By Florence Rees, A.M. Heath Literary Agency, London

Where does my memoir fit in today’s publishing landscape?

Think about the memoirs you’ve read. What did you enjoy about them? Was it their unique perspective, one perhaps you may not have heard, the strength of their writing or just the interesting things that happened in their life? Which do you think yours is most similar to, what does it have in common with those you’ve read and what makes it stand out? Considering this will help you distil the strength of your own memoir and help you position it so you can pitch it effectively to an agent.

How do I find an agent who represents my kind of memoir?

Consider the memoirs you’ve enjoyed in the last few years and the authors who’ve written them. Research a few of their agents – do they represent a lot of memoir? You can often find who represents an author in the acknowledgements page. Are there agents who keep coming up? Look into them and their agencies. Perhaps within some agencies there are agents who specialise only in non-fiction? Agents often have bios on their agency websites about the books they have loved or represented which are intended to help authors such as yourselves decide who to submit to. Sometimes it’s a good idea to submit to the less senior agents of an agency which represents some of your favourite memoir writers as they will have smaller lists and more time.

What does an agent want to see in a submission?

This may vary agent to agent but a general rule of thumb is a synopsis or overview, 5-10 thousand words and a query letter with some background information about you, perhaps telling the agent why you decided to write this memoir and identifying where it sits in the market, ie which books would it be next to in a bookshop? When sending in a piece of work, you don’t necessarily need to submit the first part of your memoir, you could choose an extract where you feel your writing shines the brightest. If you do so, make sure in a query letter that you explain a bit of the story to the agent so they have context.

What makes a submission stand out?

An awareness of the book market and of trends can be helpful but isn’t as daunting as it sounds: comparison to other titles or authors is key information for an agent. Tell them whether it’s straight narrative, thematic or something else. Personalisation to an agent helps here – why have you chosen this agency or agent to submit to? I advise authors to imagine they’re telling their friend about their book – how would they describe it to them? Use that as the basis of writing to an agent. A few well-crafted lines can sometimes be better than paragraphs of information.

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