1. Turniphead
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    Turniphead Member

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    4th Rejection and buckling. (thin skinned)

    Discussion in 'Publisher Discussion' started by Turniphead, Jan 23, 2015.

    Hi - I've just received the 4th rejection for memoir. An independent literary agency liked the book and I've had some kind comments from agents, especially the last one, who said the writing was good (but maybe not good enough). But I'm losing confidence. Maybe I should give the memoir another edit.

    I have a great admiration for all you guys who pursue after rejections. It's hard to bear it. Four is nothing, nada zilch, in terms of approaches. But the last one was not unsolicited - it was recommended by a writer the agent represents. I can't lose much by persisting. Few writers give up after 4 rejections. And maybe I just need some luck. I'm considering self-pub, but after taking advice from this forum, feel bashing on the door is worth it.

    Thanks for listening; I need to pick myself up. I believe in my book; I just wished an agent did.


    Here's the rejection email:

    Dear Dan

    Thank you for sending me your memoir. You write well, and I found the book witty, observant and tragic in places.

    The problem with memoirs such as this, however, is that it is difficult to find a commercial hook. This probably seems rather unjust, but unless the book concerns people or events that the modern public can recognise, then publishers have difficulty in perceiving the book as a commercial enterprise. The writing is good, but it is not perhaps of the exceptional quality that would elevate it away from this problem. We have a very full list at the moment, and I’m just not convinced enough to feel we could take this on.

    I do apologise for giving you this disappointing response, but it is of course only one opinion, and you should definitely approach other agents if you have not done so already.


    Many thanks indeed for letting us see the material, and the best of luck in finding the right agent and publisher.

    With best wishes,
     
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  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If it's its lack of commercial appeal that's getting you rejections, then I'm not all that sure you'll necessarily have much luck with traditional publishing. It's less about believing whether it's a good book, and more about believing whether it's a book other people would be interested in - or rather, if enough people would be interested in it to make it worth the risk.

    Out of interest, what's it about? A memoir, so your life, clearly - but what makes your life interesting that lots of people are gonna want to read it?

    @cutecat22 - I know she self-published a memoir, I think on adoption? Maybe she could give you some advice.

    All in all, if your book's subject falls in a niche market, you may have better luck self-publishing. It doesn't mean no one would be interested - it simply means it's not enough of an audience for a publisher to want to invest in it. It may have nothing to do with the quality of your writing. You may also have better luck with small publishers.
     
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  3. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    The (last) rejection email was (in my experience) surprisingly candid and full of information about the reasons for rejecting your work. Don't let it depress you, but I would take the advice to heart. Boiled down, it says that readers (buyers, that is) don't usually want to read the memoirs of people whose names they don't recognize. It also suggest that if your story were brilliantly-written, things might be different (in a similar thread, someone mentioned Frank McCourt). The editor did say that your writing is good - it might be worth your time to turn the story into a novel.
     
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  4. Turniphead
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    Turniphead Member

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    Thanks for your response for this. I have considered self publishing and have finished a separate novel (a satire) in the wings.

    There are some good hooks to the memoir, including revelations of my late grandmother who was Britain's first advice columnist who was abusive to her children. My life has been pretty extreme, otherwise I wouldn't have begun the project.

    Your feedback suggests (and maybe rightly so) there is not a large enough audience for a publisher to take it. In that case wouldn't self-pub be pretty pointless, if it won't sell?

    Grateful for all your ideas; you've cheered me up :)

    Dan
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Keep in mind as well that four rejections isn't a lot compared to the number cited by many traditionally-published authors who talk about how many rejections they received before their work published. Sometimes its just a matter of finding the right fit. For example, the Steven Barclay Agency represents Alexandra Fuller, who published a memoir with Random House as a non-celebrity. It was well worth the read, and I believe did well. She may well have received rejections similar to yours before placing it with this agency.
     
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  6. HelloImRex
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    HelloImRex Contributing Member

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    You could sell it as fiction then have a disclaimer in the front that it is all actually a true story.

    "This wasn't based on a true story, it is a true story."

    I don't know, my ideas often seem silly in hindsight.

    Your only options are:
    1. Continue looking for a publisher that believes your work is marketable.
    2. Market the work yourself.
    3. Change your work so that a publisher is more likely to accept it. I honestly don't buy the thing the guy said about accepting "brilliant writing". He said the genre isn't marketable unless you are known by society. Brilliant writing doesn't fix that problem and is subjective to recognize. For all I know your writing could already be brilliant. I'm saying that I don't think this guy would've said yes even if your writing was as brilliant as possible which means that spending countless hours trying to improve the writing might not be the most economical of choices. But maybe I'm just cynical.
    4. Quit.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2015
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  7. Turniphead
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    Turniphead Member

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    3 is especially poignant -

    I totally agree with the thing about the writing quality - it's either a book the public will buy or it isn't - in that regard the writing quality is pretty irrelevant. I think writing has to be good, sometimes very good. But we don't need to be Tolstoy to sell.

