An Epidemic of Memoir Writing: “Anyone with a computer and a few bucks can upload a manuscript and have it printed on demand.”

From an opinion piece by Peter Funt in the Wall Street Journal headlined “An Epidemic of Memoir-Writing”:

Brooke Warner says her business is “exploding.” A literary coach based in Berkeley, Calif., she teaches “boot camps” on topics such as “Write Your Memoir in Six Months” and “Build Your Memoir From the Ground Up.” During lockdown, the urge to write memoirs seems to have reached epidemic proportions.

This makes sense for those who would rather self-designate as authors than paint the house or mow the lawn. Ms. Warner notes, “The pandemic has given people more time, but also more opportunities for introspection, and memoir is therefore a natural outlet to turn to.”

I tried writing a memoir last summer and produced a tome titled “Nice Work,” in which I rambled about odd jobs I had early in my career. “I found your book charming,” literary agent Vicky Bijur emailed. Ah, but then: “Because the book is so specific to your experiences it lacks the universality that many memoirs have. As you know, most memoirs these days follow a particular arc: they tell a story of transcendence over troubling and often horrifying circumstances. Obviously, this is not your life!”

She nailed it. My life has zero universality. But that hasn’t stopped me and others from banging out our stories….

According to Publishers Marketplace, which tracks book deals, memoir acquisitions were up about 9% in 2020, many involving celebrities who caught the writing virus. Among the first were actors Michael J. Fox, Billy Dee Williams and Hayley Mills. By summer, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor and retired Nascar driver Bill Lester had sold their stories, as had Dolly Parton. Willie Nelson got deals for two memoirs.

As the pandemic wore on, former National Football League coach Bill Cowher signed a memoir deal, as did actors Stanley Tucci and Julianna Margulies. Karen Knotts, daughter of TV comic Don Knotts, came up with a memoir appropriately titled “Tied Up in Knotts.”

But when it comes to rumination by less famous folks, publishers can’t handle the surge. This has created an opportunity for companies offering self-publishing, the biggest of which are Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and IngramSpark. Not long ago this field was known as vanity publishing, a process by which people with limited talent but ample money would pay to have their books professionally printed.

Today, anyone with a computer, free time, and a few bucks can upload a manuscript and have it printed on demand. With luck, it might sell tens of copies.

There’s also a robust market for what could be called memoir-middlemen. Life Chronicles Publishing, a small operation near Seattle, says business is up 90% during the pandemic. The company charges an average of $2,000 to whip a memoir into shape—then has it printed by Amazon.

Andy Ross, an Oakland, Calif., agent, says, “I get multiple proposals for memoirs every day of the year, including Christmas. Most of the stuff is terrible, so it ends up with Kindle.”

I suspect a side effect of the Covid vaccines will be suppression of the memoir bug.

Peter Funt is a writer and host of “Candid Camera.”

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