After more than 30 years of writing advertising copy for unabashedly snarky clients, I thought I had bulletproof skin. But when my agent sent me the notes that accompanied rejections of our book proposal from 28 publishers, I realized that the durability of my epidermis was more akin to that of a neonate than a superhero.
“I know this is a big issue for women of a certain age, but….”
“I can’t convince myself that a memoir will speak to the readership, which seems to me to have a much stronger need for practical advice.”
“In the end, I feel it’s a bit too much of a memoir to fit well on our list.”
“Our success with memoir has been mixed, so it’s not a direction we’re heading in at the moment.”
“I worry that this proposal overlaps too much with a book I already have in the pipeline.”
The first thing I wanted to do after being skewered by the publishers’ comments was to suck my thumb or embrace a number of other regressive behaviors. When you attempt to write a memoir, you start to dream that you are being tossed into the Mall of America stark naked. You get trapped in a hard, tiny seat on a loopy roller coaster of self-doubt. Worst of all, you continually reject yourself before any one else can do it for you.
Why am I bothering to write this? This is so lame and stupid. Why am I pushing my sister to write her side of the story when she is a doctor who hates to write anything but prescriptions? Won’t writing about taking care of old, sick parents only make me seem old myself? Our brothers will hate us. Our cousins will second-guess our childhood memories. Unless we can find a way to become former U.S. presidents overnight, no one will care about or buy our book.
The day I got our rejections, I stopped just short of singing, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms,” and forced myself to open my laptop. Unfortunately, instead of revising Chapter 2, I procrastinated by rewriting the dictionary definition of a memoir to include phrases like “a genre of writing that involves a soul-ectomy and leaves wounds that never heal.” When I read that the word “memoir” derives from the French: mémoire: memoria, meaning memory or reminiscence, our decision to write a memoir about loss of memory seemed hopelessly counterintuitive. And let’s face it: isn’t dementia just too dang depressing?
But before I hit delete and erased the 200 pages I had already written from my computer’s memory, if not from my own, I happened upon a group of authors who had written books about aging with extreme passion and amazing grace—AlzAuthors.com. They acted like what my sister and I were writing was interesting and valuable and funny and sad and everything in between. They had clearly clung onto a seat on the roller coaster of emotions that come with writing a memoir.
Ah, positivity. Ah, the joy of kinship! I opened the laptop once again and decided to change the title of our book from Disposable Dad to Sisterly Shove. Onward and upward!
Malia Kline and her sister Diane Stinson’s new memoir, Sisterly Shove: A Fight to the Death Against Pancreatic Cancer and Dementia, came out May 10. Buying information at https://sisterlyshove.com.
Malia adds this: Thinking of writing a memoir? Read this first: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/get-published-sell-my-work/the-market-for-memoirs.
Malia also adds this: Already 200 pages into your memoir? Do not under any circumstances click on the link above.