Can I write a memoir? What goes into writing a memoir? What do I need to know to publish a memoir? Can I sell copies of my memoir?
It’s normal to have questions if you’ve ever thought about writing a memoir. As a writer myself and publisher and CEO of Dudley Court Press, I’m here to tell you that if you have a story to tell, then you can absolutely write a memoir.
Anyone who dares to pick up a pen (or turn to a computer and keyboard) can write their memoir and share stories of the important people and events that have shaped their life. Yes, anyone! Anyone can create a worthwhile record of what they have experienced and leave a great legacy in book form behind. That said, not everyone will sell a million copies of their memoir.
Today I’d like to talk a little bit about what goes into writing a memoir and what you need to know when publishing a memoir as a personal project or as a commercial project.
Writing a Memoir
Writing a memoir requires courage to start and commitment to finish, but it can be a gift to yourself as well as a gift to others. It’s an opportunity to pose questions, to remember, to organize your thoughts and to record your perspective on the people and events that have shaped your life. After all, a memoir is your own story and you’re the most qualified person to write it.
Autobiographies cover all of a person’s life, but memoirs are more selective in the anecdotes they tell. Memoirs typically focus on one specific theme, event, relationship or career.
The very first tasks to write your own memoir include: first, picking a focus for your book (What story will your memoir tell?); and second, zeroing in on the reason for your writing (What motivates you to write your memoir and see it through to the end?).
Another task is to determine what you want to do with your memoir once it’s finished. Do you want to turn your memoir into a book you can hold in your hand or read on the screen? Do you want to share your memoir with others? If so, who do you want to share your memoir with and how?
A Memoir as a Personal Project
If you decide to write a memoir and have it published as a personal project, then you don’t have to answer to the market. Instead, you have complete freedom to do things your way. It’s 100% your story and whatever you say goes. Just be clear on what your goals are.
Some memoir writers write their memoirs in order to preserve cherished memories and to have that great sense of accomplishment that comes with writing a book.
Other memoir writers seek the legacy that writing a memoir provides. A memoir allows family and friends to learn more about you and the life that you’ve had. It makes a great gift for them, and it opens up the possibility of bringing you all closer together.
Either way, if personal fulfillment is what you’re after, then writing and publishing your memoir as a personal project is likely a good choice.
A Memoir as a Commercial Project
Or maybe personal fulfillment isn’t what drives you. Perhaps you’d prefer some time in the spotlight and to test your mettle against the marketplace.
Strangers can make fickle buyers and fickle readers, especially for the many memoirs published each year. But if you have your heart set on selling thousands of copies of your memoir and you’re committed to the marketing needed to make that happen, then here are a few things that you should keep in mind.
First, people love a good story; try delivering a relatable, transformational or uplifting one. Even if your experiences are essentially sad, like Frank McCourt’s childhood in Angela’s Ashes, any memoir destined for commercial success should try appealing to readers’ desires for inspiration.
Second, your memoir needs to engage readers right from page one—and then keep the momentum going. No filler here. Prepare to be ruthless in your editing.
Third, don’t let your memoir move into the fiction category. Check your own facts. Have the controversy surrounding James Frey and his exaggerations in the memoir A Million Little Pieces serve as a cautionary tale. Your life is enough. There’s no reason to stretch the truth.
Like any commercial book, a commercially successful memoir requires research, writing, editing and marketing, as well as the courage and the commitment to make it happen.
Do you have what it takes to aim high and see your memoir published commercially? Or is a lower-stress personal project more your style? Either way, my team and I can help.
Dudley Court Press
Dudley Court Press works with writers like you every day. As a full-service, hybrid publishing house, we help thoughtful people write their books and become successful published authors.