When to query a memoir

Dear Miss Snark;

I have written my fabulous memoir about my journey through sex, drugs, rock and roll and Cancer. I am still in the process of “polishing” the practically completed manuscript.

The research I’ve done has not provided a clear answer to this question: When is the proper time to start sending queries to agents for a memoir? It this like a novel in that it should be absolutely complete with all spelling and grammar checked and rechecked? Or because it is non-fiction, can it be submitted as a proposal and partially finished?

Of course, my query letter will be brilliant based on all of the things I’ve learned from you, but I want to make sure to have everything else ready when my dream agent contacts me.

Memoir needs to be finished before you query. And more than spelling and grammar, you'll need to let it sit untouched and unread for at least a month, and then look at it one more time before you start querying.

You get one shot on this. Don't fuck it up by querying before your ms is ready.


Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Thank you for your reply. I will do as you suggest and make sure it is absolutely ready.

It's being professionally edited now by an MFA/published author I found using your suggested techniques. I'm also planning on having the "final" draft read by 7 people (2 of whom are published authors) who know me from a lot to a little to see if it really is ready to submit.

Since this represents my life, and I already fucked it up royally once, I want to do everything possible to get it right this time.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have heard that unless you have an amazing voice, or you have an amazing hook, or you have an amazing platform, no one want to read your memoir.
What are the odds of an ordinary person publishing a memoir?

Heidi the Hick said...

I just want to add that I totally believe in Miss Snark's advice to leave the manuscript alone for a month. I will be allowing myself to look at my latest piece of crap/ brilliance in 11 days. I can hardly wait to rediscover it!

(My 2 cents worth about memoirs, for what it's worth: I love reading about people's lives. I love stories. Write it well and I'll want to read it. Sometimes life is better than fiction, but don't tell anybody I said that...!)

Anonymous said...

*like another commenter, something twitchy may have happened with my comment post -- apologies if this is a dupe*

Anon 2,

I think you've answered your own question, really (which, as I'm working on memoir right now, has particular pertinence for me): if you have an amazing voice, people will hear it, eventually. If an "ordinary person" has an amazing voice, then they're not really an ordinary person, right?

And I don't want to read a memoir written in an ordinary voice, even if that person has a great platform or a great hook. (For instance: I'm trying my damnedest to slog my way through MARLEY & ME, as both a dog lover and someone whose memoir also happens to be about her dog -- albeit from a very different angle from John Grogan's -- and I'm having a tough time. I'm a sucker for the dog stories, but the writing is pretty blah, and cute isn't enough to get me through an entire book.)

Anonymous said...

Useful advice...good comments.

Another question: in addition to the completed manuscript, must a memoirist also prepare a full-blown book proposal, as other nonfiction writers do?

Anonymous said...

yeah, i don't think cancer (even spelled with a big, melodramatic C, as we see here) is enough to make anybody care about a memoir. this aspirant writes sloppily, in cliches,and has shown she knows how to do one thing well, and that's spend money. if only she knew how few people who graduated with MFAs (anonahole included) could actually write, she probably would have snapped her checkbook closed in horror.

Anonymous said...

another memoir writer: From my research so far, it seems like memoir writers have to do the same queries and synopses as fiction writers.

I'm still in the editing stages of my memoir, but I expect it will take a long time before it's polished enough to query. I'm thinking at least another year. Yikes. In the meantime, I have an idea for another project, still a first-person non-fiction narrative with a memoir element, but much racier. I might have to turn to that for a break at some point. :)

Robert Hudson said...

I think the exception to this may be the memoirist whose book deals with a particular topic. In my case, my memoir sold on proposal, but I was writing specifically about raising a daughter with special needs.

So possibly that's the exception. Or perhaps I just got lucky. Maybe I don't want to know which.

Mark said...

I wrote two of them and in those days I tossed them over to a vanity press before the fees took hold. It was a bad experiment. There are things I would change, but the stories are what they are: travel science stories; works of journalism, not personal tales of woe. Still, I can't sell the expanded version of the first one. I find agents aren't willing to accept the views of someone without a Ph.D and a bigger platform than a technician. That's often the way with nonfiction.

Anonymous said...

"Don't fuck it up by querying before your ms is ready."

Amen, Sister. Amen.

If I could only get a mulligan on that bit of personal stupidity...

Anonymous said...

Well Anonahole-- I have written a short period memoir on a very rare ovarian cancer - but written with humor and hope. Many in this town have previewed chapters and can't believe all we go through to survive to do what? Write a book with a good hook? No, to let others know as with everything, it's not over till you say it's over. Several agents have requested partials.. seems hospital libraries, people who know other people.. women who know anyone.. there's a market for this. It's humorous, quick read, entertaining on a area that terrifies us all the most.. the announcement you will soon be bald, heavier, drugged, unemployed, hail damaged and yet, you learn to find humor in areas others would never talk about and when someone asks you how you are, you can clear a room in under 3 minutes. Life is a terminal disease and you might as well find some humor in it and die laughing. Or you could just die anyway. I choose Door #1. Watch out world, I'm getting back on!