If you have an interesting story to tell, you might be contemplating writing your memoir. As you sit down to start, most likely you’ll realize it isn’t an easy task. Most likely there will be a lot of emotion behind many of the events that have shaped your life story. Collecting these incidents together for your readers will take strength, time, and patience. Knowing this upfront will help you plan and complete your book.
Take a deep breath. You got this!
Many people have reached out to me over the last two decades asking advice about how to write their life story. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Writing your memoir takes time
Writing a book isn’t an overnight undertaking. For a professional writer, I’d estimate it will take two hundred hours to complete. If you’re new to the process, plan for it to take longer.
It’s important not to rush the process. Even if you have plenty of time, give yourself some breathing room.
Eight months to a year is a good timeframe for completing a book. Set daily targets and hold yourself accountable to making them. Your memoir will be the better for it.
Character flaws are key
Even if you have lived the life of a hero, you will need to take a step back and look for a few non-optimum personality traits to share.
The reason for this is that the rest of us, your readers who have flaws, will never be able to relate to the story of a perfect superhero. Include the mistakes you’ve made in your life when writing your memoir. Find a few lapses in judgment and delve into them. Anecdotes showing how you overcame barriers and errors will enhance your book.
Humor goes a long way
When an author can poke fun at his or her situation and enliven a story by bringing out its comical aspect, it makes for a more enjoyable and memorable read. While it is best not to make fun of others in your book, there are still plenty of other ways to include humor.
For instance, funny dialogue snippets lighten the mood nicely. There might also be times when you can uncover an absurd moment then expand on it. Don’t be afraid to shine a spotlight on certain aspects of your life that might make others laugh out loud.
Don’t expect to make much progress if you only type a few pages on the weekends. Great writers write every day. It keeps ideas flowing and the creative pump primed.
Feel free to embellish the details
No one expects you to remember every single little detail of your life perfectly.
For example, can you recall what you had for breakfast on October 20th, 1974? If you’re writing a breakfast scene and want to put Eggs Benedict on the table, go ahead. Your readers will accept it.
The situation is similar with dialogue. If you are writing about an important conversation, your readers don’t care about the exact words spoken. They just want to know the gist of the conversation.
The truth is, even if you have a photographic memory, you will want to change up the words a bit to improve the flow of the story. However, never invent fictitious and unflattering words for a real person you’re mentioning by name. He or she might not appreciate your creativity.
Although you’re delving into the viewpoint of one character, you, you need to have the ability to pull back from your perspective.
This might mean that you don’t come out the winner in every argument. And, please don’t resent me for saying so, but you might turn out to be wrong on occasion. It happens! Remember, flawless characters aren’t very believable.
One of my biggest tips for writing a memoir is to be truthful with your readers. It’s possible that they might learn a lesson and avoid making the same mistakes you did. Wouldn’t it be good to know that your book changed the life of just one person?
Read other memoirs
I read a quote today that I loved. It said:
“Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in. Writing is breathing out.” (I wish I knew who wrote it.)
Writing a memoir is difficult if you’ve never read one by another writer. Reading a lot will help you learn about what works and what doesn’t.
You can also learn to spot the memoir themes, which might give you ideas for your book’s theme.
With these tips for writing a memoir, you are ready. Now start writing. Continue to write. Then write some more until your first draft is completed.
Don’t edit, just write.
Enjoy the experience.
Personally, I love ghostwriting memoirs because I get to meet new people and help them share their life stories with others. While doing so, they usually remember new details about their lives that they’d forgotten for decades. And, in the end, they always learn a lot, as do their readers. The process is so rewarding!
I’ve been a ghostwriter for twenty years now and love it. Although I am also a published author, there is something singularly satisfying about helping someone complete a lifelong goal of seeing their book in the hands of enthusiastic readers. However, there is a question that comes up routinely when I mention what I do. People ask, “Is ghostwriting ethical?”
When it comes to ethics and morals, some things are very cut and dry. No, you shouldn’t steal that candy bar just because you’re hungry and broke. Yes, you should help a friend in need even if it might be inconvenient. Other issues might be less black and white; they become a personal choice. For instance, are white lies acceptable if it avoids hurting someone’s feelings? Some would say yes, while others would disagree vehemently. Still, I think most people have a good barometer for determining right from wrong.
However, I do get a variety of responses when people hear that I write books for others. Some people wonder if what I do is really OK. Here’s a semi-typical conversation:
“What do you do?”
“I’m a ghostwriter. I write books for other people.”
“So you’re telling me that you write the book, but someone else gets all the credit?”
At this point I usually give a polite nod. “That’s right.”
“But how is that fair?”
“I’m paid upfront for my work. I’m fine with it. Really, I am.”
“But…is ghostwriting ethical?”
Now, that’s a good question, one worthy of a blog article.
Is ghostwriting ethical?
I feel strongly that ghostwriting other people’s books is ethical, or I wouldn’t be in this line of work. The way I see it, I’m helping people achieve their dreams by getting their books published. If they aren’t able to write the book themselves, why not hire someone to help them?
The exception to this rule is that ghostwriting an academic paper is decidedly unethical. Once in a while I get a PhD student writing in to ask me to write their thesis. I think we can all agree that crosses a very clear line.
