Attracting a Publisher: Advice from a Memoir Author Who Did It

Linda Strader was getting nothing but rejections when she pitched her memoir to agents and publishers. But a couple of rejection letters became her saving grace when she took their advice:

  • “Memoirs need to be universal—they need to resonate with the reader.”
  • “A memoir must read like a novel.”

After a total rewrite based on that information, Strader’s memoir, Summers of Fire, is now on bookstore shelves, thanks to an acceptance from publisher Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company. At editingpen.net, Strader shares tips for making it happen:

  1. Give the publishers what they want. They know what sells. Go to publishers’ websites and read best-selling memoirs by people who are not famous.
  2. Make your memoir a story. It’s not an essay. You need a beginning, middle and end. And, of course, show, don’t tell. You’ve heard this before, but Strader provides the contrast. Telling, she writes, sounds like: “I walked into the hospital to see my sick mother. She lay in bed, unable to speak. I never did like hospitals, so it was hard for me to be there.” But showing lights up all the senses: “The minute I walked into the hospital, the smell of disinfectant about knocked me over. That odor always made me remember the day my dad died, and now it looked like my mom would follow. When I entered her room, I detected the odor of urine and medicine. Her face was gray, her eyelids closed, but her hair had been carefully combed into her favorite style. A heart monitor bleeped steadily; the oxygen tank whooshed. My mom was leaving me and there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it—and I was angry.”
  3. Specify what was at stake, the choices you made and how they changed you. Everyone makes decisions, and facing those forks in the road are what can make readers relate to your experiences.
  4. Be yourself. Write from your heart, reveal your true self, show your vulnerability, expose your fears.

If you do all of that, Strader concludes, “readers will relate.” And when readers can relate to your book, publishers will want to get your book out there.