The easiest part of writing my memoir turned out to be… writing my memoir. To be clear, it was not actually easy to write. I have no training in creative writing. Also, my memoir required me to write about traumatic events and disappointments. Regularly I sat on the couch, typing into my laptop, tears streaming down my face, with my dog perched beside me looking concerned. No, it was not easy to write Flashback Girl.
However, the journey after completing the manuscript has been even more confusing and disappointing. Apparently, no one is interested in publishing the memoir of an unknown writer with a small platform. Even though I was represented by a great agent (achieving that representation was a feat in itself), no publisher would buy my story. My book proposal was sent out to so many publishers that I am mortified to say how many. I was rejected, again and again.
The rejections were not exactly bad. I heard “Amazing story!” and “Nice writing!” and “We liked it.” Here’s a sample of a response from one (unnamed but prestigious) publisher: “Lise has always had such an incredible story to tell; the burden of loss she has learned to carry is overwhelming and she is an endlessly engaging writer. I think the work she has done this round is commendable… I’m afraid I’m still having trouble seeing how to really make Lise’s voice audible over the fray—memoir is such a crowded category at the moment and I’m just not seeing the shiny bait that will hook the larger readership she would need to reach.”
You read that, right? "Endlessly engaging writer." That's what they wrote before they turned my memoir down. That’s how it went, again and again and again. Publishers are driven by economics. I am an unknown author and could not guarantee brisk sales. So, every single publisher passed on my project.
Eventually my agent sent me this email. “Hi, Lise, I've pretty much heard by now from everyone … I know you're disappointed that we didn't get an offer during the 2 big pushes to sell this book but... It happens, especially with memoirs, which really ARE as a category tough to sell. These editors weren't kidding about that…”
Rereading her words, my heart still shrinks and twists in pain. (I wrote more about it here: https://www.lisedeguire.com/post/how-to-manage-crushing-disappointment).
I have been unable to read my manuscript for months now. It needs work, but disappointment flooded me every time I think about it. I pondered what could be wrong in each page. I feared my writing was inadequate in some way that I was too naïve to perceive. I imagined that I have been foolish to think I could write a good book.
Still, I decided to self-publish the manuscript. I wanted to complete the project and I had enough readers who asked me for it. Every time I spoke, in fact, audience members inquired where they could buy the book. I knew my audience, although modest, was truly interested. And this is when my luck started to change.
My nephew, Austin, designed the original book cover for my proposal. He is a graphic designer, as gifted as they come. Beyond his talents, he is a sensitive soul, and we have always vibrated on a similar wavelength. I sat down with him over Thanksgiving.
“Could you help me again, Austin? I’m also going to need a back cover for the book when I self-publish. I’m going to complete the project myself but I need help.
“Tell me more about what you need.”
We sat on the couch, facing each other, a middle-aged woman and her young hip nephew. I explained the project. “I am going to need a finalized front cover and a back cover too. I have a great editor lined up, but I am going to need someone to design the look of the book itself. Then I have to figure out how to work with Amazon, and they will publish it. There’s a lot of moving pieces.”
“I can do all that for you, Aunt Lise.”
“I can finish the covers, of course, but I can also design the whole book. I can interface with Amazon. I’ve done all this before.” Austin reached for a book nearby and handed it to me. “I worked on this book. You can see what I did.”
The professional coffee table book in my hands was a work of art. Each page invited me in, from the sheer beauty of its layout.
“I can do that for you.”
“Thank you so much, Austin, you make me so happy.”
Yesterday, I had a meeting with the editor I hired. I knew I needed an expert to go through the manuscript and improve it. I hired a woman I met last year at the Harvard Writers Conference (great conference! https://wps.hmscme.com/ ) She is a professional writer and editor with a warm heart and a deft pen. I felt like I clicked with her. She had a critiquing style, truthful but warm, that I could emotionally handle.
I sent off the entire manuscript to the editor, heart in my mouth. She would be just the second writing professional to read the whole book. Off went my words, which had been rejected so many times by publishers. I called her at our appointed hour, tense in anticipation of her criticism.
“Lise, I haven’t read it all yet. But, it’s…wonderful!”
“It’s very well written. It’s not just that your story is powerful, it’s how you tell it, and what you’ve gleaned from life. I really think it should be traditionally published."
“I tried that. I worked hard with a good agent. But no one wanted it.”
“This is a crazy business, I know. But, it’s wonderful.”
I almost cried. But I’m paying by the hour, so I didn’t want to waste my time crying. Instead my new editor and I began our work.
So, here are today’s lessons on resilience. I take them directly from this experience I have been sharing with you. I live these lessons too, day by day. Some days are discouraging and some days, like today, are uplifting:
1) Do not give up on your dream, if it is truly important to you.
2) Do not let others dictate if your dream has merit.
3) Having said that, making your dream happen is up to you. No one else will make your dream come true; there are no actual Fairy Godmothers. It is your responsibility to pursue your dream. In the face of discouragement, dust yourself off, pick your next goal, and do the work to get there.
4) Think twice before writing a memoir. It is super hard.
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.