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ANOTHER LOOK AT THE MEMOIR

June 19, 2019

My original article on this subject came out in 2012. Since that time, I’ve discussed the subject in numerous forms, mostly under the definition of the autobiography label. I bring it up again because at the writers group, the writers conference, and when I meet new writers, at least half want to do a memoir. That’s a high percentage.

However, there are certain hazards and caveats with writing a memoir.

Though most people pronounce it mem-waw, I like to play around with it and call it, mem-o-ear. However you want to say it, for a lot of writers, the memoir is da bomb.

One thing I just learned at the latest 2019 writers conference is that if you’re trying to pitch your work to an agent, NEVER call it a memoir. That’s the kiss of death, marketing-wise. Unless you’re a huge celebrity, forget it. You have to use a different term. Period.

Self-help, creative non-fiction, something along those lines is a far better way to market your work than memoir. You need to turn it into something sellable, versus a life story from just some schmuck nobody’s ever heard of.

MY EXAMPLE

Not to be too repeatable, yet after all, this is my blog, so I can do what I want…

Over the decades, people keep saying I’ve had an interesting life and I should do a memoir.

Pfft please!

I’m no celebrity. I have no big cancer story (even though I had it), nor one of major sexual abuse (though I didn’t get through life entirely unscathed).

I have no big life lessons to impart on an unwary public.

I have plenty of amusing (at least to me) anecdotes about life in rock bands and life in the Air Force living overseas.

So what?

What did I do?

At one of the writers conferences back about the time I started this blog (2012), I met the people at a now defunct political discussion web site called Let’s Talk Nevada. They needed a comic relief writer for their Sunday issue, someone to contribute that didn’t discuss politics. I thought, well, why not relate my goofy experiences, sort of tell my autobiography and not end up with a garage full of books? I could also drop in plenty of crummy photos to go with it.

I did this for almost two years until the owner of the web site passed away and his widow did not want to continue the web site. I had my fans, and they all liked my contributions. I told about my adventures in the Air Force, band experiences and whatever.

I wrote my autobiography, my memoir, and published it for free, for all to see.

Unfortunately, you can still go on Google and look up many of the links which are now broken.

I did it just for a goof, but you know what?

I don’t have a garage full of books nobody will ever buy.

I don’t have the huge expense of printing a book full of photos.

COMPELLING STORIES

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from writing a memoir. Not at all. However, if you’re going to do that, and are not just doing it for family and friends, why are you doing it?

If you think you have a compelling story, one that’ll grab people, something that can impact their lives, great!

I know of at least one that’s in the pike, that’s going to impact people. I hope it does well. This story is one that could be self-help, it could be inspirational, it could be about anything it wants to be.

IMPACTFUL

If you just want to tell your story, but only you think it’s interesting, well…that could be a problem.

I never would’ve published my story, put through the effort if my first test articles had not got a response. If just telling them to people had not got a response, or the short stories I’d shared among friends had not got the positive responses and encouragement I received. While some of the responses seemed a bit over the top to me, I still chose to do it the way I did because I’m still positive I have nothing compelling to offer except an occasional wry grin. That’s not exactly enough to sell a lot of books.

On the other hand, some of you out there have incredibly impactful stories to tell. You’ve gone through severe trauma and survived for the better. Your lives can have a positive impact on people. Those are the stories that need to be told.

That’s another reason never to call them a memoir. If you’re a celebrity, fine, call it a memoir. That implies juicy gossip and snide innuendo, something many love to read about. On the other hand, a self-help autobiography, or inspirational autobiography would probably be something more useful to a wider audience.

SUMMARY

For those of you out there wanting to write a memoir, if you notice people going “oh, that’s nice,” especially writers, accompanied by a blank stare, or a blank smile, that may be the reason why. Everybody and their brother’s doing a memoir. When they look at you and don’t recognize you from movies, TV or music, they draw a big blank and probably think “oh, another family legacy thing.”

If you change your terminology and focus a little, you’ll probably come out with a much better product in the end.

I’m just saying.

Happy writing!

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