Autobiography: How to Pitch And Sell A Movie Or Book Based On Your Life Story

Ron Burgundy book cover

There are ways to get a movie made or book published about your autobiography. However, it’s an uphill battle. Let me share some tactics you can use when pitching your autobiography or memoir.

A difficult aspect of selling your autobiography is that you can lose perspective. When people accept or reject aspects of your autobiography, it’s easy to take it personally.

Therefore, to have the best chance to get your autobiography published or produced, you need to be able to see the pluses and minuses of the project in a more objective way.

What If Someone Else Was Pitching Your Autobiography?

Imagine how someone you don’t know would pitch your autobiography.

  • How would they start?
  • What elements would they highlight?
  • What would they leave out?
  • How would they describe YOU?

Most decision-makers are suspicious of people who are pitching autobiographical projects. This is because there are a lot of people people who believe “my life should be a movie/book,” when their life isn’t the kind of story that would interest a large audience.

One of the best ways to sell your autobiography is to partner with someone known for working with biographical material, and let them pitch it. That provides a crucial ingredient to getting a decision-maker interested: third-party validation.

Accumulate Third-party Validation

The single best thing you can do to make a decision-maker see the value of your autobiography is to convince other decision-makers that it is valuable.

For example:

  • Get a story about you written in the local paper.
  • Get a national magazine to feature you.
  • Attach a producer who specializes in biography.
  • Attach a star to the project who wants to play “you.”

What Is The ‘Movie Story’ Version Of Your Autobiography?

Thinking about what your autobiography would look like as a movie can help you clarify the most compelling aspects of the project. This will help you to pitch it effectively (whether you want it to be a movie or not).

Movies need to have a simple, clear story that maximizes visual interest. This often requires making significant adjustments to the actual events of your life. That’s why real lives and movie versions often differ (more on this here and here).

If your story was going to be a movie, how would you have to shape or adjust your story to fit the medium?

See Your Autobiography From The Decision-Maker’s POV

Lucky Man book coverAutobiographies, whether a book like Lucky Man (by and about Michael J. Fox), a movie like 8 Mile (about and starring Eminem), or a TV show like Louie (by, about, and starring Louis C.K.) have lots of potential to make money.

However, decision-makers such as agents, executives, and publishers typically do not want to invest in an autobiography unless it meets at least one of two standards:

  1. It must be incredible, timely, and relevant.
  2. It must already be successful in some other medium.

Incredible, Timely, And Relevant

You may have an unusual, amazing life story. But if it is not also timely and relevant to what’s happening in our culture, decision-makers are unlikely to want to invest.

To develop a more compelling pitch for your project:

  • Identify famous historical analogues to your story.
  • Link your story to trends in contemporary culture.
  • Reference current news stories on the same topic.

Here are two autobiographies that are in development. I’ve chosen them because neither author is a celebrity though both have extraordinary stories.

American Sniper bookScreen Shot 2013-10-16 at 9.05.17 AMSomething to notice about these two examples—neither was sold immediately as a movie. American Sniper was a successful book first, and Saroo Brierly’s story received significant international press coverage, then was sold as a book to Penguin and as a movie to See-Saw Films (The King’s Speech).

This demonstrates one of the key ingredients of selling your autobiography: proving that it has been successful in another medium.

Already Successful In Another Medium

Pam Grier bookIf you are a celebrity, this is a form of success in another medium. Being a famous actor, businessperson, or other “star” is one kind of evidence that there may be a market for material about YOU.

So, for example, an autobiography in development is:

However, if you’re not a celebrity, there are other ways to prove that your story is worth telling. Here are some things I have seen people do that helped them to sell an autobiographical project:

  • Getting national press
  • Performing a financially successful one-person show
  • Distributing a short film on YouTube which goes viral
  • Creating a popular blog about your life
  • Publishing articles that leverage your experience
  • Becoming a public speaker

How To Use Your Personal Story

This may surprise you, but if you’re pitching an autobiography, this is what you should do:

If possible, pitch the project without referencing yourself at all.

Prove that the story stands on its own. Then, if you get sufficient interest from the decision-maker and you get asked how you came up with the idea, with humility and brevity you can describe the part of your own life that gave rise to the project.

