Before the emergence of non-traditional book publishing, the gatekeepers of traditional publishing assumed that celebrities or people who had done something extraordinary were the only ones whose stories were marketable. In fact for many years, authors have found themselves being asked about the size of their platform before their work was even given consideration. A great, well-written story wasn’t enough.
However, as self-publishing and hybrid publishing has become easier and gained credibility in the mainstream, regular, everyday people are writing their stories. Nowadays, whether or not a traditional publisher embraces an author, that individual has far more avenues available to get a memoir in the hands of readers.
The market trends reveal that the general public wants to read about people just like them — doctors, lawyers, prison officers, firefighters, nurses, teachers, a fisherman, soldiers and many other familiar jobs . You don’t have to be somebody, per se, if you represent everybody. According to Nielsen Book Research, memoir sales rose 42% in the U.K. over the past 12 months to 2.5 million.
An article from The Mirror cites one example of a Great Ormond Street nurse who sold 100,000 books in two weeks based on her first-person experiences at her job. Christie Watson had no expectations that it would go on to become a bestselling memoir.
After two decades working intensive care wards, Watson had plenty of triumphant and heart wrenching material — helping a young boy write a thank you note to a dead child’s parents for their son’s organs and resuscitating patients in cardiac arrest.
People like Watson have launched memoirs into one of the fastest growing areas in book publishing. On Amazon.com in 2019, memoirs and biographies were the #1 best-selling category. In January 2019, first-time author Stephanie Land’s MAID: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive hit The New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there.
With the Pandemic, many people are recognizing that frontline workers — from grocery store clerks, maids, caregivers to first responders — are the unsung heroes among us.
Part of what makes these stories so powerful and popular is that there’s an authenticity to them. When an author writes fiction, he or she has to make decisions about every layer of the story. In doing so, they have to convince the reader over the course of the narrative that the unreal is real. However, memoirs and nonfiction bypass the persuasion process. There is no need for suspension of disbelief, and the truth is often stranger than fiction.
Real life is magical and full of interesting characters. The old belief was that people want to read about lives that are drastically different from their own. However, the data that’s coming out suggests that traditional book publishers had it wrong. What people really want to know is that they aren’t alone, and the filter the reader passes the words through is uniquely theirs. Naturally, this means that our first instinct as readers — consciously or not — is to ask how it relates to yourself; How can it help you? What would you do in said situation?
Additionally, there’s a growing love and acceptance of being a regular person. Celebrities are just a sliver of the human population, and their stories have been written ad nauseum. Plus, their lives are already being played out on Instagram and Twitter, so the exclusivity is gone. Besides, most of us simply can’t relate to summering in the South of France on a yacht. The stories of the everyday people are what captures our hearts.
For example, three of Atlanta book publisher Lucid House Publishing’s projects-in-development are exactly in that vein and share the stories of people, who work outside the limelight, but have important stories to share.
Eons ago, the stories and the names of the Egyptian commonfolk died with them, while the pharaohs’ legacies were carved into stone. The men and women of modern times want their voices heard and their stories to be remembered. In a world that’s been transformed by the Pandemic and protests, the hunger for gossip and books written by self-indulgent celebrities with no real message has diminished. People would rather read about ordinary people stepping up and doing extraordinary things and good deeds. Readers have taken to heart Mr. Rogers’ admonition, “Look for the helpers.”