These days, there is a lot confusion surrounding the genres of memoir and autobiography, with many authors unsure of the actual purpose of these writing styles. People will often say that they are writing their autobiography when they really mean they are writing a memoir. Despite sharing some similar features, there are fundamental differences between a publication that is defined as a memoir and one that is considered to be an autobiography.
According to well-known American author Gore Vidal: ‘Memoir is how one remembers one’s own life while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked’. So before you decide to embark on writing your life story, it is important to have an understanding of the key similarities and differences between memoirs and autobiographies.
Similarities between Memoirs and Autobiographies
Both memoirs and autobiographies are written in the first person and they are true accounts of the author’s life. The author shares personal information with readers, in this way giving their audience genuine insight into the author’s thoughts, motivations and feelings.
Differences between Memoirs and Autobiographies
Memoirs usually focus on one or two central themes and explore one particular area or timeframe of the author’s life in depth. This might include sharing their experiences of overcoming an illness, a near-death experience or some other life-altering event. Memoirs usually cover a brief period of the author’s life, focusing on stories that relate to the main theme. The author may hop back and forth between different timeframes or they may start their memoir at a random point in time, objectively revisiting an extraordinary life event.
Autobiographies, on the other hand, are usually structured chronologically; they are the story of the author’s life from birth until the time of writing. They cover a much broader time span and no one incident is considered to be more important than any other.
Memoirs are more personal than autobiographies. Memoir authors reflect on what they have learned from their experiences and share their innermost thoughts with their readers. The author may offer opinions and question their own beliefs throughout the memoir without ever reaching a definitive answer. The story in a memoir relies on the author’s memories and may not be entirely true – for example, it is not possible to recount conversations exactly as they were spoken at the time.
In contrast, autobiographies include factual material that can be verified by readers. They are often written by celebrities whose fans are interested in the details of their lives and how they became famous. In contrast, anyone who has an interesting message they wish to share with others can write a memoir.
Memoir Writing Tips
Regardless of which genre you decide on, it is important to remember that your writer’s voice must engage the reader from the very first sentence. Your personality should be conveyed through your unique author voice. In memoir writing, using a conversational style helps readers to feel you are speaking to them personally – almost as though you are confiding in them.
On the whole, memoirs have an overarching theme such as triumph over adversity where the author has experienced terrible hardship but through courage and persistence has been able to prevail and succeed. When writing a memoir it is important to convey your character flaws as well as those strengths that helped you through your ordeal to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded human being who people can relate to.
Memoirs give readers the impression that what they are reading is true as opposed to imaginary (as in fiction). Therefore, your writing must be candid or readers will disengage with the narrative. Readers can usually detect when a writer is being dishonest. This is due to the fact that there is something uneasy about the writing style which makes them wonder why they don’t believe what they are reading.
Memoir readers want to be simultaneously entertained and enlightened by the subject matter. Always keep your audience in mind and avoid meaningless details or wallowing in self-pity. Long-winded, self-indulgent narrative will cause your readers to lose interest and feel unsympathetic towards you.
There are many reasons why people want to record their personal history. Maybe it’s because they learned an important life lesson that they want to share with others. Or perhaps they want to publish a record of their life for future generations of family to enjoy. Many authors decide to write down their memories as a form of therapy. Whatever the reason, by honing your understanding of the different styles associated with memoirs and autobiographies, you will be well prepared to tell your story.
What is a Blurb?
According to the Maquarie Dictionary a blurb is ‘an announcement of advertisement, usually an effusively laudatory one, especially on the jacket flap or back of a book’.
For authors, the back cover blurb is an essential marketing tool for their book. It tells potential readers a little bit about the book’s contents without giving too much away. It explains why someone should buy and read a book, and shares snippets of information about the author.
Features of a Blurb
Blurbs are usually found on the back cover of a printed book. An ebook blurb is more likely to be at the front. Ebook store websites often use a shortened version of a printed book’s blurb to describe what the book is about to assist people browsing their pages. Readers visiting a book store (either ‘bricks and mortar’ or virtual) will first be attracted by a book’s cover, then head straight to the blurb. A well-written blurb helps to converts potential readers into paying customers.
Blurbs should be brief and punchy; around 100–150 words is ideal. An attention-grabbing headline or tagline is a good tactic to use at the start of the blurb. The tone should be upbeat with a catchy opening sentence that taps into a reader’s emotions. Often the first sentence is a question which is designed to set up a query in a reader’s mind. The genre, main theme and protagonist should be mentioned early, then some mystery should be created around the main conflict. Finally, it’s a good idea to include in a few details about the author that gives them credibility as an authority in their subject field or as a capable writer. This could include the fact that they are already a published author.
Advantages of a Professionally Written Blurb
By the time an author is ready to write the blurb for their book, they have become so involved in the story that they may find it difficult to distance themselves from it. This is where an external viewpoint from someone else who has read the manuscript is useful. And a professional copy writer will know just what to say and how to say it to entice readers to buy the book.
