16 Tips for Writing Your Debut Memoir & Getting It Published
The road is long. May these tips guide your writing journey.
What It Took to Write My Debut Memoir and Find a Publisher
In 2019, I wrote an article for my Medium platform and my website blog about my inspiration for writing my first book, a pharmacy communication textbook. I shared what it took to write a winning book proposal and to get a contract and an advance four months after I submitted my proposal. My book was published two years later.
Writing my memoir took much longer, but getting a contract offer did not take long. Come What May; I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times, is forthcoming from Resource Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.
This is what it took to write my memoir and to get it published. I hope these tips will inspire you to keep writing and help you to get published, whether you go the traditional or self-publishing route.
1. Keep a journal. I kept a journal from 2004 to 2020. My journal was key. If you haven't already, I recommend you keep a journal of life-changing events in your life. When I looked back in my journal, I found an entry I had forgotten about, an entry about why writing my memoir was important.
December, 7, 2017
"Last night I made a new friend at a Christmas dinner party. We talked about this, that,
and the other. We inspired each other with some of our life stories and had some good
laughs. When I shared my medical nightmare and how I'm not supposed to be alive, she
said, "Wow! You need to write a book." "Funny you should say that. Thanks so much. I'm
working on my memoir, " I smiled. She's not the first to say I need to write a book.
Moments like this inspire me to keep at it. They are especially meaningful when such
support comes from perfect strangers."
2. Join a writers group. I joined a writers group in 2016. This group invited a variety of speakers to learn from every month. Writing is a solitary journey. It's nice to be surrounded by other writers. Here's a directory of writing groups by state or region.
3. Join a critique group. I joined the critique group in this writers group. From 2018 to the start of the pandemic, I met with other writers working on their genre. Once a month, we offered each other feedback and suggestions. Even though I was the only writer working on a memoir, I found the feedback very helpful and encouraging.
4. Participate in NaNoWriMo. I participated virtually in NaNoWriMo in November 2017. I had the entire month to edit and revise my 50,552-word first draft. I did it in twenty-six days.
5. Participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. I participated virtually in Camp NaNoWriMo in April 2018. I had the entire month to work on the second draft of my memoir.
6. Create a Facebook page and a website. I created my Facebook page - Ultra Miriam This is my ultrarunner/author page. Prior to creating my FB page, I created my website.
7. Join writing groups on Facebook. I joined Writers of Non-fiction, Memoir Writing for Geniuses, and Writers Forum. It's good for writers to share their writing journey, publications, and successes with fellow writers, and to find inspiration, motivation, tips, and support.
8. Attend a writing conference. I attended a writing conference and a variety of sessions. I made a pitch to a junior literary agent. I did it for the experience. I met other writers on the same journey. Here's a directory of conferences.
9. Read, read, read. I read a lot of memoirs with the themes in my memoir: ultrarunning, medical and surgical errors, health challenges, workplace mistreatment, theology, and cancer caregiving.
10. Develop credibility. Write about the themes in your memoir for other publications and for your website blog. I wrote about the themes in Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Medium, Ultrarunning Magazine, Women's Running magazine, Cancer Today, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. You can find the links to my articles on my Writing Life page. I also wrote reviews of memoirs and non-fiction books for my website blog.
11. Get beta readers. I asked three individuals to be my beta readers - a reader who's favorite genre is memoirs, a reader with a degree in English literature, and a fellow ultrarunner who is also a literary agent. Their willingness to take time from their busy schedules to read my manuscript and give me feedback was invaluable. I could not have done it without them.
12. Have your manuscript professionally evaluated. I had my manuscript professionally evaluated by a former literary agent and a book author. She was also a guest speaker at the writers group I joined. I received very good feedback and excellent suggestions. They helped me to polish my manuscript.
13. Watch YouTube videos/Tune in to podcasts. I viewed YouTube videos on how to write query letters and how to find an agent. I listened to a couple of podcasts hosted by authors and literary agents. While I found them inspiring, I also heard a lot of conflicting opinions about how to approach agents, and how to write a query letter and a synopsis. However, I found a great resource - The Ultimate Query Letter Took Kit . I learned how to ask for endorsements for my manuscript.
14. Get endorsements. I reached out to authors and influencers and asked them if they would be willing to read my memoir manuscript for the purpose of writing an endorsement. When they said they would be willing to write an endorsement, I sent them my manuscript. I received outstanding endorsements.
15. Study submission guidelines. I studied the many different submission guidelines from the various literary agencies as well as publishers that don't require agents. I searched for academic publishers that don't require agents. My first book is published by an academic publishing conglomerate that publishes medical and technical content and does not require an agent. I found Wipf and Stock, an academic publisher that publishes works in theology and related fields and does not require an agent.
16. Send out query letters and required documents. I sent out my first query in March 2022. Between March 2022 and December 2022, I sent out seven queries. Some queries require a complete book proposal, detailed table of contents, a synopsis, and sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. Others ask for only a query letter. Be prepared to meet their submission guidelines.
Photo by Jon Gilbert
On the day I accepted an offer of publication and a contract for my memoir:
Come What May; I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times
Keep Going Patiently
I once heard an author share on a podcast that she sent out ninety-nine queries before she was offered a book contract. She gave me hope. But I have since learned it doesn't always take that many queries.
I sent out seven queries. I sent queries to four agents. I never received a response. I sent out the required book proposal, table of contents, and sample chapters/full manuscript to three publishers. I have reviewed books published by two of these publishers. One of the publishers got back to me to tell me that, while the editors enjoyed reading my book proposal, my book was not a good fit for them at the moment but to consider sending my next book proposal when the time comes.
My fifth query, and one that required a complete book proposal, detailed table of contents, CV, endorsements, and my full manuscript, was emailed to Wipf and Stock in October 2022. In December 2022, I received an offer for publication. Given my academic and theology background, Wipf and Stock is a good fit for me. I submitted my final 76, 918-word manuscript in February. It's in the hands of the editor. Stay tuned for the release date.
In the meantime, I am working on my second memoir, a medical memoir about my twenty-six-year journey with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a rare autoimmune disorder of the esophagus and how, in twelve months, I healed myself when I created my own diet. I have written about my journey and my healing diet in Patient Worthy and in my website blog.
Writing is a journey that requires endurance, perseverance, discipline, persistence, and patience. Writing a memoir requires the same and many, many, many drafts. It requires reading many memoirs to help you get familiar with how memoirs are written and what publishers expect.
It took me six years to write a publishable memoir and another year to write seven queries before I found a publisher. In case you're wondering, it took me four hours in one sitting to write, revise, and correct errors and then another five hours to copy edit and make the necessary deletions/additions in this 1,523-word article. In all you write, don't rush the process.
What worked for me might not work for you. But I hope my experience has inspired you. Don't give up. Keep going patiently!
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