Which sells better: hybrid memoir or memoir?
A dispatch from the front line
Thank you to subscribers who have been sending in questions for our Friday Office Hours. Today, we’re running a question from a writer named Summer:
For a little context, the writer and book consultant Leigh Stein coined a term a while back called “Memoir Plus” to categorize books that give readers a little something extra: in addition to being moved by the writer’s journey, the reader will learn something, too.
My own memoir, The Year of the Horses, falls into this category because my personal story is woven with academic and reported research about the relationship between women and horses throughout history. (You also learn about the equestrian sport of polo, so maybe my memoir is Memoir Plus Plus?)
A memoir I adore that follows this hybrid format (or memoir plus, choose your favorite term) is Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, a phenomenal book (and National Book Award finalist) that examines Shapland and McCuller’s relationship to queerness through a personal and academic lens while Shapland is in McCuller’s home on a writing residency.
With both my book and Shapland’s, I’d argue that you’re getting a story-within-a-story. You’re getting Memoir Plus.1
Here’s the thing though. Straight-up memoirs should also be giving memoir plus. I actually don’t see a difference between “memoir” and “hybrid memoir.” They’re both hard to write well. They’re both hard to sell in this current market. And if you get a book deal and the book publishes, they can be challenging to move in terms of sales.
I’m not going to focus on why memoir is hard to sell, I’m going to focus on why I think memoir and hybrid memoir are one and the same thing because, as a writer, you can control what you write and how you position it, but you can’t control how a book sells, and my big thing is giving writers back control.