Agents have a difficult time selling any kind of personal story, from memoirs that contain memories from one’s life to other types of autobiographical works that might recap the author’s story as a series of events.
Regardless of the type, this writing generates very limited interest from traditional publishers, unless the author has a good-size marketing platform because they achieved a level of notoriety or fame. Even then, it can be a struggle. I first wrote about this issue six years ago this month, taking a somewhat unexpected (at least to me!) perspective to explain why this category struggles to gain traction.
Reading the guidelines section of this agency’s website makes it clear we are not looking for personal stories as a general rule. Still, Christ-followers have great stories to tell, testifying of their paths to Christ and how they walk with him now through all sorts of situations.
Here’s a thought for your consideration today: Maybe you should consider instead communicating your story or testimony for free and not in book form.
It is possible being prepared to tell your personal story in a succinct and compelling manner is what the apostle is partially referring to in 1 Peter 3:15, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (NLT).
Maybe Christian writers shouldn’t be trying to sell their story/testimony after all, but giving it away instead, at every appropriate chance they get. I know money isn’t the initial thought when you write a book about your life journey; but since there is a very small niche market for personal-testimony books, you might consider writing your story as “practice” for presenting it and as a reminder of the details in case you forget some of them.
But hoping for a traditional publisher to invest money in it? It’s unlikely.
Of course, a quick testimony is always important to give context to your broader message. Christian speakers do this all the time. But they do so in short pieces before they move on to the point of their talks.
Maybe one of the reasons why, with few exceptions, personal stories don’t sell well, is the reader is looking for the “So what? How does this help me?” in a book they spent money to buy.
When publishers and agents look at a book proposal, they look for reader benefit, or the “promise,” if you will. If it isn’t apparent, there’s a problem, since readers think the same way.
So, give away your story, then write and sell the lessons learned from the journey. Write about the deep insights to help and encourage others, the advice to someone on the road you once traveled, the “if I could do it all over again” wisdom that readers value.
For Christians, you definitely have a story to tell, so tell it, for free, any time or anywhere appropriate. Then sit down and write the lessons and scales-fallen-away insight, making your book a valuable addition to a growing disciple’s bookshelf.
Everybody has a story,
but I do not really see
much enthrallment, much less glory,
in how a mirror came to be,
for truly that’s our given task,
to be the Lord’s reflection;
it’s not at all done thing to ask
that the spotlight points in our direction.
Write, then, tales to entertain,
or narratives to educate,
but, my friend, please do refrain
from the effort to placate
the limelight-seeking inner man,
and focus on The Great I Am.
I don’t know how you do it, Andrew. You can write 14 lines of insightful commentary AND make it all pretty and poetic and meaningful and thought-proving in less time than than I can write 21 lines of straight prose in the style of “Look, Jane. See Spot run. Run, Spot. Run.”
Amazing! Thank you.
Robyn, I’m so honoured! Thank you!
Great advice—and insightful.
I’m halfway through Phil Yancey’s memoir, Where the Light Fell. In a blog post, he said he wrote his story in the memoir style of “just the facts.” No commentary. No analysis. No stated lessons to be learned.
The memoir is powerful as written. BUT the entire time I’ve been reading, I’ve been thinking, “Where’s the take-away? What do I do with this info? Help me process it.”
I hope he writes that book next—the lesson book. I would pay dear money for it.
For the rest of us lesser knowns, given my experience with Mr. Yancey’s memoir, I think your advice to tell the facts for free and write the lesson book for a fee makes perfect sense.
Thank you, Dan.
Yes, that’s what I’ve been doing. I wrote a book, God Speaks to Me? Tuning into the Living God. I I, like many others, thought I’d be out speaking and I had been doing everything I was told to do: writing, rewriting, writers conferences, speaker conferences, partaking in a business and professional Toastmasters group, etc. However, I’ve had to learn its what God tells me to do is what really matters. He told me at the booksellers convention one year, “I’m doing something different with you.” I didn’t quite understand at the time but now realize what He meant.
One year after being discouraged because only one woman showed up for a class I was to teach, He spoke to me, “I’ve taught one woman at the well and 5,000 on the hillside.”
Several tears later, two people encouraged me to buy 5,000 books and little by little I’ve been giving them away and just when I need to be encouraged somewhat calls to tell me something in the book has touched their life. So the 5,000 don’t have be from a stage, a platform. It’s touching one life at a time and I’m grateful.
This is helpful. I appreciate your insight.
Janet Ann Collins
I’m thinking of writing an autobiography for my family. I’d self publish it, of course, and possibly send copies to relatives.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Such an important practice! Since our family lives and works at a Bible Camp, we see the value of telling personal stories so often. From the camper who stands up and says that they didn’t think they would have any friends, but found comradery on the paintball course to the speaker telling his testimony, it is vital to share parts of our journey with others.