Unless You’re Famous

The Literary Agent from Denver sat at the opposite end of the sofa from me, both of us turned toward each other for my fifteen-minute session at the writers’ conference. In his hands was the proposal for my memoir that I’d painstakingly prepared over the past six months. The last fifty pages included the first three chapters of the book, work that started in its earliest form ten years before and had gone through several iterations. He asked me to tell him what I had for him and as I described my memoir, he thumbed through the first few pages, then closed the proposal.

He was quiet for a moment, then said, “Unless you’re famous, I can’t get a traditional publisher to take a memoir.” He went on to say that it didn’t matter how well-written it was, and he didn’t say it, but the implication was the same for the proposal—it meant nothing if the Literary Agent couldn’t go before traditional publishing houses with my memoir.

I sat there, not quite sure what to say, disappointed but also relieved that he was up front with me. That could have been the end of the conversation and we could have wrapped things up early, giving us more time before our next sessions. But then he continued.

“Let’s talk some more about your book,” he said. “Tell me what you were feeling when you went through that experience in Sedona?” At the time of our meeting, the title for my memoir was, Saved by Sedona: Finding a Path of Pilgrimage.

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I told him about the pivotal moment in the book that takes place when I’m alone with God in Sedona. That experience of being present during a serendipitous trip after cancer treatment and struggling with a toxic job, had impacted my life and later led to yearly solo journeys. I told him how the first three verses of Psalm 40 became my go-to scripture during that difficult time, and then I quoted the first verse.

“You have to change your title,” he said.

While I’d had some concerns, I’d become attached to it and could think of nothing else. The agent told me he was good at titles, and since he was a veteran of many years with the industry, had worked with many titles in the inspirational, faith-based genre, I believed him.

“How about, He Heard My Voice,” he said.

I listened to him, trying to take in what he was telling me, trying to absorb how my pitch had turned into a brainstorming session for a title of a book he couldn’t represent. I did like the sound of his title, the alliteration and the clear reference to the Psalm.

“And the subtitle needs to speak to your target audience and what they’ll experience reading your book,” he said. He asked me to tell him more about the journey for the reader through my memoir, what did I experience and how did I change. I remembered some of what I’d rehearsed for the pitch, but mostly answered him like we were just having a conversation.

“How about something like,” he said, and told me his idea, then changed some of it as I filled in the blanks. We came up with the subtitle, “A Midlife Mom’s Journey Through Cancer and Stress and Her Unexpected Arrival at Healing and Wholeness.” Later, when I had time to wrap my head around what we’d created in such a few minutes of working together, I liked that long and accurate subtitle.

Before the conference, I’d prayed for direction knowing I wanted clarity about how to move forward with the book I’d worked on for so long. It had been my dream to publish it and now, at sixty-three-years-old, I wasn’t willing to keep waiting to put it out there.

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Four years prior after successful pitch with an agent. Later saw this as a ‘False Start.’

 

“What do you think I should do with this memoir since I can’t go the traditional route,” I asked him, feeling that he’d been placed in my path and I could trust his advice.

“I think you should go the Indie route,” he said, and then gave me some suggestions for how to self-publish using contracted freelancers like editors and cover designers who’re also used by the publishing houses.

That evening I left the conference feeling relieved, scared, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

I’m not famous; Oprah has not shown up at my door; I’ve not been kidnapped and forced into a cult; I’ve not performed an unusual physical feat for a woman my age. But I do feel fortunate that the Literary Agent from Denver took the time with me to go beyond rejection and give my memoir new life. Now, I have a better title and have been set on the path for a new type of Solo Journey—the adventure of Indie Publishing. Just like other journeys, I’m traveling into the Unknown and each step is an act of faith.

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Morning view of Lake Champlain July ’15. Now wonder what journey through Indie publishing will be like.

How About You?

What dream do you have that is yet to be realized?

How can you step forward on a path toward achieving your dream?

12 thoughts on “Unless You’re Famous

  1. Good advice and I like the title and subtitle you came up with ~ I would pitch it to Guideposts.org and I could see it being carried / nuanced by chains like The Cracker Barrell restaurants, etc. Also, Nancy Roman (another blogger I follow) self-published. I’ve read her books, she sells on Amazon! Check her out at https://notquiteold.com/

    Cheers~! MJ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I meet so many others on this path Connie who, like you, want to publish their story. Your realistic account of your meeting with this agent is super helpful to others. Having known friends who self-published their books – one of whom landed a publisher after self-publishing her first two books, I think it’s solid advice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Marie. Yes, it was hard to hear his words yet I was glad to ‘get to the bottom’ of chasing a traditional deal. I realized, finally, it wasn’t a matter of not having a well-crafted story, or an impressive proposal, it was the nature of the industry.

      I was relieved to be able to move forward on a definite path, instead of depending on someone else to provide my dream.
      Thanks for including my post in your Round-Up,
      Connie

      Like

  3. Hi Connie,
    Like you, I wanted to go the traditional route to get my first attempted memoir published. Before my cancer diagnosis, I had been working on a different memoir about being a caregiver. I was also told, not famous, not interested. Even though like you, I was also told it was well written. When I decided to write my now published memoir, “Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person,” I knew that had to be the title. My husband reminded me, why do you need someone’s permission to publish your story? Best advice ever. So I didn’t even seek an agent that time. Self-publishing is rather freeing, actually. Overall, I’m pleased with how things turned out. IMO, the most important aspect (other than the quality of your writing of course) is the tedious task of editing. That part is so vital and so painstakingly slow. So having a good editor is super important. Good luck with your memoir. Hope you get it published on your terms and with the title you want. Thanks for writing about this topic. It’s a topic I’m passionate about. I’ll take the liberty of sharing a link to a post I wrote about self-publishing. http://nancyspoint.com/want-tell-story-13-tips-self-publishing-memoir/

    Like

    • Hey Nancy,
      Thanks so much for reading my post and sharing from your experience. I love your memoir title! You were right to go with that.
      Yes, part of being an Indie author is freeing–because no one has given me an advance or has control over what I do to market, promote, etc.
      Thanks for sharing your post about self-publishing. I’ll be sure to read it.
      I agree that it’s important to have a well-edited story and I hired a professional editor which was painstaking, but necessary to have the best product possible.
      I look forward to reading your posts!
      Best to You,
      Connie

      Like

  4. Connie, He always hears you, This time His reaction was a little unconventional. Make this work to your advantage, Think a little out of the box, list the options, expand the concepts and come up with the Hammer of a Title. I am behind you all the way. You are blessed. John.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey John,
      Yes, I believe He does. And I think that the Agent in my path was there to help me find direction. I actually like my new title/subtitle and I’m going with it. It captures the essence of my memoir better than the title I had before.
      I appreciate your support, John.
      Best to you!
      Connie

      Liked by 1 person

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