If you’re pitching your memoir to literary agents, the million-dollar question is this: how do you catch an agent’s eye?
Impress the agent
For the agent, their first step is figuring out why should they read your manuscript, out of the thousands on their desk.
They want to know, “Does this writer have the chops? Can they actually write?”
If you can affirm that with your beautifully crafted book proposal, then they will be excited to read your manuscript.
What is it?
Think of your book proposal as Cliff Notes for your agent. Make it easy to flick through.
Demonstrate that yours is a topic of interest now.
Demonstrate that you will write it in a way no one else could.
Demonstrate that people want to read what you have to say.
Remember, your proposal is a selling tool. It’s also an opportunity to equip your future agent or editor with the ammunition they need to sell your book. After all, agents have to sell it to editors, and editors have to sell it to their editorial boards, who then have to sell it to the sales and marketing team, who in turn have to convince booksellers. Oh, and booksellers will be telling book buyers all about your fabulous memoir, too.
Help them all pitch your book to the world!
How do you convince agents and editors to love your memoir idea?
Take the time to write your story magnificently.
Submit it through a standout book proposal.
Ensure your story is fresh – there are a lot of well-worked storylines out there.
Ask yourself three questions
“What makes my story different?”
How do I choose which agents to send it to?
Competing/complementary titles—look at the acknowledgments page in your comp titles to find that author’s agent.
Online listings—see Writers Digest “Find a Nonfiction Agent” listings, regularly updated; Query Tracker online database; and Publishers Marketplace (well worth the cost of subscription).
Connections—if a fellow author offers to introduce you to their agent, and their agent handles your kind of book, take it! Personal connections are The Best Thing in the World.
Track your queries—create a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet to keep up to date on submissions and responses.
Carefully read agents’ websites before submitting. Some only accept submissions via online form; others have a central email for submissions; others will say that they’re not currently accepting submissions (even agents have capacity limits).
Multiple submissions—yes or no? Look at the requirements for the agents you’re pitching to see whether they insist on an exclusive submission.
Send your proposal in “rounds” of 4-6 at a time. That gives you a chance to target your preferred agents first, and assess the response.
For memoirs, some agents only require a query email followed by sample chapters or the full manuscript. Even so, I firmly believe it’s good practice to write a book proposal, even if you never send it. The book proposal allows you to act fast and to speak confidently and clearly about your idea. You are always ready when that ideal agent approaches you, or that dream publisher asks you to tell them what your memoir is about.
4 things to remember
A book proposal makes you strong in your convictions about your book and your message, and who you are as a would-be author.
It’s an unbeatable planning tool if you’re aiming to get published commercially.
Writing a book proposal is the most amazing exercise in empathy. You have to think, What is my memoir idea going to sound like to an agent or an editor?
The book proposal becomes a strand of DNA that stays with your book all the way.It will become a hub from which the jacket copy might be written, as well as the advance information and media materials, and booksellers’ catalog copy.
If you want to learn more and get practical guidance, click here to access an on-demand webinar How to Write a Book Proposal for Your Memoir. This is an in-depth conversation between me and memoir expert Joanne Spataro, in which Joanne and I discuss the whys and wherefores, as well as the pitfalls of writing a book proposal for your memoir. You’ll be guided through the entire process with useful pointers, tips, and expert advice.