Memoir vs Autobiography

The majority of the authors I work with have a beautiful balance between sharing a part of their life story as well and knowledge and skills they have accumulated during their time on earth.

Because of this, I am often asked – what is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?

You may be inclined to lump them into the same basket, but there is a small distinction between the two that sets them worlds apart in the literary world.

Understanding what that small difference is will help you to gain more clarity around what it is you are looking to achieve with your future book.

An autobiography is a book that tells the life story of the author from childhood all the way through to the time of writing – capturing all of the major milestones and events that have led them to where they are today.

Autobiographies can give you an incredible insight into the lives of people who have been changemakers in their respective field. They let you behind closed doors and into the most intimate scenarios, the things people outside of their personal network never knew about.

By sharing these experiences, autobiographies create an incredibly strong connection between the author and the reader. The readers now understand more about them, have more empathy and trust.  

Think Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, as just one of the many examples.

In contrast, a memoir focuses on a moment in time in someone’s life. You may be wanting to zero in on a particular element of your life, such as a cancer diagnosis and your battle to overcome it, or how you found yourself financially destitute and you found a way to build wealth from the minimal income you were able to attain.

Memoirs can cover multiple seasons of someone’s life, but the events covered are always linked to a central theme and develop this throughout the course of the book.

A great example of a well-executed memoir comes from the first interviewee on Season Four of my series, The Phoenix Phenomenon. Leigh Robshaw wrote her book You Had Me At Hola about her time living and working in South America and the love story that swept her away when she met a free-spirited artisan during her travels.

There is so much more to Leigh’s life story – her next book will cover a journey to Japan – but by focusing on a single travelling experience and covering it in depth, Leigh has been able to capture the very essence of her personal development journey and lived experiences in each adventure.

What about biography and autobiography?

They are both books about someone’s life, but the primary difference here is a biography is the story of someone’s life, written by someone other than the subject of the book. An autobiography, on the other hand, is written by the person themselves.

Ghostwriters like myself can assist with any and all forms of non-fiction books – even autobiographies. This is because we work closely with the author and will, in effect, be writing the story in the author’s words, using their turns of phrase and, of course, capturing their memories and experiences. The author can choose whether or not they disclose their use of a ghostwriter, because legally the content is theirs – it’s all part of flying under the radar!

So, now you know the difference between autobiography, memoir and biography, which style of book is best suited to your story?

Inspired to start? Book in a time for us to connect and plan your future book!