Being completely candid, some writers I know will not work as ghostwriters because they feel it isn’t right. They don’t feel right about giving up all the credit for words they’ve written. And there are authors who will not put their name on a book unless they wrote every word themselves. I admire anyone who sticks with their integrity. For these folks ghostwriting isn’t ethical for them. I always say: Never be swayed by popular opinion. Stick to your guns and decide what is right for you.
As I said prior, ethics is a personal judgment call. Even though I feel strongly about my opinion, I can also see the other viewpoint. In the end, you must decide if ghostwriting is an ethical choice for you.
Ghostwriters are everywhere
Maybe it would help to know that ghostwriting is a common practice. There are many published authors who had help writing their books. There are tens of thousands of freelance writers, but most don’t make a living ghostwriting books. That’s a more elite group.
You might be wondering how you can tell if a book is ghostwritten. Well, that’s a little tricky because typically a ghostwriter signs a Non-disclosure agreement. However, if you look through the books at your local bookstore, there are a few indicators that the book was written by a ghost.
Look to see if there are two authors listed on the cover and one’s name is preceded by “as told to” or “with,” these are both standard ghostwriting credits. Also, flip to the back and look at the Acknowledgment section. Many clients have mentioned me there, thanking me for my help (sometimes even mentioning my company name).
When you start looking for ghostwriters, you’ll start to see them more and more. It’s a bit like when you become a parent and become aware of all the strollers, car seats, and diaper bags in the world. They were always there, but now that you’re looking for them, they seem to be everywhere.
Plagiarism isn’t ethical
Plagiarism is when someone copies someone else’s work, doesn’t give him or her credit, and then tries to pass it off as their own work. This is illegal. It’s a misdemeanor, which can result in fines and possibly jail time. You can’t just steal other people’s work.
Some people confuse plagiarism and ghostwriting. They are very different, because a ghostwriter is paid to write for an author. The contractual agreement states that the author will own the copyrights for the work at the end of the project.
Now if a ghostwriter plagiarizes someone else’s work and turns it into the client, that is illegal. This can happen when authors pay ghostwriters very little and give them a miniscule deadline. They think their getting a good deal, but in the end, the author might be the one paying the fine and spending a few months in prison for the crime committed. It’s best to pay professional writers what they are worth.
Ghostwriting is similar to other industry practices
If you’re still on the fence and wondering if ghostwriting is ethical, consider that our agreement is not unlike others that exist in other fields. For example, large companies hire employees to write software programs or design equipment for them, asking them to assign the rights to them once the project is complete. The employees don’t usually get to keep the patents; the large corporation does.
How do you feel about this point? Is it ethical for an author to hire a ghostwriter to write a book for him or her? I’d like to hear your opinion! Please feel free to email me to discuss.
Hiring a ghostwriter is a major undertaking. You are about to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who will step into your shoes and learn to write with your voice. Because writing a book together with a ghostwriter is such a personal journey, it’s important that you compile a good list of interview questions for a ghostwriter to help you find the best match for you.
I recommend writing down the questions ahead of time; however, as with any great interview, you’ll need to ask follow-up questions on the fly. Make sure to take notes, so that after you’ve spoken to a few writers, you can remember who said what. Notes will also help you formulate follow-up questions.
Potential interview questions for a ghostwriter
Through your questions, you should work to determine the experience and ability of each ghostwriter you interview. Here are a few topics you might consider covering:
The number of books she has written
Writing a book is not an easy task. There are many steps involved in producing a high-quality product. If your prospective ghostwriter has never written a book, you can expect that she will likely have trouble completing your project.
Having said that, if you’re on a tight budget, a ghostwriter with no prior experience should give you a great price on your book because she will be eager to fill in her resume. It’s a bit of a gamble for you, but if you check out her writing samples and talk to her extensively, you might find a hidden gem. Make sure to pay her enough so that she can invest the time to deliver a quality manuscript to you.
A professional ghostwriter will have a few dozen books under her belt. All the same, if a writer has written at least three books, she is experienced enough to help you with your project.
Testimonials from past clients
Someone once told me that what other people say about you counts far more than what you say about yourself. I like that tidbit of advice because it is so very true.
Any professional freelance writer should have collected quite a few testimonials from prior clients. Now, the only problem is that these will need to be semi-anonymous because all ghostwriters are sworn to secrecy. Even so, an established ghostwriter won’t have any trouble getting a few clients to write a few lines of praise.
Check out my testimonial page. You’ll see some clients proudly share their name and company name, while others prefer to share only initials. Still, you can see that I have worked with many people over the last twenty years. Make sure your ghostwriter has similar credentials.
Her writing forte
Some of the interview questions for a ghostwriter should revolve around what she likes to write. Also ask about her experience. This will help you determine if the ghostwriter is a good match for you.
A few writers only write fiction. Others love to pen memoirs, while some prefer to stick to small business books.
Personally, I enjoy writing uplifting stories, helping record a family’s history or compiling educational non-fiction material. I wouldn’t be comfortable writing a memoir centered around abuse; it would be too painful.
However, I can write a fictional novel, a non-fiction how-to book (sometimes called prescriptive non-fiction), or a memoir. I love all classifications and genres, as long as the overall message is positive.
Her current schedule
When you interview a ghostwriter, ask about his schedule. You need to have some prediction about when he can deliver a finished manuscript to you.
If the writer you select has a full-time job and is going to try to write your book in his spare time, I’ll tell you right now, that’s a recipe for disaster. You can predict that scheduling conflicts will prevent him from completing your story in a timely manner. Plus, he will be tired after his day job and will have trouble giving you his best effort.
