Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Understanding the Difference Between Autobiographies, Memoirs, and Biographies
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
We field a lot of calls from authors, most of whom are looking to turn their manuscripts into printed books. The conversation begins with a few standard questions. When asked what kind of book they wrote, a common response is, “It’s a book about my life.”
There are many people out there with personal histories interesting enough to be written down. Some overcame a difficult upbringing to succeed in life and want to use their example to inspire others. That is a noble cause. There is a tragedy in living through hardship but fortunately it does make for better reading, especially when the writer perseveres. Some people led fascinating careers and those experiences should be shared with the world. Others may have been involved in a political or civil movement and find it necessary to keep that crusade alive. There could even be a legacy purpose, a way for later generations to know a part of their ancestral history.
Autobiographies, Memoirs, and Biographies
Whatever the reason a person decides to write about him/herself – and there are many – there are two main paths to travel: either autobiography or memoir. Knowing the difference is important.
An autobiography is a chronological telling of one’s life from birth to the time the book is completed. It is an objective account based on historical facts. Famous people often write autobiographies because readers are interested in every aspect of their lives, but the genre is certainly not limited to celebrities. A good example might be using an autobiographical approach to chronical a family’s past.
A memoir is more theme based and focuses on a particular time in one’s life. It may be an actor recounting his/her time in Hollywood, or a combat veteran’s experiences in Iraq. It could even be a baseball fan’s lifetime devotion to a particular major league team. A memoir is more subjective than an autobiography in that it recounts the author’s opinions and elicits more emotion. Think of a memoir as the author’s “memories.” The aim here is more storytelling than history lesson.
A biography is like an autobiography but is written by someone else other than the subject. Whether you decide to write an autobiography, biography, or memoir, it is important to do your research since memories cannot always be relied upon. If you have a personal history to tell, then now is the time to get started. Cemeteries are populated by many with compelling stories that were never told.