Ouch! I just read an article online all about how people shouldn’t bother writing memoirs. The blogger’s admonitions against such a terrible endeavor read as follows: just because you did a bunch of interesting things in your life, just because you suffered, just because you saw great moments in history come and go, that’s no reason to think anyone else wants to hear about it.
She warned that publishers are only interested in memoirs by famous people. Naturally, I feel I must weigh in on the subject. First of all, I don’t disagree, exactly, I just think she is leaving out some important information. And, of course, I do feel very strongly that people should write memoirs–good ones.
Fact of the matter is, in order to attract a publisher’s attention, your book has to be damn good. I don’t care if it’s a memoir or a work of fiction. The book being a memoir isn’t going to make it bad or less than interesting, it’s just not going to be the selling point.
Some potential ghostwriting clients approach me with their book ideas and insist that the book will surely sell because it’s all true. I have to be honest and let them know that what sells a book is good writing, not truth. Of course, good writing paired with an exceptional true story is a great combination, but the truth of it isn’t the main selling point. I do know of a few exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. (Sometimes a lousy book that is an exceptional true story actually gets picked up for the film rights, like Catch Me If You Can.)
So, what makes a book “good?” Interesting characters, interesting settings, a unique storyline, something new to say, great dialogue, character development . . . you know, good book stuff. A memoir doesn’t get a free pass on those things just because it’s true. And that’s where I come in. There are people out there (more than you may know) who would love to see their own lives written as great books. That’s what I do.
I could write completely fictional books, and I do that, too, but my specialty, really, is the novel based upon a true story, because sometimes your true story does need a little bit of goosing to give it that suspenseful quality that fiction has. So yes, memoirs are important. Your experiences and insights are important. But if you want others to read them, either become a great writer or hire one.