by Jerry Waxler
For more insight into the power and importance of memoirs, read the Memoir Revolution and learn why now is the perfect time to write your own.
Heroes rarely earn their livelihood as sales people. On the contrary, sales people are usually portrayed as weak and deceitful. Consider Willy Loman, the famous protagonist of Henry Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Loman’s career figures into one of the most tragic, demoralizing anti-heroes of modern literature. Our lack of respect for the profession enters everyday speech with symbols as the “used car salesman” who will say anything for a sale.
This stereotype could be undermining your success as a writer. In the Internet age, even traditionally published writers must woo readers. And those of us who self-publish shoulder the entire burden. We ask people to like us, to leave comments, to re-tweet us, to friend us, to buy our stuff.
If we base our image of sales on the tragic model of Willy Loman, our search for readers seems inherently demeaning. To dignify the process, we need a better role model. Sonia Marsh, author of Freeways to Flipflops offers such a model.
After Sonia Marsh’s family moves to Belize, her husband’s job falls apart. She tries to figure out how to contribute to the family income. Jobs are not plentiful in Belize, and she doesn’t have marketable skills, anyway. So she pitches a business idea to her husband to start a coffee shop. That particular idea doesn’t take hold, but it introduces her to a new line of thinking. She acquires a taste for using her brain to devise ways to help the family financially.
Her efforts to earn a living don’t make her look like a victim or beggar. On the contrary, the job of selling becomes simply one aspect of a much more complex and noble task of supporting a family. From that point of view, she looks less like Willy Loman and more like Daniel Boone. In a television show of the 60s, Boone was an all around man of the woods. Like other entrepreneurs, he lived with dignity and even glamor by earning a living with his wit, skill and energy. With a few changes in details, his method of earning a living bears many similarities to what Sonia Marsh started to do in Belize when she pitched her first business idea.
As Sonia Marsh’s year in Belize proceeds, she gradually transforms from housewife, mainly responsible for acting inside the home, to a modern hero, who goes out into the world, using curiosity and intuitive reflexes to earn a living and help her people.
By showing us her struggles, innovation, and sincere effort to meet the challenges of life she demonstrates qualities we admire and love to read about. Her story changes the image of the salesperson from victimized schlemiel to can-do member of a modern family, and offers an inspirational image for writers who attempt to earn money from creative work.
Real-life spills off the pages
Sonia Marsh experienced her entrepreneurial inspiration during the year she was in Belize. And even though the first attempt to start a coffee shop didn’t succeed, it started her on the journey. Usually when I finish reading a memoir, the story is over, but Freeways to Flipflops continues, in a delightful twist of “life meets art.” When the Marsh’s return to the United States, and she completes her memoir, she finds herself with a new product to sell. The memoir itself becomes her business plan.
Note: The ultimate example of a self-referencing memoir comes from Publish this Book by Stephen Markley, about a college graduate who attempts to earn a living by writing and publishing “this very memoir.” Stephen Markley’s Home Page
Sonia Marsh’s post-memoir experience is an excellent example of a woman’s transition from a stay-at-home mom to a businesswoman. And it demonstrates her anticipation for the next step in her life. The nest isn’t empty yet, but it’s getting there and Sonia uses her memoir as a bridge from an empty house to an energizing cultural experience.
As the creator, producer and marketer of her work, she provides a far more heroic image than a Willie-Loman-like person who must beg for a sale. When Sonia Marsh asks readers for a little of their precious time and money, she offers something in return. She offers readers an interesting story, and offers writers the inspiration to tell and sell their own. In fact, she actively encourages this new attitude. On her Gutsy Story website, she runs a contest where you can tell your own courageous story. So if you ever fear that selling your memoir is begging, try following Sonia Marsh’s noble, fun, and invigorating leadership.
Write a scene when you felt like a courageous and creative writer like Sonia Marsh. Describe the rewards and dignity of reaching past the gatekeepers and aspiring to reach readers. Did you pitch a column or newsletter article, and then hear back from a reader who appreciated it? Did you attempt to sell a few of your books and then later hear that the book had inspired a reader? What events in your life contribute to the sense that bringing your words to readers will benefit them as well as yourself? Take this exercise further. Enter Sonia Marsh’s Gutsy Story contest and let others know about it.
Stephen Markley’s Home Page
Sonia Marsh’s Home Page
Freeways to Flipflops (Kindle Version)
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Jerry, I thank you for your post on the memoir writer as an entrepreneur. I seem to meet more memoir writers today with the entrepreneurial spirit than before. The word is spreading that social media and relationship building offers many opportunities to get our name, and book out there. Some people don’t enjoy this, however, it should be viewed as an opportunity to take charge of your own book promotion. To me this is wonderful news as it can help all of us, even writers who consider themselves “too shy” to step out into the public. The feedback you get on your blog, or FB, slowly builds your confidence, and I see many memoir writers with the entrepreneurial spirit thriving online. The next step is to take it into the real world through speaking, workshops, presentations, book events, etc.We can all do it, it just takes time and effort.
Thanks for the comment, Sonia. And thanks for the fun of showing us the birth of an entrepreneur. I love the way your memoir shows life lesson. Jerry
Sonia’s example of a literary entrepreneur continues to evolve. Her gutsy spirit has defied the odds and gotten her indie-published book into Costco. She heads up a Facebook group for indie publishers. She must have the map of metropolitan LA memorized by now as she hurries from one event to the next. She has published an anthology of Gutsy Stories, with more to come. Sonia is EVERYWHERE. She’s a huge inspiration to legions of us, and I hope to read a new memoir of her post-memoir experience.
Thanks for the comment, Sharon. Yes, she is definitely my hero in terms of her success. Just as important to memoir writers is her intuition to explore her entrepreneurial as part of the character arc in her story. Best wishes, Jerry