Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why You Shouldn’t Write Your Autobiography

The first question I ask when I’m teaching classes about writing is, “How many of your want to write your autobiography?” Probably 75% of the people in the room raise their hands. “Don’t even think about it!” is my response.

I know all about people wanting to write their autobiographies because it’s a topic of conversation at many cocktail parties. “You should write a book about my life, it’s been so interesting,” people say to me as soon as they learn I’m a writer.

“What have you done to change the world?” I reply, which usually results in a blank stare.

Think about the people who have biographies written about them. Presidents, movie stars, world leaders, top the list. People are the subjects of biographies because of what they’ve done – who they are is incidental. People in America don’t read very much as it is, they might be interested in listening to something interesting that you did, but generally they wouldn’t buy a book about you unless you are a big name.

Suzy Prudden and I have written four books together. We have included some biographical information about Suzy in the introductions but the books were not about Suzy. One of them was a straight fitness book. Two of them were crossover books (more on that in another blog) that included metaphysics and fitness. One was a straight diet book. We put the biographical material in the introduction to tell those who had never heard of Suzy who she is and why she is qualified to write the book.

Autobiographies should be about what you did that people want to know about. That being the case, you have to figure out what you did? Our mother, Bonnie Prudden, changed the world’s view of fitness in America and was an original “first” in areas like rock climbing and the National Ski Patrol. Katherine Hepburn was a movie actress who had a scandalous affair with Spencer Tracy. There are hundreds of working actresses, some of them box office celebrities, but not many of them are on the level of being interesting enough to rate a biography. In my personal opinion it’s that scandalous affair that makes Katherine Hepburn so marketable – just as it is Richard Burton that made Elizabeth Taylor more marketable. Oprah – who has changed the world – is marketable simply because of the difference she made personally, but Ricki Lake – another talk show host – is not.

As you think about what you have done that deserves to be written about, think about who will buy what you’re writing about. If you have founded an organization that helps people with a rare disease access help function within their community, be aware that the people, who suffer from that disease, or members of their family, are your market. So what do you talk about? Do you talk about your troubled childhood? Not unless it applies to the founding of the organization. Do you talk about how the disease impacted you and your family, what you did about it and what you have learned and experienced that would be of benefit to others with the same problem? Yes. Is it your autobiography – yes a portion of it.

Selling to a niche is the most profitable and interesting approach to marketing and writing. All writing is about sales, so when I talk about marketing I’m talking about reaching the people who are interested in what you have to say. If you aren’t interested in reaching that market you might as well not do the writing.

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that their book is for everyone. No book, including the Bible, is for everyone. For example, your book will be of no value to someone who doesn’t read. Unless it’s a children’s picture book, it will not be valuable for infants and children. So right away, it’s not for everyone. It’s important to figure out who it’s for and what it’s meant to accomplish because that informs the tone and direction of the book. If you’re writing for high school students you don’t write in the vocabulary of graduate students.

In my Home Study Course, “How to Write a Book That Positions You as An Expert in Your Field,” I write for professionals who are primarily interested in back of the room sales. They are looking for a book that addresses an audience they can talk to, an audience that will in turn buy their book. If you are booking speakers for cancer survivors, would you hire a speaker who has formed a successful organization for cancer survivors after surviving for ten years herself and has written a book about her experience? Once you have identified what your audience is interested in learning about you can write the book easily. More to the point, you know how to market it, who to reach and how to reach them. They’re your community.

So the answer to the question should you write your autobiography is generally not as a straight story of your life. You should turn it into a problem solving book about something you did that would interest a niche. You should include the parts of your biography that prove that you are qualified to write the book and that show the impact of what you did on your own life.

No comments:

Post a Comment