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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

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What Do Readers Want to See in Your Memoir?

Biff Barnes

You are writing a memoir. You have an amazing story to tell. Your account of the remarkable experiences you’ve had is sure to captivate readers…

Courtesy of James Cridland under Creative CommonsHold on for a minute. Before you go any further, consider Douglas Crow’s comment on the Working Writers Blog:

Nobody cares about your book. What people TRULY want is to improve THEIR lives. The only reason someone may find your story interesting is how it relates to them. The old radio station, WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is the most popular thought on the planet.

The reason people read memoirs is to gather perspectives, insights and lessons that they can apply to their own experiences. The things which allow memoirists to connect with readers are universal themes viewed in a new or unique way. (See our post Writing a Memoir: Unless You’re a Celebrity It’s Not All About You)

To tap those themes you could use some guidance from members of your potential audience. As they read your story, what touches them?

 How do you get that kind of feedback?

The most common source authors look to is family and friends. Some belong to writers’ groups. Others have begun seeking out beta readers outside of their immediate circle. Most of these people are neither book critics nor editors. Listen to their feedback, take their emotional responses with a grain of salt, (“It’s wonderful!” feels good, but it’s not a useful critique). Since they are inexperienced in giving feedback, tell them what you need.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Check for completeness. Ask: What are three questions you wish had been answered in the book?
  • Check for clarity. Ask: Where in the book did you find things that were unclear or difficult to understand? What made them difficult?
  • Check for understanding of the book’s ideas or theme. Ask: What was the book’s main idea? What parts of the book helped you see it most clearly?
  • Check for cohesiveness. Ask: If you could cut one thing out of the book what would it be? Why?
  • Check for the effectiveness of your storytelling. Ask: What was your favorite scene and why? Which scene did you like better, X or Y? Why?

Consider their responses thoughtfully. Their feedback can help you focus on the elements of your story which will be of most interest to readers (and some parts that may not be). Did any of the things readers said stand out as particularly important? Did multiple readers say similar things? Use what you learn to make changes to your manuscript; just the ones you agree with.

Social media has made it possible to search even more broadly for pre-publication feedback. Guy Kawasaki, in his guide to self-publishing, APE: How to Publish a Book advises authors to crowd source. He says:

I ask my followers on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to provide feedback from the beginning to end of the publishing process. For example, I shared a post on Google+ to find testers for What the Plus! All people had to do was provide some information via an online form as well as to agree not to send the manuscript to others.

To my amazement, 241 people completed the form in twenty-four hours. I sent them the Word file of the manuscript after turning on “Highlight Changes” so that it was easy to find their comments…

Over the next ten days, more than a hundred people returned the file with comments.

 Using the feedback you gather from whichever source you employ will allow you to make sure that your memoir is a book which speaks to readers. When someone reads a book that helps them make sense of their own experience they tell their friends about it. It’s that kind of word of mouth that helps your book find an audience.