Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Same subject, different slant

I'm a member of a great website for women writers, She Writes. Today, one of the agents wrote an excellent blog post on the art of the memoir. It includes an actual query letter (check the presumption at the end of the second paragraph) and an intelligent response.

The story is heartbreaking: incest, abuse, breakdowns, drugs, poverty, addiction. Hoiser handles this well: "Life isn't fair, and thanks to Oprah we all know it." Her response is spot-on - writing for catharsis is one thing, and writing for readers another.

I've had many people approach me throughout the years and tell me they've started their memoirs. A few have even given me their manuscripts to read. It's awful to say this to them, but people don't care. Unless you're famous or notorious, no one cares.

The un-famous people who've been published all have a slant that works, that makes their story palatable and interesting for readers. That's why James Frey's fictionalized 'memoir' A Million Little Pieces was such a scandal, but that's also why it was a bestseller. He found an angle and exploited it. Some might call that lying, others might call it genius (he's got a three-book deal with HarperCollins worth seven figures). That's also how books mentioned in the post - The Glass Castle, Angela's Ashes, Precious, Running with Scissors - became bestsellers. The stories resonated with readers, but so did the lessons.

An interesting life doesn't necessarily translate into a fascinating book. And writers must always, always think of their readers.

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