Ask Daphne! Should I finish my memoir?

November 26th, 2008 • Kate

Some particularly memoir-able shoes for Susan, who asks:

I was under the impression that non-fiction, including memoir, is sold on a proposal and sample chapters. I do not have an agent yet, but in May saw a call for submissions from a publisher that I think would be suitable for my memoir, so I sent them a letter and the required 30 pages before their June deadline.
I recently I received an e-mail from the publisher’s assistant, asking for the full manuscript. The e-mail mentioned my “novel”, but did not indicate whether they had read the 30 pages I had submitted. My question is this: is memoir really treated like other non-fiction genres? Can I just send them my first 50 pages and my proposal, or do I have to have a complete manuscript? I’m pretty sure they misread my letter, which states that my book is a memoir. I did e-mail the assistant, stating that my book is indeed non-fiction and that I have the first 50 pages and a 36-page proposal. I haven’t heard back from her yet, but feel like I need to submit something. What do you advise? A writer friend told me a year ago that I should not complete my memoir because since it’s non-fiction, an agent or editor may want me to re-work part of it and if I have completed it already, I might not be so open to changes.

You didn’t mention if the call for submissions was specifically for fiction or not, but I’ll assume it was an open submission for all genres and surmise that yes, very probably the assistant did misread your letter, or mistyped her response to you. Chances are they read what you sent originally, liked it, and wanted to read more, which is why they asked for it.
Since you already wrote back and offered the first 50 pages and the proposal, I don’t think there’s anything more you can do at this point with that submission. However, I will say that I don’t at all agree with your writer friend that you shouldn’t complete your memoir. You absolutely should finish it, and then polish it, and keep polishing it until you think it’s the best you can make it. Look, bazillions of people think they have a book in them. Maybe a million of them actually sit down and start writing. But the number of people who actually FINISH a book? That’s a LOT smaller.
If you think just because it’s done and you’ve typed the words “The End”, you won’t be open to changes, let me tell you something right now before you go any further in this industry: get out. If you’re not open to revision, you’re not going to go far. ALWAYS be prepared to make changes.

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2 Responses to “Ask Daphne! Should I finish my memoir?”

  1. yellowbrick08 Says:

    I agree, Daphne. A friend of mine wrote a memoir (it ended up being published as fiction), got an agent and they sold the book to a publishing house. It was released last year. But she wrote the entire book before she got the agent. She did some work on it with the agent, then after they sold it to the publishing house, the editor requested more changes, including cutting the word count to make it a quicker read for the desired audience. She was a first-time author. So, Susan, absolutely finish your memoir, and absolutely be willing to work with an agent and editor to make it better. They might see things you don't. The important thing is, you all want the same result: a great — and successful — book.

  2. Susan Says:

    Thank you so much! If an agent or publisher wants me to make changes to my manuscript, I would definitely do that! I'll do anything to get it sold. I did send that publisher my proposal and first 50 pages and told them that I could finish the rest in the next four to six months. In the meantime, I have started to write the rest. I should not have listened to my writer friend. He has so many great clips and is a known journalist, so has less to prove to publishers.
    Thank you again!