Find a writer who has the time to work with you. You might also ask him how many projects he has on his plate at the moment. As for me, I’m comfortable working on many projects at the same time and always strive to come in ahead of schedule. However, I’m upfront about the time it takes to write a book. Eight months is a minimum requirement, but some can take up to 18 months. It really depends upon the amount of research required.
A few additional steps
Sometimes you might find that you instantly click with a ghostwriter and just know she is perfect for your project. However, there might be times when you’re not as confident and feel like you need more information. That’s understandable. If you have a good first interview with a ghostwriter, but aren’t 100% sure about hiring her, there are a few additional actions you can take.
Test your writer before hiring her
It is a good idea to test your top ghostwriting candidates by requesting a sample of their writing. This will allow you to see how you work with them.
You’ll need to pay for the samples you request. Please never ask a candidate to write for free. No professional ghostwriter should agree to that (if he does, he’s far too desperate, which should be a red flag). However, I highly recommend that you ask her to write a few pages for you—for a fee. Most writers have a per word fee. For instance, I charge a dollar per word. If asked to write a sample, I can produce any length desired.
Keep in mind that there are about 250 words per page. So, four- to eight- pages is a good-sized sample. This will help you determine the skill of the ghostwriter.
Yet you are not only checking out the ghostwriter’s ability to write, but evaluating his process as well. How much time does he take to write the piece? Make sure he gives you a deadline. Then observe if he meets it. If he is late (for any reason), know that he will probably be frequently tardy if you hire him.
How does the writer respond to your feedback? If he bristles at your suggestions, that doesn’t bode well for the future. On the other hand, if he accepts all your suggestions without any discussion, this could be equally problematic.
A good ghostwriter/client relationship involves a healthy amount of give and take. That’s what will produce the best-possible book. I will always give my clients my honest opinion and thoughts, but in the end, remind them that “you are the boss.”
Communication is key
After you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter, observe how she handles subsequent communication with you. How quickly does she answer your emails? Does she respond to your texts in a timely manner?
My policy is to handle all communications within 24 hours. In actuality, I’m much faster. I’ve had a few clients comment on how fast I am. “It’s like you’re sitting there waiting for my email!” Well, no, I’m not. But I do check my email frequently. When I see a client query pop up, I like to handle it quickly.
Most ghostwriters offer a free consultation. Take them up on that. It’s a great opportunity to get their take on your project. See if you can get them to give you some insight into how they’d tackle the project. How would they approach the opening chapter? For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, I’d advise you not to start with the day you were born. It’s much better to find an exciting incident to begin your book and drop the reader headfirst into that scene!
Take action to avoid scammers
It’s unfortunate, but true; there are those who will try to scam you in this industry. Over the years I’ve had many people report being ripped off through Craigslist. That’s why I don’t recommend finding your writer through that source.
When vetting a writer, try putting her name into a search engine and see what comes up. If she is a successful writer, her books, interviews and articles should pop up. If the proverbial crickets chirp (dead silence), you know she isn’t very well established (or she has chosen to keep off the internet). Most professional writers have their own websites.
If a ghostwriter asks for the entire fee upfront, she is probably trying to con you. Typically, professional writers will ask for a deposit of 25% to 50%. The rest of the payments should be made as the pages are produced. I ask for 25% at the signing of the contract, then another 25% after the detailed outline is approved. The third installment is due after I complete the first half of the first draft, and the final payment is made when I’ve given the client the completed first draft. After that, I make all the edits (hiring an outside editor) and deliver the final manuscript.
The process of hiring a ghostwriter should be quite enjoyable. If you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter and bond with her, it bodes well for a successful working relationship. After all, writing a book with a professional can be a fun and fulfilling adventure. Take the time to pick the right writer for you!
You’re not alone. So many professionals get a strong urge to publish a book that highlights their niche market expertise. If you talk to PR experts, they will confirm that having a book with your name on it is a key element to any strategic branding campaign.
However, for most busy professionals the dream stops there. Why? Because writing a book isn’t an easy task. As you can imagine, it will take a few hundred hours to complete the project.
Let’s see if we can make the process a little easier for you to tackle. And, of course, if you need help from your friendly ghostwriter, please don’t hesitate to write me.
How to begin to write a business book
Well, as Lewis Carroll said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
While that might sound a little simplistic, there’s a measure of truth to it, because implied in that advice is a drive to complete the project. So, I’d say the first step is to make that commitment: to write a business book, no matter what.
Once you’re sure you want to embark on this adventure, here is my advice on the next steps to follow.
State your purpose
You must know why you want to write a business book if you’re going to succeed. As a ghostwriter, I always ask my clients to reveal their main drive and passion behind the project. I’ll tell you, I’m most eager to help the CEO who wants to share his or her successful actions with budding entrepreneurs. Business owners who are willing to share their advice, to open up and to confide their errors, with the ultimate goal of paving the way for other business owners to succeed, are heroes in my book.
Some people write me with the sole goal of making a million bucks. It’s hard to get behind that purpose. Readers will sense that goal and will not be inspired to read your book. After all, their goal in picking up your book will never be to make you rich. Rather, they are looking for advice and actions that will help them achieve their own goals.
The authors who truly care about their readers will succeed.
