Selling a Memoir: One Author’s Top 10 Lessons to Share

Simon Michael Prior has written three books about his travels. He self-published them and says they’re selling pretty well. Simon created a video to share what he’s learned with other memoir authors.

Go ahead and watch the video, but I’ve also summarized his points for you along with my own comments:

1. Market Widely

Simon: While some of your friends and family will come up with excuses for not buying your book—“I don’t have a Kindle,” “I don’t have time to read,” “I’ll wait until you’ve written a couple more books”—someone you barely know, maybe just a Facebook friend, might be the one who buys your book and recommends it to friends. So make sure you tell everyone about your book.

Write My Memoirs: I agree with this. Don’t get mad at your friends. It’s not their job to make you a best-selling author. But also don’t be afraid to post your book repeatedly on all of your social media. You never know who might have a large Goodreads following and rave about your book in a review.

2. Continually Market

Simon: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”—you’ll hear that a lot. Believe it! To sell a lot of books that you’ve self-published, you have to keep your sales consistent over a long period of time. It’s better to sell one copy a day for a long time than to sell 100 copies the first day and have the sales come to a stop. That means selling to strangers. Figure out what works for you to continue to sell to strangers, and keep doing it even if that requires you to do some marketing every day.

WMM: I’ve learned this the hard way! My children’s book, The Case of the Disappearing Kisses, sold relatively okay right out of the gate because it was winter holiday time and my friends bought it for the children in their lives. Both the parents and the kids loved the book, but then I stopped marketing and guess what? Crickets. When sales lag, both Google and Amazon will quickly make it harder for people to find your book in a general search. One of these days I have to do what Simon Says: figure out how to sell a really charming kids’ book to strangers and keep doing whatever it takes.

3. Be Prolific

Simon: You have to write more than one book—preferably many books. Each one helps to sell the others.

WMM: This is a tough one for memoir writers. Most of our Write My Memoirs authors have a single memoir in mind. It’s an itch they must scratch, but when the book is done, they’re done. I agree that sales tend to benefit when a writer has multiple titles. It’s obvious that someone who enjoys one of your books will want to purchase another, so with three books you’re tripling the exposure to each one. But I’ll also point out no one cares that Tara Westover has written only Educated. That book is good enough for one lifetime. Every hear of any book by Margaret Mitchell other than Gone With the Wind? I’d say that book did pretty well for itself. Click here for a list of other iconic one-hit wonders like Black Beauty.

4. Price Your Book Appropriately

Simon: A lower price doesn’t mean you’ll sell more. You may be able to sell as many books at a higher price as you can from a lower price, and of course then you’ll be making more money.

WMM: I agree. My children’s book is priced too low for me to make money on it when I sell through Amazon. I make money only when people buy directly from my website, because Amazon requires me to track the delivery, and that costs a lot. I’m also thinking of raising the price on the Write My Memoirs Grammar and Writing Course because, at $39, people may undervalue how good the course is. According to Simon, he sold more e-books when he raised the price by a dollar.

5. Study All Types of Books

Simon: Learn how to write a memoir from authors and books in other genres. Read broadly in fiction and other types of nonfiction.

Me: Yes, definitely do this. You’re writing a nonfiction book that reads like a fictional story. You have to write compelling dialogue and descriptive text that paints a picture in the reader’s mind. You’ll see these devices in fiction.

6. “Write to Market”

Simon: If you want to make a living from writing books, eventually you’ll run out of things to write about if you stick to memoirs. You’ll have to branch out to whatever genres are currently popular.

WMM: This depends on the writer’s reasons for writing the memoir. At Write My Memoirs at least, most authors don’t have their sights set on launching a big writing career. You may want to sell your book for a screenplay and get a windfall from a successful movie, but I don’t think most of you are planning to become working book writers. If you are, then I agree with Simon. Consider learning how to write romance or young adult fiction, which are both hot right now.

7. & 8. Don’t Discount Any Potential Reader, and Learn from All Genres

WMM: Confidential to Simon—these two are just repeating #1 and #5. When you want a Top 10 list but have only eight ideas, you twist two of them a little. I recognize this trick. However, you do give two good tips in #8: look at the titles of best-selling fiction. They’re short and snappy, yet still intriguing enough to make people want to see what the book is about. And fictional books have a story with a beginning, middle and end. The book is not just a series of chapters that can stand alone, which is how some memoir writers structure their chapters. Google to discover different story structures.

9. Don’t Assume You Know Your Reader

Simon: You probably think you know which parts of your book people will like best, which scenes are the most compelling and which chapters are funny. But every reader will experience your book differently, and you’ll be surprised at how wrong you were!

WMM: This is so true. Even the articles I write get reactions I never anticipated. You thought that part was funny? THAT line was your favorite? You just never know how people will react. Think about telling a joke to a group. Some people will not be able to stop laughing, and others will look at you with no expression at all.

10. Let Your Writing Bring You Joy

Simon: Joy is what should happen. If writing this book really is not bringing you some level of joy, stop writing.

WMM: I partly agree with this. It’s cathartic to write a memoir, and I suppose catharsis is a form of joy. Even if parts are painful, once you get going the memories pour out of you and provide a relief you may not anticipate. People with a dark story to tell often find that writing it out is the best—or only—way to move forward. But goals have another side. They don’t always bring us joy in the process of accomplishing them. The joy comes afterward. I write constantly. There are times I don’t enjoy the writing, but I always enjoy having written. A piece of writing that you’re proud of? That for sure brings you joy.

If you want to self-publish, please think of our Write My Memoirs publishing services. We’re here for you :).