Every other day, a new proposal or manuscript for a “memoir” hits my desk. The problem arises immediately, especially for some of those I work with who sometimes blurt out: Is this a growing category? Do people read memoirs? And finally, what is a memoir, really?
What follows is a very brief exploration of these questions, in no particular order.
Let go to the basics first: At its essence, a Memoir is a form of autobiographical writing, or a story (or series of stories) from a person’s life. Simple, right? Memoirs may appear less structured or encompassing than formal autobiographical works as they are usually about a phase or episode of a life rather than the chronological telling of a life from childhood to adulthood and old age. Most memoirs are written from the first person point of view. The term "memoir" has actually begun to replace "autobiography" in its popular use in some ways.
So that's a quick summary. But it's funny to me when people wonder about the salability of memoirs, so I want to ask YOU a question. Do you read memoirs? If so, what was the last one you read?
In the past few years I've picked up memoirs by David Sedaris, Anne LaMott, Augusten Burroughs, Donald Miller, and of course, Dave Eggers. Who do you read?
In my exploration of this area of the market, there are TWO forces that increase the appeal of a memoir to the marketplace: Dynamite Writing about a unique stories or set of influences in one's life or upbringing (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers, Traveling Mercies by Anne LaMott, Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, or Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs).
The second force that helps a memoir appeal to a broader audience is a Compelling or Known Personality or Life Story (The Measure of a Man, by Sidney Poitier, Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper, My Life by Bill Clinton).
And why is the form so popular these days? Well, after trolling through hundreds and thousands of proposals and queries, I see more books written "about my life" than anything else.
We all want to write about ourselves it seems, which is fantastic, so long as your memoir takes people on a journey worth remembering! : )
Photo from freedigitalphotos.net.