This strategy is more effective than leading with your connection to the material because:

  1. You demonstrate professionalism by showing that the story comes first.
  2. Your personal connection adds credibility to the material.
  3. Your personal experience acts as a “button” to an already strong pitch.

Do you have a favorite autobiographical project? Let me know in the comments.

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I’ll be speaking at the AFM Pitch Conference in LA on November 9th.  Tickets are $95 until October 18.  Come and join us!

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33 Comments

  1. Hi I have a true life story for a book and movie. I will and won’t reveal on here.. but I can say almost everything I tell … their is proof to it all… I’m looking for someone who I can trust who is in search of doing a film… or writing a book on true life events of someone family… I know you all heard this before … awwww I have a great story… but the events that happened in me and my kids life is different…. I Pray that Someone Serious will Contact me.. And I know This will be one of the best Book Seller and one of the Best True life stories out Movie. I cry as I type this cause its so much.. I just don’t know how to get my story out.. But I know someday someone will contact me and beileve in me and be willing to sit and listen to everything.. Thanks

    • Hi Tanisha. The first step I recommend is to write down as much of your story as you can. This can be therapeutic, but also will give you a place to start when talking to producers or journalists.

  2. hello and hi

    My name is neiman Johnson and I have an incredibleh amazing story. When I was 3 a family member tried to human sacrifice me. They only got as far branding me. When i was five I saved a woman from a serial killer who put her in a woodchipper. I chose not to go public so it was never put in a newspaper. I later went on to save other lives from rapeS and overdoseS and I almost saved someone from being lynched when I was 17 (1999). I later found out about nine eleven before it happened and gave a whole whole of ideas that are out now and a billion people use them on a daily basis. I asked for rights and change in return. this is my story in a nutshell. And I’m currently writing an autobiography. I’m on year 2006 I plan on stopping at year 2014.

    I’d like to know if I have a story that has the potential to be picked up the movie makers?

    • Hi Neiman,

      You’ve obviously had some shocking life experiences, but this doesn’t mean that your life rights are likely to be purchased by movie makers. The majority of people who have their life rights purchased have had stories in the national or international press first to validate and verify their experiences. This isn’t to diminish your traumatic experiences, only to share that it is very rare that life rights are purchased for movies.

  3. I have a terrible story that happend and is happening to me now ..my child was stolen from me and taken to louisianna by her birthmother..and bought and sold in a shady adoption without my knowledge …the witness on the adoption came forward and told me what they had done ….im no writer ….but if given the right person I would ..love to have my story put in the public’s eye about what is happening in america to poor people…and how adoption corporations are buying and selling our children I’m in court now ..police have an investigation and I want my story heard…

  4. My life is about having to live with my parents till I was 30 to finally get married. During that time I was unemployed for 6 years due to social phobias and anxiety / I had a false visionary brainwash me by forcing me to become a nun in her religious community. It was a 3 year battle etc there’s more to the story , the extra details , just think my journey would make a good movie

  5. I have a true life story about me and my siblings that lived with a stepdad who done horrible things to us when we were kids, the end result was he tried to kill me and my 2 sisters because he was afraid of us telling on him, he did shoot one of my sisters in the back. I feel my true life story would make a great movie and I would like someone get in touch with me and tell me what I need to do to get started please.

    • Donna, I am so sorry that you had to experience something so horrible. The first step is to get as much down of your story as you can in writing. Some people like to type out their thoughts and others prefer to record a conversation and then have the words transcribed. When you have the story written down, then you will have a document that you can share with others (potential producers, screenwriters, managers, others who can help).

  6. Hi,i think i have a great idea for a book or movie…i am Bulgarian ,half of my live was the communist regime,and i grow up as an orphan,(to be orphan in Bulgaria is totally different than in America)and i think ,my story is going to be address to orphan kids,as a success- real story,not to give up you dreams. After all ,i am a mother of 3,and a grand mother.I can say that,all my dream’s become true.I am american citizen now,and all my kids and grand kids are with me in USA. I have a hard time ,writing in English,that is the reason ,not to write my story by myself.

  7. WOW! I stopped everything for three days and totally submerged myself in this reservoir. Came up for air. With years of Forensic Experience-pointing my creative compass in one direction. Haha! Thank Again, and Again and Again…

  8. My, My, My… A reservoir of information, I dipped my bucket in this GREAT body of needed information. Engulfed,Amazingly Overwhelmed. Thank You.

