There are ways to get a movie made or book published about your autobiography. However, it’s an uphill battle. Let me share some tactics you can use when pitching your autobiography or memoir.
A difficult aspect of selling your autobiography is that you can lose perspective. When people accept or reject aspects of your autobiography, it’s easy to take it personally.
Therefore, to have the best chance to get your autobiography published or produced, you need to be able to see the pluses and minuses of the project in a more objective way.
What If Someone Else Was Pitching Your Autobiography?
Imagine how someone you don’t know would pitch your autobiography.
- How would they start?
- What elements would they highlight?
- What would they leave out?
- How would they describe YOU?
Most decision-makers are suspicious of people who are pitching autobiographical projects. This is because there are a lot of people people who believe “my life should be a movie/book,” when their life isn’t the kind of story that would interest a large audience.
One of the best ways to sell your autobiography is to partner with someone known for working with biographical material, and let them pitch it. That provides a crucial ingredient to getting a decision-maker interested: third-party validation.
Accumulate Third-party Validation
The single best thing you can do to make a decision-maker see the value of your autobiography is to convince other decision-makers that it is valuable.
- Get a story about you written in the local paper.
- Get a national magazine to feature you.
- Attach a producer who specializes in biography.
- Attach a star to the project who wants to play “you.”
What Is The ‘Movie Story’ Version Of Your Autobiography?
Thinking about what your autobiography would look like as a movie can help you clarify the most compelling aspects of the project. This will help you to pitch it effectively (whether you want it to be a movie or not).
Movies need to have a simple, clear story that maximizes visual interest. This often requires making significant adjustments to the actual events of your life. That’s why real lives and movie versions often differ (more on this here and here).
If your story was going to be a movie, how would you have to shape or adjust your story to fit the medium?
See Your Autobiography From The Decision-Maker’s POV
Autobiographies, whether a book like Lucky Man (by and about Michael J. Fox), a movie like 8 Mile (about and starring Eminem), or a TV show like Louie (by, about, and starring Louis C.K.) have lots of potential to make money.
However, decision-makers such as agents, executives, and publishers typically do not want to invest in an autobiography unless it meets at least one of two standards:
- It must be incredible, timely, and relevant.
- It must already be successful in some other medium.
Incredible, Timely, And Relevant
You may have an unusual, amazing life story. But if it is not also timely and relevant to what’s happening in our culture, decision-makers are unlikely to want to invest.
To develop a more compelling pitch for your project:
- Identify famous historical analogues to your story.
- Link your story to trends in contemporary culture.
- Reference current news stories on the same topic.
Here are two autobiographies that are in development. I’ve chosen them because neither author is a celebrity though both have extraordinary stories.
Something to notice about these two examples—neither was sold immediately as a movie. American Sniper was a successful book first, and Saroo Brierly’s story received significant international press coverage, then was sold as a book to Penguin and as a movie to See-Saw Films (The King’s Speech).
This demonstrates one of the key ingredients of selling your autobiography: proving that it has been successful in another medium.
Already Successful In Another Medium
If you are a celebrity, this is a form of success in another medium. Being a famous actor, businessperson, or other “star” is one kind of evidence that there may be a market for material about YOU.
So, for example, an autobiography in development is:
- Foxy, My Life In Three Acts, by Pam Grier
However, if you’re not a celebrity, there are other ways to prove that your story is worth telling. Here are some things I have seen people do that helped them to sell an autobiographical project:
- Getting national press
- Performing a financially successful one-person show
- Distributing a short film on YouTube which goes viral
- Creating a popular blog about your life
- Publishing articles that leverage your experience
- Becoming a public speaker
How To Use Your Personal Story
This may surprise you, but if you’re pitching an autobiography, this is what you should do:
If possible, pitch the project without referencing yourself at all.
Prove that the story stands on its own. Then, if you get sufficient interest from the decision-maker and you get asked how you came up with the idea, with humility and brevity you can describe the part of your own life that gave rise to the project.
This strategy is more effective than leading with your connection to the material because:
- You demonstrate professionalism by showing that the story comes first.
- Your personal connection adds credibility to the material.
- Your personal experience acts as a “button” to an already strong pitch.
Do you have a favorite autobiographical project? Let me know in the comments.
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I’ll be speaking at the AFM Pitch Conference in LA on November 9th. Tickets are $95 until October 18. Come and join us!
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