Memoirs are just getting more and more popular in what I call this “Age of the Business Celebrity.” It’s this time that allows those of us who have achieved a level of success in our chosen field of practice to accelerate our success on an ongoing basis through the creation of a book.
So if you want to get your memoir picked up by an agent and then hopefully a publisher, here’s where you need to start: the memoir book proposal.
Memoirs are classified as nonfiction work, which means approaching a literary agent or publisher requires a writer to take the nonfiction approach. Instead of a query letter, you will be asked to create a business plan for your memoir that can convince a literary agent or publisher that an investment into your story makes sense.
The benefit is that you don’t actually need to complete the memoir before writing your proposal. You can be contracted and paid to finish your memoir, which is something that doesn’t generally happen for fictional stories. The disadvantage is that a memoir book proposal may be up to 25 pages in length just to cover the business proposals and market research that you’ll need to present.
And if you’ve already finished your memoir, you’re still going to need to write a full proposal to accompany your submission in almost every instance. There are a few literary agents who may not require a memoir book proposal to read your manuscript, but the majority will require this submission.
What About a Query Letter?
Fictional works often require an author to submit a query letter, perhaps a cover letter, an outline of the story, a full synopsis, and a manuscript as part of the submission process. This is unnecessary for a memoir. You need to follow the nonfiction book proposal rules, so submitting any of the above may cause your proposal to be automatically rejected.
Ask Yourself This: Why Did You Write a Memoir?
Nonfiction writing is unique because the actual business of the book tends to be more important than the actual writing of it. You’re selling the memoir based on a specific reason. Think about why you wrote your memoir in the first place. Did you want to help others with your expertise? Does your concept have the potential to change the world – or at least your chosen professional industry? Maybe you have a platform that you wish to promote to a specific audience demographic?
The answers to those questions are going to become the foundation of your memoir book proposal. You must use this proposal to establish your credibility and expertise. You must be able to show that your targeted audience will see that the information you’ve shared will be valuable in some way. In a sense, you’re proving to literary agents and publishers that readers are going to trust your credentials as a writer.
After all – would you trust a memoir about how to make a marriage work from someone who has never been married?
The Issue of the Memoir: Inconsistent Expectations
It doesn’t take long to discover that the submission guidelines for a memoir will vary greatly. Some agents may only want a few chapters of your memoir and an abbreviated book proposal. Others might prefer that you follow the fiction submission guidelines minus a query letter. If you’re an unpublished writer, you might be asked for a full manuscript and a full book proposal before your work will ever be considered.
So how do you write a memoir book proposal? Answer these three questions and you’ll cover the basics.
- How do you plan to market the book? Outline the specifics of a blog that you’re writing on this topic. Discuss any guest blogging experiences. Talk about radio or TV interviews you’ve completed or have scheduled. Talk about your professional contacts and how you can use them to discuss your memoir.
- What is your exact target market? You need to include real facts with your memoir book proposal. If 40% of stay-at-home parents purchase books on parenting and there are 4,000 known households with one parent at home in your community, then that’s real data that can be used.
- Is there interest in your market? If you have seen reviews, critiques, or articles about a need for more information that your memoir specifically includes, then mention this. Include the content for reference as well.
What gets most memoir writers into trouble is that they haven’t considered marketing whatsoever, so they become tentative when writing a proposal. You must be firm and confident. Talk about what you will do with your current resources to promote your work. Don’t discuss what you “hope” to do or what you “will” do if published.
Talk about what you are doing and will continue to do, whether or not your memoir is selected. When you can cover these sections and answer these questions, then you’ll be able to develop a proposal based on the requirements of your chosen publisher or agent that will make the key points you need to make.
Then the decision to publish is in their court. You’ll just need to wait for an answer.