differences between memoirs autobiographies

When individual authors are looking to tell their personal story, they have a few options in terms of the type of approach they may take. Two of the most common, and which may even be confused for one another at times, are the memoir and the autobiography — which is right for your project? 

At Izzard Ink, we’re happy to provide numerous self-publishing services to authors of varying types, including everything from book printing to book distribution, marketing and more. We’ve assisted many authors looking to publish a personal story, including both memoirs and autobiographies. How do these two writing styles differ from one another, what are some examples of each, and which is right for you? Here’s a basic primer.

Differences Between Memoirs and Autobiographies

If we’re using the simple Merriam-Webster definition of both terms, here’s how memoirs and autobiographies stack up to one another:

  • Memoir: “A narrative composed from personal experience.”
  • Autobiography: “The biography of a person narrated by that person, a usually written account of a person’s life in their own words.”

Put another way, a memoir is a book about you — but it’s meant to communicate a specific message or theme to the reader, with much of the focus on them and how they receive the book. An autobiography, on the other hand, is your entire life story, from beginning to end, and it’s written in your own words.

There are definitely blurred lines between the two genres, and many books can (and do) fall into both categories simultaneously. However, these definitions should give you a basic starting point for understanding the key differences.

Examples of Memoirs

Some memoirs that come to mind include:

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
  • A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller
  • The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

Examples of Autobiographies

Some good examples of autobiographies include:

  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, by Frederick Douglass
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Malcolm X

Which is the Right Choice for You?

Both memoirs and autobiographies can be powerful and moving pieces of writing, but which one you should choose for your project depends on what you want to communicate to your readers. If you’re looking to tell a specific story that has a defined beginning, middle, and end — with a clear message or theme — then a memoir may be the better choice. If you want to share your entire life story, from start to finish, and you plan on doing so in your own words (rather than fictionalizing events or changing the names of people), then an autobiography may be better.

For more on this theme, or to learn how we’ll assist you with every part of your self-publishing book needs, contact the team at Izzard Ink today.