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This blog was featured on 08/31/2018
The Bestseller’s Guide to Writing A Memoir
Written by
She Writes
August 2018
Written by
She Writes
August 2018

Memoirs are a vital part of the publishing industry—people enjoy reading about relatable writers and their life experiences. Whether your goal is to inspire others, inform people about an important topic or let readers in on an interesting event, there is always a market for memoirs. Whether you’re currently crafting your memoir or thinking about writing one, here is our best advice in writing a potentially bestselling memoir.  

Think Before You Write

Obviously, a memoir revolves about a certain experience you went through but while planning the book, Reedsy thinks you should keep these things in mind:

  • Who is the memoir intended for?

    “The first question you need to ask is why you’re writing a memoir. From there, you can figure out how to achieve that goal. Do you have a story that will resonate with a wide-range of readers, or is this is something you want to do for yourself or your friends and family?”
  • Are you writing a commercial or legacy memoir?

    • “This kind of memoir [commercial] is intended for a wide readership and is more likely to be picked up by a traditional publisher. If this is your intention, you need to do your research and determine if there’s a market for a story like yours.”

    • “Intended for a more limited audience, some authors write a legacy memoir to help them recall and cement a certain time in their lives — or to leave behind important stories and lessons for their descendants.”

  • Will you need to write a book proposal?

    • “If you decide to write a commercial memoir and intend to sell it to a traditional publisher, bear in mind that you will have to, at some point, submit a book proposal. As well as providing details about the target market and your book’s place within it, a book proposal will also contain a chapter breakdown of your memoir.”

Pick A Theme

Picking a theme or specific message to promote throughout your memoir will give the book a central focus and also give your reader something to ponder after they finish the final page. When asked by Reedsy, bestselling author Carolyn Jourdan said:

"The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever been given was from a Professor. He said, "When you get stuck, ask yourself, ‘What am I trying to say?’

"Your theme is the meeting point on which readers will relate to you and recognize themselves in your story. Your story may have several themes, but consider what you want the overarching point to be."

Grab Your Reader's Attention

It makes sense to start from the beginning when telling your story but sometimes, the most interesting start to your book should be from a point of high interest. In Reedsy’s article, bestselling ghostwriter Johnny Acton said this about where to start:

"Start with an incident that captures the central theme of the book as vividly as possible,” Acton says. “Unless your birth was dramatic in itself (e.g. your mother was stuck in a lift with a group of Trappist monks), it's probably best to avoid beginning with it. Too obvious and clichéd."

Dialogue and Detail Are Key

You want to paint a clear picture to your reader while writing your memoir. If they can’t imagine the exact scene you’re describing, they won’t feel apart of the story and as a result will feel distant from your book. We suggest taking a cue from the authors you love and follow their lead. Acton revealed more about why he thinks it’s important to give your readers as much dialogue and detail as possible while writing:

"Remember to describe how you felt about things as they happened," Crofts says. "Don’t go into too much description (no beautiful sunsets). In fact, keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum, making the nouns and verbs do the heavy lifting. Keep detailed information such as dates and times to a minimum unless crucial to the story.

"Use direct speech as much as possible," Acton adds. "It doesn't have to be 100% accurate, it just needs to capture the personality of the speaker and the essence of what was said."

Be Honest About Your Experience

Honesty is one of the most important things to remember when it comes to your memoir but oftentimes, you want to take an objective approach to writing about yourself. Reedsy warns writers not to make themselves out to be a hero:

“While a memoir is often an opportunity to ‘tell your side of the story,’ don’t paint yourself as a complete hero or victim. Like any protagonist in a novel, it’s your strengths and weaknesses that will make you a compelling figure. Readers expect honesty and candor. If they sense that you’re stretching the truth or have an underlying agenda, they will quickly switch off.”

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    I've never really considered writing a memoir. I grew up with fiction. I think a memoir would be a good route for me to take once I finish this one story I am writing.