    Best - Dan
     
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  8. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    Um, if I got a rejection that personal after only four tries, I'd feel pretty good. Especially for a project with limited commercial appeal. Move on to the next project and keep writing, if it were easy everyone would be doing it
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, if I got a rejection with that much detail, I'd dance a jig. And then I'd put the memoir aside--I wouldn't self-publish it, I'd hang on to it--and focus on the novel, based on it being a more salable category.
     
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  10. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I sent my true life story (I don't call it a memoir because it only deals with a 2 to 3 year period in my life) off to 25 agents/publishers. Thirteen rejected me (all saying it was "a good story/idea" but not for them at this time) even though I spent months sorting through lists to make sure I had:

    a) only contacted agents/publishers who dealt specifically with true life stories.
    b) taken the time to include what they asked for in my submission.

    The other 12 never got back to me.

    The reason I then self published was because I had to get my story out there. It was all about showing people the truth behind adoption, what really happens to adopters, how long it really takes, the lengths you have to go to and the fact that you don't have to be rich or perfect to be a family. I was expecting to sell maybe thirty ebooks if I was lucky, mainly to friends who know me and perhaps a couple of people wanting information about adoption. To date, it's sold just over 500 copies. Perhaps not much in the grand scheme of things but 500 more copies than with any publisher or agent.

    There's no secret recipe to selling books and to a point, you could be the reincarnation of Thomas Hardy or the next Dickens, it doesn't mean you are guaranteed success. Readers determine that for you but if your book's not out there, you will never know.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, do you think the agent was lying? Why would s/he do that?

    I think it's a valid point - a memoir needs something to distinguish it. Being the grandchild of an abusive advice columnist is a great anecdote at a party, but it's not enough to make me want to read an entire book, not unless there's something else that appeals. So, no, you don't have to be a literary genius, but you have to have something. When you're writing memoir, you can't really 'pump up' the plot, the characters, or the setting, so about all you've got left to work on is the writing.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't understand what you mean by this. "A book" is defined by many things, including the writing. It doesn't succeed or fail based entirely on the genre and subject matter.
     
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  13. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hang in there and keep at it.
    Maybe the memoir needs another round of editing. Maybe not. If not, while it's out making the rounds, work on another project. Soon you'll have two making the rounds, or maybe your first will have found a home...or your second one or their one will find a publisher and pave the way for the previous two.
     
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  14. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Where memoirs and true stories are concerned, everyone has one (a good/interesting/strange life story) that we personally find great but other people would probably think, "WTF???"

    Did I ever tell you there are only four degrees of separation between me and Stephen Amell? Or the story of when my husband had to have open heart surgery in which a problem occurred and they had to take him back into theatre. At one point I asked the nurse "is he alive?" and the nurse replied "we don't know ..." after which, they brought him back and I sat at his bedside and at one point, fell asleep with my head on his bed ... (how dramatic is that?)

    The point is, unless you are extremely famous OR you are telling a story that people can refer back to, almost as a help yourself guide, then people aren't quite interested.

    Which is why publishers won't take it on. If they can't see a way to market your work or make a profit, then they won't take that gamble.
     
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  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh my gosh. Just reading that gave me the chills. Sometimes I wonder what I'd do if my husband was gone - don't want to think about it. Ever.

    I think with memoirs, either it needs to be a subject people are interested in gaining insights or learning from - such as your adoption stuff - or it has to be a really out-of-this-world story, say, how a soldier survived a horrific war or something. Something so weird or unusual it could probably be sold as fiction.

    The only memoirs I've read are probably about abusive childhoods. Recently I bought a book that is a collection of interviews etc from surviving soldiers in the US and their "true story". Another time I read a book on several accounts of North Koreans and their lives inside. All these are big topics that strike at the wider public. People care about soldiers, and people care about children. North Korea is a bit of a mystery and a horror that, once again, fascinate people. These are actually very broad topics, which is why they sold. And it likely helps that they were all collections of multiple people's stories under one topic, rather than just one person's.

    OP, I would agree that having a columnist grandmother who was abusive to their children is only an interesting tidbit, but not enough for a whole book. However, clearly more has happened that meant you had enough to write an entire book. Without knowing your story and without reading your work, it's hard to say. But is it an option to rewrite it with a different focus? What makes you think people will be interested in your story? Is it possible to sell the book under a more broadly recognised category that interests people generally, rather than "this is my life"?

    Sometimes I think I'd love to write my mum's memoir. It would be set in the 60s and 70s in Hong Kong when she lived in deep poverty and had an extremely abusive childhood. The exotic setting plus the wide market that child abuse stories already occupy probably means it'll certainly find an audience. However, I don't think I have the patience to sit down and listen to my mum for the whole thing (she's prone to repeating herself) and she'd never understand the need to make something easy to read, the idea of omitting certain details etc... still wondering though.
     
