Writers’ Roundup: July 30

I could care less what Chelsea Clinton wears at her wedding this weekend. What I DO care about are great links from this week on writing and social media. Enjoy.

On Monday we’ve got an interview with the author of The Art of Solo Travel about e-book publishing and, of course, traveling solo. Don’t miss it!

Writers’ Roundup: July 2

Wow, lots less time to go through my Google Reader this week now that I have clients! But it’s a good trade. Here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • Punky Brewster is coming out with a memoir! Well, the woman who played her is, anyhow. Who else will buy this?

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Happy holiday weekend!!

Taking honesty to a new level (in your writing)

Writing an awesome memoir requires being honest with the reader.

This is pretty basic, Memoir Writing 101. You’ve got to reveal your true self through your story, because if you don’t, readers will know it. They might not be able to put their finger on it, but they’ll know something’s off. If you’re not completely and utterly honest, your voice won’t feel authentic and the story won’t work.

So we know the importance of being honest with the reader. But what about being honest with yourself?

During my last round of revisions, I kept feeling like something was missing from my story arc, from my tale of personal growth. It took a lot of digging, but I finally realized I wasn’t being completely honest with myself about why I chose to travel alone.

I’m not going to tell you exactly how this plays out in my manuscript because it’s crucial to my book’s theme, and I don’t want to give it away. It has to do with my deep-down fears and how they affect how I live. But my point here is that it took me this long — I’ve been working on my memoir now for a year and a half — for this light bulb to go off in my head. It took me this long to peel back the layers (cue the onion analogy) and see my story for what it really is, and to see myself for who I really am.

Let me tell you, I never expected to confront — or even think about — my fears through this memoir. After all, I’m writing a fun story of adventure travel! But the story arc gets stronger every time I peel back one of those layers. And I’ve peeled back so many by this point that I’m recognizing pieces of myself that I didn’t know existed. I never knew I had grown in this particular way until now. That’s the coolest thing about writing memoir — It has forced me to analyze myself, my motivations and my goals, and helped me learn more about me.

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So next time you sit down to work on your personal essay or life story or even understand the motivations behind a character in your novel, take the whole being-honest approach to the next level. Don’t just ask yourself whether you’re being honest with readers. Think hard about whether you’re being honest with yourself.

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Querying your memoir: manuscript or proposal?

So you’re writing a memoir. Should you complete your manuscript before approaching agents? Or query with only a proposal?

I’ve touched on this topic here and here and here, but it comes up so often in the memoir-writing community — and there’s so little advice available online — that it’s time I addressed it outright.

Here’s why this is even an issue:

Writers working on nonfiction projects often query literary agents before they’ve written the entire manuscript. That’s because agents sometimes sell nonfiction based on a proposal, a summary document that includes an overview of the book and author, a promotion plan and sample chapters.

Fiction works differently. Because the saleability of a novel depends heavily on the quality of the writing in addition to the idea, most agents prefer new fiction writers complete the manuscript before querying.

Memoir — that lawless genre that refuses to be put in a box — falls somewhere in between. It’s nonfiction, of course, a true story. But whether it sells depends on how the story is told, which makes it similar to fiction.

For that reason, most literary agents recommend completing the manuscript before querying, like you’d do for fiction. Even then you sometimes need a proposal, too.

But in practice, a good number of agents seem to take on memoir clients based only on their proposal. How do I know this? Because I talk with a lot of memoirists, and most of the ones I know who are represented by an agent established that relationship before they’d written their entire manuscript. In some cases the agent found them through their blog or magazine article. Other writers successfully queried with only a proposal, and their agent picked them out of the slush pile.

What’s the lesson here? There’s no right answer. You’ve got to do what’s right for you.

Me? I decided long ago to write my entire manuscript before querying, partly so I could pitch my best product rather than one that was still evolving, and also because I thought more agents might consider me that way. To cover all my bases, I also wrote a kick-ass proposal (in first person, since my manuscript is in first person). I want to give agents every possible reason to represent me.

If, however, your idea is particularly timely or you’ve got a great platform or there’s some other reason your story will stand out, you might consider querying with only a proposal. Whether or not that’s acceptable depends largely on the agent you’re querying, so check out their submission guidelines, as well as what other writers have written about them online.

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What do y’all think? If you’ve already been through the query process, which approach did you take — an did it work? If you’ve yet to query, will you wait until you’ve completed your manuscript or have a go with your proposal?

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Writers’ Roundup: April 30

Hooray for links!

  • MediaBistro’s GalleyCat offers a list of the best books on writing. Be sure to read through the comments for more recommendations.
  • Why are chef’s memoirs popular with people who don’t care to cook themselves? Because they’re not really about food, says The Guardian’s books blog. The message here applies to other types of memoir, too.

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See you next week!

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Writers’ Roundup: April 23

It’s Friday! That means links:

  • Literary agent Jean Naggar writes at The Huffington Post about how the agent’s role in the publishing process is becoming increasingly editorial. (This post ran in early March, but it’s new to me.)
  • Should you take a MediaBistro class? Writer abroad evaluates the classes she’s taken so far — personal essay writing, travel writing boot camp, from essay to memoir, and non-fiction book proposals — to help you decide whether it’s worth the investment.
  • At Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, 10 questions you should ask literary agents before you sign.

Happy weekend!

Writers’ Roundup: March 5

Happy Friday!

Some weekend reading for y’all:

  • At True/Slant, a great list of the Best Journalism of 2009. A few of Conor Friedersdorf’s categories: exceptional storytelling, short essays and travel.
  • Literary agent Rachelle Gardner explains why she doesn’t ask for memoirs about overcoming adversity: “Lots of people have a story similar to yours; only a few will be able to write it in such a way that it could become a bestselling memoir.” There’s also an interesting conversation in the comments of Rachelle’s post, Does the query system work?
  • For fun: Big Africa Cycle. This guy is biking through the continent. It’s so fun to read his posts and see his photos, partly because I’ve been to some of the places he has visited recently.

It’s almost spring! Enjoy your weekend.