HOW TO WRITE A BOOK BASED ON YOUR LIFE
We all have a book inside us. We may even have several! If you want to know how to write a book based on your life, you need to become clear on the type of book you would like to write. I have seven options for you—six nonfiction and one fiction—that might fit well with your plan to write a book.
I like to say a book is a credibility card that solidifies your brand and message. Should you write a memoir, focusing on your personal story? Would it make more sense to write a book about what you have learned, one that features pieces of your story and a short summary of it at the beginning of the book?
Many of my clients have struggled with the question of what type of book to write to most effectively communicate their ideas and establish their brand and get their message out there. Some of my clients have pivoted with their brand, and a book has been instrumental in helping them do that. For example, one wanted to move from a more straightforward health brand to one that was more lifestyle oriented.
Other clients of mine have wanted to write their story as a book so they can inspire others but soon came to see that a memoir needs to be about a specific theme in their life that ties into their central message.
My video, How to Write a Book Based on Your Life, goes into some detail about the seven different types of books you might write. They are:
An autobiography or personal history. This type of personal project lets you tell your story to future generations. How I wish that my great-grandmother had written such a book so I could know more about how she went from having just a six-grade education to running a family business! Your great-grandchildren would surely appreciate a professionally written book telling your life story.
A memoir. Memoirs are thematic and often focus on just one aspect of a person’s life. Some authors write more than one memoir. Common themes including coming of age and the hero’s journey. Memoirs have a wider audience than an autobiography or personal history.
A life lessons book. Like a memoir, a life lessons book is thematic, but the themes are summed up with compelling statements. I love the title of the book by Starbucks founder Howard Behar, written with Janet Goldstein: It’s Not About the Coffee. What a great title that summarizes the book’s central message! All of his chapter titles are statements and lessons that we can learn from.
A business book. A business book can be part memoir, part life-lessons book. The key is to know your best stories and match them up with key ideas you want to put across (for example, that the Starbucks brand is NOT about the coffee!)
A self-help book. I specialize in helping people write this type of book. You may have seen my video on how to structure a self-help book. In it, I offer a structure that I have seen work time and time again. The book should take readers on a journey from here to there so that by the end of the book, they feel their life has changed and they know how to apply your ideas to their own life to make it better. There are two key elements in self-help books: the takeaway and the action plan. (You do not necessarily need an action plan, but you definitely need takeaway, as I explain in my video on How to Write a Book Based on Your Life.)
A parenting book. I cowrote an evergreen parenting book that continues to sell year after year (hence “evergreen”). In fact, it has sold over 130,000 copies. Now, I am not the expert of all time on parenting (my son would agree with me on that!). However, I did interviews and research, synthesized ideas, drew on my own experiences as a child and as a parent, and put it all together with the help of my coauthor, my son’s occupational therapist who treated him. We came up with a parenting book filled with tips and strategies I knew parents needed. I turned myself into an expert in the process. (Two book award committees and dozens of reviewers and endorsers apparently agree, because Raising a Sensory Smart Child has gotten a phenomenal response from those folks.) My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, provided the therapist’s perspective, which broadened the appeal of the book. You might want to consider a coauthor or at least a foreword from someone who has professional credentials who can vouch for the credibility of your parenting advice.
A novel. You can “fictionalize” your life and start writing a novel. Know whether you are going to make it a mystery, a romance, commercial women’s fiction (such as a novel about a mother and daughter who experience conflict they have to resolve), or a work of literary fiction. Know the conventions of these types of books so that you are clear on what you are writing. If you are going to write commercial women’s fiction, read some novels in that category. There’s an old saying: To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. Did you know that bestselling novelist Jeffrey Archer said he read 100 novels before starting his own? That might have been more than he needed to read, but it goes to show you really do have to familiarize yourself with the type of book you want to write.
I also talk in my video How to Write a Book Based on Your Life about using sensory detail and storytelling so that you “show, don’t tell”—another old saying in the book biz. When you write, put us in the middle of the action and the moment of the scene, even if you are just writing an anecdote in a business book so you emotionally engage us. You don’t have to go on for pages giving us exhaustive detail about a client you worked with, but give us a sense of what it was like to be in the situation that went from uncomfortable to a sense of possibility for change. Show us how you overcame your bad habit of saying “yes, of course” and instead saying, “I’ll need to get more details before I commit to doing that.” Even a nonfiction book has a narrative arc. Perhaps you will show us how you went from hating your body to feeling grateful for the healthy body you inhabit, from weighing yourself obsessively to telling your scale, “Kiss my butt, buddy,” and weighing yourself once a year, not obsessing about the number. You started at a low place and achieved success in some area of your life. People want to see how you did that, and your book can do the job of conveying your story.
Need help conceptualizing your book? Stuck on the title and overarching theme? Not sure if you should go with life lessons around your parenting successes or with a funny memoir? I can help. Give me some details about where you are in your process. Think about where you see yourself going with this book (doing podcasts and public speaking? being on local TV and radio talk shows? having a blog and newsletter along with a popular Instagram account?). And let me know if you’re ready for a one-hour consultation call and perhaps some coaching as you start your writing process. Contact me and let’s get you firmly on the road to writing and publishing your book.
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Nancy Peske is a ghostwriter, developmental editor, and book publishing consultant who has done editorial work on books including bestsellers and award-winners for over 30 years.