Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Writing a memoir? Prove it.

In this day and age, publishing a memoir is a tricky business. Amidst the fall-out of authors such as Margaret Jones, James Frey, JT LeRoy and others, the industry has become somewhat jaded with memoirists. In other words, the proof is no longer in the pudding…it’s in the recipe.

The challenge for memoir writers lies in every stage of the game. From writing to editing, publishing to promoting, authors must go through extensive lengths to prove the validity of their life stories.

Take Rob Mitchell for example. Abandoned by his parents at age 3, raised in the American orphanage system and homeless at 17, Mitchell is now one of the country’s top financial advisers. He knew that if he ever wrote a book about his life, he’d have to make an extra effort to show skeptics that the events of his life were true to the core. And that’s exactly what he did.

In his memoir, Castaway Kid (Tyndale), Mitchell relives his troubled childhood as one of the last “lifers” in the American orphanage system. He spent months researching his personal time-line, digging up official documents to support his memoir. He even produced a website to prove its validity. The site includes documents from his case file at the children’s home; psychiatric reports on him, his mother and father; letters from people involved in his life; and recorded interviews.

As Mitchell's publicist, I think this was a wise move. Recently, I was pitching Mitchell for an interview opportunity on an NPR program to talk about his life growing up in an orphanage. The producer immediately responded to my pitch expressing her genuine interest in the interview, but she also said she couldn't help but feel weary about having a memoir writer on the program in light of all the negative attention swirling around falsified memoirs.

Thanks to Mitchell's research on the front end, I was able to offer his website,, as a resource to secure the producer's interest. She requested the book along with a press kit, and I'm still awaiting word on a follow through.

For those authors out there interested in writing a memoir, I'd advise you to take my client's lead. You never know when you'll be asked to prove it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like such an intersting story. I'll definitely add it to my "reading list" as I am comforted to know that I won't be duped by another A Million Little Pieces.

July 31, 2008 at 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Tener said...

What an informative article. I've sent links to several of my clients who are writing memoirs and I'd love to quote you in my newsletter for August with a link to the blog. I've spoken with agents who expressed concern with taking on memoirs for this very reason, too.

August 5, 2008 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Amber Childres - Publicist said...

I'm glad you found the post helpful! I'd be more than happy to lend a quote to you for your August newsletter. Feel free to send me an email at Thanks for reading, Lisa!

August 5, 2008 at 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Chayah Masters said...

As one of Lisa Tener's clients, I can't thank you enough for being so candid. I'm a new author, writing my first memoir, Rumination, and I sometimes wondered if I was wasting time gathering background documents to support my story details. One of the challenges in being a new writer is making sure you're not spinning your wheels on things that are time wasters. Thank you for the information on your blog and for letting me know about Castaway Kid - I can't wait to read it.

August 5, 2008 at 9:39 AM  

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