This is My Story: How to Write a Memoir (and Get it Published)

You have a great idea for a memoir, but you don’t know where to start or what to do next. There are so many options for book publishing, and no one seems to agree on the best way to go about it. Here’s some simple and sound advice on how to write a memoir, and the steps to take to get it published.

This guide will help you overcome the main obstacles and show you how to get your memoir published and in the hands of an audience who wants to read it.

Though memoir writing is a specific genre unto itself, writers who have produced well-known memoirs (some of which have become classics) are also known as novelists, short story writers, and poets. Here are some of the classic authors on this site who have at least one memoir to their credit.

Before we begin, let’s clarify — what’s the difference between autobiography and memoir? The first is broader in scope, covering an entire life, from childhood to where you are now. Memoirs focus on a narrower period within a lifetime or a series of events that happened within a confined period. Get even more clarification in Memoir and Autobiography: Learn the Differences.

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Package of letters and manuscript

See more writing advice on Literary Ladies Guide

 

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1. Know your purpose for writing.

The memoir genre is popular for many reasons. It opens a window to learning about others’ lives and cultures. Mainly, though, it provides insight into what it means to live in another person’s shoes or experience something firsthand rather than looking at it from afar. 

Your purpose for writing a memoir can be personal, dramatic, or even just for fun. Here are some questions to ask when identifying the purpose of writing a memoir.

  • What do you want to achieve by writing your memoir?
  • Do you hope to share an important story for the world or just an interesting one about yourself?
  • Who are you writing this book for, and how will it help the reader?

Are you looking for catharsis or validation of your experience, or would you like to inspire others with lessons learned from your life experiences?

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Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen’s classic memoir, Out of Africa
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2. Start with a plan.

Memoirs are personal, and you may never find the perfect audience for your story. However, if you plan out how to write, publish, and market your memoir from the very start, then it will be easier to reach those people who can relate to what you have written.

Telling your story is not about the size of an audience; it’s about how you can help others who are going through similar experiences find hope. Here are three critical considerations related to planning your memoir.

  • Figure out what type of memoir you want to write
  • Consider your time frame and budget constraints
  • Find a book publisher that best fits your needs (or even consider self-publishing)

 

 

3. Decide on the book publishing method.

The question to ask at this point is: should you use an agent, or self-publish? One of the best things about using an agent or book publisher is connecting with more people in the industry than just writers and editors. They also have connections with marketing teams. Agents and publishers are masters at finding new audiences for their books. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for the best way to get a book published on your own, know that you will be in charge of everything: writing the book, editing it, creating a cover design and layout for print or ebook formats. You also need to know how to market your book effectively so that people will buy it.

It all depends on whether you want to take the time to learn how to market your book or prefer to focus on writing. For most, writing a book is what they’re after, so it would make sense to use an agent or a book publisher.

Keep in mind that if you decide to use a third party (and not self-publish), these book publishing companies will take a cut of anything you make from the book. Actually, they keep the lion’s share. They front the cost of production, printing, and some marketing. The author generally gets less than 10% of the cover price after they’ve earned out an advance.

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I know why the caged bird sings

Quotes from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,
Maya Angelou’s classic memoir
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4. Write an outline for each chapter

Starting with an outline is a great stepping stone to writing the rest of the book. This outline should include what you want to write about and what research will be necessary.

By creating an outline before writing individual chapters, you have a better chance of staying on track and doing more research to make your content as informative as possible.

This means that the final output will be higher quality and more enjoyable to read than if you had just written the first chapter and continued writing until your book was finished.

 

5. Take breaks and understand that the first draft will be far from perfect.

Often, when you’re working on something difficult for an extended period (such as writing a book), it helps to take frequent breaks. This can rejuvenate you, refresh your thoughts and help you stay focused with less effort than before.

Keep in mind that the first draft is never perfect, but you can make better with self-editing and revision. It’s essential to be patient and have faith that your hard work will pay off in the end.

A standard tip that published authors share with those that are just getting started (and that can help you out) is to share what you’ve written so far with someone else who might give some feedback about sentence structure, flow, or if anything is missing from a paragraph.

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Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter

 

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Conclusion

The journey from idea to published work can be long and arduous, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. By following these steps, you will be able to overcome all the obstacles in your way so you can finally get your story out there for an audience who will stand to benefit from your writing.

You’ll also have a clearer picture of whether you will use book publishing companies or go it alone when it comes to publishing and marketing your memoir. Whatever you decide to do, one thing is for sure: It’s time to start writing today.

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