Memoirs of Overcoming Adversity
I’ve heard you talk about how difficult it is to sell a “personal story of overcoming adversity.” You’ve mentioned you won’t consider this kind of memoir unless the author has a significant platform and the story has built-in marketing potential and an obvious media hook. Would this include being a cancer survivor (two completely separate cancers) at age 45? While there are a lot of survivor books in the market, I have not found many with a Christian perspective.
Congratulations on beating cancer not once, but twice. What an amazing story you must have.
I’m sad to say that your story is exactly what I’m talking about when I specified a personal story of overcoming adversity. I have no doubt your story is inspirational, God-glorifying, and amazing. And obviously, it’s something that defines your life. So it’s difficult for me to reduce this to a business decision, but in the end, that’s what it is.
As I’m sure you know, at any given time there are over 5 million Americans living with cancer. Every one of them is living an incredible story, so this is not to reduce the importance of yours, only to say that many people choose to write their survival stories in book form, and only a tiny fraction will be published. Many of those are Christians, and there have been quite a few survivor-memoirs with the Christian worldview. So unless you’re already famous in some way, or your story has some kind of angle that readers will see as unique or incredible, and your memoir is absolutely beautiful and amazing it the writing, the chances of publication are slim. Most bestselling memoirs of the personal-adversity type either give the topic a humorous spin, are authored by a celebrity, or are written in such a way that readers find compelling in a “can’t put it down” way.
Selling a memoir is also easier if you’ve established a platform. Has there been significant media coverage of your story? Are you out on the speaking circuit sharing your story with others? Do you have 1,000 hits a day on your blog? These are the kinds of things that can help.
When I mention “platform” and “media hook” as applied to memoirs, I’m referring to stories like Bethany Hamilton’s, the girl whose story of overcoming adversity had media attention from the beginning and later became the book and movie Soul Surfer. Or the story of Aron Ralston, whose “personal story of overcoming adversity” also had huge media attention from the very beginning and later became the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and the movie “127 Hours.”
There have been some recent notable cancer memoirs, such as Kelly Corrigan’s The Middle Place, and you may wonder how they managed to get published. Most, like Kelly, are far-above-average writers and had a significant platform prior to publication. (Kelly was already a professional writer in addition to running a large non-profit website for family and friends of women with cancer.)
If you’ve got a platform and you’ve studied the craft of memoir and you believe you’ve got what it takes, by all means send out your query. If you end up unable to find an agent or publisher, then I suggest telling your story through blogging or self-publishing.
I wish I had better news for you!
© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent