First a note to fiction writers. Even though I’m blogging about a non-fiction topic this time, you really do need to pay attention to what’s happening in the publishing world, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. As I teach in my workshops, I fully believe that at least 40% of an author’s success will be based on factors other than his or her writing ability. Largely, those factors involve a willingness to learn about publishing as an industry.
So today, as promised, I want to blog a bit about the memoir/autobiography/personal experience genre. In the world of secular publishing, this genre is extremely successful. Books like Angela’s Ashes, All Over But the Shouting, and the more recent bestseller The Glass Castle have all found a wide audience. But in the world of Christian publishing, that’s far less true. Memoirs or personal experience stories that do well are extremely rare. And some that do succeed must appeal to the secular book buyers as well. A perfect example is the current Tyndale House bestseller Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices by Mosab Hassan Yousef. That book, about the conversion of a Muslim, is in the Amazon top 100 and on the Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers list. Not only does it appeal to readers beyond the Christian community, it also affords the author a great opportunity to speak about his book. I’ve seen him at least once on a major TV program and no doubt he’s been on several others.
This genre has not always been so dead among Christian readers. Some of us remember books like The Hiding Place, God’s Smuggler, The Cross and the Switchblade, Run Baby Run, and others. Where are their counterparts today? It’s certainly not because editors want to say no to this genre. Most editors I know at Christian publishing houses are eager for this genre to pick up steam. We get excited at the occasional successes such as Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz or Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. The latter, though, was published by a secular publisher. Why? Would it have sold as well if a Christian publisher had published it? Likely not.
Another current personal story that’s selling well—due to the movie of the same name—is The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, published by….you guessed it…a secular publisher, W.W. Norton. There again, what if that book had been published by a Christian publisher? Would it have been as popular? Would Sandra Bullock have an Oscar on her mantle tonight?
Sports books as memoirs can do well. Tony Dungy’s books have been bestsellers. So was Kurt Warner’s. I see that Tyndale will be coming out with Superbowl winning Saints quarterback, Drew Brees’ autobiography. I hope it does well….but I hope we eventually see the breakthrough of other, non-sports related personal stories.
Will we? I just don’t know the answer. To be honest, the questions surrounding this genre baffle and frustrate me no end. I’ve had to pass up some very good book proposals because, even I’m convinced they won’t sell—unless like the Mosab Hassan Yousef book or a sports story, they can reach out to that part of the market that DOES read memoirs.
Right now in my role as a writer, I’m working on a memoir with an actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age and we are expecting it will take a secular publisher to see the potential in her book, even though it is a solid Christian testimony. Go figure.
Next week I’m going to be at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s conference. I hope to see some of you there. GO if you can! At this conference, I will likely buy the newest memoir that I’m aware of published by a Christian publisher. That will be Mary de Muth’s Thin Places. I hope it does very, very well. I hope, in fact, it opens the floodgate for more memoirs. Hats off to Mary–and to Zondervan–her publisher, if it does.
Finally, let me add that presently the best way to have your memoir/autobiography/personal experience book published is to self publish it and promote it like crazy. When it sells well, publishers will be interested.
If you have comments on why you think this genre fares poorly among Christian readers, I’m all ears. All the more ears if you have a solution.
Next time: back to fiction—and one of my pet peeves. Don’t miss it.