Ask The Agent: Memoir Platform and Full Disclosure: How Much Is Enough?

Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect a few of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.


Question from Amber

Hi, I'm querying my memoir. Some agent websites say ‘must have established platform for nonfiction’. Does this include memoirs? I'm a little lost as to how I would set up a platform before my story is published. In case you're wondering, my story is a narrative telling about being kidnapped and raped, and the year that follows, including the trial at the end. So you can see, I have no idea how to build a platform before publishing. Thanks for taking your time out to clear this up for me.

Yes, it does include memoirs. Any and every nonfiction manuscript needs to have some clout behind it. Why are YOU the author that people should listen to? Why is YOUR book a must-read? Some will pick it up because it sounds interesting. But many will pick it up looking for comfort, help, insight. Your platform in this area can’t simply be the experience—it must be what you have done with the experience.

The first thing you need to do when considering a memoir (or any nonfiction) is to morph into your own PR person. You need to start publicizing NOT your manuscript but your knowledge behind the subject of your manuscript. Give people a reason to want to read your book when it is published. Actually more than just a reason… a need.

Become the expert on your subject.

Think of your platform as the scholarly companion to your memoir (which is the more emotional side of the experience). Start small, nourish your platform, then grow it. Start with guest blogging. Guest blogging is always a bit tricky. Make sure that you 1.) choose blogs with a good audience, 2.) a relevant audience (so be sure to pick a blog relevant to the subject of your manuscript), and 3.) be sure your guest post doesn’t just regurgitate your manuscript.

After you have built up an amateur authority, work on a more professional authority. Magazine and journal articles are always a great next step. In your case, there will be many women’s health or psychology magazines that you might want to consider sending material to. Then use the online and print clout to do conferences and other speaking engagements. All of this added together, over a good time frame (at least a year) will build you a reputation of authority (considering that you ARE an authority and have good material to offer).

Once you have created a great platform for yourself and your subject, you will have a much easier time proving that your manuscript is more valuable than all the other memoir manuscripts being pitched with the same concept.

Pro tip: If you have a hard time pinpointing what the subject of your manuscript is (i.e., what you should use to kick off your platform), ask yourself these questions: What do I have to say that is valuable to my readers? How is my experience useful to others? What new information am I bringing to this subject?

Question from Nicole

I write science fiction for adults and young adults, and I am currently seeking representation for a YA science fiction novel. However, I'm unsure if I should limit myself to querying agents who rep *both* YA and adult fiction. If I sign with an agent on the basis my current, YA project, and that agent focuses exclusively on children's literature, then what happens to the adult genre books I want to write?

This is a great question and a valid concern. I think the best thing you can do is query agents who are interested in both age groups, or agents who work at agencies that represent both age groups. In your query (at the end) mention that you also write adult fiction. As long as you fully disclose this, you should be fine. When you speak with an agent after they have offered representation on your manuscript, make sure they are willing to represent any future adult projects. If they aren’t, but you are still interested in their representation, make sure they would be okay with you seeking separate representation for your adult fiction.

Pro tip: Agents are just people, we are not automated machines that trash queries if they don't follow every little guideline. It's better to break the query mold than to risk querying the wrong thing. 

Question from Amanda

I've done a short round of querying (maybe twelve agents, total) for a MS that no one's expressed interest in. For various reasons (length and possible market saturation being two of them), I've decided to go a different route with it and concentrate on finding an agent for another, longer MS that's also ready to go. They're the same genre, so I'd like to query some of the same agents as I did before. Is this even possible? What are the rules for this sort of thing?

Because it is only a handful of agents, this shouldn’t be too big of a problem. In this situation, you’ll want to acknowledge that you’ve already contacted the agent re: your previous manuscript. Concisely explain that you have decided to query another project and kindly ask if they would be interested in seeing the query for your new MS. Then paste the query for your new MS into the body of the email. Don’t wait for a reply. Just send it. The forewarning that you give them about your new MS should be no longer than a few sentences.

Again, it’s not a huge deal because you only sent it out to a few agents. But in the future—and this is advice to all writers—you want to be very sure of your manuscript when you decide to query. You don’t want to give off the impression to agents that you give up easily, or that your first MS didn’t mean that much to you and you’ve changed your mind.

Pro tip: Always use full disclosure with agents. We appreciate that. 

Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor


Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 5 of Ask the Agent. Issue 5 answers will be posted Monday, September 10th.

Bree Ogden

Column by Bree Ogden

Bree Ogden is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary and a comics/TV columnist and reviewer at Bloody Disgusting.

When she's not agenting, compulsively watching horror films, reading comics, hiding out at her local science center, or killing off her bee colonies, she serves as the managing editor of the macabre children's magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree, which she co-founded in 2011 with artist Rebekah Joy Plett.

Bree teaches query craft and graphic novel scripting at LitReactor as well as serves as the Assistant Class Director. Unless you are an exciting new piece of taxidermy, she'll probably never let you in her room. You can find her at agentbree.wordpress.com.

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