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Ingredients for a Dazzling Memoir Pitch: Situation, Story, and Conflict

GrubStreet Instructor Kristen Paulson-Nguyen shares the crucial ingredients of a great memoir pitch. You can learn more in her class Writing Memoir Pitches that Dazzle, taking place in-person at our center in Boston's Seaport on Saturday, December 17th.

 

 

You’ve completed—or mostly have—a memoir or a memoir-in-essays. Whether you plan to snag an agent, or sell directly to a publisher, you’ll need to write an elevator pitch, two sentences you can say if stuck in an elevator with an agent. They turn to you, smile, and ask, “So, what’s your book about?”

You respond: “Uhhhh….” 

You can practice writing a pitch, key to selling your book, at any stage of the drafting process. It will help define your work more succinctly and get you excited about selling it.

You can practice writing a pitch, key to selling your book, at any stage of the drafting process. It will help define your work more succinctly and get you excited about selling it. Some version of this pitch will drive your query letter and memoir proposal. 

I’ve never been stuck in an elevator with an agent. However, as a former Memoir Incubator student I have sweated profusely while delivering my pitch to multiple agents at the Muse and the Marketplace. Some agents expressed interest and handed me their business cards. Others did not. After one agent grilled me on my marriage, I cried outside. She provided a useful learning experience. The story was not my marriage, I later realized, but my low self-esteem. I refined my pitch: “My book answers the question of what happens when a woman with low self-esteem falls in love with a hoarder, forcing her to confront her worth and determine what’s real, and what is a projection from her traumatic past?”

You too can learn to write a pitch. But first, like baking a cake, you need to assemble its crucial ingredients. In my three-hour in-person class, we’ll spend the first hour discussing your memoir’s situation and story and reviewing multiple examples. If you already have a pitch at any stage of completion, we can work with it.

Book marketing coach Crystal Ellefsen says an author’s elevator pitch should be composed of “one short sentence that grabs interest, sets expectations, and focuses on the primary conflict in the story.” 

I agree with Ellefsen. But I’d add that as memoirists, we have the further challenge of maintaining an emotional distance from our books, to clearly see its components. We’ll ask these questions: 

  • What is the memoir’s plot or situation?
  • What are three main topics or themes you cover?
  • What are your book’s stakes?
  • What is the story (what you learned) or the meaning you derived from what happened? 
  • What is your central conflict? 
  • What is the world of your book?
  • Why would a reader care?

There’s no enticing an agent without the prospect of a good tussle. In the second hour we’ll home in on your memoir’s conflict, you know, the thing that drove your plot, all the way through 250 pages? Ideally, you’ll generate enough curiosity that an agent will want to read your manuscript. We’ll debate the merits of including your book’s resolution in your pitch.

You too can learn to write a pitch. But first, like baking a cake, you need to assemble its crucial ingredients.

In the third hour, we’ll polish your pitches and get fussy about word choice. You’ll practice delivering your pitch. At first, you’ll feel silly. Then less so. You’ll leave class feeling more confident about selling your memoir. 

I’d love to help you create a memoir pitch that will bring your book into better focus. I hope you’ll join me in the Seaport on Saturday, December 17th from 10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. for Writing Memoir Pitches that Dazzle.


Ready to dazzle with your pitch? Sign up for Kristen's upcoming class Writing Memoir Pitches that Dazzle, taking place in Seaport on Saturday, December 17th.

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About the Author

Kristen loves combining reportage with personal history to create new literary mashups. She is a graduate of GrubStreet's Memoir and Essay Incubators and has taught courses on the micro-flash form; the memoir proposal; the elevator pitch; the hermit crab essay; and the flash essay. She was a 2020 winner of micro-flash contest Boston in 100 Words; contributed to the non-profit's cookbook; and taught classes on the micro-form free of charge for the organization. Her work has been published in the  Boston Globe

(where she was a singles columnist); New York Times

; Creative Nonfiction

; Flyway Journal of Writing & the Environment

; and Solstice Literary Magazine. She edits the Writing Life column for Hippocampus Magazine and has presented at HippoCamp, Gotham Writers Workshop, More to the Story, and the Boston Book Festival. She is a founder of Tell-All Boston, the city's only nonfiction literary series. Through her service Title Doctor, Kristen has titled 15 works of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, a craft book, a memoir-in-essays, and The Writer’s 2021 contest-winning essay. She is seeking representation for her memoir and good coffee everywhere.

See other articles by Kristen Paulson-Nguyen

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