Next Big Question in Writing Your Story: What Will You Call Your Book?

More than settling on a title, important to the marketing and sales of your life story is the genre you choose to define and/or categorize your published work.

Let's first look at the definitions of the possible genre you might consider:

Memoir is likely the most used class by life story writers. Dictionary.com defines the word "memoir" as follows:

1. a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.
2. Usually, memoirs.
a. an account of one's personal life and experiences; autobiography.
b.the published record of the proceedings of a group or organization, as of a learned society.
3. abiographyorbiographicalsketch.

You could also consider the option of an autobiography which is simply stated in Dictionary.com as:

an account of a person's life written or otherwise recorded by that person.

Novel, as defined at Dictionary.com, is

a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.

Now, you must ask yourself which of these three genres you have truly and honestly written.

Via Flickr; with permission to make changes (title possibilities added to blank book cover)

Via Flickr; with permission to make changes (title possibilities added to blank book cover)

Starting with memoir, if you feel certain your memory recall has been accurate and no one can argue points in your story, you likely have written solely from fact. You can then call your book a memoir.

However, there are some tiny details about memoir we should look at closely:

  • Perhaps a sibling or two disagrees with the story you tell, especially where he/she is concerned. And you have named said siblings in your book. If you publish, a sibling could decide to sue you.
  • Or perhaps you chose to change the names of your siblings. Be careful--this is not wholly truthful. One way around this is to include in your query letter that your work is a memoir of your life but you have changed some names. And there is still a good chance a sibling could sue you even though you changed names and explained same in your query letter. See this article from Writer's Relief on staying out of trouble in similar situations.

Some insist writing your life story forms an autobiography, which implies a complete look--"an account of a person's life"-- at your life. Here we see a contrast with memoir. In an autobiographical recounting of your life story, you write chronologically including dates of various births, marriages, perhaps, divorces, and deaths as well as dates of important events occurring in your lifetime.

In memoir, the writer can choose to focus on a particular segment of his/her life, such as travels, family holidays, school years, an illness, and so on. Also, a memoirist may choose to leave out dates without impacting the veracity of his/her life story. A distinction can also be drawn between the writing style in memoir--drawn more along the lines of fiction, but still truthful, as it engages the reader using creative license in the way the writer shares memories.

If you prefer to embellish your story with details that lie outside the bounds of truth, you will then need to consider your work falling in the fiction genre and call it a novel. However, even when writing your story as fiction,  discretion needs to be exercised with what you share and how you characterize the people in your story. Near wars have arisen over tiny details being used to someone else's harm. Finally, on this topic, you could say that you have written "a story inspired by true events in my life" or "a work based loosely on my life."

In closing, from an article written by Alan Rinzler, author, speaker, editor and publisher, on the subject of memoir vs. fiction, I leave you with wise words from Rinzler:

Do the right thing. ...

If you choose the memoir, remember these guidelines: truth only, releases where needed, strategic omissions.

If you decide to write a novel, you’ll have a greater opportunity for digging down to the core truth of a story, but keep in mind that fiction requires an independent credibility that isn’t acting out any personal agenda.

Ultimately, it’s each author’s personal call.

What are your thoughts on genre classifications in the realm of life story writing? Share your thoughts, how you reached a decision on your book, or other helpful resources in the comments section below.

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