When You Get a Big Fat Pile of Rejections

Peter just sent me the following question. And it’s a common one, so I thought I should answer it right quick.

“I sent my query letter out to ten agents, and I got ten rejections. I worked really hard on my pages, and I think they’re great. What am I doing wrong? Why am I only getting form letters?”

I don't think you suck! Quite the opposite!

What are you doing wrong indeed? Firstly, everybody gets rejected – so don’t feel bad. It’s part of the process. But that being said, let’s talk about a few of the reasons you might be getting those disappointing form letters instead of requests for more pages. There are typically a few specific reasons why this happens. Ask yourself:

1) Are you committed the sin of the premature submission? Are your pages really ready to be seen by anyone other than you? Be honest! Get second reads if you have to. I’m a big believer that this is one of the main reasons writers get rejected.

2) Are you sending your work to the right people? Who are you sending your queries to? Have you confirmed that they represent books that are in fact a good match for what you’re writing?

3) Does your letter do your work justice? Are you highlighting your voice, your story and yourself properly? Are you letting your voice shine through in the letter? Are you making the very easy mistake of being too businessey? Ask yourself if your memoir matches the tone of your letter.

These are three of the most common reasons people don’t hear back from agents – with the news they want anyway. And remember, in my book I talk about acting like a person that an agent wants to be in business with. That means being professional, a class-act! I realize it’s tough out there, really tough – and the bottom line is you might have to just keep at it. Or revise and keep at it. It’s par for the course. . . hang in there.

Question? You can email it. . . paula@morningmemoir.com

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Filed under Challenging Issues, Publishing

Simone-Says Has a Question

Have a question like Simone? Well then email it! paula@morningmemoir.com Okay! Let’s focus on Simone!

Dear Memoirista:

My question relates to your comment about focusing on a specific time period or situation. I’m struggling to find my hook because my memoir begins with my childhood, growing up in an alcoholic home and how my upbringing affected my teen years and adult years – specifically with my own addictions and the men I loved… (I had a bad picker). I’m 6 years sober, so I’m looking back with sober eyes.

In your opinion, does this concept work? Maybe if I handled each chapter as a self-contain story? Or is it too much subject matter? Or should I pick one relationship, “The Year I Fell Madly in Love with a Madman?” and stick to that situation, adding in parts of my past?

I appreciate any suggestions, comments, advice you can send my way. Seriously – your word is bond. I’m holding off on starting my edits because I value your guidance tremendously. But no pressure… ;)

Thank you (so much),
Simone
www.simone-says.com

Dear Simone:
Thanks for writing. This is tricky business indeed (as memoir writing tends to be), and there’s nothing tougher than picking and choosing what to put in and what to leave out. I totally understand your quandary. You mention two totally different structures. . . the short, almost-a-story-in-a-chapter kind of situation (very much like Kirk Read’s How I Learned To Snap, which is GENIUS by the way) – and then a completely different Year In The Life with back flashes kind of thing. . . . VERY DIFFERENT. This makes me think you need to sit back, and consider a few things:

1) What kind of writing shows of your strengths?
2) What kind of writing do you LIKE to do?
3) What new stuff are you adding to your genre? IE What’s your hook?

Overall, Memoirista is diagnosing a structure problem (I know, you already knew that and are thinking DUH, seriously, are you going to help me or what?). Don’t panic. I am going to help. I think you need to list out the “five new things you bring to the table” from chapter four. I think pondering for a spell about which of these two styles is a better fit for your style, voice, writing ability and material should help guide you. What is is about you and YOUR story that we should get excited about? Make a list! See how what you come up with guides you to a structure.

And if you’re still feeling like you have too much stuff, ask yourself those hard questions. Seriously, is this interesting to anyone other than me? Does this need to STAY IN THE JOURNAL?
I hope that sheds some light. . .

X,
Memoirista. . .

There’s another memoir WEBINAR happening this Thursday, September the 22nd at 1pm. The topic? Write a Memoir That Sells: How to Use Voice, Structure and Platform to Draw Readers to Your Story

Here’s the info. You get a critique of your query letter and the first 1,500 pages of your memoir by me!
Here’s the link to the registration page. . .

http://bit.ly/oIEW7a

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Filed under Chapter Four

If You Write It, I’ll Give You a Present

It would appear I’m not so good at following my own advice. If I were a dr. I’m pretty sure I’d smoke at least a pack a day. I’d probably have a martini glass balanced on the end of the exam table while I wrote out prescriptions for one of those cholesterol lowering meds and lectured patients about exercise and diet. I talk a lot about writing every day – in my own book, yet I haven’t been doing it lately. While I’m not planning to write a memoir (I’m not very interesting), I love writing essays, and someday I’d like to try writing a novel. But seriously, what kind of jerk tells people to write every day and then doesn’t even do it herself? Anyway, I was thinking about this while I was shopping for a birthday gift for my dad last weekend. He just turned 60, and my husband and I decided to make him his very own, customized book-of-the-month-club kind of thing. We bought a book we thought he would like for each month of the year, and wrote up a paragraph about each one. We ended up with kind of a crazy mixture. . . Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Sherlock Holmes, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (my dad used to teach fourth grade) – a reference book about weather, because my dad is OBSESSED with storms. It was quite possibly the only time I had fun shopping for a gift. It got me thinking. . if you’re totally stuck, which happens to EVERYONE, writing about gifts is a super easy way to get unstuck. There are so many instances in life where a gift has made a difference – good or bad. I mean, it’s not really about the present, it’s about the thoughts, what it meant, and the lasting memories they leave right?

