I’m thinking it’s time for some brutal truth, but don’t fear– there will be lots of encouraging ideas toward the end.
How many of us, when telling someone the story of a life-changing challenge, have been told, “You should write a book?”
The Brutal Truth?
Maybe you should tell your story in some form, but write a book? Probably not. Here’s the brutal truth: It is beyond difficult to sell a book to a publisher with a life story or an interesting incident in your life unless you are already a celebrity. Not enough people would want to pick up a book on, say, how you survived cancer or a overcame a terrible childhood, even though there can be so much to learn from the wisdom you gleaned in the journey. Why is that? Let’s take cancer.
- One in three people will be affected by cancer in their lifetime, either for themselves or a loved one or friend. Surviving cancer, while perhaps a miracle, is not a rarity these days.
- When choosing to spend a weekend immersed in a book, even fewer people will pick a heavy topic. Most want something that directly speaks to their current need or they want a story to take them out of reality.
- Publishers may also be leery of a book with a medical story not written by someone with the credentials to tell it.
But What About Memoir?
Memoir is an art form. It is not autobiography or narrative nonfiction. It is generally about the unique voice and attitude of the writer as they ponder universal topics. It’s considered literary instead of commercial. If you want to learn more about memoir, I highly recommend Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.
Then What about Narrative Nonfiction?
Narrative nonfiction is a true story that reads almost like a novel. Usually edge-of-seat telling and a story arc much like fiction. To get a better feel for narrative nonfiction, a great medical example is The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. (Fabulous book– read or listen to it.) Among some of the best narrative nonfiction, if you want to get a better feel for it, is Seabiscuit, An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. If you can write like one of these, go for it!
What if I Self-Publish It?
You can. There is nothing to stop you. But beyond your friends and loved ones, who will buy it? If you speak often during the year or have a significant social media presence, it’s a different story. You may be able to sell a number of books–the rule of thumb is that 10% of your speaking audience is likely to buy a book. If that’s enough for you, go for it. I haven’t seen percentages of social media followers who will buy a book but perhaps some will.
So What Do I Do with This Story that Changed My Life?
- Your book may make a compelling article for a magazine, either print or digital. Remember, each magazine has its own way of presenting a personal interest story. Study the stories in a particular publication and shape your material to fit.
- Your story is part of a complicated family history. Generations to come will want to know more about their ancestors. Consider making your story part of the history of your family. There are so many ways to do this– verbally through recordings, in book form, scrapbook form– who knows? The way you do this is only limited by your creativity.
- Your story may be used as devotional material. There are many fine yearly devotional publishers who seek contributors. Your story may have bits and pieces that could make up many wise and wonderful devotions for publication.
- Or your story may indeed be part of a book with a bigger theme. Writers often use anecdotes from their story in chapters of a book along with stories of other people and even stories from the Bible or history. An example might be a book called something like When Life Comes Crashing Down. (I know terrible title– who would pick that one up for a beach read?) But a part of your story may be told in the intro. Say, the first chapter is about the shock of finding out. You tell how you discovered your challenge. Then you may say something like, “but my challenge was nothing compared to what Jane Doe experienced when. . .” and you might then introduce the story of a third person from history. “But when a little girl was born to a wealthy family who discovered she was both blind and deaf, their world came crashing down.” (Helen Keller) Your book has become a more universal read that addresses chapter-by-chapter the steps in overcoming a challenge. It’s no longer just about your story, but as someone who has walked this path, you give the book believability.
So that’s the brutal truth, but I’m hoping I’ve given you several ideas about how to shape your story to become publishable or just treasured by those who know you. Make sense?