How to stand out in the crowd of Boomer memoirs

A recent study of Baby Boomers revealed that the single thing they most want to do in retirement is write a book. The single biggest topic? Themselves.


So how do we differentiate our story from those tales of our peers?


In writing what we know are we merely voicing the same concerns?


I would argue that we are not, since everyone has a story, and that each of those stories is unique. To avoid sounding like everyone else, perhaps the key is to also avoid grand sweeping statements about our generation and instead look to the small moments of life to illuminate those grand themes.  


If you avoid making yourself the story, and instead think of yourself of the illustration of a universal theme, you'll succeed.


I'd invite some discussion of this here.

  • Hmm, in trying to find where I fit in among the She Writes community, I stumbled across this baby boomers group and immediately identified.  I retired early (51) and didn't know I wanted to write a book, but took a serendipitously found myself in a writing class. Twenty-one  years ago there were incredible writing classes on the new internet but they hadn't figured out yet how to charge for them.  I lucked into great international critique groups and published my first book in 2000.  Although it wasn't exactly a memoir, I wove my story in amongst 16 women's stories about why they chose to retire in Mexico. It was about their hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments -- an experiential book. After my agent spent a year trying to find a publisher, she suggested I self-publish.  I spent a year researching that fairly new field and eventually sold over 6,000 books.  During the ensuing years, I published hundreds of articles on moving to and living in Mexico and had one story published in Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul.  

    My most recent book was published in 2014 and again, through in-depth interviews of 20 baby boomers who had reinvented their retirement in Mexico, I interwove my own story.  I've not been as lucky with sales this time and my guess is that, as many of you have stated, there are a plethora of baby boomer books and hundreds of thousands of blogs about everything someone might want to know about boomers moving to, living in and retiring in Mexico.  

    So, although in 2000 my book was one of a few and successful; in 2014, my second book, having received great reviews, apparently has become lost in the cacophony of free internet information.

     I believe what I need to do is harness the power of social media, but it's an awesome task and I'd appreciate hearing from others on what they believe the best way is to market their books in 2017.

  • This post is 4-5 years old, but I just read it for the first time and just wanted to say how much I got from it, all this time after its initial posting. Thank you, Marion Roach Smith, and everyone who commented! 

  • I'm always up for a good, new memoir, and always looking for a new one to read.  I'm a children's author, and I've been working on my memoir (not for kids) for twenty years.  Too bad it's taken so long, but it's been a rewarding process.  I think looking deeply into your life to find themes is one of the most difficult and challenging things you can do.  So write on.  Pamela Jane

  • Twenty-five years ago, at the prompting of a therapist, I wrote my memoir. At the time I was still mired in the pain of the abuse I received as a child. Instead of an uplifting and inspiring memoir, it was raw pain and not skillfully executed. I sent it out to agents and some authors who wrote about similar themes. I received many nice letters from the likes of people like Lucien Goldberg who told me my story was compelling, but I could benefit from some writing lessons - they told me in sweet, kind, polite terms.

    Recently it was suggested that I write my memoir again. I started writing, joined a few critique groups, and increased my skills. I was surprised that, even though I didn't initially look at the original manuscript, the story was basically the same, and often told in the same words. There was one difference though - I had been healed. I had sorted out my past and it no longer pulled me down to the depths of despair. Instead of writing a dump story, my focus changed. Now I want to write a healing journey to inspire others, to let them know that, no matter how tough their lives are, healing is possible. 

    By focusing on my goal of encouraging and helping others, the story changed dramatically.  I'm still honing techniques, still learning to show, not tell, still editing and figuring out how to present the ending, but really enjoying the process.  It has already touched the lives of many on Critique Circle, and my pastor's wife has been encouraging me to tell even more than I have. It's quite an adventure.

    When the focus changed another thing happened - surprising connections emerged. Sometimes I sit back and say "Wow, never saw that before." 

    Have a blessed day.


  • I'm working on a memoir about raising the two kids my husband and I adopted internationally.  I think it's all about voice, first, and then theme or frame you give to it.  The story behind Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions was not unique (single mother, former addict, struggles to raise baby with help of friends).  However, her voice is so distinctive.  As I work on my own story, I'm trying to write the book about raising older adoptees or raising international adoptees that I still, after 17 years, have never seen on any bookshelf.  The book I wish I had had when I started this journey.

    By the way, did you know Lamott has just put out another baby journal book about her son, Sam, becoming a father?  Can't think of the name right now.

  • I'm planning on turning my memoir into a novel and then adding things I wish I'd done to the plot. Then when the interviewer asks which parts are from my real life, I can give them an enigmatic smile and say nothing.

  • My story is about raising a child diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. What I hope will make it unique is the way I coped with my difficult homelife. It's absurd and a little embarrassing. I became obsessed with American Idol winner Taylor Hicks (the gray haired guy). Not in a stalkerish way, don't misunderstand. But his story of beating the odds was so uplifting that I followed his career daily, became involved with his fanbase, went to concerts and wound up interviewing him several times. 


    I think it's funny. There are also some tidbits about the TRULY obsessed American Idol fans I encountered who will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up- women who think their Idol is sending them messages thru his songs, etc... 


    I'm curious to know if you think that's different enough? I would think American Idol fans would interested. I have SOME writing chops having written a humorous column for seven years but I've never written anything book-length before.


  • I totally agree. As a widely published essayist who teaches workshops in writing memoirs, I am no longer surprised at the vast number of people want to write their "story," and how many have dreams of becoming the next Anne Lamott or Mitch Albom, etc.

    I had those dreams, too, until I saw how quickly the competition is growing, and how many fine Boomer writers out there have similar stories to share. It's all been done before, pretty much. There's nothing that can truly shock or awe us anymore, now that the Internet give access to so much. It's downright overwhelming for readers and writers.

    As I tell my students (and myself),the key to telling a memoir or essay that resonates -- and sells -- is to have an incredible voice, a voice unlike any other. Thousands of blogger mommies think their stories of raising children are so very special, but unless they have a voice like Anne Lamott's, for instance, they aren't offering much of anything new.

  • I appreciate this question very much. My memoir has unique themes--being a military child, constant moving, impact on adult relationships, one in particular. the issue is a marital choice and the tragic consequences...Can't seem to find a slot for this book. It's done, been edited, re-edited, critiqued....Any insight is appreciated. 

  • I agree that everyone has a story to tell, and each story is unique. But from a publishing business point of view, the story has to answer the most important question of all; So what? To use myself as an example, I have Multiple Sclerosis. That is unique within my family, my friends, my community. But it's not as unique as I might at first imagine.

    There are plenty of books out there about overcoming MS with a good attitude or whatever. What am I telling that is unique? Perhaps my husband gets diagnosed as well, and then my two children - that's unique. Perhaps I go to court over my ability to work and win - that's unique. Maybe its my writing style; maybe I'm the funniest author of all time - that may be unique. The point is, lots of people have overcome lots of things. So, you have to make yours answer the question in an intriguing way.

    Just a few of my thoughts. ~Karen