The best laid writing plans

My plan for July is simple: I aim to submit my memoir to three agents.

I started submitting for the first time last summer. I bought a copy of ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016′, and went through all the literary agents in the UK, writing down the ones that dealt with memoirs, and then finding out the name of the right agent in each agency to contact. After that, I started fine-tuning my synopsis and covering letter.

I discovered that it’s not as simple as sending out the same sample of work, the same synopsis, and the same covering letter as a job lot to a bunch of literary agents, because the agencies don’t all work in the same way.

Mostly, my synopsis has stayed intact (although it’s not unheard of for agents to want a synopsis of a different length to the one you’ve written). On the other hand, I’ve had to format three separate versions of my work to send, because although most agencies generally like you to email the first three chapters, Aitken Alexander only wanted the first two chapters, and The Blair Partnership only wanted one.

I sent off five submissions in the first batch. After I got rejections from four agents, I lost heart a bit. I kept telling myself I’d send another batch out, that I was just busy with other commitments, but the sad truth is that the whole process seemed fruitless.

I knew that rejection was to be expected in the literary world, and that it would happen more often than not. I also knew I’d get over it and eventually find the courage to try again, but there was always the worry that perhaps my work just wasn’t up to scratch, that I was foolishly trying to enter a world that wasn’t meant for me. So I kept putting off sending another batch of submissions out, while I worked on other things.

Technically, I was busy. I was in the middle of writing a couple of short stories (that ended up getting nowhere in the competitions I entered them into), and I’d started writing a comedy based in a library (which, come to think of it, I also need to look at again). Plus, I was busy with school runs, and looking after my toddler, and I also had the occasional essay to write for a postgraduate certificate in person-centred counselling that I’d been studying for.

So not much editing got done, and I kept putting off the submissions.

I’ve realised since then that it wasn’t so much the fear of rejection that prevented me from moving on, it was the expectation of rejection, which is one step removed, and means that there is no hope – which may or may not be true, but it still brought me to a standstill.

I considered the realistic odds of publication for my memoir, and the future didn’t look great. Realistically, I’m aware that I probably ought to be looking at smaller agencies, or pitching directly to publishers, but the dream of being published traditionally is not one I’m ready to give up on just yet.

I’ve  always known that I faced an uphill struggle as far as being traditionally published was concerned. The market for ‘triumph over adversity’ memoirs peaked in the 1990s, when my own story was yet to finish, with titles such as ‘Prozac Nation’ and ‘Girl, Interupted’ capturing the hearts of many readers (myself included).

These days, with physical book sales in decline, and the fact that there is just so much more choice, means that the likelihood of writing a story that’s different from what’s been said before is slim. Memoirs about addiction appear to have had their day. In the current climate, unless the subject matter of a memoir is particularly unusual, it is harder to get a publishing deal. Otherwise, to be a success, a memoirist needs now to capture something phenomenally different about a relatable experience, and give it a poignant and unusual slant (Hence why I mentioned ‘H is for Hawk’ in my last post, because it’s a story that has it all, and also has a distinguishable and extremely readable ‘voice’).

As far as my own memoir is concerned, I’m still searching for an unusual twist, which I may or may not ever find. In the meantime, all I can do is make sure my writing is as good as it can be, that my plot is as tight as possible, and that my characters are memorable.

I’ve got over my wobble now, and I’m ready to put myself out there again. So, I’m setting myself the minuscule task of submitting to three agents, and we’ll see what happens. I don’t hold out much hope, but I haven’t given up yet. As far as I’m concerned, this is only the beginning.


Author: lifeandtimesofamemoirwriter

I am a writer based in East Anglia. Currently writing a memoir about alcoholism and student life during the mid-1990s Brit Pop / Girl Power era (long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2014).

4 thoughts on “The best laid writing plans”

  1. It’s an interesting distinction that I’d never considered – rejection (fear of or expectation of). Of course expectation of rejection is soul destroying so well done for trying submissions again. You do have a story that is worth telling and certainly worth reading.


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