Memoir is one of my favorite genres, so I’ve been compiling a list of resources for memoir writers for a while now. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it does answer the questions about memoir that I’m asked most often.
- Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart
- The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
- The Memoir Project by Marian Roach Smith
What IS Memoir?
- How to Get Started Writing Memoir by Marian Roach (her answers to FAQs)
- A Memoir Is Not a Status Update by Dani Shapiro (The New Yorker, August 18, 2014)
- Beth Kephart on Writing Memoir by Andy Ross (Ask the Agent)
Can I Fictionalize My Story?
Autobiographical Fiction: Telling a real experience, or a full life story, as a fictional account. Usually written like a memoir, featuring first-person narration, with a stand-in for the author as the protagonist.
NOTE: Autobiographical fiction does NOT present itself as memoir (avoiding the fate of author James Frey, who was exposed for his fabrications in A Million Little Pieces), nor does it pretend to have zero basis in real events (unlike author Kathryn Stockett, who got in trouble for claiming The Help was entirely a work of fiction).
To win over publishers and readers, authors who write autobiographical fiction should be honest and upfront about the nature of what they’ve written. For examples of what I mean by this, see:
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- The Joy Luck Club: A Novel by Amy Tan
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (who later wrote her story as the memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal)
Laws and Legalities
- Legal and Ethical Issues in Memoir Writing by Linda Joy Myers, of the National Association of Memoir Writers, who interviewed Robert Pimm, a literary lawyer.
- A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy by Amy Cook, an intellectual property lawyer (writing a guest post for Reader’s Digest)
- How to Use Real People in Your Writing Without Ending Up in Court by Helen Sedwick, author of Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook
- The Creative Process: Not Everything Needs to Be Shared by Dan Blank
- How to Write a Query Letter: Nonfiction and Memoir by Jane Friedman
- Agent Query Letters That Actually Worked for Nonfiction by Jason Boog (from GalleyCat; includes samples of query letters for several memoirs)
- Querying Memoir by Janet Reid, a literary agent (short article, recommends querying in first person for memoir)
- The Memoir Boom: A New Trend Millennials Love by Kendra Tuttle, Turning Page magazine