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What types of memoirs do traditional publishers look to publish?

memoirsOne of the many changes that has come about because of self publishing is an increase in the number of memoirs that are written and published every year. The motivation for writing varies. Some want to capture their own story to leave as a personal legacy. Some want to share their experiences because they think it will help others. Still others have it on their bucket list and want to make sure it gets crossed off. Regardless of the reason why they are written, memoir is one the most significant categories of books that are self published as compared with traditional publishing.

Yet, there are many memoir authors that still aspire to be picked up by traditional publishing house. An admirable goal, but a difficult one because many memoirs are not as commercially viable as say a YA fiction book. However, that does not mean traditional publishers will never acquire a memoir. The criterion for what they look for is very clear. I say that because I asked a number of agents and editors what they look for in a memoir before they would consider it. Here’s what they said.

….memoir is one the most significant categories of books that are self-published.

Celebrity Appeal: This one is kind of obvious, but it needs to be on the list. If a person is noteworthy in some way, it may garner some interest from a traditional publisher, but this is not something you can control. Being famous or well-known isn’t usually a planned activity.

Teaching Material: Some life stories can instruct or inspire others so another way to get the attention of a traditional publisher is make your memoir something we can all learn from.

A Compelling Tale: Some people have simply lived a life that reads like a good fiction novel or seems almost like a movie. It has the typical elements of a good story. A good example of this type of memoir is the Pursuit of Happiness

One other helpful piece of advice: One of the panels I sat on included a very seasoned agent who had also worked as an editor for a traditional publisher. She suggested some memoirs can be made more commercially appealing by simply pulling out a section of the story instead of telling everything. Some authors are hesitant to do that because it is their story and they want it told in whole, not part.

Do you have a memoir in process or have you published one already. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

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4 thoughts on “What types of memoirs do traditional publishers look to publish?

  1. Wendy Onizak says:

    Hi, thanks for the information. Knowing what a traditional publisher is looking for is helpful if that is the route someone is hoping to take. Are you referring to Pursuit of Happyness or the book The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy?

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