Writing Books/Category?


QUESTION: Hi Cathy,  Thank you for your time.  I am writing a book about mine and my husbands life.  It centers around a serious incident that took place twenty five years ago.  It will cover a time period starting from our adolescence through our young adult years.  This is the tricky part,  although, we grew up in the same town, at the same time, we never met until later into our adulthood.  Years into our marriage, we discovered we both shared information, that only "we" knew. This is a serious subject matter and the information that will be revealed in this book will be gripping.  I will have to structure the layout as two separate lives (mine and my husbands) that were running parallel together, during this time period 25 yrs ago. because, we hadn't met each other yet, when this was happening ( Hope this makes sense). I will surround this main event story with smaller factual stories from both our lives at this time period.  Eventually, this will lead up to us meeting and discovering, what we each knew, as far as this event is concerned.  Everything written, will be completely factual.  I will be the writer and my husband will give me his side of things which, I will put into my own words in a biographic manner.  My questions are as follows:  Because it's only for a segment of our life and not our entire life, what exactly would this book be classified as? Is it my autobiography and his biography?  Is it a non-fiction narrative? What's the difference between non fiction and a biography?  Also, because I'm the only one doing the writing is this his auto biography as well or just his bio? Bottom line, when I go to pitch this book, what do I classify or address it as, to the agent?

ANSWER: Hi, Judy!

Wow, you raise a really interesting question. I still think the book would fall in the "memoir" category, even though it's the memoir of two people.

On a related subject, one of the things you're going to have to be careful with is your portrayal of the citizens of your town that you each, or both, interacted with. There's a very fine line between "telling the truth" and "libel" because there are two sides to every story. So your truth might not be the same truth that your husband or your neighbor believes. Once you have it written, you'll want to have a disinterested person read it, one who knows the others in the book. Ask them very frankly if someone referenced could take offense. If so, but their role is necessary in the telling of the events, you might consider turning it into "a work of fiction, based on real events." Then you can change around names and personalities a bit to avoid any potential legal problems. If you choose that option, then you'd market it as "mainstream fiction" or "women's fiction" (depending on whether the book is primarily about the information, or about your relationship.)

It sounds like an interesting book, and if the "information" you reveal is compelling enough, it might do well on the market. Good luck with it! :)


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Cathy, Thank you for your response.  I agree with you on the libel issue and the fine line. However, this is an entirely true story and the purpose of it being written is to bring a possible injustice to light.  To make it fiction in any way would distort it's intention.  Although a different story, it's kind of like the Mark Furman book on Martha Moxley and how he wrote it in his opinion in order to get the case reopened to gain justice for Martha which, he did.  The difference in our book is that we actually lived it and we witnessed all of it. I have researched libel and defomation laws and as long as it's true, it can be written.  Right now I have about 30% written and I am using only first names (with exception to mine and my husbands of course). I believe it's good enough to go screenplay. It truly reads, like a lifetime true crime movie. Most of the people involved are dead so libel is moot in regards to them. There are two living individuals (brothers) that could be a problem,  however, they have bad criminal pasts and substance problems. I am making sure anything I write in reference to them, myself or my husband are events and confrontations that we, actually witnessed. Everything I write about them is fact.   I believe it's legal to state a personal opinion of a person as long as it's not intended to be malicious.  If I close the book with leaving it at "Our Opinion" instead of saying this individual definitely is a criminal...it should be ok. I figured, if I'm blessed enough to get an agent, they would advise me on the legals and how they would want to have it told.  I thought about memoir as you suggested but, I think it's more than that, as it covers a large segment of our lives. Intertwining with this tramatic and shocking revolation.  When I read the first few chapters I have, I actually get pulled into it. It really is a great read. Can you define the difference between memoir and biography? Also, I didn't get a response as to what exactly classifies non-fiction narrative?  Thank you, Judy

Hi, again, Judy!

Sorry for the delay in answering. I apparently didn't receive the question the first time for some reason, but AllExperts let me know you were waiting.

Last question first: Narrative non-fiction differs from memoirs in that it's normally of a larger event than a person's own experiences, and includes more detailed research. The story moves beyond a personal viewpoint to one that includes a larger world view. I think the best description is one from the book, "The Art of Creative NonFiction" by Lee Gutkind:

"Creative (Narrative) Nonfiction may include dramatized biography, compilations of articles and essays and book-length memoirs. CNF must go beyond an expression of the self. The personal experiences should connect with the rest of the world and include some kind of research (i.e. secondary research of primary research where the writer interviews other people about the experience) and thus connects the personal experience to the rest of the world. CNF includes such fiction techniques as dialogue, description, point of view and character development."

A biography, on the other hand, isn't just a telling of a person's story, but telling OF the person, through interviews with others who knew the person, work successes and failures, etc. It's supported by documentation that can be independently verified---such as letters and legal papers. The same thing done on oneself is an "autobiography" which isn't quite the same as a memoir. An autobiography is more factual, where a memoir is a less formal way of telling the same story and is often of a particular event, rather than the entire life. It reads like fiction, with emotional content and story flow.

I got the impression that while you're telling the whole life, the book CENTERS on the revelation and its impact on your lives. A memoir is the best definition I can give.

Hope that helps, and good luck!

Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.