In my most recent post in this series, I explained how I wrote a rough draft of my memoir, Flying Free, in 3 months. In today’s post on #3 of the 7 Stages of Memoir Writing, Revising and Research, I shift from art to business. I’ll go into the amount of time and research it took to write a book proposal and to create an author presence before querying agents.
Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
After spending the summer of 2017 revising my memoir, I felt like I’d successfully written the story, but now I wanted people to read it. But how to actually get the book into people’s hands?
I researched self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and decided to go with trad because the thought of marketing made me want to curl up into a ball and cry. I prefer to have a team on my side when I’m going out in public.
So now, “all” I needed was to find an agent who could represent my work to publishers. Since I’d been focusing on the mechanics of writing for so long, I had a lot of research ahead of me. I knew close to nothing about the process of finding an agent.
I’d heard only 5% of writers had agents, and only about half of those had book contracts. Those were scary odds. I had to figure out a way to overcome them.
Improving the odds of finding an agent
Luckily, I was fortified with the expertise I’d gathered in Theo Nestor’s memoir-writing class, and I’d become part of a supportive community of writers in Seattle, a city second only to New York for the size and opportunities of its writing community.
Stages 1 and 2 of the writing process can be completed alone, but by stage 3, when you’re revising your manuscript and researching the publication process, it’s critical to be part of a community of friends, critique partners, and beta readers. It’s said that it takes a village to publish a book, and I’ve found that to be absolutely true. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the kindness and support of my many writer friends.
During this stage, I did a lot of research on the publishing industry, and realized I’d need to prepare query letters and a memoir proposal. Another major writing project.
Writing a memoir proposal
My writing teacher Theo told me I could probably sell my memoir on proposal. And even if the full manuscript was requested, editors and agents would still need to see a complete proposal. So, my next job was to improve the first few chapters of the book and produce a professional-quality proposal.
From June 2017 through October 2017, I researched how to write a book proposal; wrote an overview, author biography, marketing and publicity section; researched my target audience and wrote a description. I read maybe twenty potential comparable titles (books whose audiences were similar to mine), and selected six of them for my proposal. Then I polished several sample chapters, got feedback from Theo and friends, refined my outline and had it edited by my friend Bonnie Dixit from the memoir class.
In the meantime, I took more pitching and marketing classes at Hugo House, attended lots of talks, spent hours doing research on the web, and talked to critique partners and friends.
It seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But it was also lots of fun, and hanging out with other writers on the same journey made it kind of exciting. (One of the best parts of all this is watching your friends—who started from nothing along with you—find agents or get book deals.)
Creating an “author presence”
Every author has a website, right? So I needed one. I asked my writer friends for advice, evaluated several platforms, found a web designer, played around with a bunch of stuff, and finally came up with the site where you’re reading this blog: CeciliaAragonAuthor.com. It’s surprising how many decisions go into the creation of a website. Even coming up with the URL took days, believe it or not. And then there was the color scheme. And the selection of images. It drove me crazy. Luckily my writer friends were patient and generous with advice.
Next, social media. Ulp. It’s hard for an introvert like me to put myself out on the internet. I didn’t want to be doing a bunch of self-promoting. That felt kind of icky.
Then a friend told me to think of it as a way to connect with like-minded people, make friends, and share with my community. Yes! That made it a lot easier. So instead of a constant barrage of “buy my book,” what I try to do is share information others might find interesting, funny, or helpful. I can live with that.
So that summer I created a Facebook author page, a Twitter account, and even got my teenage son to help me make an Instagram account. (It’s too embarrassing to admit how long it took me to figure out how to post to Instagram the first time, even with his help.)
To establish my author presence before I began to query agents, I started posting (infrequently of course, because introvert). And yes, after a year I admit I only had 5 Instagram posts. Still, if an agent checked, I was out there. I was making an effort.
When all that was set up, I researched the query process itself.
In my next post on Tuesday the 16th, I’ll explain how I organized my querying process to maximize my chances of getting a response.