Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by author, life coach, and clinical hypnotherapist Nina Bingham.
What it Takes to Write an Autobiography that Sells
I’ve wanted to write an important book ever since I was in the 4th grade. However, I couldn’t have imagined that important book would be about such a tragic topic. In 2013 my daughter secretly stopped taking her anti-depressant, and in the middle of the night, hanged herself. Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. Although I’d worked as a mental healthcare professional for over a decade, nothing I’d learned prepared me to lose my own daughter in such a devastating way.
A year after my daughter’s suicide, I realized that this was the book I was meant to write. Once the Storm is Over, chronicles my descent into grief, and how I found my way back to healing. It will be published in February, 2015. I’d like to share what I learned about writing an autobiography.
I approached Big Table Publishing with a manuscript several years before my daughter’s death. The Acquisitions Editor gently rejected it, advising me to personalize my writing. She said she needed to have a better sense for who I was as a person. Even as she said it I knew it was true: I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. She couldn’t tell who the person was hiding behind the academic bravado. I was masking my problems and playing up my intellect, and it made for a dull book full of platitudes and unemotional observations. Cough.
Several years later, I approached Big Table again, this time with a very different book… a heart-wrenchingly honest, intimate, intense and riveting autobiography of my own lifelong struggle with depression, and my daughter’s subsequent suicide. This time my publisher knew she held an important story in her hands: a counselor’s confessional of mental illness, and this time she was thrilled with it.
The contrast between the first manuscript and the second can be summarized in one word: vulnerability. If you’re going to write an autobiography, it’s going to have to be honest and sincere. It’s going to have to tell a magnificently tragic or radiantly redeeming story, or one like mine, a story of how tragedy redeemed you. But as my publisher taught me, you can’t hide behind monotonous words or hackneyed storylines. An autobiography invites readers to take refuge, to crawl up into your soul with you, to agonize and triumph with you. It allows readers see clear through you; to see all the scared, lonely and confused parts, as well as all the wise and wonderful parts. An autobiography is a quivering open heart on paper, a celebration of vulnerability.