Is a memoir fiction, since it’s written like a story? Or non-fiction, since it’s based on true events? Do I have to write the whole thing before submitting? Or do I write some samples and an outline and query, like a non-fiction book?
A memoir is non-fiction. It’s often shelved in its own section, or with autobiographies, but never with fiction.
However, submission requirements for memoirs are usually the same as for fiction—meaning, you send your query and/or cover letter, synopsis and/or outline, and the first three chapters or sample pages (in order, not random chapters), as requested by the publisher’s guidelines.
Some publishers have separate guidelines for memoirs, but most don’t.
4 thoughts on “A Memoir is Non-Fiction”
The line between fiction and non-fiction in memoirs has always been somewhat blurred. Many first person novels are really fictionalized memoirs. While many published memoirs contain fictionalized events. Of course some writers go too far as did James Frey and create what has been termed a wholly "false memoir." As an editor who works with a lot of authors who want to create memoirs, I advise those who have commercial aspirations to look at whether the marketing opportunities for a memoir based novel or an actual non-fiction account seem greater. Obviously this depends on the individual book.
Biff Barnes, Stories To Tell, http://www.StoriesToTellOnline.com
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is fiction…
I read Memoirs of a Geisha and didn't know it wasn't a true memoir until after I finished it and looked online to read about it.
I was even more surprised that a guy had written it. (I was given the Book on Tape to listen to and didn't check out the author.)
Books written with a fiction-like style but is a retelling of real events is called "creative non-fiction" or "narrative non-fiction." If they're non-fiction, they're non-fiction (like a memoir), but that doesn't mean they have to be dry like an encyclopedia.
Lu Ann Staheli's "When Hearts Conjoin" is a great example–she told the story of the conjoined Herrin twins and their separation, and did so with fiction-telling techniques: scenes, dialogue, etc.
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