Having just returned from the Florida Christian Writer’s conference, I’m primed to blog about a topic that comes up again and again as I meet with aspiring writers. Many people go through extraordinary adversity and, understandably, want to write about how they came through it. But, sorry to say, these “personal experience” book proposals almost never find a home with publishers. The reason is, of course, that few people buy such books. I often ask the writer of such a book proposal how many books of this type did he or she read when undergoing their own trial. Usually they will admit to having read “none.” And yet they seem to think if they write a book, others will want to read it. That’s nice in theory, but it just doesn’t seem to work that way.
There are some exceptions, of course. An example is Kent Whitaker’s Murder by Family. I had to reject it, but it went to be successfully published by Howard Books.
Despite the difficulties, some writers are determined to write their story anyway. That being the case, here are a few hints for writers of all types of books, but especially those who are determined to write about a specific experience (usually bad, but not always) they went through.
1. Make sure your writing is absolutely stellar. Excellent writing will cause your book to appeal to a wider audience.
2. Plan your promotional efforts. Perhaps even more than other non-fiction authors, you will need to convince a publisher that you can generate sales through speaking engagements and/or other venues.
3. Consider aiming your book at the reading population at large, not just the smaller Christian audience. Secular publishers have taken note at how well books with Christian content sell, so while you may have to tone your message down a tad, you can certainly still weave it into your book.
4. Rather than seeking a large publishing company, you may want to consider a smaller company that isn’t as dependent on mass sales as are larger publishers. One of my favorite proposals that I had to reject went on to be published successfully at another house. It deals with the author’s father and his sometimes humorous and always poignant experience with Alzheimer’s. I love The Hedge People by Louise Carey and wish it could reach a large audience.
5. Don’t rule out self-publishing. If you believe in your story and are determined to see it published, you might save yourself a lot of time by simply going straight to a company like Winepress. They do a great job. And, if your self-published book sells well, a larger company may eventually offer to pick it up. At Harvest House we occasionally publish a self-published book that has done well.
Akin to personal experience books is the memoir or autobiography genre. I’ll blog about that next time. Stay tuned.