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6 Tips to Creating a Perfect Memoir

Want to share your story with the world in the form of a memoir? The good news, according to Sam Henrie of Wheatmark Publishing, is that the genre is performing well in the market right now. This could be your time.

Here are six quick tips to help you with that process.

1. Pick just one aspect of your life story to focus on. Dan Lyons’ popular “Disrupted” memoir, for example, focuses on his experience as a baby boomer working at a tech startup. Other authors narrow in on a particular phase of their lives as well. Think of Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking,” in which she describes the year after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, deals with her trek up the Pacific Crest Trail and how she used the experience to overcome her feelings after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage.

2. Decide up front whether you want to do it yourself or have it done for you. You can use do-it-yourself platforms such as Scrivener, which is a combination of writing software and project management tools, or have companies such as Wheatmark guide you through the process.

3. Include some redemption in the storyline. There should be an arc of learning. Are you an entrepreneur? Perhaps you struggled in the beginning, behaved like an abusive manager, but then in the process of building your beautiful startup, realized a serious character flaw and resolved it. Maybe you brought the company back from the brink of failure. Perhaps the venture failed in the end, but you had a valuable, personal epiphany. Ideally, you have emerged from the experience a better person.

4. Know your genre and the way it might be read. Analyze other memoirs to understand the format correctly. If you like a particular book, note what specific category it fits into. Henrie has noticed that fiction readers tend to buy e-books, consuming them almost like “junk food,” whereas non-fiction memoirs often perform better in print.

5. Enlist manuscript readers who don’t know you. Sam recommended as a place to start. There is also an excellent online group called Internet Writing Workshop that is helpful for both fiction and non-fiction writers. By participating in the network, you agree to assess other authors’ works in exchange for their candid feedback on your own manuscript. Consider that you may be too close to the subject matter to have a realistic perception of what might be of interest to others, and that your business friends and family won’t tell you the honest truth. Repeat — your friends and family won’t tell you the honest truth.

6. Gain a competitive advantage over other memoirs by using professional editing. Explaining how some authors eschew formal editing in favor of winging it, Sam used a wonderful comparison: “It’s as if they’re thinking, I’m an attractive person, I don’t need to dress well, I don’t need to take baths.” Make your book copy as accurate and therefore as competitive as it can be. Check the editor’s credentials, too, before using him or her.

A “perfect” memoir may be in the eyes of the reader, but you can improve your book’s chances by following these guidelines.

Thanks go to Sam Henrie for sharing these tips with me. He founded Tucson-based Wheatmark in 1999 to make it easier for both non-fiction and fiction authors to publish their ideas.

Do you have more suggestions on what makes a good memoir? Please share.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

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