The top business books have a deeper purpose than financial gain for the author. When you can reach out to the individuals reading your words on a one-on-one basis, they will respond. Your readers will be grateful for your insight and guidance. They will recommend your book to others, and more will purchase it. Soon you may even have a best seller on your hands.
Know your readership
If you know who your readers are, you can accurately write to them. Consider writing your book as if you were preparing a speech for a group. Wouldn’t you craft your message differently for a gaggle of middle school students than you would for a pride of CEOs or a pod of athletes?
Never write your book for “everyone” on this planet. It will fail. Remember, you are writing to one individual at a time. You’re writing to your reader, so that individual learns and benefits from your wisdom and advice.
Determine your format
Here’s where your homework starts. You need to settle on a style for your book, and the best way to do that is to read a few other business books. It’s OK to skim them. For now, you’re just trying to find a format that appeals to you.
The good news is that you have choices! Here are a few options for you to consider:
a memoir format with lots of sage business advice sprinkled throughout
a workbook format with lots of practical exercises for the reader to do
There is no hard and fast rule here. You can pick the format that most appeals to you and will resonate with your readership. Again, get some ideas from other bestselling books out there and feel free to use that format for your business book.
Now it’s time to write a business book
Once you have the purpose, readership and format decided, it’s time to begin writing. However, there are a few more steps to take before you can begin putting words on pages.
Determine your focus
The first thing to determine is the focus of your book. Identify precisely the problem that you are trying to solve. Pick one. If you try to solve too many, your book will ramble and lose the interest of your reader.
For instance, let’s say you discovered an effective means of retaining customers in your online business. That’s the focus of your book. Or maybe you want to impart how to start and run a small restaurant in a big city. Whatever you decide, really explore the problem in depth, then present a concrete solution.
Create your idea folder
You might find it easiest to just pour out your ideas into a word processing document or a notebook. Don’t worry about order, grammar or anything but the ideas. This part should be fun.
It’s important not to stop yourself from putting a thought into your idea folder. All ideas should go into the file. You can edit them down later.
When do you stop this phase? The answer is a little like the instructions for making popcorn. There is a phase where the pan is heating up and nothing happens. Then the kernels begin to pop. They pop and pop and pop at a tremendous, almost deafening, rate. Then the popping starts to die out until you hear one pop every three seconds. That’s when you take it off the heat, right?
The same concept applies to recording your ideas. Once you allow yourself to put down ideas, they should flood onto the paper. Allow them to. Don’t stop the natural flow at all. When the new ideas dwindle to a trickle, that’s when you know to switch your attention to the next phase.
Tip: you might invest in speech recognition software or simply use your phone to translate your voice into the written word. That way, if you think of a brilliant segment for your book while you’re out, you can just email it back to yourself easily. A lot of my clients love this feature.
Organize your outline
Now that you have most of your ideas down in one document, it’s time to organize the thoughts into an outline.
There are writers who hate to outline. They prefer to write by the seat of their pants (some call them pantsers). If you’re a pantser, that might work well for fiction, but for nonfiction, it’s going to be a mess. You need an outline.
The format of your outline will depend on the format of your business book.
If you’re writing a memoir, you need to put all the incidents of your story in chronological order. That way you can start to see the flow of your story. Check out my article on Tips for Outlining a Memoir.
For most other formats you’ll create a Table of Contents with a lot of subsections. I’d advise you not to make any one segment too long. It’s best to break up each key element into easy to read sections. Once you have these down, simply put the contents of your idea folder into your Table of Contents. Everything should have a spot. If it doesn’t, create a new subhead.
Words on pages
Now that you have your completed outline, the book is practically written…in your head. That’s how it is for me! I know exactly what I’m going to say; now I just have to take the time to write it down. I need words on pages.
Don’t get overwhelmed.
It’s a good idea to set a schedule for yourself. After all, that’s probably how you got to be a successful CEO or entrepreneur. You set yourself targets and goals, then met them no matter what tried to get in your way.
Treat this project as you would any other. If you really don’t have the time, hire a ghostwriter to help you. Keep in mind that she will probably need to revisit your outline and help you flesh out the details a little more. She might also have suggestions for the format.
Whatever you do, hold yourself accountable for completing your project. Never lose your drive and passion to write a business book.
Reasons to write a business book
I’ve written many business books over the last twenty years and love the genre. It’s exciting for me to help my clients achieve the many benefits that come from such an accomplishment. While you will certainly sell copies of your book, there are other tangible benefits in store for you when you write a business book.
If you’re a successful CEO, consider the response from your client base when they learn that you are a published author. Having a book with your name blazoned on the cover is one of the best ways to show credibility.
Think about it. Don’t people respond to published authors a little differently? Not only do new and old clients respect you, but your peers look up to you as well.
Write a business book and become an authority figure
When you have a well-written book with many book reviews and copies sold, various people will want to interview you. You will be asked to guest blog, speak at conferences, be featured on podcasts and quoted in other books and articles.
Your visibility will be catapulted into a new realm.
It’s wonderful when, year after year, new people discover your work and write fresh reviews for your book or quote you in their articles. You become a recognized expert in your niche market. This increased visibility will certainly organically increase your client base.
A feeling of peace and well-being
There is no better feeling than helping another. When you write a business book in which you share your successful actions, you might be aiding others who are just starting out and struggling through the problems you have overcome. Or you might be assisting your clients or future clients, complementing the services that you already provide.
