My Favorite Memoirist Says a Writer’s Voice is Key to Being Published

On the corkboard directly in front of my desk—visible every time I look up—is a quote from Mary Karr. She was writing about the late memoirist Frank McCourt and stated, “A memoir voice is the diamond in a sack of glass.”

Stacks of dusty books black and whiteKarr, a memoirist and poet who’s written The Liar’s Club, Cherry and the recent Lit, is one of my literary heroes. When I attended her reading at Denver’s Tattered Cover in November, she was also emphatic that memoir is about voice and, if you have an original voice, you will get published.

In contrast, I caught several comments on Twitter last Friday. According to a recent WSJ article, the slush pile is dead. Several agents I follow on Twitter declared just the opposite, with agent Janet Reid posting this rebuttal on her blog: “What I mean by the phrase ‘slush works’ is that sending a good query with good pages will get you the attention of an agent. You don’t need anything more than that if you write compelling fiction.”

While I have to admit that I felt a twinge of skepticism when I heard Karr’s comment about your voice being the key to publishing, I don’t want to believe that the slush pile is dead. Call me Pollyanna, but I want to know that talented, hard-working writers without big literary connections can secure an agent and be published.

Maybe that’s why I follow so many agents on Twitter and read so many of their blogs. These agents are offering insight and tips to aspiring authors. On January 14, several agents let readers peek behind the curtain with #agentsday, with agents posting their tasks as they went about a “typical” workday. This LA Times article is a great resource for more about #agentsday, as well as a links to several participating agents. One correction: the article states that popular blogging agent Nathan Bransford did not participate; he did once he overcame computer issues.

Okay, what’s my point with all of this? My dream is to publish a memoir. It’s not something I discuss much and very few people know that I’ve been working on it. But I’ve been chipping away at it for a while and have even taken several writing class that made enormous differences. Then the economy tanked, so I decided I would focus on writing the book, rather than selling it. One of my goals this year is to get serious movement with this and write a full draft. I went the route of developing a proposal and earning a few rejections.

So that’s me being really person. And I want to believe that Karr is right.

What about you? What keeps you motivated and positive when headlines are screaming the demise of publishing? Is there an author, friend, mentor or teacher who keeps you going? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “My Favorite Memoirist Says a Writer’s Voice is Key to Being Published

  1. Hi– interestingly, I go way back w/ Mary Karr to the days when she was part of the Twin Cities scene, just started, and we were all captivated by her “voice”. She’s probably right, but honing your voice takes a lifetime. I just joined this site and share your aspirations. I have a few bits of memoir on my blog and would enjoy interacting w/ you…. late here in colorado but will take a look at your posts tomorrow! best j

  2. Big fat-cat publishing may be on its back and groaning, but people still want to read new writing. The movie industry still wants new stories, and some of those come from novels. Or that’s what keeps a smile on my face…

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