Ask Daphne! About memoir pitches

June 16th, 2008 • Kate

Rose shoes for Susan, who writes:

I’m trying to find an agent to represent my memoir about my time in China, specifically when I was married to a man from rural, central China. My query letter seems to be working: I’ve had half a dozen requests for my proposal or sample chapters after sending out only 20 letters. Of those requests, I’ve already received three rejections. Some agents think I need to broaden the scope of my readership and that a memoir about failed marriage to a guy from a completely different world won’t sell. One suggested that I pitch it as a look into Chinese culture from the perspective of an American woman who becomes part of a Chinese family. Do you have any thoughts about that? Would a women-focused memoir sell? Or should I open it up to entice men to read it, too?

To pull out the crux of your question, would a woman-focused memoir sell? Yes, absolutely. Think of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and I’m sure my readers could come up with buckets more. And know that statistics prove women are bigger book buyers than men. That being said, I think you should take a look at your rejections and see if there’s a consistency about them. If everyone is saying different things, I’d assume you just haven’t found the right reader. I mean, clearly you have a strong pitch, based on your query-to-request ratio. But if you’ve only got back three rejections, I wouldn’t start thinking about reworking everything until you have a larger pool of responses to pull from.
You can’t rewrite after every rejection. it’s a waste of your time and resources. See what other responses you get from your partials, and send out more queries! If you get a dozen or more rejections, THEN see if you can pull a consensus from the reasons. But know also, sometimes a rejection means nothing more than “no.” Take a look at Editor Abby Zidle’s latest blog post for some of the interpretations behind her responses.
And speaking of responses, you’ll have to excuse me now, as I have queries and partials to get back to reading. I’m hoping to get through all my queries today, so if you sent one recently and you haven’t heard back by tomorrow, do feel free to resend — and let me know it’s a resend, please. Otherwise, if I have responded, I’ll just assume you’re not using a tracking program, and may not reply a second time.

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One Response to “Ask Daphne! About memoir pitches”

  1. jeanoram Says:

    I um, did some editing on my ms after getting a rejection on a partial. I actually found the one sentence 'personalized' rejection quite helpful as it allowed me to see parts of my ms that were lacking (i.e. boring and cliche), whereas earlier, I hadn't been able to see that. But as for doing massive revisions over a handful of rejections, well, I'm not ready for that yet! (Unless they all tell me the same thing. In that case, I might just find myself hiding under a rock with a super ginormous mocha and an equally huge box of chocolates.)