Autobiography vs Memoir

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Here’s a bad joke:

What’s the difference between a summer dress, clean underwear and a funeral gown?

Answer: The difference between memoir, autobiography and biography.

Like a summer dress, memoir covers a season. Like clean underwear, autobiography is something you do for yourself for a lifetime. Like a funeral gown, biography is something that someone else dresses you in for eternity.

Do you want to write a memoir?

You may have heart-breaking and ultimately inspiring messages. And many people have told you, “You should write a book.”

You’ve been told to write a memoir, but you are not sure what exactly it is. What is the difference between memoir and autobiography—even a biography?

Well, I just told you the bad joke of an answer (Yes, I completely made up this joke, while writing this email).

Here’s the real breakdown:

Memoir – A specific period of time in your life.

For example, 6 summers, your childhood up until age 18 or a year of travel. Memoirs give you more opportunity for storytelling, because they often follow The Hero’s Journey arc, with a beginning, middle, climax and end.

Think Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which traces her hike over the Pacific Crest Trail, with flashbacks of her life. And the bestselling memoir of 2018, Becoming, by Michelle Obama, shares her story from childhood to First Lady, but focuses on the theme of finding her voice.

Autobiography – A story covering your entire life from birth through adulthood that you write yourself. This is most relevant for historical or influential figures whose birth and life are of importance.

Autobiography examples include: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi and Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela. As a reader, I love these books because they gave me a sense of the time and place of these incredible giants of humanity, from their personal perspective.

Biography – A story that someone else writes about your life.

Of course, you better be important enough for someone to want to write an entire book about you.

These examples are about the same people as above, but are written by others: Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World, by Eknath Easwaran. And Mandela: The Authorized Biography, by Anthony Sampson.

With all due respect, you’re probably not famous enough for a biography. You’re probably not significant enough for an autobiography either.

But you may have a massively-inspiring message and life journey to share, dramatic enough to be a movie. So, the best genre for you could be memoir.

You may not be a First Lady or a President for that matter (Barack wrote his own bestselling memoir before he became President, Dreams of My Father).

Yet your memoir could inspire hundreds of people, if not millions.

What’s the best way to write a memoir? Can we ghostwrite your memoir? Should your book be a memoir or an expert book?

One of the memoirs we have helped come to life.

I’m happy to jump on a call and explore options. Apply for a complimentary Author Breakthrough Session here (value $500).

It’s summer time and a wonderful time to sew your summer dress or summer shirt.

Feel free to apply for a session.

by Helen Chang, ABM Editorial Director

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