Now Novel co-founder Bridget McNulty’s book, The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life is being published internationally (in the UK, US and South Africa) this week. Here are her two best tips on how to publish a memoir:
I’ve been thinking a lot about what advice I would give to someone who wants to know how to publish a memoir. And here’s what I’ve come up with: the two things I think have been most helpful in my journey to publishing The Grief Handbook.
1. Write every day
I know that many of us writers have romantic ideas about the muse. Romantic ideas about inspiration, and red wine leading to works of genius hastily scribbled down late at night. But in my experience, writing is a craft – and a craft takes practice.
I published Strange Nervous Laughter in 2009 and How to Live a Happy Life (with a Chronic Illness) in 2015 and now The Grief Handbook in 2021. But in between those dates, I have written every single day.
I started Sweet Life as a quarterly print magazine and wrote most of the articles myself. I wrote freelance for all kinds of magazines and newspapers, locally and internationally. Wrote blog posts and restaurant reviews. Had a brief stint as a hotel honeymoon reviewer (best job ever!). Worked for years as a content strategist, crafting ad copy and marketing taglines and press releases.
Every bit of writing counts
Some of the writing has been deeply boring. Some of the writing has been totally thrilling. I wrote an audio tour of Cape Town by air, and had to ride in a helicopter a few times to get the pacing right (thrilling!).
My point is this: I have not stopped writing since I first began.
Crafting the perfect email is an art. As is writing a blog post, an article, a social media post, an ad, a personal essay, a book, a memoir. It is only through writing thousands and thousands of words that you find your voice. What makes you unique. What makes your words shine. That is what will get you published.
When an editor reads a manuscript from someone who has found their voice, they either immediately like it, or dislike it. And you have no control over that part of the process.
All you can do is hone your craft by writing every single day.
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2. Be pleasant
This sounds so vague, and so arbitrary, but hear me out.
When you are pleasant or – better yet – a joy to work with, people want to help you. If you are prompt and polite, interested and interesting, people will naturally warm to you.
If you are smart enough to connect with anyone you have a meeting with on LinkedIn (please be smart enough to do this!), then you will form a network of people who all have pleasant feelings towards you.
Why does this matter when we’re talking about how to publish a memoir (or publishing any book)?
Because the world in 2021 is not the world as it used to be.
You may have the best-ever marketing and publicity team at your publisher. Even if they write the best-ever press release, people want to hear directly from the author. So the more connections you have – the more meaningful, authentic connections – the further you will be able to spread the word about your book.
There’s no point pouring your heart and soul into a book only to have it fizzle on publication because not enough people know about it.
Build goodwill and good connections
If you can build up goodwill in your career, for no reason other than that it is good to be a person other people enjoy being around, then you will find yourself in a strong position when it comes time to publish your book.
Some of these connections may be in real life. One of your old high school buddies may turn out to be an influencer, or that guy you worked with once might have a cousin in TV. The junior you mentored may now work at exactly the right place to give your book a leg-up.
The point is this: we don’t know how other people might be able to help us. Yet if we’re not pleasant to be around and work with, we do know that they won’t want to help us.
And that’s it! That’s what I have found most helpful in finding how to publish a memoir.
Follow up when opportunity knocks
The LinkedIn tip I shared earlier? That’s actually how I got my book published.
I have been slowly and steadily building my LinkedIn profile for years. Connecting to interesting people I hear doing talks, or whose work I read, anyone I have a meeting with or interact with meaningfully online.
A friend had an agent who looked at my book. She said she didn’t represent the genre (self-help memoir, apparently!) but suggested two publishers who might be interested.
I searched for the publishers on LinkedIn, saw I could easily connect with an editor from Watkins Publishing, and did.
A few days after we connected, I sent her a LinkedIn message telling her about my manuscript, and she asked to see it. And the rest is history! Now my book is being published in the UK, USA and South Africa.
Write every day, and be pleasant. My two best tips for success!
Bridget McNulty (that’s me!) is a writer, content strategist and co-founder of Now Novel and Sweet Life, South Africa’s largest online diabetes community.