5 Tips for Getting People to Read Your Travel Memoir

What’s the one thing people fear almost as much as being asked Want to see my vacation slideshow? It’s being told that you just got back from [[fill in the name of your country]], and boy do you have some stories to tell!
Alright, maybe it’s not that bad, but if you want people to read and enjoy your memoir (not run from it), follow these 5 tips to make sure you create something that people will read and remember.


Tip #1 – Lie. You don’t need to tell every single word of the truth, especially if the truth took you to boring places, or if you went to interesting places but were forced to spend time with boring people. Your readers don’t want to read about real people; they want to read about interesting real people. I stole that line from another writer, but since he shared it conversationally I don’t feel obligated to footnote it (thanks, Bob).


Tip #2 – If you absolutely must use the French word, or the Latvian word, or the Chinese word for ordinary things like tower or street or restaurant, make sure those words are easy for people to pronounce in their heads. For example, if I tell you the Chinese word for chef is shurfu, you can pronounce that word, even if you don’t pronounce it correctly. But if I tell you the Chinese word for young is xiao, I have no right to expect you to pronounce it correctly, and you have every right to be annoyed every time you’re forced to try (and no, x-eo is nowhere close to right).


Tip #3 – If you are struggling with your memoir, tear off the first 50 pages and start from there. Then your story will start in the middle, about where your story gets very interesting, and not at the moment of your birth, which might be interesting, but probably is only to you. I stole this tip from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. during a speech he delivered called How To Get A Job Like Mine, during which he spoke almost entirely about the importance of the U.S. peace movement.


Tip #4 – Write more about people than places. A foreign place is interesting to people who have been there, seen there, felt there, smelled and tasted there. You have to be a pretty polished and experienced writer to get people to see, feel, taste, and smell places they have not visited themselves. People, on the other hand, are immediately interesting (assuming you’ve followed tip #1). Write more about people than you do the specific place you lived, then, gradually, start working the place in, behind the scenes, as part of the story instead of being the story. And here is tip 4B – Boy meets girl always works. Always. Find some relationship to feature in your memoir. If not boy meets girl, son meets father, daughter understands mother, student respects teacher.


Tip #5 – You don’t need to have lived through a spy story, or have been chased by security forces, or have gotten involved in illegal activities to make your memoir interesting, but something needs to have happened that readers will care about, if not to you, to someone in your story. If you are going to write a memoir, make sure the story you tell would be interesting even if it took place in the country you normally live in

Okay, that should get you started, correct your course, or give you enough energy to keep going. Here is a bonus tip: If you are going to write travel memoirs… you need to read travel memoirs. Here are a few you might find interesting:


Iron and Silk, by Mark Salzman. If you read Salzman’s book about China and my book about China, you’ll swear we lived in two completely different countries. Iron and Silk tells an engaging story about Salzman’s relationship with his martial arts master.


Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge, by Jill Fredston. A woman and her husband row the arctic circle – all of it. This book is a beautiful celebration of exploration, both personal and natural. Funny, well-written, and honest.


The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World, by Andy Merrifield. This book celebrates the search for tranquility and a slower pace of life. You must be a seasoned, patient reader to fall for this book, and if you are you’ll enjoy a long and interesting walk.


An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof. For anyone who wants to throw in the towel, live their own way, or sail half way around the world to find happiness.  


Any Bill Bryson book about travel. Bryson’s books are easy to get lost in, and are a nice mixture of inspiration and insight.

Before you go, why not leave the name of your favorite travel memoir in the Comment box?