An autobiography is a self-written account of one’s own life. Before you decide to transfer your life story to paper, ask yourself:
Why do I want to record my story?
Writing an autobiography is a therapeutic process that lets you recreate your life and discover yourself. If this is your sole reason for wanting to write it, only you and maybe a select few people — such as your family members — would need to read it. But if you want to document your story because you desire money or fame or believe it will help others, you can publish your autobiography for everyone to read.
How much am I willing to tell?
If you’re a secretive person who cringes at the thought of divulging your personal business, you’re better off not writing an autobiography, unless you’re doing it for your eyes only. Otherwise, you may publicize your story.
In its purest form, an autobiography is an honest account of your life. If you choose this route, you must be willing to go all the way with it and be as truthful as possible. But if you don’t want to tell all, you have the option to fictionalize your story by changing or adding events.
Some people omit key experiences from their autobiographies, especially if they think it will place them or someone they know in a negative light. Ironically, sometimes the omitted events are what would make the story extraordinary. For example, they might leave out experiences involving incest, promiscuity, or something illegal that they or someone they know did. Writing an autobiography is a personal choice, so you should take the course you’re most comfortable with.
Fictionalizing Your Autobiography
If you choose to fictionalize your story, there are two primary ways to do it.
- Fictionalized Autobiography: While the story sticks mostly to the truth about your experiences, small changes are also made, such as using fictional names to protect characters’ real identities and filling in gaps when the narrator has memory lapses.
- Autobiographical Fiction: Though the story is based on your life, it’s mostly comprised of fictional events and characters. The main character undergoes a few of the experiences that you went through, but the majority of events are untrue.
In both cases, the work needs to be copyrighted not as an autobiography, but as fictional versions of an autobiography.
Considerations If You Plan to Publish Your Story
- If you’re not a famous or highly successful person, the chances of your autobiography becoming a bestseller are slim. But if you have a rare and compelling story, you might have a winner.
- You don’t need a chaotic life to write an autobiography. You can have a pleasant past and produce a marketable book. For instance, if you were a fisherman who had lots of positive and intriguing experiences, your autobiography might sell.
- Unless you’re a darned good writer, you should hire a professional to write your story if you intend to publish it. You need to hire an editor if your goal is to self-publish; you may skip this step if the book is well written and you plan to seek a publisher, in which case, the publisher will edit it for you.
- Self-publishing takes a lot of work, and in many cases, it doesn’t pay off. Though there are exceptions, many industry professionals still frown upon self-published books, which are often poorly edited and are tough to market. Anyone can self-publish a book, but it takes a sharp editor, a salable story, and a professional attitude to make the book a success. If your self-published book sells a good amount of copies, a major publisher might pick it up for mass-market publication.
- Changes in the economy and consumer demand have forced literary agents and publishing houses to be very selective about the manuscripts they accept. They’re wary of acquiring a new author because they doubt whether the book will sell. You need a captivating pitch if you’re approaching an agent or a publisher. Otherwise, unless you have connections, rejection will be your pitch’s fate.
- If the book gets picked up by a publishing house you might be required to change certain aspects of your story to make it more marketable. This is not an issue when you self-publish, which gives you full control of your project.
Writing an autobiography for your own purposes or publication can be a fulfilling experience. But think carefully about the pros and cons before you make a decision.
Successful autobiographies by people who are not celebrities:
American Sniper by Chris Kyle
A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai