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“Should I Give Up?”: What Publishers Look for in A Memoir and What You Need to Know About Publishing a Memoir

I received an e-mail from an aspiring author who  found my website recently. She had shopped around her memoir and it did not generate interest from publishers. Now she says she’s about to give up. In her words, she doesn’t want to publish an ebook.

My sense was she did not necessarily have a solid understanding of what publishers look for in a memoir. She may have assumed that if her book was well written and would help people that would be enough. It’ s not. Publishing is a business and publishers need to make money.

They want to be sure there is a market for the book. That the book is worthwhile, certainly. And, yes, the quality of the writing is very important. Also, publishers and agents want to know that they are not taking a risk by taking on your book. Many authors mistakenly think that a publisher will promote your book if you just write a good book. If you read my blog regularly, you already know that it’s almost always the author’s job to promote the book and reach potential readers.

you really should write a bookHere’s a great blog post, an interview with Literary Agent Regina Brooks that explains what publishers look for in a memoir.

Regarding the author who asked whether she should give up: I did wonder why this author saw her choice as: Get a book deal with a traditional publisher or give up. How about self-publishing? Self-publishing has become a much more viable option for authors and it gives you an opportunity to prove yourself to traditional publishers–either for the next book or even this first book–IF you are able to sell it successfully to a big enough audience–15,000 book buyers is often the magic number you’ll hear.

Plus, self publishing is often a successful endeavor in its own right:

– You can have your book more quickly–making a difference in your work and your life and helping readers sooner.

– You maintain control over title, cover, editing, decisions–you name it.

– You can change it and reprint if you decide you made a mistake or want to update it.

– You actually make more money per book.

3,000 Pulses Later_FINAL COVER FRONT_RepriintThis interview with Martha Rhodes, author of 3,000 Pulses Later, explores many of the advantages Martha reaped in self-publishing her book.

kimber full biggerAnd just a couple of months after Kimber Simpkins self-published her memoir, Full, New Harbinger offered her a book deal, demonstrating that self-publishing can lead to a traditional book deal down the road–or even almost right away! Click Here to Tweet.

Regarding the writer’s concern about ebooks, there’s no reason to choose between ebooks and print books. The two can support each other. With print on demand (POD) printing options, you do not have to spend oodles of money in printing either. While you may spend some money on design and a few other fixed costs, POD printing technology offers the opportunity to only print–and pay for– books as they are purchased.

Now, if you do want to traditionally publish and do need to work on your author platform, you may also want to read about Author Platform on a Shoestring and Blogging to Grow Your Author Platform. And here’s how Dr. Victoria Dunckley took a small step that dramatically expanded her author platform.

Any questions? Feel free to comment below.

Note: This writer cares about typos. If you find one, click here to be part of the EditMob – it’s anonymous.

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.

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