Memoirs- Avoiding critical mistakes when writing a memoir

Memoirs are different than most books and are very misunderstood by authors. Therefore, Evershine Press has provided helpful tips that will assist you in crafting your memoir.

Do you feel like your book needs to be a memoir? If so, let's look at several items you may not have considered.

A memoir is typically a telling of an interesting time or event that occurred during your life. This time or these events should have a broad interest to a lot of people. A memoir should not be your diary on paper.

The plain fact is, that although your life and its events were important to you, that doesn't mean the public will also find it interesting. This is even more critical if you are an unknown or non-famous person. Even famous or well known persons have rules to follow when writing a memoir. The purpose of this post is to help you craft your memoir in a manner that the public will care that you've written it.

It is important to remember that the main event or topic of your memoir will be highly relevant and engaging to the public, so let's ask some questions.

  • Does the main topic from your life hold a high level of interest to others? 
  • Is the main event that occurred in your life something that will/could have great impact on others?
  • Is your story primarily about you and not others?

If your answers to these questions are yes, you may be on the way to writing a memoir that can provide value and valuable information to those who read it. This is the key to memoirs. Your story should be something that can/will touch the lives of others. It will offer knowledge that is relevant to the lives of your audience instead of yours. It should provide answers, help, or other information that will offer benefit to them. At Evershine Press, we want to ensure that an author has the ability to understand what audiences and publishers look for from a memoir.

Your audience who will buy your book is the main target that you need to gear your story towards. No one cares about your personal life unless it benefits them in some manner. Let's look at examples of this:

  • You had weight issues and were able to make diet and lifestyle changes that allowed you to lose weight without exercise. Now let's say the weight you lost without exercising was 50, 100, or 200 pounds or more. Now that's a story about you that people want to know. They don't want to exercise, they don't want difficult to follow diets and life changes in order to lose weight. If your story is simplified into easy steps they can follow and get similar results, then you likely have a best seller on your hands.
  • Maybe you lived through a huge event or time that had great impact on you, your country or the world such: as a war. Or a large earthquake where you where buried under rubble for a period of time. Maybe you grew up the child of a politician of high office where you have a behind the scenes view of how things work to impart. Were you a caretaker for someone with a debilitating illness and you have information that could help other patients or caretakers based upon the information you learned?

Notice here, that the above examples are basing the memoir not specifically on the writer, but on the topic or event for their book. By focusing the writer's story on specific information that the public will find helpful or enlightening to their own lives, the writer has created a book their audience will buy.

Assuming you still feel your story needs to be told, let's cover some do's and dont's to follow when writing your memoir.

Do's

  • Do create your book around a topic or event where you become the narrator of the event or topic.
  • Do keep your audience in mind and gear the information you have to tell about how this knowledge will help them.
  • Do add your personal information to show relevance to the topic or events.
  • Do keep the part of others who may be a part of the story generic or low impact so the story remains about you, the events and how you handled the situations.
  • Do organize your story/book around the main topic. A telling of your story that will provide helpful information on a topic means the topic should be the main focus and your personal story may be scattered throughout the book to provide examples or show relevance to the topic points being made.
  • Do write a short story about yourself at the beginning of your memoir that will give your audience a sense of who your are, why you are qualified to to speak on your topic and how the topic has impacted your life. The details and specifics of these events are best scattered throughout the book where they become relevant.
  • Do use the details and specifics of your life's events to bring awareness to the topic of your book. By pulling in your personal story throughout the book as it relates to your topic you ensure that your audience won't get bored and sees you as an expert on this topic.
  • Do get reviews from other experts on your book's topic so they can lend authority to your knowledge or help point out error or unclear points that need to be repaired.

Don'ts

  • Don't write a diary about your life.
  • Don't write a tell all. A memoir should be about you and not the people in your life unless they are the part of the the topic. Then, keep their part to a minimum. The story should be about you, not them.
  • Don't use your book to settle old grudges with others in your life. Let's say you were a victim of domestic abuse and suffered greatly at the hand of your abuser until you were able to get out of the situation, and now you want to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation. When talking about the events or attacks that happened to you, write the abusers part in a generic non-vengeful manner as if they don't matter. The attacks that are vital to the story but are about you, not your abuser. They should be about how that attacks affected you, how you felt and what you did/learned to prevent future attacks. The point is to give yourself the power and not your attacker.
  • Don't use your book as a means of therapy. That's what a journal or diary are for, but later if those journals now have valuable information where you can realize how things would have been different had you known these things at the time, then use them as a guide to craft your book. In this situation, you'll only use a very small portion of those journals.
  • Don't mention every single person from your life. Your story is about you and not them. They may not appreciate your telling of their part in your story. Remember that memories are subjective and no two people remember events the same way. We remember events as to how they made us feel, or think, and not the factual way the event happened. You risk hurt feelings or a lawsuit for slander if someone feels you have injured their character if they remember things differently. Your book is about you, not them so leave them out of it.
  • Don't mention every detail from your life. Again, your memoir is not a diary or journal. Keep your life events to those that directly impact the main topic or event of your story.
  • Don't try to tell your story in chronological order. You are writing about an event or topic. Your part of the story can be brought into the story where your personal events relate to the topic.
  • Don't make your audience have to wade through your experiences in order to get to the information they want. They are reading your book because they believe it is going to help them in some way. Wading through your diary isn't what they signed up for so don't make them regret picking up your book.

If you can utilize these do's and dont's, you should be well on your way to crafting a memoir that the public will find interesting, helpful and possibly enjoyable depending on the topic. Since a memoir is a non-fiction book, you will need to be seen by your audience as an expert on your topic and information. These tips will help you avoid critical mistakes in writing your memoir as well as getting a jump start on your book marketing as well as writing a great book. As a book publisher, I can definitely say that these are the things we at Evershine Press look for when deciding whether or not to publish a memoir.