are:
      1. Write well (include specific, quirky details that make the book come alive for your readers)
      2. Balance the negative (This is a painful story, but needs to be balanced so that it’s not just a downer. Humor can help tremendously if you have a knack for it. Think of other ways, too, to make sure it’s not just a downer).
      3. Edit, edit, edit (or polish, polish, polish): I recommend editing yourself and also hiring an excellent editor. Let me know if you would like me to refer you to one of my colleagues. As part of my business I offer a referral service and I have some excellent editors to choose from.
      Good luck!

      • Yvette says

        Thanks Lisa for the prompt response.
        I make use of vivid imagery and lots of humour in all my writing (I’m a poet) so I am sure I could balance it all out.
        Would an editor help decide which parts of the book would add to a central theme? I’m afraid of adding too many great events that could curtail impact. Then again those events are part of who I am today.

        I would love to see what their costs are? Then I’ll know what to budget for!

        One day I could blog that is

        That would be a huge moment!

  62. Mandy Smith says

    My memoir, Secrets in Big Sky Country is scheduled for release in Sept 2015 by She Writes Press. I already have great blurbs for the book, and I’m at the stage now where I must find a publicist. I’m not having much luck. My memoir is about my journey through childhood sexual abuse, the dark path that lead me to, and coming out the other side 50 years later. I’m finding that publicists aren’t interested in the topic. Since there are an awful lot of dark memoirs out there about abuse, how do I find one that will get behind my book?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Mandy, Congratulations on your book’s publication. It’s not a terribly easy topic to get publicity for, so some publicists may not feel they can get you the media attention your are looking for. Are there any threads to the story that may appeal to the media? That may help you.

  63. Bianca and Rob says


    We’re a married couple and we decided a few years ago to explore ways to “spice things up” in our sex lives. Following a series of “search snafus” and naive communication blunders, we stumbled upon an ad posted by a couple whom we were shocked to discover were actually paid escorts. We naturally refused their “services,” but became intrigued by their claim that there was a “huge market” for such taboo offerings. The ironic result is that we have gone on to become among the top rated escorts in the world and by FAR the top escort “duo” (check out our website and “Our Story” page for hilarious and sexy details). And so here we are now having built an amazing “brand” of sorts and definitively ruling our “niche,” and recently gaining the interest of various mediums and aren’t sure how to proceed.

    The amazing thing about our life experiences is that we’re not just telling a typical “escort tell-all” story. Although we do talk in explicit detail about the entire erotic spectrum of fantasies we’ve fulfilled throughout the years, what distinguishes our story from other “escort memoirs” is that we are also telling about the evolution of our own love story by escorting as a couple with all its ups and downs, as well as how we’ve been able to shape the love stories of other couples (even SAVING some marriages) by helping men (we don’t see women) address their struggles with fantasies that are so taboo in nature that they’d never reveal them to anyone other than us. And so it seems that our real life experiences in the realm of taboo sex are VERY marketable and relevant to current societal events and debates. In essence, we KNOW that a book, movie, and/or TV show about our life will inspire a much needed dialogue about the topic of male sexuality.

    We have been interviewed by online magazines,, and We have also been interviewed by international publications, including Maxim and Marie Claire and have been contacted by various production companies hoping to snatch up the rights to our life story. We are currently writing a memoir about our WILD erotic journey – tentative title: “Taboo Couple: How a married couple searching for ways to spice things up in their bedroom went on to become the top rated escorts in the world.”

    Our concerns are: Where do we go from here? We aren’t sure if we should continue writing the memoir ourselves and self-publish, or whether we should seek professional writing assistance (despite the fact that in addition to being gifted fantasy fulfillers/sex coaches, we think we’re actually gifted writers as well – snippets are posted on our website: And we have similar concerns when it comes to seeking professional representation. Should we pitch the show to production companies ourselves or do we seek help? We’re struggling to navigate through the sea of entertainment lawyers, agents, production companies, etc.

