Writing Books/memoir

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Question
Dear Bobby,
  I have finally gotten my book in shape to approach agents. I have noticed that the submission requirements are different for fiction vs nonfiction.  I am writing my memoir. Although the stories are true, their order, characters, and dialog have been changed. There is no way I could remember a conversation from the 60’s. So do I treat my book as fiction or nonfiction? To me, if there is some fiction mixed in, then it must be considered fiction. Although I have seen some agencies websites list memoirs as nonfiction. Advice please. Thanks Dick Schlueter ()


Answer
Dear Dick:

In short, memoir is a nonfiction category. It is to be expected that some of the dialogue will be reconstructed, but the facts must be true, or you’ll get into trouble. As an example, James Frey’s alleged memoir, A Million Little Pieces, embellished his past to the point of making it fiction. His supposed past could not be corroborated by anyone else, and he got into serious trouble with the law, his publisher, and the public. A memoir should reconstruct the past as best you can personally remember it, but adding flair or misinformation takes it out of the memoir category and into fiction.

Memoirs don't have to unfold in chronological order, so organization of the material is up to you. Can you change the names to protect the guilty? Of course. Can you change the characters to make them more interesting? Maybe a smidgen, but not much.

Conventional wisdom (and publishers) would say this: Decide whether you want to use your personal experiences as a jumping board to write fiction or whether you want to write a memoir of your true personal experiences. Don’t mix the two.

Thank you for writing, and be sure to sign up for "The Writers Network News," my free newsletter for writers, to get tips, answers, marketing information and news of interest to writers. Go to http://www.zebraeditor.com/ and click on "Free Newsletter."

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Bobbie Christmas

Expertise

Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.

Experience

Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Organizations
Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Publications
Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Education/Credentials
Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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