Place Your Story for Best Effect

Although memoir writers have an entire book in which to tell their story, many nonfiction writers use their personal stories only as an introduction to a broader topic. When that’s the case, you need to consider what place in the book will be the best to showcase your personal story.

If you need to establish your credentials before presenting your information, you may wish to include a brief background at the start of the book to demonstrate your expertise. My client John Warren did this in his book The Financial Rescue Plan for Nonprofits. The chapter containing his personal story encompasses his successful career in commercial banking, which gave him expertise in financial management. He also includes his bout with cancer, which altered his outlook on life and led to his focus on the nonprofit sector.

We put a short version of the biography at the beginning of the book to establish his credentials, and kept the longer version at the back in an appendix for those who want more detail. By using a short opening autobiography, Warren propels his readers faster into the part of the book that’s about them. If we had put the longer version at the beginning of the book, it would have seemed as if the book was all about him. When you’re writing instructional nonfiction, it is important to keep the focus on the reader.

In His Masterpiece, Carl Dulinsky had a foreword written by a colleague to establish his credentials, so it wasn’t necessary to place his biography up front. He uses the first two chapters to establish his premise and begin building his case, and waits until Chapter 3 to share his personal testimony. By this point the readers may be wondering whether the author can relate to their circumstances. By sharing his story at that point, he assures them that he can.

In another case, I worked on an as-yet-unpublished manuscript in which the author writes intermittently of her personal experiences as she walks the reader through a similar spiritual journey. In that manuscript, each anecdote from the author’s life illustrates the principle she puts forth in that chapter.

If you’re sharing all or part of your life story within an expository or prescriptive book, examine your manuscript to see whether you’ve placed the story in the place where it will benefit the reader most. These are just three options. The variations are limitless.


<span style=”color: #777777; font-size: x-small; line-height: 80%;”>Disclosure of Material Connection: The Amazon links above are affiliate links. Yes, this is me totally plugging my clients’ books. If you click a link and purchase an item, I will receive a pittance of a commission from Amazon. Regardless, I only recommend books I believe will be of value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”</span>

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