There is no one-size-fits-all way to write a memoir. In fact, any great memoirist will tailor, shape, and frame their memoir to fit their strengths and needs. Many CEOs and entrepreneurs, for example, prefer a straightforward yet uplifting approach, such as in Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, while budding activists or trauma survivors may choose to make their story known in an unflinching tell-all akin to Prince Harry’s Spare.
Whether you want your book to inspire readers, help people in your field, or simply make your struggle known, there is an audience who needs your book—and a press that wants to sell it! All you have to do is figure out how to use your memoir type to your advantage.
There are a lot of different ways to write a memoir, but they can all be narrowed down to just five types: The Inspirer, The Mentor, The Whistleblower, The Researcher, and the Record Keeper. Each type is equipped with a set of strengths, places to improve, and publishing paths in which your book is most likely to succeed.
The Inspirer’s goal in writing a memoir is to, well, inspire people. They found success when the odds were stacked against them, and they want to share all of the life lessons along the way. They want readers hear they story and feel hopeful and motivated about their own challenges.
One of our recent clients wrote in length in their memoir about their life below the poverty line in LA. Though their book included harrowing details of drug abuse and violence, it also uplifted readers with the story of how they turned things around. Starting a football league changed their life—and their community—for the better. Eventually, they felt like they’d found their purpose—and immense joy—in the life they’d been given.
Stories from the Inspirer champion the underdog, and there’s a well-established market for them. Readers empathize with the author’s vulnerability as well as the life lessons revealed in the book. These books often have few problems finding a press to take their manuscript on.
Similarly, the Mentor wants to educate and help their readers, but they’re focused on reaching readers within their career field. The Mentor has achieved success and wants others who are just starting out to know all of the lessons, tricks of the trade, and insider advice they’ve gained through years of experience.
One of the world’s top-ranking CEOs, Indra Nooyi, published an excellent Mentor-style memoir: My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future. The book details her rigorous ascent from her work as a corporate consultant to becoming the first woman of color and immigrant to head a Fortune 50 company. But what makes her best-selling book stand out from the rest is her actionable throughline, encouraging executives—no matter their rank—to strive for a more eco-friendly and ethical economy.
Relative to the Inspirer, books by the Mentor have a niche audience, but their pool of potential book buyers is by no means small. There is a wealth of young professionals who want to get ahead and learn from the professionals who came before them. Books by the Mentor will have no problem selling, and selling well (and, therefore, helping out many readers).
The Whistleblower is a champion for justice—and they’re not afraid to expose those at fault. The Whistleblower is the witness—and often a victim—of oppressive and abusive people and systems. They want others to hear their story and work to prevent those same cycles from happening in their own lives and communities.
Chanel Miller made her debut as a whistleblower under the pseudonym “Emily Doe” when she released her victim impact statement during proceedings against her assailant, Brock Turner. Now, she’s released a memoir, Know My Name, to shine light on the shame, rejection, and accusations she received—as a victim. Her book calls unflinching attention to the way victims of sexual assault are viewed, treated, and talked and how it affects their healing.
The Whistleblower’s story is profound and astonishing, but, most of all, it calls for real change. Memoirs from the Whistleblower have the story, the evidence, and the passion for an intriguing and impactful book. There is a large audience of readers who love getting the raw details of unbelievable stories, but they will walk away from the book with new perspectives and passions of their own.
Passionate, detail-oriented, and dedicated to the truth, the Researcher constructs their story—or history, rather—from obscure newspaper clippings, letters, and documents. The Researcher knows that there are important things to learn from the past and has found that their own family played a part in it. Maybe their great uncle worked on the Manhattan project or their grandmother’s time as a secretary during WWII turned out to be anything but ordinary.
I had the privilege of writing the story of an author’s international, multicultural family saga after the author spent over a decade doing in-depth research. Now readers from all over the world can access the incredible and heart-wrenching story of how his father, growing up under Japanese rule in South Korea, and his mother, herself raised in the Soviet Union, formed an unlikely yet powerful union. The book continues to tell the story of how the author’s family came to be, their successes, and their hardships.
There’s a reason stories from our history exist in nearly every corner of the world—we cherish them. Not only can our history help us learn about the past (and what not to do in the future), but many readers find it exceptionally interesting. There are many dedicated and loyal readers for every niche of history, which means the Researcher’s story has a place on any bookstore, library, or even museum shelf.
The Record Keeper
Like the Researcher, the Record Keeper also has a story from history to tell. But, while readers from many walks of life will enjoy the story, the Record Keeper’s main goal is that their family can cherish it forever. The Record Keeper simply seeks to record their family’s stories while their family is still here to tell them, whether it’s the way their grandparents met, a snippet of life on their great-grandparents’ farm, or the story of a unique family member’s life.
Our very own Aaron Dechant, wrote the story of his late grandfather, in a heartfelt slice-of-life memoir and biography, Oil Man: From Farm Field to Oil Field. The book preserves his grandfather’s life as a German-Russian immigrant to Ellis County, Kansas. Not only does the book provide a glimpse into a small cultural community in rural Kansas but also into the life of a cherished family member.
The book is quaint and elegant in its simplicity, but it will also sit on the Dechant family’s bookshelves for many years to come. Their family’s story is preserved so that their memory may live on—and that is exactly what the Record Keeper wants most for their book.
What kind of memoir is best for you?
If you know what type of memoir you have on your hands, you know what lies ahead as far as publishing and marketing your book. It will help you know who your target audience is and how you can set yourself up for success—and a return on investment.
But authors don’t just write books for monetary value. Authors write because they care about their stories. Each memoir type has passion and ambition for their book, and assigning a type to your memoir can help you ensure that you are writing a book that fulfills your personal goals for the book. Otherwise, you risk writing a book strictly for an audience—and no longer for you.
The bottom line: taking time to define what your goals for your book are is a vital step toward writing a book you and your readers love. If you’d like to find out what subgenre your memoir fits into (no matter how far along you are), you can take our Book Strategy Quiz to find out your type and receive personalized advice on writing it. You may just discover something new about the very book you’re writing.