Among Christian writers and bloggers, we all likely know someone whose book proposal—whose personal story of struggle and second chances—has been rejected by publishers. We’ve seen their disappointment and frustration from the lack of interest.

As a friend, I try to offer words of encouragement. That it might not be the right time. That if it is supposed to get published, it will. I remind her there are a myriad of reasons a book might not find a publisher.

But as someone who sifts through book ideas and book proposals on a frequent basis, I’ve come to believe memoirs are a somewhat dubious venture. (This is not to say they can’t be beautifully and successfully done.)

For one, there aren’t very many memoirists—people who write repeated memoirs. Of course, there are the Donald Millers and Anne Lamotts, the splendid exceptions. But how many of us live interesting enough lives to write more than one memoir? (I’d argue that even celebrities don’t. It’s uncanny that someone like Justin Bieber could write two memoirs before the age of 18.)

Additionally, some Christian publishing insiders think memoirs can be—but not always—hard to sell. Is this because they don’t have a good place on the bookshelf? Or because Christian book-buyers tend to prefer Bible studies and non-fiction?

These personal curiosities jostled when I read Dani Shapiro’s article “A Memoir is Not a Status Update” in The New Yorker. In the piece, Shapiro, author of multiple books (three of which are memoirs), laments the effects of social media and today’s me-culture on the memoir.

She describes how the slow-drip of 140 character tweets and status updates can hinder the bubbling-over of a person’s story within—the years of thermal simmering deep inside a writer’s soul that eventually explodes a memoir:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?”

I worry about that too. But at the same time, we can see the direct, cooperative relationship between the memoir and the status update in today’s publishing industry. Ask any author who has birthed a memoir the difference between a status update and the lengthy, laborious, anxiety-producing delight of penning a snippet of his story, and he’ll groan. Creating an exceptional memoir is nothing like a posting status update. And yet, for the aspiring author, the status update might help lead to publishing the bigger story.

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Many aspiring authors are pushing “post” and “tweet” multiple times a day, as advised by agents, consultants, and friends alike in an effort to build an established readership so that they can land a publishing contract. Their updates inevitably leak bits and pieces of their story as their readers get to know them. This might invite the question, Are book audiences these days really after good stories, or are they more interested in following their most beloved celebrity in a day-to-day sort of reality TV?

Social media and our frequent updates with details of our day, perspectives on life, and opinions on religion and politics and social justice seem to perpetuate a culture where we follow a person more than a story. Each selfie and snapshot of what we’re reading, eating, wearing, buying lends to our public persona. Authors are forced to rely on social media presence since publishers expect them to co-market their own book.

Don’t get me wrong: the narrative is very important, but who is telling the story also matters. How it is told matters. The more we know about the author—the more we like the person behind the story, their brand, their style, their friends, maybe even their face—the more their memoir will touch the deep places within us. When a reader feels he actually knows the author, he is much more able to hear and receive the message of the book with a positive slant. Plus, book buyers like to have an idea of what they’re getting in a book before making a purchase. I’m not saying this “culture of persona” is good or right, but more and more, we find it’s true.

Also, there remains a discrepancy between interest in a person’s story on social media and interest in paying $24.99 to read that story in a 60,000-word memoir. This is perhaps one of the more confusing and tragic realities an aspiring memoirist might face. A parent of a child with a terminal illness might draw page views from concerned friends and curious onlookers, but if that same story was put in front of a publisher months later, he might wonder if the mass market would want to spend money to read such a tragic story. It’s one thing if the content is free and available, but publishers want stories that are sellable.

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As an example, I worked with the Katie Davis on her 2011 memoir Kisses from Katie. At the time, Katie’s platform was relatively small, but she was a talented writer with a loyal following. As readers heard her story bit by bit on her blog—from winning homecoming queen, to forgoing college and moving to Uganda, to mothering 13 young girls and starting a ministry organization for orphaned children—readers got more than a first-person narrative. They were invited into the remarkable story. That is the selling feature, and a large reason why over 350,000 people have read her book to date. But without Katie’s blog, it would have been extremely difficult to ignite the grassroots movement of supporters that propelled her book to TheNew York Times bestseller list.

A good memoir blends remarkable story, talented writing, and a sellable hook. But even with those elements, there’s no telling which memoirs will find a publisher. Some stories are not meant to be told as memoirs and would do better told on our blogs, in articles, around Thanksgiving tables, and in our status updates. Ultimately, it’s not a publisher that validates a story. It’s the storyteller herself.

Karen E. Yates is a seminary student, writer, mother to three short people, and sushi addict. After working a decade in the Christian non-profit space, she began to help authors at Yates & Yates, a Christian literary agency and law firm serving top tier authors and communicators.

She blogs at about parenting, spiritual formation, books and publishing, and tweets as @KarenYates11.

Karen also wrote for Her.meneutics on “The New Chapter for Christian Publishing.”