Dear Ms. Frank:
Thank you for your submission of your memoir to us, as delivered by your literary agent from a cardboard box unearthed in a dusty Amsterdam attic. Unfortunately, we receive so many Holocaust teenage diaries composed in European attics that it is impossible to accept each one. We are passing on your diary with regrets, but would like to offer various suggestions for revision.
First, though we live in a crass age of reality television exhibitionism and Facebook narcissism, a memoir from a 15-year-old girl is a bit much. Until some time has elapsed, it’s very difficult to gain perspective on those trying teenage years. More important, do a young girl’s problems really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things? Consider waiting a bit, perhaps after taking some creative nonfiction courses in college, before tackling this potentially sentimental material.
Open the action up! Readers love to go on a journey with the memoirist—whether it’s a divorcée’s spiritual quest in India to find herself or a journalist’s rollicking cross-country trip to discover the best hamburgers in each state. You’ve written about a young girl confined to an attic for two years. Be honest—which would you rather read? Correct: The United States of Hamburgers, now available wherever paperback are sold.
While we would not suggest you invent any details, if you have any history of drug use (hello, you are in Amsterdam!), this is the place to write about it.
On that note, forgive us for asking, but we must now be ever vigilant about fact-checking in memoirs. Our history is a little shaky, but did an entire country, led by a psychopathic dictator, really set out to eradicate an entire peoples based on their religious affiliation? And the dictator had a ridiculous-looking Charlie Chaplin mustache? And America didn’t intervene for two whole years of atrocities? We’ll remind you that we’re known for preemptive strikes. To be honest, the whole thing sounds more like genre fiction or an action movie—which you might contemplate adapting this into. Throw in a couple shower scenes, and it has the makings of a great Megan Fox vehicle.
Speaking of the so-called “Nazis,” can you find a way to make them more likeable or, at the very least, give them a measure of redemption? Maybe one of them has a cute German shepherd that he always brings around to the apartment when he searches it, and we can tell he’s got a kind heart because he affectionately ruffles the dog whenever he commands it to sniff out the “filthy Christ-killers”? Brainstorm personality quirks that show up in dialogue. Have you seen Juno?
Put frankly, sex sells. You and Peter van Pels kiss a few times without letting your parents find out, which is great. But in 2010, it feels tame. Was there anything else you’re omitting out of a misguided sense of propriety?
It’s very difficult to sell books now against other entertainment options, so we’re focusing on authors with broad multimedia platforms and brands. You Tweet, right? Or maybe you can start a Facebook group—"I Spent My Formative Years in an Attic, Yo!" or some such.
Finally, we know it’s very postmodern to resist narrative closure, but even if you don’t want to tie up every loose string, readers like a satisfying ending. Your last entry is dated Aug. 1, 1944, and then… what, exactly?
Feel free to send us your next project (as long as it has more mainstream appeal). In spite of everything, we still believe you are really good at writing.