Writers worry about “giving the story away” before their book is out in the world. But publishing a personal essay about a related story can stir up interest in the memoirist’s larger narrative. And, that following you create as an essayist can pay off when you go to sell your memoir. “That following” is also known as a platform, an author’s existing audience for a particular story. (This is why writing/revising/submitting an essay to a target publication is a key part of my Platform Building 101 course). Writing essays also gives a writer a chance to develop a story and explore its themes before setting out to write (and rewrite) 300 pages. But perhaps the greatest benefit of those essays: Early reader enthusiasm that boosts writer confidence and wards off those thoughts of who’s gonna care anyways? that haunt each of us with a personal story to tell.
Check out these essays that preceded the authors’ memoirs:
Putsata Reang, Ma and Me (MCD, 2022)
Essay: “At Sea, In Search of a Safe Harbor“
Kiese Laymon, Heavy, (Scribner, 2019)
Essays: “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK“
Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf, 2012)
Tim Elhajj, Dopefiend: A Father’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption (Central Recovery Press , 2011)
Kristi Coulter, Nothing Good Can Come From This (MCD x FSG, 2018).
Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (Graywolf, 2019).
Essays: “The U.S.S. Awake and Dreaming“
Brian Broome, Punch Me Up to the Gods (Mariner Books, 2021)
Brian performed a lot of Moth-type public readings of his short pieces. In fact, his agent found him (and signed him right away) at one of his first readings, at which he read the piece that became the chapter called “The Key” in Punch Me up to the Gods).
Recordings of Brian reading his work at The Moth and other story slam events can be found here on Soundcloud.
Ashley C. Ford, Somebody’s Daughter (Flatiron Books, 2021)
Essays: “My Father Spend 30 Years in Prison. Now, He’s Out.”
Nicole Hardy, Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin (Hyperion, 2013).
Essay: “Single, Mormon, Female, Alone.”
Francisco Cantu, The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border (Riverhead, 2019)
Theo Pauline Nestor, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed (Crown, 2008)
And yes, this book of mine also got its start as an essay.
Essay:”The Chicken’s in the Oven, My Husband Is Out the Door“
Write an essay of your own in Platform Building 101
Platform Building 101 combines live lectures & coworking sessions with prerecorded lessons and handouts. Weekly assignments offer structure and accountability. Zoom coworking sessions offer support.
The goals of the course: Build a “good enough” author website you can easily update independently (even if you’re “terrible at tech stuff”); connect with readers in a sustainable way that that doesn’t make you cringe; write and submit a calling card essay for publication.