Sharing your knowledge in a book will allow you to give advice to a large number of people that you might not be able to help on a one-on-one basis. Instead of helping dozens of people in a week, you can help hundreds or thousands. Take a moment and imagine creating that effect.
Not only will you make money each time you sell a copy of your book, but your customer base will rise exponentially as your book sales increase. As you market your book, you’ll come up with ways to collect new names and email addresses. Your readers could become new clients and be your best word-of-mouth referral sources.
For some, the money earned from increased sales far exceeds the cash received from selling the book. If you sell a high-ticket product or service, just one new client can make a huge difference.
There are many ways you can make money indirectly through your book. How you channel this resource is only limited by your creativity.
Mike Schultz, president of the Wellesley Hills Group and a well-known marketing consultant, surveyed 200 authors of business books and discovered that 96% experienced a positive impact on their business from writing a book. That doesn’t surprise me. It just makes sense!
Now is the best time to write a business book
Now that you know the value of a business book and have an inkling of how to proceed, it’s time to take the plunge. The best thing to do is to set aside a dedicated time every day when you write a business book. It may take a year to get it done, depending on the amount of time you spend on it. But like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, it’s the steady progress that will get you to your goal.
A ghostwriter will interview you and assist you in all aspects of creating your book. She will collect your notes from your idea folder. She will help you find your focus, determine your readership, outline your book, and then write it for you.
Keep in mind that you’ll still be a part of the project and will need to dedicate a few hours a week to it. You’ve basically hired a silent writing partner who will do all the legwork for you. Still, you’ll need to review pages, give feedback, and answer questions from time to time.
I’m passionate about helping people create an engaging book with useful information that readers can’t put down. I have a special spot in my heart for entrepreneurs as I feel they are artists.
Would you like me to help you write a business book? If so, please contact me and share your idea. I’m here to help!
Many people have something worthwhile to write. Their hard-won life lessons and perseverance can both inspire and instruct others. And let’s face it, their lives just make for an interesting read! If this describes your life, it might be time to consider writing a book to capture your personal story. Should you write a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography?
If you’re reading this and you’ve been fortunate enough (and skilled enough) to have climbed out of a gnarly hole and succeed in life, you really owe it to the world to share your story one way or another. People really need to hear about your journey and understand the steps you took to make it.
How do you tell this story? Well, you have a few choices. There are three basic genres for such a project: biography, autobiography and memoir.
An Autobiography or a Biography
We have all seen the biography or autobiography section in a library. These works are somewhat formal efforts to document the lives of notable people. These books proceed in a linear and orderly fashion through the life of the subject, cataloging their existence for the reader. It’s extremely accurate and factual.
If that description sounds a bit dry, that’s because the end product often is. After all, how many of us relished reading the biography or autobiography of a famous person in school? That’s probably the last one you read, right?
Still, there are times when this medium is correct. When a formal accounting of someone’s life needs to be understood, reach for a biography or autobiography. Get the facts and learn about that person.
A memoir reads more like a novel, written in the first person. It rarely starts with “I was born in New Haven, CT,” but rather sets you at the precipice of a key moment of the author’s life then carries you forward through a segment of the person’s life. You feel the emotions of the author, experience what they experience in a very realistic way.
Memoirs tend to be less formal than an autobiography or biography. Creative license can be exercised with caution. The dialogue you read is never completely accurate but is more of a best guess by the author. The story is still true, but certain elements are often embellished for the sake of the tale.
In addition, a memoir can document a specific event, focusing on the short term, rather than the entire life of the person. For instance, a famous band might focus a memoir around a specific tour or the recording of an album.
A good memoir strives to capture the voice of the author with authenticity. This helps the reader slip into the shoes of the subject, making it easier to live the life they lived for a few hours.
Which Is Best for You?
A person lives one moment after the next, in linear fashion, to be sure, but is that the best way to present the story? Perhaps. And should one include every detail, simply because it happened? Most likely there were a few moments of that life that were crucial, which might illuminate what made that person who they are today. And then there are mundane incidents that no reader needs to hear.
Most often I recommend that my clients write their memoirs rather than their autobiographies. It’s more popular and more riveting for the reader. However, there are times when a biography or autobiography is a better choice. It comes down to preference.
What are your thoughts? Which do you prefer to read?
“I’ve been told by many friends that I should turn my life story into a book.” Does this sound familiar? The next question often is, “Should I fictionalize my memoir?”
That’s a good question! And as you might guess, the answer really depends on you and your project.
Most of the ghostwriting requests I get are from people who want to share their life story. It’s definitely a good indication if many people are pushing you in that direction.
I will say that it’s always more appealing to readers to learn that a story is completely true (unaltered). Readers love stepping into the author’s shoes for that brief moment of their life. However, there are reasons why you might not be able to stick to the complete truth.
Are you in the middle of this internal debate? If so, here are a few reasons why you might choose to fictionalize your memoir:
Bluntly, your story just isn’t interesting enough.
I tend to be rather straightforward, so I apologize if I’ve offended you. It’s just that there are stories that are fascinating and others which might make a good short story. They are really fodder for a good newspaper article or an anecdotal story for a cocktail party. If you need to add some content and pizzazz, consider turning your book into a novel that is inspired by your life story.
You’d really like to add in a space ship or two.
