Renee Parrill of Flamestitch recently wrote a memoir about growing up with her husband, Matt and facing his addiction to alcohol and death. It’s a frightening and wonderful book. True Til Death is sometimes shocking, but the story is so familiar to many of us. We see these kinds of stories all around us every day. The benefit here is you get to see the outcome of how a screwed up life was turned around.
I wanted to share this short conversation we had yesterday because it’s so interesting to see how a book does or doesn’t get published. Renee has sent out many query letters. She has received responses from MANY agents. They get the book, they like it (I’ve read the emails) but just keep saying it’s not their audience or they can’t figure out a way to sell it. They give specific praise and suggestions, but no takers. For me, this story is about many people that are like the people I grew up with in Ohio. It doesn’t seem like some crazy out-there youth story. Don’t get me wrong, it WILL get your attention. Don’t think this book is a walk in the park. You will cry at times and say out loud, “What the hell?!?” But I can really imagine these things as the background for the lives I’ve seen go downhill fast. Only this story doesn’t turn out that way.
As Renee writes, “It’s the story of tattooing as an agent of self destruction, and as the unlikely path to redemption. It’s the story of the change that is possible with someone in your corner, no matter what.”
Here are some quick questions I asked her yesterday. Remember, this is a verbal conversation, so read this with that in mind.
1. Why did you want to write a memoir?
“I always knew I had a good story. Even in high school. I knew he was so fucking crazy that I knew something was going to come of it. You don’t have that kind of life without it being a good story. I’ve had this story in my head for 20 years and every year that Matt is well, I can look back and see what a great story it is.”
2. What made you decide to offer it to readers for free on facebook?
“At that point, I’d heard from so many agents and knew that I had a great query letter because I had had so many responses. When I sent it to Dan Lazar, he responded within 26 minutes that he wanted a copy of the book.
I also knew right then, because I had done some research, that you can’t get a memoir published unless you are famous. Everyone thinks they have a great story but agents think it’s lame. And he’s not some shitty agent. So I knew then that I had something.
He wrote back after a month and said he liked it but didn’t think it had universal appeal. I took that to mean that it wasn’t about a universal cultural experience like war. But I think this is a universal topic for people.
I queried many agents and none said it was bad. They all said nice things like “It’s really good, but not our audience” It made me feel like, if I had been famous, that shit would have gotten published.
I decided to put it on facebook because I couldn’t get past the query stage and thought maybe I was missing something. Like if I added something or rewrote it again maybe that would change it. So I thought if I put it out for lots of people to read, they could tell me what it needed. These are people I don’t see everyday and haven’t known me my whole life. And that’s why I did it. I needed real feedback and to hear how it affected people.”
3. The book is so honest, are you worried about how people will respond? I mean, we all have our interesting pasts, but are you worried about people being unkind from reading the book?
“I don’t really worry about what people will say, for a couple reasons. First, I told the truth, and when you lay it all out there, I trust people to sense that, and not be assholes just for the sake of being assholes. I guess I expect the truth to protect me, because it always has. The second thing is that I don’t really care what people say about it. I know how good it is. I expect some people will be jerks, and I’m ready to play hardball, because you have to be when you write something like this. I’ve handled worse than someone saying they don’t like something I wrote. But I think most people will get it.?
4. Why have you decided to now go ahead and self-publish?
I couldn’t find an agent. I maybe could if I continued trying. The thing is, you don’t have to do that now. You can have a book online where other memoirs are sold and you don’t have to be famous to get people to look at it. If you do a good job and have a good cover, you don’t have to answer to anyone. The more I think about it, the more self-publishing fits the story.
5. When do you think it will be ready for a final shot?
I’m waiting for feedback and thinking of things I can change or edit. I’m hoping withing two months it will be in the final edit.
6. Can people still read it for free?
If they want to read it, with the eye of giving honest feedback, yes. I’d rather not just send it out now unless I can get that in exchange. I’m working, you know?
7. Do you have a list of people who want a copy? How does one get on the list?
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