Skip to main content

Talking Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction

Q. What's the difference between memoir and narrative nonfiction? Aren't they the same thing?

A. Memoir is when someone writes about their own life. Narrative nonfiction is when someone writes about the lives of others.
Both of these categories are notable because they blur the line between fiction and nonfiction. Narrative nonfiction is unique (and in high demand) because it tells a true story - hence the word nonfiction - but it's told like a novel. If you want to write about horse racing, you would probably come up with an average book on horse racing. But Seabiscuit is narrative nonfiction. Same thing with the space program. There's a huge amount of difference between a book on NASA's programs and The Right Stuff.

Q. How do you pitch memoir and narrative nonfiction if they bridge the gap?

A. Memoir is tricky because it's the only nonfiction subject that must be treated as fiction. That means you have to write the entire manuscript (and revise it) before submitting. You would eventually write a synopsis - not a book proposal.
Narrative nonfiction, however, is still nonfiction and you would submit a proposal, most likely. Writers with a track record and platform would do just fine submitting a book proposal and writing very little of the actual text. But - for writers without a track record, it wouldn't hurt to write a lot (or all) of the manuscript. Narrative nonfiction is tricky, and you have to show that you know what you're doing.

Q. Are publishers jittery about memoirs these days because of James Frey and A Million Little Pieces?

A. From what I'm hearing, oh yeah. I talked with literary agent and lawyer Paul S. Levine over the weekend and he said that memoirs should be vetted before being sent to publishers. The purpose of this is to eliminate any libel or invasions of privacy in the text itself. Though vetting a manuscript will not ensure that you never get sued, it should prevent anyone who sues you from winning.

A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations, Part 1 (Killer Writers)

A Conversation With Jaden Terrell on Writer Expectations, Part 1 (Killer Writers)

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford continues his series of interviews with mystery, thriller, and suspense authors. Here he has a conversation with novelist Jaden Terrell about writer expectations and success.

Connecting the Dots vs. Drawing the Whole Damn Picture: A Veteran Ghostwriter Takes Back His Pen and Finds Something To Say

Connecting the Dots vs. Drawing the Whole Damn Picture: A Veteran Ghostwriter Takes Back His Pen and Finds Something To Say

Writing for oneself after a decades-long career as a ghostwriter is a challenge unto itself. Here, author Daniel Paisner discusses his career as a ghostwriter, how the process differs from writing his own work, and if the two ever intersect.

Who Are Sensitivity Editors? And How Much Does Sensitivity Reading Pay?

Who Are Sensitivity Editors? And How Much Does Sensitivity Reading Pay?

Sensitivity readers offer a very specific and focused edit to manuscripts. Here, C. Hope Clark shares what a sensitivity editor is, how much it pays, and where you can start.

Kate White: On Building In Brainstorming Time

Kate White: On Building In Brainstorming Time

New York Times bestselling author Kate White discusses the process of writing her new psychological thriller, The Second Husband.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 615

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a desire poem.

Writer's Digest Best Writing Advice Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Writing Advice Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top writing advice websites as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

Love the Art. Work the Business. | Nikesha Elise Williams

Nikesha Elise Williams: On the Power of Self-Publishing

In this indie author profile, novelist Nikesha Elise Williams shares her path to self publishing and the creative marketing strategy that's led to her success.

Change of Plans

Change of Plans

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, there's been a sudden and unforeseen change of plans.

5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

Author Ashley M. Coleman gives you her top five tricks for writing about the music industry—even if you're not an industry expert.