    Please advise! And thanks…

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Bianca and Rob,
      Congratulations on your success. It sounds like a very marketable and controversial book–and controversy sells. It also sounds like you have a perspective that adds depth to the story.
      When someone wants to write their own book, I tend to encourage them to do just that. Even a good ghostwriter may or may not capture your voice. And writing a book is an amazing growth experience. Plus if you learn to fish…you know the story.
      A strong editor should be able to bring out the best in your writing and make it shine.
      Why don’t you try writing your book on your own since that’s your inclination anyway. And see how it goes. Let me know if you need a referral for a strong editor. Regina Brooks book You Should Really Write a Book is also a great place to start.
      If you want to traditionally publish, you will need a book proposal. THere are pros and cons of each publishing path, but it really depends on your goals. In terms of pitching the show, I don’t know. That’s not my expertise. I will ask an agent friend if they can weigh in on that aspect.

      • Bianca and Rob says


        Thank you VERY much for the encouragement to continue writing our own story so as not to lose our voice(s) along the way. Speaking of which, one unexpected dilemma we are facing is WHICH one of our voices should tell our story? It seems “sexier” to tell about our erotic experiences from the female voice, but the male perspective of what we’ve learned about our sexual natures and how our relationship has evolved is also VERY relevant…

        And, oh, WOW! We’d LOVE to hear how an agent thinks we should proceed – THANK YOU!!!!!

        • Lisa Tener says

          Perhaps you can either alternate or have Bianca as main voice and then have a sidebar in each chapter with Rob’s voice (or vice versa).

  64. Shari says

    After nearly 30 reasonably happy years my marriage unexpectedly ended and I became one of the growing number of Grey Divorcees. “Welcome to Take Beijing Taxi – A post divorce life in post Maoist China” is the story of my year teaching pre-school in Beijing while learning to live life on my own, far from friends and my two grown children. It is upbeat, funny, heartbreaking and ultimately inspirational.

    Most divorce memoirs are about younger women (rarely men) who are struggling to raise children (Sleeping Alone in a King Size Bed) or to define themselves in their 30s (Eat, Pray, Love and Wild). My story is that of a fifty year old woman who is forced to redefine herself when well established patterns no longer are relevant. I was newly single, newly empty-nested, newly fatherless. The manuscript has undergone three rewrites and is probably as good as I can make it on my own.

    Now that I’ve conquered ex-pat life in China, I’m setting the publishing world in my sights. My biggest obstacle (so far) is how to build a platform. All I have to “sell” is my book. One thought I had is to attempt to build some buzz about my book with a Kickstarter campaign to fund a booktrailer to post on YouTube etc. How else can I build a platform?

  65. Jennifer says

    Hi lisa.
    Reading through your website and other peoples questions and ideas has been extremely helpful.
    I am very new to this, however, and I’m unsure of the process/protocol in finding a publisher, editor or literary agent. Is there an order of operations as to who to reach out to first and when?
    My goal is to have my memoir published at some point. I have written a series of stories detailing my almost unbelievable experiences with an alcoholic ex husband. I believe I have been able to combine two distinct topics of interest by including my bar tending experience and linking each crazy story to an corresponding drink with recipe. I think that the irony added to the fact that there are likely many women who have had similar experiences, makes the stories relatable. Everyone needs a good laugh-especially when they’re in a tough spot.
    I just am uncertain as to my direction because it’s definitely not self help but it could help someone like me.
    Any input you are able to provide would be so appreciated.
    Have a good day!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Jennifer, write your memoir first. Once an agent and/or publisher is interested, they will want to see the whole manuscript (this is different from a self-help or how-to book where you only need part of the manuscript). You want the whole book to be highly polished and ready to send when you send out your query letter. You also want the proposal to be polished and ready to go. That way, you can strike while interest is high and the book sounds fresh. Six months later, it will likely not feel as fresh to the agent or publisher.
      So, write the book, proposal and query. Send only the query. If they are interested, send the proposal with 50 pages of sample material/chapters. If they are still interested, they will want to see the whole book.
      Start by querying agents. If you don’t get anywhere, you can then try smaller and mid-sized publishers on your own. Most publishers will want to see that you have a platform–that you are already reaching a significant number of potential readers.

      • Jennifer says

        Thank you so much for your response and input. I am learning more and more about this process and becoming even more excited about being a part of it.
        I am working on building my platform by way of publishing stories on a blog I started a few weeks ago. It has definitely helped me to see how many people are affected by similar circumstances, and inspired me to write even more than I was before. I’ve had around 3000 views over three weeks and it continues to grow. What an incredible feeling. The support of the site coupled with the information from your interview on this page inspired me to submit a proposal for my memoir. Rejection or acceptance- it will be another step in my learning process.
        Thank you again for your help it is so appreciated.

  66. Sandra says

    Hi Lisa,
    Can you please give me some advice on how to self publish a short memoir which is about my experience in the army. It provides an insight for people to understand what life is like and what to expect. How long must a memoir be? I am not sure how to proceed. Thanks for your assistance. Sandy

    • Lisa Tener says

      Length is really up to you and what the story calls for. In general, people’s attention spans are shrinking, so short is probably a plus. I recommend Regina Brook’s book You Should Really Write a Book as an excellent starting place. I suggest you also hire a freelance editor to make the book the best it can be. And get clear on how you are going to reach readers before you publish it. That means having a marketing/promotion plan for the book and a business plan for the book so that it brings in money rather than costs.

  67. Andrea cain says

    Hi lisa. I’ve finally started writing my book, i’ve had the title for about ten years but didn’t get any further. I’m calling it memoirs of a teenage junkie. It’s about my life, in the mid to late 90’s. Starting with a 16 year old me; a heroin addicted prostitute. The story picks up from that point so people understand how i and why i became a crack addicted drug dealer for the next few years. The main body of the memoir is the things i did, things i witnessed and the highs and lows during my time in this crazy environment of a crack house. My question is, although i got caught with drugs, it was never enough to get charged with more than posession. Could admitting i sold the drugs get me arrested now all these years later, after i’m rehabilitated? I can find lots of info to help avoid defamation etc. but nothing that answers my question. I thank you for your response in advance.

  68. Andrea cain says

    Ok thanks lisa. If i was to add a disclaimer saying some of the incidents are fatction, due to my memory being blurred, perhaps that might cover me, in the event of repercussions. Thanks for looking into it for me, and thanks for this thread; I have enjoyed reading everyones questions and experiences.

    • Lisa Tener says

      Andrea, When you are ready to publish, you may want to consult a lawyer as that would really be the best way to protect yourself. I am no lawyer but it doesn’t sound to me like the disclaimer would do much–it’s really about the law and I recommend that writers of memoir do familiarize themselves with any part of the law that would relate to their book.

  69. Robin L.A. Shaw says

    Hello, I have recently self published my memoir in ebook format. It is called ‘That Girl’. It is about my 6 year old sister being murdered by my 16 year old neighbor, the way people treated me after her death, how it all led me to drug use, crime and other bad choices. I am not trying to sell it but would like it to get seen by people that are struggling with the same problems or something similar. My question is about what genre it is best suited, for it to get read. I have it under addiction and health at the moment. I have been trying to share it with addiction help websites and other places like that without much luck. I have it as a free ebook on and have only one download. The story is posted on my opinion blog also and has a few hundred views. Should I perhaps make a blog dedicated to my story? Or should I try to promote it as a life after murder type of story. Dealing with grief? Sorry if this all seems a bit scatterbrained. I am very new at this.
    Thank you for any help.
    Robin L.A. Shaw

    • Lisa Tener says

      Robin, Thank you for your questions. I am so sorry for my delay in replying. I see that I responded and said I’d get back to you and then forgot. So, here is my delayed answer. If it were me, I would ask someone who specializes in amazon bestseller campaigns. Perhaps you can re-launch it and an expert can help you figure out the best categories and keywords. There are people who specialize in that. You can email me if you want some names. Best of luck.

  70. Cynthia House says

    I’ve seen bloggers call suicide “romantic,” and others suggest it offers”freedom.” I’ve never heard of anyone that understands its reality that is the very opposite of what they think. I am writing a memoir about my father’s suicide 16 years ago, followed by his mother’s death (my grandmother) several days later (she found him). They were buried 10 days apart. There was nothing romantic or liberating about it, at least not in the face I saw. As he laid in his coffin, his face looked like a man who just died in a violent war. His suicide completely destroyed my family. Unable to handle our own grief, we ripped each other apart instead. THe only one who “won” were the attorneys who took every dime he had. He was 59, charismatic, charming, ran a successful business but decided his life no longer mattered. Every life matters and is intertwined with so many others. I want people to understand the importance of their lives, and the reality of what follows suicide. My father was a sometimes cruel alcoholic yet the hole left by his death destroyed that side of my family permanently. I have not spoken to one of my sisters in over 16 years, and rarely to anyone else from that side. This was a family I once loved and were the only one I had with whom I could relate. Do you believe my story is important to tell and/or if there is a niche for this type of memoir?

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Cynthia,
      It sounds like a compelling story. Any memoir about tragedy, loss and pain, needs to provide some transcendence and uplifting moments–whether through humor, trascendence, catharsis, insight, moments of joy or connection, etc. So, you’ll want to ask yourself if you can incorporate that. If so, yes, there is a niche for this type of memoir. It is a highly competitive market, so you’re probably most likely going to need to self-publish unless your dad (or someone in your family) was a celebrity or you have a huge social media presence or online following. And, the writing will need to be excellent. I would ask yourself your goals. Is the number one goal self-healing, understanding, healing for your family? Is it to help others? Is it to also do some public speaking or other work in this arena? How do you plan to reach prospective book buyers? All these questions (and the answers) may help you decide whether or not to write and publish it. I wish you all the best.
      – Lisa

  71. Anita Saran says

    Hello Lisa
    I have almost completed my spiritual memoir about my transformation from the ‘Wild Child’ of Bangalore to a Buddhist who took the Bodhisattva vows from His Holiness The Dalai Lama in December 2014. I have had my share of tragedy – a violent mother I last saw at age 15, the untimely death of my father, the suicide of my sister and two marriages with abusive men. I’ve been a fashion model, a successful copywriter with a multinational ad agency. My memoir has touched 90,000 words now. It keeps growing because I have written a journal since I was 15. I have been getting excellent feedback from the Internet Writing Workshop run by the University of Pennsylvania. I am already a published (and award winning) author. Should I self publish or find a traditional publisher? Thank you!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Anita,
      Your story sounds both inspiring and colorful.
      The publishing question is not always straightforward and something that should be thought through:
      – How important is it to you to have control over title, cover, final wording? (If important, self-publish.)
      – How quickly do you wan to publish your book? (If less than 1.5 or 2 years, you may want to self-publish; often it takes even longer to traditionally publish.)
      – Are you willing to gather the team, figure out fulfillment, etc. or do you want an experienced team that handles all that? (Both models can work here, but you need to vet the self-publishing companies and what they each bring to the table.)
      – Do you want the cache of a traditional publisher? It can sometimes open doors.
      – Are you looking to publish in the US or India or both? If looking for a US publisher, do you have a big enough following in the US to interest a US publisher? If not, are you willing to do the work of growing that following (platform)?
      These are some of the questions to sit with and consider.

  72. Melissa brown says


    …I felt someone grab my hand and I looked up startled. He told me the moment I’ve waited so long for was finally here. He told me I was never alone but I could not hear him over the voice of my addict. He told me the screams all these years were not only me but him telling me to let him in. He assured me that I was not dead but alive for the first time in a very long time! All I had to do was step over my addict and walk thru that bathroom door. He told me they were all waiting for me out there. They knew I was trapped all these years and they’ve been waiting for me. I looked down at my addict and I reached for her hand. I held it as I kissed her forehead like she did mine many times before. As I stood up I slowly let her hand go and reached for the door. I couldn’t look back because I knew what was waiting ahead. I opened the door that day and I knew that my addict was dead and I was alive for the first time!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Hi Melissa,
      You clearly have a powerful story to tell. I encourage you to continue to work on it. Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir might be a very helpful resources, as is the old classic, The Elements of Style.


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