An engaging blurb that is engaging and cleverly written conveys the message to the buyer that they are purchasing a good quality book. Employing a professional to write your blurb is a wise investment and one of the key factors in ensuring the success of your book.
Many people think writing children’s books must be easy. After all, they are shorter than adult’s books and most have pictures that use a lot of space. The truth is, writing a story with fewer words is much more difficult than writing a lengthier story and there are many elements to consider when writing children’s books. It is a good idea to keep these tips in mind if your goal is to write for children.
Types of Children’s Books
Children’s books fall into several sub-categories:
Toddler Books (ages 1–3)
Books for toddlers are usually 12 pages long, under 300 words, and contain very simple content. They should be about everyday life that very small children will recognise or provide information about colours, the alphabet, numbers, shapes, etc. Often printed in a board book format, they might contain features that allow readers to interact, such as lift-the-flaps or buttons that can be pressed to hear sounds.
Early Picture Books and Picture Story Books (ages 4–8)
The picture book category can be divided into two – early picture books (for younger readers in this age range) and picture story books for older children. The average early picture book contains fewer than 1,000 words while picture story books are usually 32 pages in length with 1,000–1,500 words.
Picture books rely heavily on the words and pictures working together to tell a story. The text should be minimal and whatever is left out of the text should be obvious from the illustrations. Picture books need to include multiple scenes or locations so that there is plenty of variety in the images. The pictures help children who can’t read yet to understand the narrative; therefore they should incorporate bright colours and simple sans serif fonts in order to be appealing to small children. For children who are beginning to recognise written words, the pictures work as an aid to their learning. These type of stories are basic, written in chronological order and from the main character’s point of view. Using third-person (he/she/they) narration is the best choice for small children who might otherwise become confused when being read to by an adult. Younger children respond well to poetic techniques such as alliteration, rhyme and repetition.
Easy Readers (ages 6–8)
Aimed at children who are starting to read on their own, the length of this type of books varies. However, on average, it is somewhere between 1,000 and 2,500 words. They are highly illustrated but have a more grown-up format, often with short chapters. The story works without pictures but the pictures help early readers to feel less daunted than being confronted by pages of text.
The grammar used in easy readers is simple, with short sentences, short paragraphs and age-appropriate language. A few words above the reading ability of this age group are often included to challenge the reader. Right from the opening scene, the narrative is fast paced with the story being told through action rather than commentary and dialogue rather than indirect speech.
Chapter Books (ages 7–10)
Chapter books are longer and have a more sophisticated style than books for younger children. Chapters are still short but sentences are more complex and if there are any illustrations, they are usually black and white line drawings. Plots are more developed involving multiple conflicts for the main character to overcome. Characters should be of a similar age or a little older than the upper age limit of these readers.
Middle Grade (ages 8–12)
These books are longer again, with longer chapters, more sophisticated themes and complex plots and subplots involving more characters. This is the age where children become obsessed with characters so books for middle grade readers are often written as a series. The pace is still fast but may be interspersed with more interior monologue, encouraging readers to think for themselves. First person point of view is popular with this age group as it allows more intimacy with the main character and readers feel more involved in the action as it unfolds.
As a self-publishing author, it can be challenging to make a decision about the best printing options for your book. Once your manuscript has been edited and typeset, and the front and back covers have been designed, your book is ready to be printed. At this point, however, there are all sorts of different choices you need to make ranging from: what book printing process to use, book trim sizes, hardback or paperback format, full-colour or black and white interior pages, book cover finishing treatments and binding styles.
The first consideration is to select the best book printing process for your own publishing objectives in terms of price and print quality. And, as with everything in life, there are always associated costs to consider and practical decisions that have to be made.
Types of Book Printing Processes
There are three main types of book printing formats: Print On Demand printing, Short run digital printing and Offset printing.
Print On Demand
Print on demand (also referred to as POD printing) is a digital printing process that produces books on an ‘as needed’ basis – even for a single printed book. When a customer orders a book title, the copy is printed on demand, bound, laminated, and then shipped directly to them. In this way, Print on Demand is a process which makes it possible to publish books only as they are needed in response to a customer’s order. As a result, Print On Demand offers authors the freedom to publish their book without having to store any inventory (i.e. printed copies of their book) and thus removes the costs associated with storage and handling.
Short Run Digital Printing
Short run digital printing is a cost-effective method for self-publishing authors to order smaller print runs than would normally be possible via traditional offset printing.
Unlike offset printing, digital printing does not have the upfront expenses associated with the creation of printing plates or time-consuming set-up processes. This ensures that the unit cost of each book is relatively low and hence an affordable option for printing less than 1,000 copies.
Offset printing is a printing process which involves using a sequence of rollers (also called cylinders or drums) to deliver ink to the paper surface. Offset printing is cost effective for large print runs (over 1,000 printed copies) and produces very high-quality printed books. Offset printing is effective for any book size, paper type and cover style (i.e. paperback or hardback).