I have written a collection (55k words) of memoir essays...sort of a memoir of unconnected chapters. I've sold some that have been published in large and small magazines.
I have queried a zillion agents without success and have concluded that unless the author has some celebrity, agents (and the large publishers) are not interested in this sort of thing. Just too uncertain to make enough money to justify the time and effort. I'm okay with that.
I am thinking I might try the small publishers directly. I am not interested in self publishing at all.
May I ask for any advice you might offer.
Unconnected chapters means there's no narrative arc. That means this book is a series of unconnected essays: so, what's it about? If you can't tell me what the book is about in 25 words or less, it's really hard to pitch it. And I don't mean just to me, I mean it's hard for me to pitch it to an editor, an editor to her boss, or to the acquisitions meeting, for sales to pitch it to accounts, for film guys to pitch it to producers, for subrights agents to pitch it to audio publishers and translation agents.
Personal memoir is often described as "tricky" which is a kind way of saying "no, not everyone has led a life that's interesting to other people." And by interesting to other people, I mean willing to fork over $16.00 to read all about it.
Notice I didn't say important and I didn't say it was dull, but face facts: people are generally interested in themselves, and books that will have resonance for them. One of the most crushing facts you learn in publishing is that No One Else Cares.
Unless you've been involved in some hitherto unknown aspect of a historically significant event, chances are your memoir isn't going to garner trade publishing interest.
Sure there are exceptions. They tend to be written by people who are bitingly funny: David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs; or by people with some significant writing credentials: David Carr.
There are exceptions to this of course, but they're rare. If you don't think they're rare it's because you don't see all the projects that DON'T get published.
I shopped two terrific memoirs in 2015, both of which I thought had real potential and neither got a nibble of any kind.
Smaller publishers can make money selling fewer copies it's true, but it doesn't mean they are less selective than anyone else. On the contrary, they're often MORE selective cause they publish fewer books than the bigs.
Without specifics about your book, remember I'm speaking in generalities here. You'd be wise to invest some time in a memoir writing workshop to get some advice from someone who's actually seen your work. Grub Street in Boston has a good one. There are others as well.
2 New Literary Agents Actively Seeking Fiction, Memoir, Pop Culture & more
Here are two new agents seeking writers. Caroline Eisenmann is looking for novels that address social issues, as well as memoir, history, essay collections and biography. Sarah Bolling is interested in fiction, especially featuring diverse characters, far-flung locales, or inventive narrative structure. Her taste also includes a range of nonfiction, including memoir, pop culture, psychology, sociology, and style.
As always, make sure to read the agency website and agent bio before submitting. The publishing world is in constant flux, and agents may switch agencies or change their submission requirements.
If these agents don’t suit your needs, you can find a comprehensive list of over 100 agents actively seeking clients here: Agents Seeking Clients.
Caroline Eisenmann of Frances Goldin Agency
Caroline Eisenmann joined the agency in 2017. Raised in the Boston area, she received an interdisciplinary degree focused on literature, history, and philosophy from Wesleyan University. She previously spent four years at ICM Partners building a list in literary and upmarket fiction and nonfiction. Her clients include Brandon Hobson, Kyle Chayka, Mari Passananti, Amanda Goldblatt, Robin Underdahl, and James Gregor. In addition to her agency experience, she has worked in marketing at the digital book publisher Open Road Integrated Media and held internships at The Paris Review and The Huffington Post.
What she is seeking: In fiction, Caroline is particularly drawn to novels that engage with social issues, stories about obsession, and work that centers around intimacy and its discontents. Her nonfiction interests include deeply reported narratives (especially those that take the reader into the heart of a subculture), literary memoir, cultural criticism, essay collections, and history and biography with a surprising point of view.
How to submit: Send a query letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Bolling of The Gernert Company
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Sarah joined The Gernert Company in 2017 after working in editorial at Norton. Sarah majored in East Asian Studies at Brown University, and holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Goldsmiths, University of London. She lives in Manhattan.
What she is seeking: She’s looking to represent fiction blending literary ambition with genre sensibility, especially featuring diverse characters, far-flung locales, or inventive narrative structure. Her taste also includes a range of nonfiction, including memoir, pop culture, psychology, sociology, and style.
How to submit: Queries by e-mail should be directed to: email@example.com
Please indicate in your letter which agent you are querying. You can visit the “Our Team” section of this website to get a sense of who might be a good fit for your work. If you have previously corresponded with one of their agents and choose to query another, please let them know of any communication history in your letter.