February 17

Should I Write a Self-Help Book or a Memoir?

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You might not realize it yet, but the marketing process starts long before you start writing your first chapter. First, it starts quietly when you’re working on fleshing out your book idea. Then, the marketing wheels start moving much faster while you’re writing your nonfiction book proposal. Besides describing your book premise, you will also generate materials and ideas that will be helpful to you when you start to market yourself as a writer and when you start marketing your book.

One of the questions many of our authors ask during this process is, ”Should I write a self-help book or a memoir?” With many of our authors writing about self-help topics, it’s an essential question to ponder

What is the difference between self-help and memoir?

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between the two, but in their execution, they are vastly different. One of the major reasons for this is the way the book is written: memoirs typically use the storytelling techniques of fiction while the self-help book minimizes the storytelling aspect to offer solutions the reader is looking for.

When you’re writing a memoir, you are telling your personal story of trauma, success, triumph, or obstacles. While in its intention, it sets out to help people struggling with the same issues, it doesn’t actively work to solve readers’ problems without some critical thinking on their part. It shows how the author personally conquered their fears or challenges, but it doesn’t typically offer any solutions beyond that.

A self-help book, on the other hand, engages more with readers. Even though it does still use storytelling techniques to tell the author’s story, the author is not the primary focus of the book. The primary focus is on the reader. So, the narrative is designed to give readers a blueprint or roadmap to conquering whatever challenge they’re facing while sprinkling in bits of the author’s personal story. In this way, the author’s story is used as a sort of case study of how the blueprint or roadmap works in real life.

How are the ideal readers of a memoir and self-help book different?

While some of your readers will be from the same group, you’ll also see some differences in your target readers. Some readers of your memoir might be future readers of your self-help book simply because they aren’t quite ready to face the hard work ahead. They might recognize that a problem or a challenge exists, but a small part of them might be in denial that they need to do this work before they can make more positive changes in their lives. In that way, a memoir can be a stepping stone to building a platform for your self-help content.

For different reasons, you may also have some memoir readers who may not convert to fans of your self-help books. These readers want to read your inspirational story, but they might not be fans of the self-help genre. This is because some people only read for the story, others read to make a change in their lives, and others love both types of books. Ideally, you want to target readers in the third group, especially if you plan on writing both memoirs and self-help books at some point in your career. 

Before you get going on writing your book, you need to decide first which group of readers you want to reach and design your narrative accordingly. The demographics and psychographics—all outlined in your nonfiction book proposal—will be different for a self-help book than for a memoir. Defining this ideal reader before you start writing will help you shape your manuscript so that it’s more successful once it’s published. 

For instance, though the demographics for your memoir and self-help book might be the same, the psychographics of your ideal reader will be very different. Potential readers of a memoir might simply only want to read an inspirational story about someone who has survived trauma. However, potential readers of a self-help book have a pressing need to learn how to survive and thrive after they’ve suffered the same type of trauma. 

What if I want to write both a self-help book and a memoir?

That’s terrific! Some of our authors start with their memoirs while some of our authors start with their self-help book. While this decision is completely up to you, we typically recommend that new authors start by writing a self-help book. We recommend this for several reasons:

  • If this is your first book, your readers do not know who you are, so they might be less inclined to pick up a memoir you’ve written.
  • Self-help books are much more engaging because they involve the reader heavily in your narrative, and if they are hooked on your story, they will be more likely to follow you to your memoirs.
  • If you’ve started a coaching, speaking, or consulting business based on the topics in your book, a self-help book works harder at showing readers why you are the right person to help them. 
  • Writing your self-help book first gets your ideas churning about what events and experiences you can talk about in your memoirs.

No matter what type of book you decide to write, we have a community of people to cheer you on. Through Author Academy Elite’s learning modules, coaching calls, and our Igniting Souls Conference, we connect authors with the resources, tools, events, and expertise they need to plan for their future writing success.

What is your next best step? We ask this of all our authors regularly, and we’d love to start the conversation today about how we can help you figure that out. Sign up for our next free webinar or comment below to find out how we can help you.


Tags

marketing, memoir, self-help


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  1. Fantastic article. It leads the author to very direct understanding of what to do. As a published author and ghostwriter I agree with that the action of writing comes the clarity. Sharing!

  2. You always leave me either agreeing with you, or thinking. This certainly gives me some things to ponder more deeply. Looking forward to receiving the feedback on my proposal,

  3. Such valuable and clearly outlined thoughts! Just what I was needing to help me move through this decision, as I was hung up. Thanks much!

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