Several times a year I'll receive an email from a memoir writer wanting to know if attending one of our writer events is worth it. The answer is always a mixed bag depending on several factors; however, for purposes of meaningful sample, I've decided to include a recent response to a concerned memoir writer who inquired about the potential of the Write to Pitch Conference to sell her project.
You appear to desire real honesty, so I'll take a chance and provide you with that. As you read what I have to say, keep in mind that I respect memoir writers for having the courage to tell their stories
I quite understand your trepidation regarding the conference in New York. The brutal truth is that memoir rarely sells at any writer conference, and for similar reasons. The writers are usually not even quasi-famous (thereby disabling marketing attempts to sell the book at least partially on the basis of the author's background). The memoirs in question almost never have valid marketing hooks (according to marketing), i.e., they're not high concept. Much of memoir subject matter inevitably falls into categories already tapped out (according to marketing, for example, cancer recovery, bad family, marriage horrors, parental abuse and alcoholism, career drama, growing up in poverty, growing up in poverty with cancer, etc). In addition, many memoir writers can be very resistant to editorial direction as compared to fiction writers (yes, it's true--I've seen it myself more than once)., thus running up the dreaded narcissist red flag.
As the messenger of this brutal truth, I know that editors and agents are very wary as a result of the above. Writers who display even the slightest sensitivity during pitch sessions are often coddled and falsely encouraged just to avoid the potential of drama.
No one wants to be seen as "unkind."
On the flip side, we've had oversensitive memoir writers attend and later complain that the professionals they pitched really didn't take memoir in the first place, but the dark truth was that the editors or agents didn't wish to offend the writer (because memoir is so personal), and therefore behaved as if memoir just wasn't viable for them, unfortunately using boilerplate excuses (rather like those found in responses to query letters--won't work for our list, etc.).
The truth is these same professionals would certainly get excited if they actually saw sufficient reason to pitch the project at an editorial meeting without raising severe doubts on the part of marketing. Memoirs that have sold at Algonkian Writer Conference events all had high-concept marketing hooks, and in general, an aura of uniqueness about them. There may be exceptions to this circumstance, of course.
I hope this helps.