This blog post is compliments of our sponsor, Lulu. Originally posted on the Lulu blog.
While many creators write to educate or entertain, there is another type of book that might be the perfect addition to your content offering: a memoir. Memoirs aren’t new or innovative, they’re a potent blend of narrative storytelling and informative historical accounts.
Memoirs are also highly personal—meaning you and only you can write your memoir. Whether you’ve been considering a memoir or are new to the idea, I’ll break down what a memoir is and how to go about successfully publishing your story.
The term memoir comes from the Anglo-French word memorie. According to Etymonline, memoirs are a ‘note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind.’ Historically, memoirs were a way to detail important events like conflicts, natural disasters, or political upheaval.
Over time, the memoir became a personal form of writing, focusing on the writer’s experiences. Some well-known memoirs include:
- Night, by Elie Wiesel
- Becoming, by Michelle Obama
- Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
- Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
There are a few key features of memoirs that set them apart from other kinds of books. Specifically, memoirs:
- Tell a story, using plot, setting, and dialog
- Focus on an event or period of time
- Offer personal insight or emotions from the author
Memoirs hold a special place in literature, blending narrative styles, factual accounts, and personal experiences.
Memoir Vs. Biography: What’s The Difference?
If you’re browsing a bookstore, there’s a good chance you’ll see Biography and Memoir lumped together on the shelf. While yes, both tell true stories, memoirs have a few important distinctions.
Most notably, a biography (or autobiography) recounts a person’s life. That usually includes the subject’s early life, upbringing, and the events that follow. The book is an account of the entire scope of a person’s life, with that person as the focal point of the book.
Memoirs have a much narrower focus. Most of the time, the book will center on a single event or topic. You’re giving your perspective and experiences of that event or topic. You’ll still be a major part of the story, but the focus is not on you (as it would in a biography) but on the event or experience you had.
How To Write A Memoir
As a content creator, you probably have experience writing and editing. Knowing how to write a memoir is really no different than any other book or even blog post. Creating a memoir involves outlining, creating a plot and characters, and turning the events you experienced into a compelling story.
Despite being based on your own experiences, a memoir is still a piece of creative nonfiction and should incorporate many elements fiction stories rely on. That includes:
- Characters – The people present in your life and involved in the events your memoir focuses on.
- Plot – Your story needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. Simply recounting events is called ‘reporting’ and will make for a boring memoir.
- Tension – The events and actions people take need to have an impact and create drama to build tension for your readers.
It’s likely best to approach your memoir in the same way a novelist writes a novel—by outlining the story, creating a list of your characters and places, and drafting the story in the order it happened.
How To Structure A Memoir
To be clear, all rules have exceptions and can be broken. So when I say that memoirs should follow a linear structure, I only mean most memoirs. While writing a book, you should focus on getting the story told and getting the important details on the page.
Once you’ve got your content created though, you need to revisit it with an eye for the structure. You should do this before sending the manuscript to a professional editor.
Jane Friedman suggests two methods for structuring your memoir:
- Chronologically – Building the story from the moment it begins to the moment it ends in order.
- Thematically – Starting from an event and expanding on the time, place, and emotions tied to that event.
The two might seem similar but lead to very different story structures. In a chronological memoir, you’ll need to start with any background that informs or builds on the primary event. A thematic structure allows you to start with the event and build in the background later (through flashbacks or recounting of events).
For example, if your story involves a famous event, you might start from that event (since people will likely know about it) and build in the background as you recount your experiences. But if the story is deeply personal or focuses on a lesser-known event, you may want to hold that for the middle of your book to surprise or tease your reader.
How To Publish A Memoir
Writing your memoir is going to be a lot like writing any other book: lots of planning, drafting, and revising. But once you’ve got the book written and edited, it’s time to think about how you’ll lay out the pages to create your nonfiction story.
In another article, I cover the 6 steps to publishing a book:
- Write Your Book
- Research The Market
- Edit & Revise Your Book
- Pick A Self-Publishing Platform
- Format Your Files
- Design Your Book Cover
We covered the first part, and since you’re a creator sharing your story with your audience, you probably have a good handle on your market. The next step after drafting your memoir is to edit it!
Editing Your Memoir
Self-editing the first draft is probably fine, but you’ll also want to do a round of professional editing. Don’t think of editing as just fixing spelling errors either. There are four primary kinds of editing:
- Developmental Editing – This is an editor who will ignore most of the spelling and grammar to look at the structure of your story. Developmental editing is helpful for nonfiction books to help you create a narrative your readers can follow.
- Line Editing – After you’ve got the structure organized, you’ll line edit to improve the individual sentences. That might include making the tone consistent, getting the right tense, and maintaining a consistent narrative perspective.
- Copy Editing – Now you’ve got a coherent book that uses consistent style and tone. The copy editing round is for correcting spelling and grammar and fact-checking.
- Proofreading – The last step is a final proofread to catch any errors or inconsistencies that slipped through the earlier rounds.
Preparing Your Memoir Print-Ready Files For Publishing
Once you are happy with your edited and revised manuscript, you’re ready to format your memoir files. There’s a lot that goes into designing your print-ready files. Here’s a list of elements you’ll need to consider:
- Use a standard font and text size
- That includes your heading styles, footnotes, header and footer text, body styles, and likely more
- Use high-quality images
- At 300 dpi and size to fit your pages correctly
- Create a consistent page layout
- Including header, footer, margins, and gutter
- Add front matter and back matter
- Including your copyright page, table of contents, introduction, author bio, and more.
- Do a final proofread before ordering a print
Publishing Your Memoir
Just like any book, publishing a memoir has two common routes: traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Traditional publishing is an arduous task involving querying agents, publishing house deals, limited access to your audience, and even more limited income. If you are lucky enough to get a traditional publishing deal, you’ll have a large editorial and design team to help make your book the best it can.
Self-publishing is a much faster path to publishing, but you’ll be doing all the work yourself. This is the best option if you want to have control over your book’s content, marketing, and distribution. You’ll need to bring the audience and manage all the marketing tasks, but the trade-off is higher revenue per sale and a direct connection with your fans.
Despite the work, many creators choose to self-publish their memoirs. The control and speed to market are more important than the broad reach of a publishing house.
Connecting With Your Readers
Your memoir is a powerful tool for marketing and building your brand. Your fans and followers want stories that are honest and engaging. They want a connection with you; your memoir can do that in ways that educational or inspirational content cannot.
Memoir is the ultimate form of brand marketing. Let your own, personal story resonate with your readers to create deeper connections. The book can be more than just a book too. Turn the most inspirational quotes into social media posts. Make a video that expands on a topic. Write blog posts to tease the story.
Like any other piece of content you create, your memoir is a source for all your content channels.
This blog post is compliments of our sponsor, Lulu.
Lulu is dedicated to making the world a better place, one book at a time, through sustainable practices, innovative print-on-demand products and a commitment to excellent service. Since 2002, Lulu has powered the knowledge sharing economy by enabling authors in more than 225 countries and territories to publish nearly two million books and eBooks. Our industry-leading tools and global community help authors tell their story, publish it in printed or eBook format, then sell them in online bookstores around the world. At Lulu, authors are in control, owning the rights to their works, setting their own price and keeping up to 90 percent of their book profits. Learn more about Lulu here.