Literary agent Rachelle Gardner addresses memoir

Memoir includes elements of both nonfiction and fiction, as I’ve discussed before on this blog. While literary agent Miss Snark calls it a pesky category buster, until today I was ready to call it the forgotten genre. Although literary agents seem eager to represent memoir, most don’t specifically address the genre or its submission guidelines online.

So when literary agent Rachelle Gardner called for questions on her Rants & Ramblings blog, I jumped right in with inquires about memoir. Today she answered them! I’ll paste part of her post here, but for her full answer and readers’ comments (which are quite helpful), check out the entire post on memoir guidelines.

Alexis Grant asked: Would you consider a post on memoir guidelines, since memoir falls somewhere between fiction and nonfiction in many ways? For my travel memoir, should I query when I have a proposal and several sample chapters, like nonfiction, or wait until the manuscript is complete, like fiction? What’s the usual word-count window for memoir? Are there any other areas—aside from reading like a novel—where I should follow fiction guidelines instead of nonfiction?

Great questions! I think memoir requires the most out of a writer, because it’s non-fiction, so platform matters. But it’s also story-driven and the writing is the most important aspect, so it requires the level of attention to the art and craft of writing that fiction does.

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about whether to query with sample chapters or a complete manuscript. With a first-timer, I always prefer to read the whole thing before I make a decision whether to take it on. At the very least, I want to read three or four chapters, and perhaps rough versions or outlines of the remaining chapters.

I DO recommend finishing the manuscript before you query. Like with a first novel, you are going to discover so much in the writing process. I believe your book will morph and evolve throughout the writing, and so those first few chapters, though written, will not actually be complete until you’ve finished the book. A memoir is a work of art much more than the typical non-fiction book.

If you don’t read Rachelle’s blog, start now. It’s worth your time!

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12 Responses

  1. So, you’ve gotten some professional feedback that’s helpful. Good. I’ve read her blog before, and, drop by there on occasion. One thing is kinda off-putting. She freely–and politely–admits she may not respond if your submission is rejected, citing, “sheer volume” as the causal factor.

    Hmmm. How long does it take to generate a proforma response, put it on the clip board, paste it into a reply, and click send? You, after all, worked at least several hours to prep your submission. Maybe professional courtesy shouldn’t be overwhelmed by volume. Just sayin’

    Best Regards, Galen.

  2. Such insightful comments from this woman. I think this is really helpeful–even though I don’t plan on writing a book soon. I do have dreams and this is useful knowledge for pulling those dreams down from the sky and hugging them to my chest.

  3. Nice post, Alexis and nice to include the link to Rachelle’s blog. It’s always puzzled me that agents or editors can be too busy to reply, and I agree with Galen. Professional courtesy is just that.

  4. Great feedback, Alexis. I do like Rachelle’s site and enjoy reading it fairly regularly. I remember her catching some flack recently about her no-reply policy. It might be a technology shortcoming of hers, though–she may not be aware of some of the gadgetry out there that could help her with basic responses.

    Still, she’s a very useful source of info.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. Nice informative post, Alexis. Thanks.

  6. Good information. I like Rachelle’s blog too.

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

  7. Very smart of you to get those questions in to Rachelle. Maybe she’ll remember you when you get that submission ready to go.


  8. Memoirs are very popular with publishers today, the trick is to find someone who has something to offer the reader that is different from what everyone else is saying.

    I recenty met an awesome lady who specializes in helping people, especially women, write, publish, and promote their memoirs. Her site is

    – Steve Tremp

  9. Hi, Alexis –
    This is a very helpful post, and I’ll be sure to check out Rachelle’s site.

    Back when I was querying agents (last time was three years ago), practically all of them sent replies, even if it was just a preprinted postcard saying, “Sorry, we’ve considered your manuscript and it’s not for us.” They weren’t as into e-mails then – how rapidly things change.

    Now, with all this dynamite online technology, my goal is to reverse roles and have the agents query me!

    Julie Lomoe
    Visit my blog to read excerpts from my novels:
    Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

  10. I follow Rachelle’s blog, too, and when I saw your name on that post, I was all giddy – I know her!!

    It’s great that she did that, and there’s a lot of fantastic info there!

    Elle Parker

  11. […] most non-fiction books. But memoir, it turns out, is not like most non-fiction. Selling memoir is like selling fiction. Gotta write it all first, particularly because I’m a first-time author. (Although it’s […]

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