I’m no scientist, but I do think that everybody has a story to tell; qualitative experience bears this out for me. The first thing people say when they find out that I am a writer, is: ‘I would love to tell my life story.’
Why write your autobiography?
Many people would like to tell their story for different reasons. Some people have led an exciting life, which they would like to document on paper for posterity. For others, they think the world can benefit from their experience.
Whatever your reason for wanting to tell your life story, remember, it’s your story. The events happened to you and made an impact on your life, and those around you, possibly. And however much you believe that the world needs to hear your story, fact is; they may not be that interested. This indifference has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the way the world is. People are too busy trying to live their own lives to lift their heads above the parapet and be inspired by someone else’s. They’re just being human, after all. But, you shouldn’t let that stop you from writing your autobiography and telling your story.
Here are the five things you must think about before writing your autobiography:
- Know the why: You may think that you’ve led such an exciting life, that the the world needs to know about it. But that’s not the case. Unless you’re Richard Branson or part of the celebrity culture, it will be a challenging (but not impossible) task to get some traction with your autobiography. So be clear on the reasons you’re doing it. Which is important; telling your story or writing a book that will sell? Of course, it’s possible to do both, but I think it’s important to understand your reasons for writing your autobiography in the first place. That way, you can manage your expectations all through the writing, production and marketing process.
- Self or traditional publishing? Your publishing route matters. If you choose to self-publish, you’re basically your own publisher, which means that you incur all the publishing costs yourself (editing, printing and production, marketing, distribution… the list is endless). If you decide to go down the traditional publishing route (which is a bit more competitive), then your publisher incurs these costs. Whatever your publishing route, you would still need to ensure that your book is the best that it could ever be, in terms of your research and actual writing.
- Do you need a ghostwriter? Now that you’ve decided that you’re going to write your autobiography, are you going to write it yourself or will you be using a ghostwriter? There are many arguments for and against this. In my case it was made pretty clear to the reader that I was the ghostwriter (my name was on the book cover). And just because you’re a good academic or business writer does not make you a good story teller. I’ve worked with academics and am a business writer myself, and the dry, rather structured writing style of both genres does NOT lend itself well to an autobiography, which is essentially story-telling. Be honest with yourself; if you need a ghostwriter, go for it. If you work with a veteran ghostwriter, the end result will be a much better read for your readers.
- Decide on the theme of your autobiography. This makes it easier to sell and also helps to keep your story focused. Examples of themes include: sacrifice, success, love, faith, coming-of-age, jealousy, failure, loss, beauty… the list is endless. However you choose to tell your story, it’s best to a stick to a theme; people tend to respond better when there’s a clear thematic thread going through an autobiography. And you don’t have to stick to the one theme; you could have both primary and secondary themes.
- Who will read your autobiography? Strangely enough, the last thing budding authors think of is their book’s audience. In truth, it should be the first. We tend to think of books as art, and I’m all for that, but I also think that authors deserve to earn an income from the sales of their books. The best way to do that is to stop thinking like art custodians and more like business owners. A business owner would never launch a product without doing some research, to determine the need for their product. In the same way, before you start writing your autobiography, you should also spend some time thinking about the people who would be interested in your book (your target readers). It’s no use saying, ‘It’s for everyone who would like to win in life’, because that’s just too general and woolly. It’s much better to say: ‘It’s for divorced men aged 45-55, who are having difficulty moving on to the next stage of their lives.’ Having such a focused target audience in mind also makes it easier to write your autobiography, because you know whom exactly you’re writing for.
Everyone has a story to tell, and these five points should give you enough introductory pointers to help you write your own.
Also published on Medium.