Writers find themselves having a deep desire to write about experiences in their life or in others lives that have inspired or molded them in some way. Naturally a large percentage of agents and publishing houses don’t find these narratives to their liking— tossing the works to the curb when it comes across their desks like a day-old danish. However, often writers find the process of writing down this information/story very therapeutic in nature. What if you could find a way to satisfy your therapeutic experience in a way those agents would be begging for your work? Well, let’s talk about how you could achieve this.
WHY DO WRITERS GET REJECTIONS ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCES?
The reason these works are typically rejected is that personal experience pieces are more about the author than anyone else. What editors and agents are looking for are works about the reader. Writers can open up any possibility of experiences by tapping into the reader —understanding it’s not about themselves when they go to write. Moira Allen, a former editor and writer for Writing-World, suggests you ask yourself these four questions when you think about writing about personal experiences.
- Is this an experience the reader might wish to share or enjoy?
- Is this an experience from which the reader can learn or benefit?
- Is this an experience the reader might wish to avoid?
- Is this an experience that will help the reader cope with difficulty? (Allen M. 2001)
STATS ON PUBLISHING REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES
For most magazines, Allen explains that editors look for “service” pieces to make up 80% to 90% of their editorial content. If an editor could purchase ten articles per month out of 100 submissions, a personal experience piece might have a 1-in-75 chance of acceptance while a service article’s chances could be as high as 9-in-25 (Allen, M. 2001).
Allen, M. (2011). Writing (and Selling) Personal Experience Articles. Writing-World. Retrieved from: http://www.writing-world.com/freelance/personal.shtml on 16 Mar. 2015
In looking at the pie chart, writers can tap into a larger market by writing their stories and others as a service piece instead of a personal story. Your odds are substantially better. I don’t have stats on books. However, I’m betting they are similar.
7 STEPS TO WRITING PUBLISHABLE REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES
1. Find Your Topic
Think about unique and life changing aspects of your life or some else. What was the biggest obstacle you/they had to deal with, overcome, or may be different? Ask yourself how your viewpoint can help open a door to bonding with your reader.
2. Look for an Angle on Your Topic to Make it Unique, Provocative, Compelling, and/or News Worthy
Religion, family dynamics, upbringing are all factors to who you are and your experience. Tell a story where you push yourself to reveal who you are or who the person is. Ask yourself what impact can this have on readers and what do you want them to get out of it?
3. Write What You Know
Pick something you’re extremely knowledgeable in. If you aren’t, and you still want to write about it then do your homework. Learn everything you can and then learn some more. Knowledge is going to be the framework the reality you are bringing to the reader.
4. Be Careful When Writing About Living People
I caution anyone about writing about living people and using real names. People can and will sue you if they don’t see situations as you do. Don’t open yourself up to that. Always change people’s names and use disclaimers at the beginning of novels and or articles, so you don’t find yourself in court. That doesn’t mean they can’t take you to court even if you do these things. Approach those who you plan to use in your work and ask their permission to use them as inspiration. If they want nothing to do with it, then make sure the places, names, and situations are different as a protection to yourself and those still living. If there’s a question, always consult a lawyer. It never hurts.
5. Choose Fiction or Nonfictional Genres
Only you know how you want to write your work. You can create fictional characters who get into situations that you experienced, or you can write from a narrative standpoint—either style will work and finding the best way to tell the story is key.
6. Write Under a Pen Name
If you write in a different genre, then I suggest you come up with a pen name for your reader’s purposes. Readers tend to read books by their favorite authors. If you normally write middle-grade books, you will not want your readers to pick up your book on porn addiction, for example. Create something else that can stand on its own, and if you want to build on it, you can use the same name. Just make sure you’re upfront with agents and publishers on your pen names. If you are writing this as a narrative and have nothing you feel is needing to be hidden, ask yourself if others in your family may or may not be offended by your work. Think about how you expect to be treated because of the topic you’re writing about and consider its ramifications. Consult a lawyer if there’s ever a question or concern about your project.
7. Take it to the Next Level
People want to read interesting or different things, and they want to relate and find themselves within the characters. Sometimes divulging that sort of raw honesty can be hard but make the story. The typical or mundane life for one person might just be totally different for another. Finding that sort of balance between the two is critical to writing a powerful message in real life stories.
If you use these steps in writing real life experiences your odds of publication will be dramatically higher. Understanding the odds helps writers develop game a plan in how to write these experiences. Some of the best stories of our time have been based on real life events. Today the market embraces great story-telling in both books and movies. It’s the great writers who need to tap into themselves and others to give readers what they want. A story that touches and moves them.