William Hammett, Independent Ghostwriter

Memoir Categories

Memoirs fall into three categories: 1) family legacy; 2) memoir; and 3) full-scale biography. Biography, however, does not technically encompass memoir, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. For more on the distinction, see my Biography page.

Memoir itself, however, falls into three different categories, but let's examine one term at a time.

Family Legacy

Many people request a family legacy, which is intended to be an heirloom passed down through the generations of a family. It's not unlike a family tree with copious amounts of history added.

Family legacy is a fairly comprehensive book that encompasses more than just a single individual, although many such legacy books center on one family member, such as a patriarch or matriarch or earliest known ancestor.

These kinds of books chronicle entire families and include interviews with multiple family members. One of the most unique features of a family legacy is that the family portrait that emerges is set against a specific historical background. Good family legacy is always good history.

The books are usually sweeping sagas that provide wide-angle views of multiple generations that feed into a common ancestry. The scope, of course, can be reined in depending on the author's intentions since we can all trace our lineage back many generations thanks to online genealogy websites.


Memoirs focus on limited time periods and events in a person's life as opposed to a full account of an individual's experiences, from birth to the present. Notice that presidential autobiographies, however, are often called "presidential memoirs," and there again we see that the lines are blurred when using the two terms.

There are three categories of memoir and they all relate to the marketability of the book.

  1. Many memoirs simply recount certain events of a person's life and do not feature any groundbreaking historical information, adventures, or high-profile events. They are meant for a limited readership and are intended primarily for the members of one's extended family. This category is not totally dissimilar from Family Legacy except for the fact that the narrative is far more limited in scope. This category of memoir is almost always self-published.
  2. The second category of memoir deals with extraordinary events in a person's life, and the book may or may not qualify for mainstream or regional publication. I've written memoirs for people such as amateur astronomers who discovered a new comet unknown to science by using a backyard telescope, whistleblowers, CEOs, people who took part in major historical events, the progeny of famous explorers, and others who had stories with the potential for acquiring a mainstream readership.
    It should be noted, however, that even very extraordinary memoirs can be difficult to place with major New York City publishing houses. One must have a riveting manuscript and a top literary agent who will sell the book to an acquiring editor at a major publisher who believes in the project. One must also have a superior marketing platform to help promote the book. It has been decades since publishing companies did all of the promotion.
  3. Celebrity memoirs by actors, politicians, athletes, entrepreneurs, and others are usually marketable in today's literary marketplace. These memoirs deal with well-known people who have been in the news and have been high achievers in their fields. Readers generally want to know about the private side of the individual they hear about on TV, news broadcasts, and talk shows. Because of their notoriety, they have natural marketing platforms.


You should adjust your expectations according to where your projected memoir falls along the spectrum described above. That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't write your memoir. On the contrary, I believe, as stated in Your Story that everyone has a story to tell, that everyone is important.

The best reason to write a book is because you feel that it needs to be written--needs to "get out there." Some of the most famous books of all time were written without any publishing goal at all or with little hope of mainstream success. They were written because the author needed to express what had been pent up and internalized for too long.

That's why I say at the top of this site to dream big, write a book, and publish.

Please also read Memoir Inspiration and Memoir Preparation.

Dream big.

Write a book.



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