How to get your memoir published

After you have toiled and tinkered and revised for ages, and you feel you finally have a strong manuscript, you begin to wonder how on earth to get your book into print.

I always tell people, if you think your memoir has commercial potential (the rule of thumb I’ve heard lately is: it will sell 20,00 copies right off the bat), a good plan might be to give yourself six months, or three, or a year (depending on your stamina) to try to get it published via the agent and New York publishing house route. Also, if you happen to have excellent contacts in New York, or can muster some, this can be a good choice. It goes (almost) without saying that that is a tough world, and even really exquisite, top-drawer literary manuscripts fail to find a New York publisher. It also goes without saying that unless you have had a very unusual life—you were raised by wolves or by head-hunters (having murder, incest, or substance abuse in your family is now probably passé)–or are as brilliant as Einstein or Brad Pitt’s dresser, it may be a hard road.   I don’t know who said that trying to find a publisher is as hard as, or even harder than, finding a mate—but this wasn’t an overstatement. But everyone ought to have a go. There are all the obvious potential advantages if this happens to work for you—a six figure advance, wide distribution of your printed book, a review in the New York Times, TV appearances, fame and fortune. Mind you, these benefits arrive for the very few even among those who do get a New York publisher.

Okay, now, if after six months, or three, you tire of the rejection letters, don’t feel ashamed and shrink into depression. Remember that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected twelve times before a small British publisher took a chance on it—and then only at the urging of the publisher’s daughter!

The next step is to look for a smaller publishing house. The university presses may be an option for your book, or a specialty publisher—a publisher that prints only sailing books would be a good bet if you were born and grew up on a sailboat, for instance–or one of the independent presses, of which there is an ever-increasing number. Buy yourself a copy of Writer’s Market or go through it at the library, and feret out the publishers that take your sort of book. Send your query or proposal to them.

If the latter doesn’t appeal or yields no fruit, self-publishing has become a very respectable and blissful alternative. As for respectability, in the democratic domain of the internet, quality speaks for itself. Sneerers and snobs beware. On the bliss side, self-publishing is far faster than traditional publishing, and you have more control over the product. You can make your small or weighty volume into just the book you want! Also, since traditional publishers only really market a very few of their titles and leave most to maunder in a quick grave, you must do all the marketing yourself, whether New York- or self-published, so there is no advantage to traditional publishing on that score. In fact, if you are published by a New York house and are not a million dollar author, you may be driven mad by the lack of marketing assistance. You will be assailed and tortured by one of the mysteries of the late 20th and 21st centuries: Why, once publishers have gone to the trouble of printing a book do they do nothing to sell it??? Finer minds than yours and mine have tackled this puzzle…

So, back to self-publishing: do your homework here and find the least expensive option, and the one with the best terms. Admittedly, self-publishing involves work and thought. You’ll probably need a copy editor along the way, and you’ll probably want to think about design, photos, and cover, for instance, but, approached with a spirit of adventure and creativity, this can be great fun.

The upshot is: one way or another, you can and will see your memoir between covers. All that toil through storm-wracked seas will finally toss a jewel on the shore. Pick it up. Hold it in your hands, and, dripping, savor the pleasure.

This piece was published on the wonderful website Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Originally posted on Friday, October 25th, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: