New kid in the cafeteria


You want to write your life story to share with family members. Or maybe you’ve been told, “You should write a book.”

There’s that should word. Do you actually want to write that book, or did that off-the-cuff remark prompt you into thinking you should?

If your answer is the latter, spare yourself the heartache. Writing is not romantic. It’s not fun. The work is hard and–for long stretches–you may feel as if it’s not coming together and you’re wasting your time. Even when you have a completed manuscript in your hands, you may still have doubts.

Writing is like being the new kid at school and walking into the cafeteria, hoping to find connection and acceptance in a roomful of strangers.

If you want to write and get published, you’ll need a thick skin. You’ll have to subject your work to critique and editing, query agents and publishers, and risk rejection.

Not everyone is up for it.

I once had a phone conversation with a wannabe writer who was referred by a mutual friend. His first sentence was, “So you’re gonna help me publish my bestseller, right?”

I don’t think he was joking.

He began to describe his first chapter although I said I’d prefer to read his words to get a sense of his voice. I listened, and though it’s tough to edit on the fly,  I could hear exactly what he might do to craft a stronger opening. When I suggested moving a few elements around, he sounded offended that I didn’t tell him right off the bat that I absolutely loved his story.

I didn’t.

He never sent the first chapter as I’d requested, and I don’t know what happened to that bestseller. (Snarky, I know. I’m grumpy because I spent the day writing. See what I mean? But back to you.)

If you’re wondering what it takes to write a story that captivates readers, I can give you advice, but I’d rather send you straight to those in the know. These four top agents describe what they desire in a memoir.

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