To help you get started on your memoir, here are a few questions to help you focus in on the story you wish to tell.
Which genre does it belong to?
Before you start writing, it’s important to figure out where your book fits within the existing market. Acclaimed ghostwriter Katy Weitz suggests researching titles from a number of popular categories to get an idea of the sheer variety of memoirs that have succeeded.
Many people want books to transport them to another time and place and show them what life was like. Others enjoy recognizing their own experiences reflected back at them. Books that meet this requirement are often called nostalgia memoirs.
Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl. Evoking his childhood home of Cardiff, Wales in the 1920s and 30s, the stories in this book shed light on themes and motifs that would play heavily in Dahl’s most beloved works: a love for sweets, a mischievous streak, and a distrust of older authority figures.
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. Now best known for its BBC adaptation, Worth’s account of her life as a midwife caught people’s imagination with its depiction of life in London’s East End in the 1950s.
Misery and Inspirational
Books that depict a difficult time in an author’s life aren’t intended to bum the reader out — but to show triumph over adversity. The fact that the authors are writing a book about their experiences often serves as a redemptive final chapter in their personal story.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Proof that memoirs don’t have to tell catastrophic stories to succeed, this book chronicles Gilbert’s post-divorce travels, inspiring a generation of self-care enthusiasts and was adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. An account of drug and alcohol abuse that one reviewer called “the War and Peace of addiction,” this book became the focus of an uproar when it was revealed that many of its incidents were fabricated. (In case you’re wondering, we do notrecommend deceiving your readers.)
“Misery” memoirs aren’t intended to depress the reader, but inspire them with a story of triumph over adversity.
Public figures have an inbuilt fanbase who just want to hear more about their adventures doing the thing that they do. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of inventive celebrity memoirs.
Troublemaker by Leah Remini. The former star of TV’s The King of Queens tackles the Church of Scientology head on, detailing her life in (and her decision to leave) the controversial religion.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. Less of a singular memoir than a collection of humorous anecdotes framed around his life as a transplant to Paris, the star of this book is Sedaris’ dry voice and cutting humor.
Sports stories often make for great books. After all, what’s more dramatic than the thrill of victory or the crushing pain of defeat?
Paper Lion by George Plimpton. In 1960, the author George Plimpton joined up with the Detroit Lions to see if an ordinary man could play pro football. The answer was no, but his experience in training camp allowed him to tell the first-hand story of a team from inside the locker room.
It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. This is a great lesson on how authors often writers books to create their own legacy in the way they see fit. As history confirmed, Armstrong’s comeback success wasn’t about the bike at all.
Now that you’ve seen some of the popular genres, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into telling your story.
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