Don’t let your memoir lull your readers to sleep!

I’m about finished reading the memoir of multi-million-selling author.

It was horrible.

Why? This author wrote to an audience of one: himself. After hashing and re-hashing details about his childhood, I finally said out loud, “Enough!”

This doesn’t need to happen to your book.

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Unless you’re famous, convincing people to read your memoir will require exquisite writing skills. Here are six ideas that will help you write a memoir people will actually read.

  1. Follow a Theme

A memoir is NOT an autobiography. For the most part, autobiographies are long and boring. Memoirs follow a theme or a specific storyline. That means some really good stories will end up on the cutting floor because they just don’t fit.

And that’s okay.

  1. Read the Obituaries

True confession: I read the obituaries in the newspaper every day.


Partly, I believe in honoring every person who has passed. To me, reading a piece of their story honors their lives.

But also, I’m interested in the significance of their lives. What were their brushes with fame? How did they make a difference in the world? How was their story unique from anyone else’s.

Read through the obituaries in the Sunday paper, and you’ll quickly  discover that some are interesting and some are b-o-r-i-n-g. For example, the fact that a person graduated from college with honors doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to the reader in the long run.

Nor do they care if you earned your CLU, CPA, or DD.

But if you invented a product that made life easier for everyone—people will want to read it.

As you’re writing your story, ask yourself, “Will my readers find this interesting?”

  1. Read Memoirs

Before you write in a specific genre, become a master of it. I read about one memoir a month–not that I’m planning on writing one anytime soon. But after reading countless memoirs, I know what I like and I know what I don’t like.

I like memoirs that show how the author found success.

I like memoirs that give the inside scoop on well-known events.

I like memoirs that I can read in four hours or less (see Matthew McConaughey below in #4).

I don’t like memoirs that lack continuity from chapter to chapter. Many journalists make that mistake when they write books.

I don’t like memoirs that tell stories without a point.

I don’t like memoirs with long chapters.

I don’t like memoirs that tell about a conversation instead of actually showing it to me.

I don’t like memoirs that fail to show growth in the central character. Andrew McCarthy made that mistake in his memoir (see #6).

Let the memoirs you like serve as your guide in writing yours.

  1. Be Unique

If you’re writing a memoir, don’t just tell me about how you persevered through hardships. Memoirs like that are legion. I want to know how your story of perseverance was uniquely different from all perseverance stories.

Earlier this year, I read Matthew McConaughey’s memoir in one sitting. I simply couldn’t put it down. How was it different from all the other memoirs? He began journaling when he was a teenager, and he integrated relevant entries into the book.

Mind you, he didn’t include every journal entry, just the relevant ones.

His book has been a bestseller for months.

If your book reads like all the other books, no one will want to read yours.

  1. Write to Your Audience, Not Yourself

Okay, let’s be honest. We all love writing about ourselves, talking about ourselves, thinking about ourselves.

And so does your audience. They love themselves!

Consciously or subconsciously, your reader is asking one question: What’s in it for me?

The specific date you graduated from high school? They couldn’t care less.

Your opinion about President Reagan when you were a teenager? Zzzzzzzz!

The painful lessons you learned as a result of fighting cancer? Yes—tell me more!

If you’re writing to yourself, you’re only going to sell one book. If you’re writing to your audience with a laser-like focus, you’re going to sell books.

  1. Own Your Mistakes but Be Likable in the End

Andrew McCarthy and Danny Trejo both released their memoirs this year. McCarthy,  a member of the Brat Pack from the 1980s, came from middle-class background and never got into trouble. Trejo grew up in poverty and served time in the San Quentin Penitentiary.

After reading both books, I came away convinced McCarthy is a stuck-up, entitled celebrity. He owned his mistakes, but he just wasn’t very likable.

Danny Trejo? He confessed to the many crimes he committed and his extra-marital affairs. At the same, he time owned his mistakes, made something of his life, and worked hard to become a better person.

Would I want to hang out with Danny Trejo? In a heartbeat.

Be more like Danny Trejo and less like Andrew McCarthy.

Do you have a story to tell? Let’s talk! We love helping authors write memoirs that inspire and make a difference in the world.

Click here to schedule a strategy session with me.

Let’s bring your book to life!

Michael J. Klassen

President, Illumify Media