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So, You Want to Tell Your Story – 13 Tips for Self-Publishing Your Memoir

So, you want to tell your story – 13 tips for self-publishing your memoir.

It’s been two years since I self-published my memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person:  A memoir about cancer as I know it. I thought it’d be fun to mark this date by sharing a few things I’ve learned about the process of self-publishing a memoir. And it is a process; in my case, a lengthy one. That’s the way I roll – slowly. It took me five years to finish mine.

Supporting fellow bloggers/writers is important to me; I hope these tips help!

So, here are 13 tips for self-publishing your memoir. 

 1. You don’t need anyone’s permission to share your story. Really, you don’t.

If you want to find an agent and a publisher, that’s fine. Go for it. I tried going that route with a different book. Unsuccessfully. I discovered that unless you’re famous, at least sort of well known or an expert in something, the big publishing houses and their agents aren’t that interested in no-name authors. But you might have far better luck than I did, so if you want to go this route, give it a try and see what happens.

Dear Hubby once asked, “Why do you need anyone’s permission to tell your story?”

His question had some darn good writing advice tucked in there. Your story is yours to tell. No one can tell it like you can. You don’t need anyone’s permission to tell it or to publish it these days. The days of stigma regarding self-publishing are over. Besides, when you self-publish, you maintain complete control; which is not the case when going the other route. This is a huge plus and at the same time, it can be rather daunting. The key is to make it work to your advantage.

 2. Memoirs are personal.

Duh, right? My point is, be sure you’re okay with the world (or more aptly, your friends and relatives, as well as strangers) reading what you write. Once those words are out there, they’re out there. Think about potential consequences or conflicts. But don’t be afraid to share your truths either.

 3. Writing a memoir is a process. Sometimes a long one. But that’s okay.

Why would you want to hurry along telling your story anyway? Memoir writing can be painstakingly slow because there will likely be a fair amount of emotional remembering and reliving, and sometimes this is a difficult, even painful process. Be kind, patient and gentle with yourself. Take your time. Find your voice. Let your unique writing process unfold, develop and evolve.

 4. Utilize a reputable self-publishing site.

I went with Create Space. Others include LuLu, Blurb, Book BabyXlibris, Kindle Direct and SmashWords, to name a few. Research them and then pick the one that appeals to you most. I chose Create Space because it’s part of Amazon and was fairly easy to figure out. Plus, there were no costs. There were plenty of user-friendly resources available such as downloadable templates (those were great), free photos (for book cover designing), chat groups, editors and cover designers for hire and so on.

Update:  Create Space is no longer an option. If you choose to go the Amazon route, it’ll be via Kindle/Direct Publishing. It’s basically the same as Create Space. I’m using this option again for my next book.

 5. Put a lot of thought into your title. A lot.

My memoir’s title is too long, but I wanted to say all that stuff and didn’t want to cut any of it out, so I didn’t. I wanted readers to know exactly what they were getting. I still very much like my title and would not change it. But yeah, it’s long.

 6. You must have an editor.

Your manuscript must be edited by a professional editor. Let me repeat that; your manuscript must be edited by a professional editor. And no, this is not cheap, but it’s one area not to skimp on. Find a top-notch editor you trust and be willing to pay her/him a fair rate. Editing is a lot of work. A lot. I would suggest not going with a friend or relative. Having said this, I chose Dear Daughter because she’s the best editor I know. Her background is journalism and editing.

The editing process is surprisingly lengthy and more than a bit frustrating at times. Be prepared for lots of critiquing, correcting, eliminating, revising, rewriting and then re-editing. Again. And again. And again.

I could not believe how many mistakes my editor found that I’d missed. Do not submit your manuscript for final publication anywhere until you’ve gone over it a gazillion times. After it’s published, you don’t want to lie awake at night thinking about that mistake on page 47 that was missed. Trust me. You don’t.

 7. Consider hiring a book cover designer.

People do judge a book by its cover, despite that saying suggesting you shouldn’t. Your cover matters as it gives a first impression. And yes, both sides matter. The back cover is equally important. Choose your design and designer, if you go that route, carefully. Cover design gets expensive too. If you don’t want to hire someone, you can do it yourself on the above mentioned sites, at least you can on Create Space. I did not hire anyone because I had no budget. I’m fairly satisfied with my cover.

 8. Consider utilizing a standardized, downloadable template that utilizes industry-standard book size, margins and the like. 

I am not a whiz regarding available programs and options for templates, formats and fonts, nor did I want to become one. The above sites have lots of good stuff available for you to use. Why reinvent the wheel?

 9. Be accurate and cite your sources when appropriate.

Your name and reputation are on the line. If you’re sharing factual stuff, be sure it’s accurate. And never, ever use someone else’s words, images, quotes, charts or whatever without permission and/or proper citation. If you’re worried about names, change them. You can cite names and mention name changes in your acknowledgment section and remind readers of whatever you need to remind them of. Basically, all this means, cover your ass.

