Most of us approach memoir writing determined to tell the truth – the whole truth – nothing but the truth. That certainly was my intention.
Then a savvy editor advised my savvy agent that I should expand my triumphant cancer story into my entire life story and make that triumphant also.
My original approach had been to tell my story by telling other stories. Of the many people who carried me through my ordeal to survival and thrival. I loved that story but it was a cancer book.
“Too many of those out there,” savvy editor said. “Too much of a niche book. We [meaning, mainstream print publishers] can’t afford to do niche books these days.”
So I shifted gears and began again. From where I literally did begin – with Grandma. This section was definitely triumphant. A thumbs-up period of my life. Almost too good to be true.
Then Grandma died. The tone of my life took a sharp left after that. Out of her sunny garden into the dark world of my mentally disturbed mother. Not much triumph there.
I did my best to give the telling an upbeat twist via small victories and instants of help along the way. I also only skimmed the surface of the truly dark stuff. I didn’t leave it out. I didn’t dive in either.
That turned out to be a wrong choice in commercial mainstream publishing terms. The darker the better, I was told. The deeper the dredging the closer to pay dirt you get.
Sensation sells. Violence and sex. Danger and damage. The brutal the bad and the ugly. Plus terror and a torrent of tears.
The ante toward all of that is rising in the memoir genre. Annals of angst flood the marketplace. Each one in most cases is an attempt to top the rest as a terrible tale. The goal – to attract mass attention by mining the downside.
The story of my years after Grandma gets very downside indeed. If I were to go truly damaged and dirty I could match melodramas with the best – or perhaps the worst – of them.
At this point in the prodding of my marketability consciousness my savvy agent asked me a couple of questions.
“Do you want to do this? Is this what you want to be known as?”
After decades of struggling out of my personal shadows into the light beyond. After re-creating myself to be taken seriously as a proficient profession and healthy human being. Is my unhealthy history what I want to be remembered for?
In response I returned to my original story. How I beat cancer with a lot of help from friends and strangers who became friends. With a new title now – Lifted to the Light: A Story of Struggle and Kindness.
My savvy agent tells me that the digital market appears to work for niche books. The digital market just happens to be how far I’ve been wanting to go.