Dear Author Enabler,
How do you decide whether to write an autobiography or a memoir?
Alberta Harvey
Columbus, Georgia

Before answering the question, let’s define the two forms. Autobiography is the history of a person’s life narrated by the author. When we read an autobiography, we expect to get a life story, inasmuch as any book can capture an entire life.

In a memoir, the focus isn’t on telling the whole life story, only the relevant aspects that fit the author’s framework. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis tells the story of his personal loss and grief, and his focus is on understanding and perhaps finding meaning in his loss; he is not interested in telling his life story.

So the question for you, the author, is very simple, though the answer may not be so easy: Are you setting out to tell your life story, or are you more interested in certain aspects of your life and how they relate to some other subject or area of interest? It’s up to you to decide.

Dear Author Enabler,
My late daughter Natalie Jacobs’ book is a novel based on the life of Franz Schubert called
When Your Song Breaks the Silence. I am not sure how to categorize it, as it seems to be somewhere between creative nonfiction and historical fiction. 
Judith Jacobs
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Creative nonfiction aspires to be compellingly written prose that uses the craft elements associated with literary fiction to present factually accurate stories about real people and events. The essential components are that the writing be both creative and fact-based. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff is an example; so is Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Historical fiction is, first and foremost, fiction. It tells a story that is set in the past, generally employing characters, events and places that are drawn from history. However, the plot and the main characters are usually fictional. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is historical fiction; so is In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

My guess is that your daughter’s book is historical fiction, in that she is writing about a real person in novel form. The fact that you refer to it as a novel suggests this—a novel cannot be creative nonfiction.

Dear Author Enabler,
I’m a new writer working on my first book that I would love to pursue into publication. However, I am not sure about copyright. When is the best time to obtain copyright for a novel, if ever? Should I do so before a pursuing an editor or a publisher?
Candice O’Garro
Camden, Delaware

Beginning authors often worry unnecessarily about their work being stolen or appropriated. This should not be your primary concern, or even high on your list. Reputable publishers won’t publish an author’s work without permission. Focus on writing a good book and then on how to sell it to a publisher. If you are particularly cautious, once your work is ready to be shopped, visit and download the Short Form TX. The cost is reasonable and the form is not difficult to fill out. Also, if you are self-publishing it is your responsibility to copyright your work.

But, remember, the primary and first task of an author is to write a good book. Everything else is secondary. So don’t let the details of publishing distract you from your main purpose: good writing.

Sam Barry, whose late wife Kathi Kamen Goldmark was a co-writer of this column for many years, will continue to offer advice to would-be writers on navigating the publishing world. Send your questions, along with your name and hometown, to

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