January 16, 2009, Newsletter Issue #9: Remember? A Memoir By Any Other Name...

Tip of the Week

Memoirs continue to flood the publishing market.  Some memoirs are by celebrity types, including actors (Maureen McCormick/HERE'S THE STORY), news commentators (Bill O'Reilly/A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY), or political figures (Barack Obama/DREAMS FROM MY FATHER). Other memoirs are by virtual unknowns prior to publication, for instance Elizabeth Gilbert’s, EAT PRAY LOVE, Jeannette Wells’, THE GLASS CASTLE or John Grogan’s, THE LONGEST TRIP HOME.
There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not a memoir can be considered nonfiction since the book’s content is based on the writer’s memory and recall. Some authors including James Frey, author of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, have gotten into trouble because they truly fabricated a large portion of their memoir, but his book still sold millions of copies.
The book sales in the memoir category are upwards of hundreds of thousands of copies! Why all the interest in someone we may or may not have ever heard of before? I believe it goes along with the same idea as the following of daytime soap operas. So many of us would like to know that we’re not the only ones who have had a tough life or that there are folks out there who have found answers to what life is all about and are enjoying their lives. We’re curious as to how we can be better human beings. Reading about someone else’s life somehow helps to put our own life into perspective.
Still, if you are considering writing a memoir it’s a good idea to remember that you’re telling a story, truthfully to the best of your abilities and that what you have to share will have a beginning, a middle and an outcome or end. Your life’s story needs to hold the interest of the reader. A memoir is not like a diary where the writer chronicles their life, date by date, year by year. There needs to be a setting, character development, sequence, exposition, conflict, climax and resolution.
A good test to find out if your life has what it takes to become a book on the shelf, is to write an essay encompassing the highlights of your life or a period of time in your life, thus far.  Pass it around to your friends or members of your writers’ group. Ask for honest feedback and listen to what they are relating to you.
If you receive good reaction or at least comments that express interest, then you may want to pursue this ever-popular genre of memoir writing. I believe memoirs will continue to populate the bookshelves and the bestseller lists for years to come.

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