There are times when you might like to alter history a bit. Most fictionalized memoirs don’t enter the realm of science fiction, but there might be a few tales you wish to add to your story, which never really happened. When you do this, you cross a line and must call it what it is: a novel.
Your family would never speak to you again if you aired your dirty laundry.
It’s easy to disguise most people’s identities in your book by simply using another name. Some authors just use initials, like calling Dr. Quincy, Dr. Q. to protect the identity of a character. However, your brother is your brother and there is no way to get around that. Your family will know whom you’re talking about even if you call him by another name.
You’re a stickler for details and it’s all just overwhelming.
Most people fudge the facts a bit in a memoir, not worrying if Grand Central Station was truly crowded on Christmas Eve back in 1965. It’s hard to remember such a minor detail and the small handful of people that do probably won’t make a ruckus if you get it wrong. Still, if some of these facts are important to you and you don’t want to worry about getting them all correct, why not turn your memoir into a novel?
Of course, in the end the decision to fictionalize your memoir is up to you. If you have a fascinating story, one that works as is, keep it nonfiction. When you can keep the real timeline in tact and still have a fascinating story, it’s the best course of action.
Still unsure? Feel free to give me a email me if you need a sounding board!
There’s no doubt, as a writer you do need feedback to improve your writing. However, you don’t need carping criticism. There’s a difference.
Advice is so vital for all writers. We want to know that we’re communicating our thoughts clearly and efficiently. Personally, I have worked with a number of editors over the years and really enjoy their excellent feedback. When done correctly, it helps me grow and expand my abilities.
Yes, I’m still learning. I will always be doing so.
However, some people seem hell-bent on stamping the life out of an author. Unfortunately, artists of many ilk are criticized mercilessly. Sometimes it feels like it is open season on filmmakers, fine painters, etc. It’s tough to endure.
I’ve been quite fortunate to continually be surrounded by positive people, who share their opinion in a supportive way. I always want to know if something I write isn’t up to par, but I prefer not to be crushed in the process.
Feedback should include the good
When I am asked to give a critique on someone’s writing, I always include the good points first. What did I like about the piece? What really worked? There’s always something positive to say. It helps to reinforce their strengths.
I’ve noticed that some people only zero in on the errors, the mistakes, and the missteps. It leaves the author with the impression that their work is no good and it can cause them to quit.
If you receive such an evaluation, try asking, “Was there anything you liked about it?” Some people hold back on the compliments. Maybe that’s because their work was sliced to ribbons when they were starting out and they think that’s appropriate. Maybe it’s for another reason. However, it’s good to help these people break that cycle by getting them to notice and discuss the plusses of your piece to improve your writing.
Recognizing a nasty critic
It’s helpful to be able to spot critical people. They are the ones who love to tear a piece to shreds, leaving very little intact. Their purpose isn’t to improve the writer’s ability to write, but rather to take joy in setting a fledgling author back a few paces.
Again, these poor souls were probably criticized heavily when they were first starting out. When an artist is stretching their creative wings for the first time, they are in a very vulnerable stage. If their attempts were smashed early on, they may have just given up completely. The harsh critics of today are most likely the failed artists of yesterday. Bitter and filled with unfulfilled goals, they lash out at others.
So, how do you recognize a critic? Pay attention to how you feel after reading their comments. If you feel worthless or suddenly develop writer’s block and want to quit writing, ignore their “advice.” Trust me, they don’t have your best interest at heart.
Mentors vs Critics
So, how do you know if you’re going to be torn apart by razor-sharp teeth or if you might just get a kernel of inspiration that will nudge you forward toward great writing? It’s simply knowing the difference between a mentor and a critic.
Look for the purpose behind the advice. You can often tell if someone is trying to help or hurt by the words they use. Mentors will always point out errors in a way that makes sense and encourages at the same. They recognize every artist starts somewhere. Critics, on the other hand, have no such concern and can be rather harsh in their language.
For instance, nasty critics love to say, “Don’t quit your day job!” Boy, do I hate that invalidating phrase. What benefit does that little nugget offer? We all know we need to put food on the table, but everyone should expand their horizons and reach for the stars! Why not? Besides, if you don’t like your day job, it’s a good idea to work toward changing it, right? I mean, you should do what you enjoy doing in life!
You can also recognize good mentors, because they will read over your work and give you subtle guidance to improve your writing. They won’t overload you with dozens of problems to fix. Rather, they will focus on one common issue, guiding you toward solutions that you can discover on your own.
Take the bad feedback with the good
While encouragement is crucial to a writer’s development, it doesn’t help him or her to only get a lot of pats on the back. If you show your work exclusively to family and friends, they might not want to tell you how they really feel. They care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.
When I get feedback along the lines of “It’s good!” it might make me feel good, but I’m looking for more. I’ll ask a few questions like:
Why is it good?
What did you like best?
Was there anything you didn’t care for?
Did you understand everything?
These questions pour out of me.
Of course, it feels great to get rave reviews and hearty pats on the back, but in the end you need to also hear the bad with the good or it isn’t terribly helpful.
Keep in mind that the biggest way you can improve your writing is to write. Yes, that’s basic advice, I know. Any writer’s first words are an experiment in communication. Trial and error, along with research (reading good books) is the best way I know to learn the craft. Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you in that direction. If you find that someone’s advice makes you want to stop, just realize that they are probably a critic and find a new advisor!
If you’re interested in hiring a ghostwriter, here are a few articles you might find helpful:
Are you debating whether or not to write your life story?