What was I thinking? Why was I out smoking and drinking white russians when I should have been home working on my memoir? What a terrible mistake!

So listen. . . since I’m making a conscious effort to write more, I’m hoping you will too. I’ll send a copy of my book (and a special bonus surprise) to whoever writes the most kick-ass gift story. I don’t care how long it is or anything. . . it doesn’t matter.

Ooops. I brilliantly gave you all the wrong email address at the webinar. It’s this:

paula@morningmemoir.com

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Filed under Contests, Work, Writing

To Get Things Rolling

Firstly, thank you so much for coming to the webinar last week. It was really fun. Honestly, I was terrified when Writer’s Digest asked me to do it – but I’m so glad I did. I guess it’s good to take risks. It’s just really weird talking to hundreds of people when you can’t see or hear a single one of them. Although, I did force my cat to sit through the entire thing. I’ve spent the last week answering all of your questions – just an FYI, Writer’s Digest should be posting all of the answers really soon (if they haven’t already, those people are crazy efficient).

This cat, my one "captive" audience member, disappointed me by falling asleep half way into slide two.

Anyway, you might remember that I talked a little bit about contests. I think it’s great that there have been some contests floating out there lately. They’re competitive, but winning isn’t really the point in my opinion (but obviously that would be amazing). Entering a contest gives you the following:

A writing assignment
A deadline
A specific goal

And oh yeah, it’s fun. Plus, who knows, you might win. All of those things I mention above are great things for writers, and it can be hard to give them to yourself. Real Simple magazine is having an essay contest, and Good Housekeeping magazine is having a short story writing contest. Okay, one of them is fiction – but still, it’s a really good contest! I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more!

P.S. If any of you have emailed me at the email address I gave out at the end of the webinar, I warn you, my email is acting real funky. I’m workin’ on it. I am. . .

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Filed under Contests, Magazines

Coming on July 9th!

I’m giving a free webinar at Writer’s Digest’s website today at 1 p.m. if you’re up for it. Hope to see you there.
x,
Paula

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Filed under Writing

Liking Memoirs Can Be Really Awkward

I was having an absolutely lovely November morning last week – enjoying breakfast at a local café, chatting with one of my favorite severs, Derrick. He happened to mention that his roommate had written a memoir, and would I like to borrow a copy? It was published last year, it’s really great, and he could just pop into his apartment and grab a copy (he lives around the corner and it wasn’t busy yet). Derrick is smart, so I knew there was a good chance that if he loved his roommate’s memoir that I would too. So, yeah sure, I’d love to borrow it! He mentioned her name, and I hadn’t heard of her, and I’m always excited to learn of a new memoirist. Derrick handed me the loveliest book. A small sized hardcover with embossed flowers . . . all class. I said “oh, this is so pretty, I love it!” But then I looked at the title and my heart sank. It was called The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement. Ugh. I wish I had noticed the, um, obvious reference to death before I had tossed out the off the cuff and downright jolly compliment.

But then I realized this is something that happens with memoirs. Who didn’t love The Glass Castle? But we certainly wouldn’t wish that kind of childhood on anyone. What do you say to someone who wrote a memoir that particularly moves you? Love the memoir but I’m so sorry your life sucked? It really does seem strange to compliment someone on their work without making a reference to the difficulty of the material. Or am I making way too much of this? Feel free to tell me I’m crazy.

And the beautiful book Derrick handed over to me? It’s called The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement: A True Story of Love and Renovation by Virginia Lloyd. I’m looking forward to reading it and I’ll be sure to report back.

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Filed under Challenging Issues, Writers

Writers Who Read Well, And Tricky Questions

I went to hear Joyce Maynard read at Pete’s Candy Store with my friend Billy last weekend. In addition to being a terrific writer, she’s an incredibly good reader. Engaging, entertaining and can really keep an audiences attention. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve attended a reading (toddlers, they have this effect on you) and I had totally forgotten how important it is for a writer to be able to read their work well. Wow, isn’t it enough to be able to write? And she looks really good too. Damn her!

I also just read her memoir At Home In The World about her time living with JD Salinger. For those of you who love memoir, take a look at the latest version with the new intro. She responds to all of the criticism she received at the time of the books original publication. And I think this is probably worth an entire blog post later on. . . but apparently certain people just didn’t feel her story was her story to tell. Hello, because it involved a famous and reclusive writer? Somehow I suspect that if Mr. Salinger had come out of hiding to tell HIS side of the story, no one would have blinked an eye, or been the slightest bit concerned about Ms. Maynard’s feelings. What do you think? Does everyone have a right to tell their story?

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Filed under Writers