  9. Hi Stephanie,
    I’m from Iraq originally. and in the last 5 years before the second gulf war (2003), I managed to recruit few young men into joining me to form a small group of freedom fighter. We fought Saddam’s regime at night, infiltrating execution camps to save innocent victims from being executed (for no reason other than to terrorize the rest of the Iraqi people) the next morning.
    we’ve lost a good friend and a heroic member of our group, sacrificing his life to save ours. We were just young men who lived an ordinary day life as university students, but at night, we gambled on our lives in order to save the innocents. I was too close to being captured by that ruthless regime, if it weren’t for the war to break out in 2003, right after I was blacklisted by the government.
    I live in the U.S. now as a political asylee, because I worked hand in hand with the U.S. troops in Iraq during and after the war, to supply poor villages with food and medicine… Only to find myself blacklisted once again by the new rising resistance who saw me as “a traitor who works for the Americans”.
    A good friend of mine is a writer, and she helped me condense all those moments of my life in a book. The problem was (and it still is), it’s too hard to pitch a book to publishers or movie producers. And we lack the right connections.
    So I’d really appreciate any advice.

    Best,
    Caesar

    • You have a great story. But to sell the book, you need a great pitch. I recommend my course, How To Be A Professional Writer. It’s the equivalent of working with me for ten or more sessions (a value of approximately $4000). Then, look for the right pitchfest situation to get yourself in front of potential publishers and see what their feedback is on your pitch. This will not only help you further improve your pitch, but you may develop the connections you need with decision-makers and fellow authors. Once you’ve done that, let me know and we’ll talk about the next steps.

  10. Enough of a story on my web site for a movie? Perhaps a book since much of the psychosis was in my head? You have good advice about changing the story to make it more appealing.

  11. I would like to contact some writers or producers regarding true life story which ia great for either movie or a book.

    Regards,
    AIDA

  12. Another great article, Stephanie, but you forgot one thing… greed. My life story has been pitched in Hollywood since it first came to the surface in 1990; the first star to be interested in it was Tom Cruise (we share the same lawyer), but weather it was the studio (all the major ones), executives (like Michael Eiser’s straight $2 million offer), or producers (can name any one of them), it was, they all loved the story, but I would have to take a back seat, let them have the script, which they would make into a “glorius film,” and hey, isn’t it cool that I’d see it on the big screen… while they make the money and I get the bragging rights (and to be fair, Eiser was the only one that offered money, but I could make that amount on the merchandise alone). Every time I seem to come close to a deal, the Greed Monster rears it’s ugly head, and it’s back to the beginning. Now that the documentary is currently being filmed, perhaps that will give credit to a feature film.

  13. As I’ve been working to bring the Cecil B. DeMille biopic (based on my novel) to the big screen, I keep getting calls from people telling me to make a movie about my own story. After spending half my life in and out of prisons and rehabs struggling with drug addiction, a writer sees “the Light” and turns his life around, becoming a bestselling author, award winning screenwriter, producer, and creative writing professor who helps others find their inner light and share their stories with the world. Or something like that. See: http://www.prlog.org/12206566-creative-writing-professor-reveals-the-healing-power-of-story.html

  14. Wonderful article, Stephanie. I work with many aspiring writers who want to tell their life stories. I will be sure to provide this link on my Transformed by Writing website and facebook page. Thanks so much for the great points and perspective.

  15. Hi Stephanie,

    I’ve been working on a project based on incidents in my life while my parents attended college in San Francisco in the 60’s. Such a surfeit of material! I’m trying to break a story through it without going “Slacker” style indie. So far, I keep ending up as comic relief in the larger picture… :-\

    Best,
    Chris

  16. Hi Stephanie,

    I have an auto-bio in script form and a pretty good web site about my action/comedy that is based on a true story… called Hot Foot! (see hotfootfilms.com).

    I am about to start trying to raise seed money by advertising to foot doctors/surgeons… The budget ($7m) is complete, so are the Biz Plan and Private Placement Memorandum.

    Wondered if you’d take a look at the site and would like to know more?

    Regards,

    Frank Sacks*
    writer/producer
    310 597-9888

    Hot Foot! will be my 5th feature film… my other credits are on IMDB.

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