Well, you’re not alone. I have spoken with many people who are considering the same, wonderful endeavor. Some are certain of their course of action, while others are still mulling it over, trying to figure out if penning a book is the right decision for them.
I love helping people resolve this question!
More often than not, I will strongly encourage a person to write their life story. This is especially true if their memoir would have an educational or inspirational aspect.
Is that true of your story?
Did you travel and gain insights into another culture, thereby shifting your worldview?
Or perhaps you worked hard to overcome a physical challenge, thereby discovering your own personal strength and resilience?
Maybe you persisted towards a goal, facing and demolishing great barriers, thereby unlocking your hidden potential?
These are the kinds of memoir themes that enlighten and uplift others. These are the kinds of stories that others want to read. Wouldn’t you?
Consider your audience
When you do decide that you want to write your life story, one of the first things to consider is your readers. Who will be your audience? Maybe the book will be only for your immediate family. That’s completely fine. Recording your personal history for your children, and your children’s children, is a wonderful gift. More and more people are becoming interested in learning about their family heritage. Unfortunately, often the experiences that shape and influence the family are lost over time. By writing your life story, you are creating a legacy that can be enjoyed and cherished for generations.
Maybe you are one of those people who wants to share your story with a broader audience. That’s wonderful! There are a number of ways to do this. You could use a blog format, sharing anecdotes on a weekly basis, or you could write a full-length memoir.
As long as your life story has a good, inspiring message, you should find a way to share it with others.
Not every story should be told
Now this might sound strange, but it’s true: not every story should be told. Yes, there are times when I actually beg someone not to write their life story. As a professional ghostwriter, I know that might seem bad for business, but I feel strongly that writers should avoid certain themes in literature.
Here are some examples of potential projects that I have rejected over the last decade:
“I’d really like to get back at so-and-so.”
Revenge is a dangerous motivation for writing a book. It can backfire on you. Be warned that you might end up hurting yourself more than your intended target.
Remember, when you put something in writing, it becomes a permanent record. You can never completely take the harsh words back. Your unkindness is out there for all eternity, for many readers to view over and over again. Also, consider that you might want to make peace with the person you maligned. Will he be able to reconcile with the person who maligned him so publicly?
Writing a book to hurt someone else, even if you feel it is justified, is always a bad idea.
“I’ve lived a horrible life.”
This might surprise you, but I’ve received a ton of memoir requests from people who have lived a life of misery and despair. For instance, their childhood might have been filled with abuse. Then they married another abuser and continued the pattern. When I ask about the purpose of their book, they usually say that it shows how one can live through anything.
While this may be a decent message for some, it isn’t really one to hammer into those who are trying to escape abuse. It’s true that not every story has to have a happy ending, but most stories, particularly the memorable ones, inspire us in some way. And it’s hard to be inspired when you’re reading such a depressing account of someone’s life. Most people would have no interest in picking up and reading such a book. Would you?
Even when the message is inspiring, there are some projects I won’t take on because of other circumstances or problems. Here are a few from my files:
“I want to become rich from this one book.”
While it is possible to do well financially with a book, it is very hard to make that happen with your first one. It really comes down to your marketing skills. If you are experienced in this area, you could do well. If you’re not, you’ll need to learn. There’s no way around that.
A brilliantly written book will not sell well if the author fails to promote. Even a publisher will not be able to work his or her magic if the author isn’t actively marketing his or her own book. There is only so much any publisher can do.
Even if you’re a marketing guru, you must have a well written book to sell. If you publish a book that breaks all the rules of writing and is littered with grammatical errors, you will wind up with poor reviews and negative publicity.
“I just can’t remember much.”
I completely understand how difficult it can be to remember details of one’s life that happened decades ago. Don’t worry about that. Still, a ghostwriter will always need a sketch of the incidents that formed your life. What you ate for breakfast isn’t as important as the fact that you dined with the Ambassador to France one day in Switzerland or you visited your Aunt in the hospital over spring break.
A few times this year I received requests to write a book from people who truly couldn’t remember any relevant stories from their past. Without those stories, there is no book.
Having said that, don’t give up your dream to write your life story if you’re having some difficulty recalling your past. I can often help people remember details through the interviewing process. It’s a fun perk to hiring a ghostwriter!
“My family and close friends would kill me.”
This is a common fear. When I have talked to client prospects to learn more about their projects and give them advice, quite a few have mentioned that they were worried about hurting the feelings of loved ones. This is a very valid concern, one that should be taken seriously. People like to be seen in the best light, and once you put your story in writing, it’s permanent. A negative or hurtful portrayal may cause upset.
As a ghostwriter, I can hide the identity of most people in your life by changing their names. George can become Pete or even Alice. I can also change other details, such as locations or career paths. However, I really can’t hide Mama or that eccentric uncle that everyone knows. Those close to you will know whom you’re talking about, and they might not like what you have to say.
“I’ve lived a boring life, except for this one incident.”
If you had, say, a near-death experience, it might have been very exciting and worthy of a short story or a newspaper feature article. However, if the rest of your life was relatively ordinary, or “boring,” most likely that one event won’t make for a good memoir.
A good book has dozens and dozens of exciting incidents. Now, a near-death experience would probably have quite a few good incidents connected to it, but it’s probably not enough to sustain an entire book.
“I don’t want everyone to know what happened to me.”
