How to write a book proposal for memoir [+Template]

You have gone through life meeting challenges head-on and deriving important lessons from them. Now, wouldn’t it be great if you could pass these lessons on to others, so they don’t have to go through all the hardship themselves? That is precisely what a memoir is all about. You already know your story is worth telling and needs to find its way into the hands of as many readers as possible, but how do you convince a publisher of the same thing? For that, you will need a book proposal for memoir, and in this blog post I will show you how to write one. Stick around until the end of the post to get my free Book proposal Template and Playbook, or jump there straight away by clicking the button below!

What is a book proposal for memoir?

If you have decided that you don’t want to self-publish – and therefore, that you need to find a publisher – a book proposal is a must. Without one, it is almost impossible to find an agent or publisher who will be willing to represent/publish your book. Even if publishers reach out to you themselves, they will usually still ask that you put together a book proposal for your memoir. 

All of this you probably already know, or you wouldn’t have found this blog post. But what is a book proposal for memoir, exactly?

A book proposal is pretty much a business proposal. You see, when a publisher decides to publish your book, they will incur a lot of costs. They will have to pay their editors and marketing team, cover printing costs, cover distribution… All before they have seen a cent. So what they want to know before they invest in your book like that, is that this book can make them money, or at least some return on their investment. 

Your book proposal for memoir, being a business proposal, therefore has to convince them that in a market place in which hundreds of thousands of books get published every year, yours is going to stand out! This is no small feat, and is especially difficult for authors who are close to their text. When you are writing the story of your life, you probably won’t be thinking too much about marketability. But in this document, you suddenly have to focus on nothing else! 

But don’t worry: I’m here to help. 

Do I need a book proposal for my memoir?

So do you need a book proposal for your memoir? If you want your memoir to be published by a traditional publisher, the answer is yes. Whether you want to find an agent or contact publishers directly: a book proposal is how you pitch your memoir to your agent or editor of choice. 

A second question people often ask me is: how much of my book do I need to have written before I can start sending out my proposal? And the answer to this question you might actually like more: not too much! You can absolutely send out proposals if you have finished the entire first draft of the manuscript of your memoir. But what you need at a bare minimum is the first three chapters, or 50 pages. 

You see, when you send out your book proposal for memoir, one of the elements most publishers will ask for is “sample chapters.” Though we will talk about all the other elements later, it is good to keep this in mind. Whilst you can’t start pitching a novel until the first draft is already finished, the same rule does not apply to narrative nonfiction. You can start pitching your book proposal for memoir if you have only that: the first 50 pages, or up to 3 chapters. 

So where do you start?

The first step of writing a memoir book proposal

Memoir vs autobiography

Before we dive into the first step you should take, let’s first talk about what memoir is. Specifically: let’s talk about the difference between memoir and it’s close cousin, the autobiography. 

People often say that the main difference between the two is that autobiographies are written by famous people and memoir is for everyone else. And that is partly true, but there is a more significant difference as a consequence of that. 

You see, when you read an autobiography of your hero, you want to know everything there is to know about them: where they were born, how their grandparents met, their favorite food as a child… An autobiography doesn’t need to have a through-line as the reader will eat every little crumb the author serves them. 

The same is not true for memoir: memoirists need to work a lot harder to grab and keep their reader’s attention. And the way they do that is through story. Memoir, therefore, is always narrative nonfiction. And just like any other type of story, it has one big conflict at its center, and a lesson to communicate to the reader. 

And that, my dear friend, takes us to the first step. 

Step 1: Get clear on your conflict & message

Before you do anything else for your book proposal for memoir, make sure you are very clear on what your memoir is actually about. So many times my clients have told me, “This book is about my personal journey.” And that might be great for those people who are already your fans, but won’t attract new readers. To get new people interested in your story, you need to know what the number one main challenge is that you overcome in this book. Then, you need to know what the message is that you earned through that challenge or conflict, which is the message you’ll also impart on your reader. 

And that is why it is possible to write multiple memoirs, or even call yourself a professional memoirist. Based on your life experiences, you can probably come up with a dozen conflicts and lessons. And that is great if you want to write a dozen books! But for your book proposal, make sure to focus on one book, one conflict, and one message only. 

The elements of a book proposal for memoir

Though there are some variations in which elements a publisher or agent will want to see, and in what order they want to see them, most book proposals contain the same elements. To help you figure this all out, I have collected all these elements for you. Based on what the publishers will ask for, I have created a template for memoir book proposals, which you can grab for free below. If you fill out this template, you will have all the elements of a book proposal that 99% of agents and publishers will ask you to put in your book proposal for memoir, all in one convenient document.

I’ve also written a blog post about each of these elements, to make writing your memoir book proposal even easier for you. So let’s get to it! 

These are the blog posts about every element of the book proposal you will need to write:

Common mistakes you should avoid

Though every element of the book proposal comes with its own tricks and pitfalls – as you can read in the blog posts above – there are a few things that many writers of a book proposal for memoir get wrong in general. 

1. Using epigraphs without thinking about legal restrictions

Are you thinking about putting a beautiful quote at the beginning of each one of your chapters? You might want to reconsider. These quotes are called epigraphs and can get you into a lot of trouble, legally! You can read all about epigraphs here

2. Not editing your sample chapters

In a memoir, more than any other genre of nonfiction writing, your writing style is what often convinces your publisher to offer you a book contract. And the sample chapters you include in your book proposal for memoir are going to be your first impression! Make sure to make it a great one by having a professional edit your memoir for you. If you want to hire me to do this for you: you might want to read this blog post about my philosophy when editing memoirs. 

Concluding thoughts on book proposal for memoirs

Though every element of the book proposal comes with its own tricks and pitfalls – as you can read in the blog posts above – there are a few things that many writers of a book proposal for memoir get wrong in general. Now that you’ve read this blog post, however, you are set up for success. It is time to start writing your proposal! 

I have prepared some free materials to help you on your way: the Book proposal Template & Playbook. Sign up below to get them straight into your mailbox!

Free Book proposal Template & Playbook

If you want more support in writing the book proposal: that is possible! Just subscribe to my mailing list using the form below and you will receive my free book proposal Template and Playbook straight into your inbox!

  • The Book proposal Template contains all the elements that your book proposal needs. 
  • The Playbook will help you use this Template, by suggesting the best order in which to write the elements and giving you extra tips and resources. 

So leave your name and email address and grab these free resources now!