I have a completed manuscript which I am trying to place. It began as the diary of a certain two years of my life which soon became a complete history. I amended a chapter of the manscript to read as a complete piece and submitted it for the Fish Short Memoir Prize. It was shortlisted. I was amazed.
This is the way to go, I thought, memoir. I bought one or two non-fiction books on the relevant subject, amassed some facts and figures, read newspapers from the era, the sixties, found photographs and quotes and altered the structure of the manuscript so that I could begin each chapter with a paragraph of documentry.
I took some chapters to an Arvon course. ‘This doesn’t read like a memoir,’ said my tutor. ‘It reads like a novel.’ I thought, ‘that’s just how I write. In scenes, dramatically.’
Eventually I submitted the synopsis, the outline and either the first chapter or the first 3 chapters, as asked for, to agents, typing Memoir into the heading of the email. No luck. Not a single reply.
I began my search for agents seeking memoir again, noting that many were asking for narrative non-fiction. I used that in the subject line of my emails. No luck.
I went to a MIROnline day course on memoir, submitting my piece in advance. They liked it and asked me to submit to their online writing publication. I took another chapter, topped and tailed it with a different opening and conclusion, and submitted a story. It was duly published.
So maybe I’m writing fiction, I told myself. I removed all the obvious non-fiction material, add more narrative and ended up with a new version of my story. By now I’d received so many rejections, I was considering self-publishing. Before I took that path, the book needed editing. I found a professional editor, who soon told me that my manuscript had probably been rejected because I was submitting it as memoir. It has too many dramatic scenes and dialogu to be a memoir,’ he said. ‘It is bio-fiction.’
I submitted as bio-fiction. One of my recent rejections has come with helpful comments. Full marks to that agent. ‘This does not have the strong drama needed to sustain a novel,’ she writes, ‘and the manuscript is struggling not to be a memoir.’ Instinct tells me she is right.
Today, I read tweets, discussing the fact that, in the literary world of submissions, memoir is overtaking fiction.
‘Not necessarily,’ comments a well-reputed independent publisher. ‘We have always had memoir dressed as fiction. It is called Autofiction.’
I’m considering my position. Spreading all the pages out on the floor and seeing if a certain amount of re-adjustment will keep the interest of that kind agent.