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  16. Turniphead
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    Turniphead Member

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    Just to say thanks for the support again; I often. Hear how imp it is to have an interesting story. I think it is. So I'll keep truckin.
    Thx for all the time put into the posts and the encouraging words.
    ;)
     
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  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The most "mundane" memoir I've read was by Dave Eggers (Staggering Genius, you probably know it). It's incredibly well written and slightly gimmicky with its reading instructions and pictures, but not to the point of pretentious. It got published despite Eggers being a nobody, so there's hope for you still. :)

    Maybe you can come up with ways to make yours more marketable. Like why should we be interested? And then present that selling point (or several) to an agent/publisher.

    But it might be better to take a break from it for now and focus on something else. When you return to the memoir with fresh eyes, you might have a clearer idea of what to do with it. Good luck!
     
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  18. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    As others have already said, being a well known name is a big advantage but there are exceptions. The Diary of Anne Frank is a good example. Times have changed since that was first published to the point where so called celebrities who have achieved nothing such as Paris Hilton, Jordan or Kim Kardashian would have best sellers for being talentless media darlings. That is no reason to give up and I wish you the best in your efforts.
     
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  19. jannert
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    ......................

    I've added some comments within the quote.

    I know this response is discouraging, but it might also be helpful.

    I'd say:
    1) Find an angle that has commercial appeal, and play to it
    2) Sharpen your writing to the extent that the writing is great, not just almost good enough

    I know you've spent a lot of time on this, but I suspect you maybe went for the publishers a little bit too soon. You've been given a couple of really helpful pointers into what's not working, which is a lot better than getting a polite 'no' with no critique attached. You're already ahead of the game.

    Yes, you could self-publish. But why would you do that, when you've just heard (from a polite person who actually did like aspects of it) that your story isn't good enough? I'd say make it good enough. It may just require a new perspective. Once you get a new perspective, you may find a re-write easier than you thought it would be. And fun, too, because you'll know your story will be the better for it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2015
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  20. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    In that situation, that's all I thought about. I've often thought that, once my husband has gone, I will spend the rest of my life alone. I don't mind being alone, I was an only child so I'm quite happy to make my own entertainment (probably why I'm an author) but my husband is also 16 years older than me so when he had his operation, I was around 26 years old. Not the age where you ever think about spending the rest of your life alone.

    We went through all the cliché moments, me falling asleep holding his hand, the male nurse waking me up and saying "Mrs C, you need to go back to your room, we don't want you in the next bed!" Walking down to the operating theatre while they wheeled him on his bed where they left me alone and crying my eyes out at the theatre doors, even a couple of days later when he was on the recovery ward and when I went in to see him, he was walking towards me and I was "Oh my God! get back into bed!" ... We laugh about it now but at the time, well, lets just say, you couldn't write it any more clichéd.
     
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  21. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I dunno about it being cliche - it's genuine. I think it'll only come across as cliche if you write it badly lol :D

    16 years is quite an age gap! To have to go through that at age 26, gosh, that must've been horrible.
     
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  22. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I ended up on anti-depressants because I worried about it that much, I couldn't function. There was an 8 month gap between his initial heart attack and the surgery which was supposed to be a double bypass but then turned into a triple, that's when I started worrying about being alone. Everything crosses your mind including stupid things like how was I going to pay for the house and look after his daughter who had no mother and was only seven years younger than me? In the end, he recovered quite well and to meet him now, you wouldn't think he'd ever had a heart problem.

    It's true what they say, you know. Truth is stranger than fiction.

    To the OP, apologies for hijacking your thread there! But stick with it, even if that means putting the memoir to one side while you concentrate on other works of fiction to get your name out there enough so that your fans and readers want to read about your life.

    Good Luck.
     
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  23. domenic.p
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    domenic.p Banned

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    Your book does not need a rewrite. The agent said the writing was fine. Your problem is the market a publisher has to sell to.
    People don't know you. Readers want to look up the backside of movie stars, or others with a big name.
    This is what I see you have to do: Become a big time movie star. Chuck the book, and use your talent to write the memoirs of a person the world knows...OR. MAKE THE BOOK FICTION, AND THE MEMORIS THAT OF A FICTION CHARACTER.
    The agent had no problem with your writing...All you need is to come up with a story that will sell.
     
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  24. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    What? Are you suggesting that the exact same story, labelled as fiction, would sell, but it won't sell when it's labelled as memoir? Do you have any reason to believe that? Any examples of times when it's been done?

    Or maybe you're suggesting something else... your last line says the OP just has "to come up with a story that will sell" which is true, obviously, but... how do you reconcile this with your first line, saying the "book does not need a rewrite"?
     
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  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Many (most?) writers have adapted their own life stories as fiction. Hemingway based nearly all his fiction on his own experiences. If he'd labeled A Farewell to Arms as a memoir, it probably wouldn't have found a publisher. But it's a novel, and a classic one.
     
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