Writing a memoir is essentially putting your personal life on display for all to see. If you are concerned about others knowing what happened to you, it’s probably not a good idea to write a book.
Having said that, some clients who don’t wish to share their story with the whole world opt to write it for their family. This allows them to accomplish both goals. I love helping people become their family’s historian.
Another option is to fictionalize your story. It wouldn’t be classified as a “memoir” anymore, but it would be a way to get your story out there. However, keep in mind that there’s a good chance your family and close friends could still guess that it has something to do with you and your experiences.
As a ghostwriter, I normally encourage others to write their memoirs because I strongly feel that people often have a book or two within them. It may be that your life story shouldn’t be the subject of your book. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still have something valuable to say. Maybe you can share your niche area of expertise with others, or perhaps you have an idea for a science fiction novel. Fantastic! I can help you write those kinds of books as well.
If you’d like to explore hiring a ghostwriter, please email me. I’ll give you my honest advice and direction.
Are you sitting on the fence, wondering if you should write a business book? Most likely you’d have a lot to say about your field. Perhaps you could even make a difference for others. However, I get it, your hesitation. It takes time and money to write a book.
You’re successful because you consistently put many hours into your business, every day, every week. More than likely you don’t take many vacations and you probably rarely get eight hours of sleep. And if you’re anything like me, you laugh at the concept of working nine to five.
Am I right?
Share your knowledge
Okay, you don’t have a lot of spare time, but there’s no getting around the fact that you’re sitting on information that others need. Most likely you’ve created a niche market in your industry, and figured things out that others just haven’t.
So, then, when you retire, who will learn what you know? How will you pass on your knowledge? If you don’t write a book, and share your knowledge, the next generation will flounder in that particular area.
Successful business people who have specialized knowledge definitely have a responsibility to record their information, so that others can benefit. You can’t let your knowledge die with you. It just isn’t right. Write a business book.
Learning from the rainforest
When my husband and I visited the rainforest many years ago in Queensland, Australia, we took a number of guided tours. I was struck by the abundant life that grew all around us. It was thrilling! And I was particularly fascinated by the culture and knowledge of the aboriginal people. They could heal the body of most ills with the plants they found growing in the rainforest.
One tour guide told me that he was able to learn a lot from the aboriginals, but that they wouldn’t share everything with outsiders. Although I could understand their viewpoint, and respected it, I still felt sad to know that certain medicinal remedies would be lost forever as a result.
The same could be true for your business, your specialized knowledge. So, why should you share it? Why do you have an obligation to our children’s children? These are questions you really can only answer for yourself.
Writing a book is good business
It is good business to write a book! Allow me to offer some compelling arguments to consider. For instance, wouldn’t you like to be a published author in your field? It gives you undeniable credibility with your clients and peers, not to mention, it’s a great feeling to say, “I wrote the book on that subject!”
In addition, ask yourself if you might gain new clientele if you could hand them a book you’ve authored. Might that sway them toward you over your competition?
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you really do want to write your book, and that you do understand the urgency to share your information with others. You most likely find an indescribable joy in helping others and would like to take the next step toward seeing your book in your peers’ hands.
And I’m here to help!
However, keep in mind that come January 1st, many people will be writing me, asking for help with their books. I think writing a book is probably a top priority on many peoples’ New Year’s resolutions lists!
So, write me now and we can talk about what you need to do to write your business book!
Do you have a book idea that you’ve been mulling over for years?
Do people routinely say to you, “You should really write a book!”
If so, consider taking the first steps to writing and publishing your book now. Why wait? If you have a great idea, but don’t know how to begin, contact me. I can offer you advice on how to get your ideas on paper.
If you need a little convincing, here are eight reasons to write a book:
You can say, “I wrote the book on that subject!”
If you’re an expert in a field and have valuable information to share, you should really write a book, so that others can learn from you. People are always looking for successful examples from experienced professionals in their industry. Plus, it is fun to point to a book jacket and say, “I wrote the book on that!”
There is nothing like a book for gaining credibility
Writing a book takes a lot of time, energy, and knowhow. If you complete and publish a book, people will take notice. As long as your book is well-written and contributes something to society, you will gain credibility.
You will become a published author
You will have the suffix published author attached to your name. It’s a bit like a royal title. What better calling card, regardless of the business you’re in.
You can cross that goal off your bucket list
Just completing a long term goal is reason enough to venture into the world of writing. It is very satisfying to have accomplished a task that has occupied so much of your attention for so long. Let’s mark it as DONE!
You will be helping others
By sharing your story or giving others your secrets of success, you will help various people that you’ve never met. It is immensely satisfying to receive reviews and emails from readers, letting you know that you have bettered their lives in some way.
A new business path could open up for you
All authors become entrepreneurs to some degree. If you market and promote your book properly, you could make money on into the future through sales.
Once you’ve finished one book, the next one will be easier
When the first book is up on amazon.com and selling well, you will find the second book you write will probably take less time and will click into place faster. Plus, if you’ve had success with the first book, you’ll have gained a readership, who will buy your subsequent books based on your reputation.
There are many more reasons why you should write your book, but I hope I have inspired you with these eight. I can tell you that waiting for any length of time is a bad idea. Historically, the people that contact me and then put off starting their project, never actually publish a book.
If you’d like a consultation, email me and we’ll set up a time to talk! I’d like to help you get started now!