Many people interchangeably use the terms “autobiography” and “memoir.” Although Amazon and many brick-and-mortar bookstores put them in the same category, they are quite different. Here’s how they are different.
Focuses on the trajectory of an entire life
Starts at the beginning and progresses chronologically to the end
Feels more like a historical document; tons of fact-checking and very specific dates/information
Strives for factual, historical truths
Typically is written by famous people
Focuses on a key aspect, theme, event, or choice in a life
Starts anywhere and can deftly move around in time and place
Feels more personal; less intense fact-checking
Strives for emotional truths
Can be written by anyone
Both are based in truth. Both are highly marketable in the publishing world. And both require a good deal of research, which can range from phone interviews and trips to places you once lived, to sitting back into a comfy chair and doing some deep, focused remembering. Yet as you can see, there are significant and crucial differences between an autobiography and memoir.