10. Take your time and choose your publishing and launch date thoughtfully.

I know I mentioned this already, but it’s so important, I’m mentioning it again. I ended up publishing my memoir in mid-December because I was so sick and tired of the whole process I just wanted it to be over. Dumb idea! Can you think of a worse time to publish? In hindsight, neither can I. I mean, how many people are paying attention to new memoir releases in mid-December? Unless of course, the memoirist is famous. Oh well, live and learn, right?

11. Determine your goals.

Do you want to share about your cancer, childhood, divorce, travel abroad, your life-style changes, your pet or what exactly? If you’re old enough to write a memoir, you’re likely old enough to have accumulated a lot of story material. You can’t tell everything. Pick and choose what parts of your life story you’re trying to zero in on. If you share too much, you’ll bore readers. On the other hand, if you share too little, what’s the point?

Decide who your audience will be. Not everyone wants to read about cancer (especially the non-varnished version). Or death. Or abuse. Or divorce. Or your dog. And this is fine. There’s a niche for your story. Your readers are out there. However, you will need to work on building your platform which means having an online (and offline) presence. Readers won’t just materialize out of thin air. (If only…) But all that is a post in itself.

12. Realize that marketing your book is almost as important as writing it. 

I suck at marketing, so my advice about it might suck too. I need to work at this marketing thing more. A lot more. This is probably the hardest part about self-publishing. Well, it is for me anyway. But no one else cares like you do and unless you hire someone (which you can), there’s no one else to do it. Try to work up a marketing plan. I intend to hit this harder in the new year.

13. Just do it. And then stop stressing. Okay, try to stop.

At some point, you have to just do it. Start the process. Start writing and then see it through to the finished product – YOUR memoir. There are few things more rewarding than seeing your book on the shelf or for sale on Amazon or wherever. When you get a sale, when someone reads your story, or when someone writes a review or emails you to let you know she/he was moved by it in some way; well, it’s a wonderful feeling.

Words are powerful. Using them to share whatever you have to say is a privilege and a responsibility too.

Readers who read your words are like treasures to those of us who write them.

Note:  If there’s interest, I’ll write a few more posts with tips on how to write and present content, finding your voice and whatever else you might be interested in. Let me know your interest(s) with a comment below. I’d also love to put together an ebook on all this. Some day. If you have zero interest, let me know that as well.

Are you interested in writing a memoir or another sort of book?

Do you have a question about self-publishing you’d like to ask?

Have you self-published and if so, what site did you use and what tip(s) do you have?

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Just a reminder, 10% of profits from my books (all formats) will be donated to metastatic breast cancer advocacy and research. So, this is a good time to get yourself a copy and maybe get one to share as well.

Thank you for supporting my writing and advocacy!  

My memoir

Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person:  A memoir about cancer as I know it


Featured image used under creative commons licensing.

Vickie Sings

Saturday 11th of September 2021

I need help marketing my memoir.Any help is appreciated. Thank you for your article


Tuesday 14th of September 2021

Vickie, I hear you. I struggle with marketing too. I think most self-published authors probably do. Perhaps I'll write a post about this down the road. Thank you for the comment.

Misty Krueger

Tuesday 16th of July 2019

Thanks for this post. I just finished writing a breast cancer memoir, and I am thinking about self-publishing. Your advice is so helpful.


Tuesday 16th of July 2019

Misty, You're welcome. Glad I could help. Good luck with your memoir!

Leann Zotis

Thursday 1st of March 2018

Thank you for your post on publishing a memoir. I, too, used Create Space to publish - “Vital Women - My Journey with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.” I used it as a diary form to record my thoughts, fears and concerns during the first four months after diagnosis. I do a good bit of writing inspirational types of articles to encourage women through the various changes that seem to come along in every life. Like you, Nancy, I suck at marketing. Your post makes me realize that I, too, need to sharpen my focus in that area.


Friday 2nd of March 2018

Leann, Thank you for reading and commenting. Good luck with your book marketing and other writing too.

Rebecca J Hogue

Sunday 17th of December 2017

Thanks for this post - it helps too see how others are approaching this - and the message that everyone has a story worth telling is one that I think is really important.


Tuesday 19th of December 2017

Rebecca, You're welcome. The message that everyone has a story worthy of being told (and read) is an important one, for sure. I encourage others to share their stories whenever I get the chance. People are interested in reading about "ordinary" folks, too. Are you planning a memoir or other book at some point? Thank you for reading and sharing.

Beth Gainer

Sunday 17th of December 2017

Hi Nancy,

This is an excellent post. I've actually entertained the possibility of writing a memoir, but I am not sure if I want to revisit my life. I've led an interesting one, but too much is emotional right now. I admire people who've written a memoir, and I admire you! Your book is excellent, and it has a fantastic title.


Tuesday 19th of December 2017

Beth, A person definitely has to be in the "right place" to tackle writing a memoir. Having said this, I hope you do write yours one day. Thank you for always being so supportive of whatever I write - right down to my memoir's title! You're a gem. xo

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