How to Publish a Memoir as Self Help

The editor going through my blog posts for collection into a book had a comment about my hiding a poem in a computer book by McGraw-Hill. She says I've now figured out how to hide a memoir in a book of blog posts! I don't think of it that way myself, though I'm a diehard advocate of anecdote in how-to and self help books. I need to see references to personal experience for me to count an author as credible. I'm not interested in authors telling me how to do something that they've never attempted themselves, unless they have some clearly related experience.

There are memoirists working away even as you read this, recording every meal and bowel movement for posterity, in the belief that they are creating an invaluable historical record. Invaluable, unvaluable, amazing the difference a little vowel can make. If you're writing a memoir that you hope to sell, the simple story of your life as you lived isn't going to cut it, unless you happen to be famous, infamous, or the first memoirist of some famous events. If you're writing for yourself or your kids, do what you want, but if your goal is to publish a memoir you can sell, think about disguising it as self help.

The only book about health I've ever taken seriously was a book about running injuries written by a doctor who was an avid runner. I'm embarrassed to admit I can't remember the title and can't check because it's down at my folks’ house, but he included anecdotes about his own running injuries and those of his patients. The one thing I never remember him advising was to quit running. Maybe he didn't write much about his childhood, maybe he didn't mention who he voted for in the 1960 presidential election, but he wrote a very useful book that left you with a feeling for who the man was and how he lived.

My great-grandmother published a Hebrew memoir of her childhood over a century ago that's very interesting to me for its description of life in a little town in Latvia in the 1860's. It survives in the corpus of research library memoir because it was one of the
first written by a woman in Hebrew, giving it a place in literary history. But it wouldn't have been very interesting in the 1860's, or the 1890's for that reason. Memoir about everyday life requires a much longer maturation period than wine to develop character, and if you publish a memoir today in hopes it will be read in a hundred years you'll probably be disappointed in your grave.

But who has lived a life, or even half a life, without learning anything? If you can write, and if you believe you understand something better for having lived through it, you can write a book the may help other people cope with the same issues. Many of the books published about surviving an illness or dealing with a tragedy are essentially memoirs that have been cast into self help books for people who find themselves in similar situations. Take advantage of hindsight and make sure that even when you write about confusion, the writing itself isn't confusing.

You don't need to have suffered some horrible loss to write a self-help memoir. I'd be interested in reading the memoirs of a successful self publisher myself if it were titled "My Life in Self Publishing" by Jon Doe, rather than, "My Life" by Jon Doe. If I'd read some engineering memoirs as a young man, it may have saved me six years of higher education! Now that I think of it, I don't recall ever seeing any engineering memoirs, outside of historical accounts of famous engineering projects. That's how to publish a memoir, make it a historical account of something people are interested in reading about, and hide your childhood in the introductory chapters as "background."

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