Most of us live ordinary lives by the standards of adventurers, athletes, and film stars, but that doesn’t make our lives any less interesting. And it doesn’t mean our stories aren’t worth telling. I think there’s just as much incident, excitement, and beauty to be found in our ordinary, everyday lives.
More than that, I’d argue that it’s the down-to-earth bits of the stories of the rich and famous that make their stories worth reading. They’re the bits that reveal most about the person. They’re the bits that help us to understand them. People want to peak behind the mask to feel like they can understand those people. Without those insights underpinning everything else, their stories would lose their meaning.
Your story needs to do the same thing. You need to think about who you’re writing your autobiography for so that your book can help them understand you a bit better. And you need to believe that your story is worth telling. Remember, if you’re someone’s friend, partner, parent, or sibling, you already have a ready-made audience for your book.
Your story can be just as dramatic as any published autobiography
Most of us can probably think of incidents from our life that wouldn’t seem out of place in a dramatic work of fiction.
We all experience the extremes of life; we make friends and enemies, we love and lose people, we deal with our own mortality. These are all the building blocks of great stories. No matter your economic or education status, your job, or your aspirations in life, there’s a story that binds the threads of your life together.
Your story can tap into any of the big moments of your life and convey the drama of those moments. You can detail as much pain, heartache, and fear as you’re comfortable sharing. Perhaps readers will empathise with your journey. Or perhaps they’ll take salutary lessons from the mistakes you’ve made.
But wait, your autobiography isn’t all about the drama
You don’t have to revel in the drama. Quieter stories have value too. People have written wry observational books about working on a supermarket till. Or reflected on their life through the prism of the music, films, or television that moved them and shaped them.
Perhaps your story will conjure up a very specific place and time. Or its evocation of your way of life will really appeal to your readers. Some autobiographies eschew drama altogether. Simpler, quieter stories that are beautifully told are just as valid as more dramatic stories.
You can write your real life love story. Or chronicle your experience of parenthood. You can write about the things in life that have inspired you… Consider your audience. What kind of autobiography do they want from you? Perhaps they really don’t want anything heavy. Perhaps they want your autobiography to paint a picture of everyday normality; something to reinforce happy memories.
Seeing as we’re talking about the audience for your book, let’s talk about the likelihood of getting your book published…
Identify the audience for your book
As I hope you’re finding out, your ordinary life story is definitely worth telling, to the right audience. But this comes with a caveat…
The vast majority of life stories of the non-rich and famous will never be published. It doesn’t matter how extraordinary those life stories might be. If your name doesn’t already command a huge audience of potential readers, your chances of getting your autobiography published are slim.
There is a glut of books. Multiple books on almost every subject. In most cases, the biggest factor in deciding whether your book is publication-worthy is a cold, hard, commercial reality – will your book sell in bucket loads?
I have worked on many wonderful books which, in a perfect world, would be snapped up by publishers. But they’re not because they’re of limited commercial value.
Could your life story have commercial appeal?
If your book is sufficiently unique and appeals to a wide range (or a lot of) readers, your life story may have what it takes.
Let’s talk about that issue of uniqueness…
I’m often approached by people who tell me their story is horribly extreme, and their life story is absolutely unique. Many of these stories detail terrible abuse or neglect. But the sad fact is that these kinds of stories aren’t as unusual as we might hope or expect in a civilised world. Stories of abuse and degradation are rife. And publishers aren’t interested in telling more of them, unless there is a particularly marketable element to them. (Sad to say that even stories of great personal horror and mental health memoirs are still assessed on just how marketable they are.)
Perhaps you have seen incredible things in your life, been on amazing adventures, or epic overseas trips… While these kinds of life experiences are worth documenting, and may be the stuff of great stories, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll make marketable books either.
None of this is to dissuade you from telling your story. Quite the opposite. As I said above, if you have an audience, I believe you should tell your story. And there are, of course, exceptions to the ‘You will not get published’ diktat! I’ve worked with people who have been published by small press and mainstream publishers. In most cases, their story fit a very specific niche. In some cases, a story will just align with a publisher’s ideology, or it will fit a specific slot in their list.
If you are going to try and get your story published (as opposed to self-publishing it), see what you can do to improve your chances:
- Put some time into assessing the market for a story like yours. Publishers will want to see that you’ve assessed how your book might be similar to – and different from – other books in your space.
- Be prepared to accept that your story may not be quite as unique as you might have thought, but see if there are any elements that you can emphasise to give a publisher what they’re looking for.
- Do also look for publishers that specialise in stories like yours.
Working with companies like Story Terrace
You might also want to consider companies like Story Terrace, who can help tell your life story and print copies of it for you. Other ghostwriting services are available, but as well as being a freelance ghostwriter, I also write books for Story Terrace, so I’m able to speak more knowledgably about their service.
Story Terrace are all about preserving stories for friends and family to enjoy. You’ll be assigned an editor and will normally have a choice of ghost to work with. They can pair you up with a local ghostwriter if that is your preference. They print books to a very high standard, and can offer publishing options too.
Tell your life story and publish it yourself
Many of the people I work with choose to self-publish their book. The beauty of this approach is that you won’t feel under pressure to compromise on any element of your story. You will decide what your book looks like, and you can print it in small quantities, just for the people who want to read it.
Best of all, your story can be as ordinary as it needs to be. It can focus on all the elements of your life story that matter to you and your readers. It can be as colloquial and idiomatic as you want it to be. And it can be as full of in-jokes, and references that only your selected readers will understand.
You can write your story, your way, tailored to your friends and family…
Give your audience the book they want
When most of us chose to tell our ordinary story, it’s because we know there are people who want to read it. And that makes the job of actually writing our book even easier.
If you already know there are friends and loved ones who want to read your life story, try and give them the book they want. Spend some time understanding which elements of your life intrigue them:
- What questions can your book answer for them?
- What lasting insights can you give them?
- What can you reveal in your book that will surprise them?
- What can you write that will really feel emotionally meaningful to them?
Every ‘ordinary’ story matters to someone
Above all, don’t apologise for ordinary. Ordinary doesn’t equate to mundane. Ordinary doesn’t preclude drama, comedy, or pathos.
Our ordinary lives matter to the people who matter to us. The real beauty in ordinary stories is that they preserve the lives and times of the people we love.
So, I hope you’re ready to celebrate your ordinary life and tell your story. And if you need some ghostwriting help with that, I’m here to help you write the very best ordinary life story.