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Frequently Asked Questions
- Why a personal memoir?
- How do you proceed?
- How much does it cost?
- What if I can't afford a full-length book project?
- How long does it take?
- What is a video documentary of one's life?
- How far will you travel to do interviews?
Why a personal memoir?
Memoir writing presents an opportunity for focusing your attention on what you have experienced and done during your lifetime. It is a way of reminiscing and assessing the roads you chose, how you lived, and what was important to you, then leaving a written legacy encapsulating your life story. The well-known author Antwone Fisher, speaking at a commencement service at Cleveland State University, said, "You can make yourself live forever through writing. Do not pass through life without leaving something behind for others to learn from your experiences - even if no one but your children read it. Write of your dreams. Write alone and in a quiet place. Be honest. You may discover a you you've never known." Anyone who has done a family history is well aware of the dearth of material on the lives of most people from past generations. I'm of the opinion that everyone should leave some record of what they did with their life. Twenty pages of typescript detailing the more significant turning points in one's life plus a discussion of the most important lessons one learned and the values that one would like to convey to one's grandchildren and subsequent generations should be a minimum. A few hours of audio or video recording is a perfectly acceptable alternative. A full-length book is a more challenging option. A personal historian can help make it manageable and provide the expertise needed to produce a well composed final product. Back to top
How do you proceed?
Fifteen or more hours of recorded interviews are required for gathering sufficient materials needed to fashion a full-length book. Five to six hours will cover the essentials for a short book. These interviews can be spread out over two to six weeks, with meetings of two to three hours each. The interviewing is generally conducted in the client's home, though any other mutually agreed on venue is acceptable. My questioning will help prod your memory and I will advise you on aspects of life to consider, while at the same time, I let you tell your own story in your own unique manner. Towards the end of the interviewing attention is given to your mature reflections on your life experience. These interviews will be transcribed and from those transcripts I will work to fashion a life story that is more than just a chronological listing of life events and rambling memories. Keeping the narrative in your own words, I edit the material into a compelling, readable drama of your personal history and the meaning you have experienced in life. You will review a first draft at your leisure and more interviewing may follow in preparing for revisions and additions. A second draft will then be prepared, followed by final revisions made in preparation for printing. Altogether, if drafts are returned to me in a timely manner, a project takes six to nine months to complete. You can see what the finished product looks like and read passages from some of the memoirs I've helped others complete by following this link.
Self-publishing a finished manuscript is the most commonly chosen path. Here I can assist in designing the layout for your book and preparing additional materials (e.g., photos and documents) for inclusion. I also provide digital printing and binding options for limited runs and can arrange for off-set printing of larger print runs. Back to top
The Cost of a Personal History Project:
You pay for what fits your budget, with a writing project progressing from interviewing and transcription services, to editing work, to the careful organizing and rewriting needed to produce a well crafted memoir. This will give you the opportunity to get your story digitally recorded and then decide which way you want to proceed. There is no obligation to proceed beyond each stage in the process.
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- Stage One: Recorded interviews transcribed
Interviews take place at your home, office or other chosen location. You can relate your story as you want or let me guide the interview with prompts drawn from my experience in interviewing others who I've helped put together their life stories. The cost for this work is $160 per hour of interview. This price includes the cost of transcribing the interview. You receive the digital audio recordings and a digital copy of the transcript on a disk, plus a printed transcript of the interviews.
- Stage Two, Option One: Editing of transcripts
This is a less expensive option if one desires to have a readable account of one's life without having to pay for a more refined finished product. Editing generally includes some reorganization of the material; placing the interviewer's questions in the responses; and adding transitional phrases and needed explanatory embellishments to make for an easy to read manuscript. The cost for this service is added to the interviewing and transcribing expense and is calculated on an hourly rate at $55 per hour. Three to four hours of editing for each hour of recorded interview is generally needed to complete this work. The manuscript can then be put into a book format, printed and bound. (See Stage Three below.)
- Stage Two, Option Two: Well-crafted Memoirs or Autobiographies
This option is generally chosen as an alternative to finishing with an edited transcript, as it involves considerable work crafting the completed product. Careful organization, editing and rewriting of the material is undertaken to achieve a well-crafted presentation of your life story. Three drafts will be written, with opportunity for revisions following each draft. You pay an advance on the first two drafts and a final amount calculated by pro-rating the length of the completed book. A standard size book up to 100 pages in length will have a total cost of $15,000. Longer books will be pro-rated. A 200 page work will run about $30,000. Other options are negotiable. Samples of some memoirs I've helped with can be viewed by following this link.
- Stage Three: Book Design, Printing and Binding
I can help in guiding your book through the self-publishing process. The page design work needed to make a manuscript ready for printing, as well as the printing and binding of a book is an additional expense and depends on your choices. Straight forward, conventional book designing, with eight to ten pages of photos will cost $400 to $600, depending on the length of the book, the number of photos included, insertion of genealogical charts and other graphics, etc. If more creative design work is desired, additional graphic design expenses will be added. Quotes for printing and binding will then be solicited from local printers. For a short-run of digitally printed, paperback books the cost is generally about $5 to $6 per book, with a 30 book minimum. Hardbound copies run about $30 each. Large runs of 500 to 1000, printed on an offset press, can bring the cost of paperback books down to $3 to $4 and the cost of hardbound books down to $7 to $10. Color photos and dust jackets will increase these prices some.
Other Professional Writing Services:
- Editing of completed manuscripts.
If you have written your life story, a local or family history, or some other story and would like professional writing assistance to enhance the quality of the finished product, this is a service I frequently provide for clients. I can also read through your manuscript and suggest ways you can revise it yourself. The cost of this service can follow that of editing a manuscript or crafting a literary product (see options one and two above) depending on the amount of work needed or desired. I can provide estimates after reviewing your manuscript.
- Researching and Writing Company and Organization Histories
The cost for a well researched and written company or organization history will depend on the scope of the project and the nature of the research involved, particularly the accessibility of the research data. An average size project of 150 - 200 pages of text, where data is readily available in selected archive files and through interviews with company principals and personnel, generally runs around $30,000.
What if I can't afford a full-length book project?
The important thing is to get your story recorded. Option one above is a good way to go. Five or six hours of recorded and transcribed interviews will preserve the critical part of your life story. Not everyone needs 200 pages to tell about their adventures. You can pack a lot into a 75-100 page book focusing on a compelling storyline and convey to others much about who you are and what has made life meaningful for you.
Additionally, there are a variety of ways to finance a memoir writing project. Frequently, the adult children in a family share the costs of contracting a personal historian to assist their parents in writing their memoirs. Church congregations sometimes give as a gift the assistance of a personal historian to a retiring pastor. The sale of a memoir in local bookstores can help defray costs. Back to top
How long does it take?
The interviewing is generally spread out over two to six weeks. Thereafter, with a lengthy project, I need six to eight weeks to organize the material and edit it into a grammatically correct and readable storyline. Much depends on how long a client takes to review the drafts and decide on changes and additions. If these drafts are reviewed and returned in a timely manner, a completed manuscript can be finished in four months or less. Back to top
How far will you travel to do interviews?
If you knew about my passion for traveling and how much of the world I've seen, you wouldn't be asking. As long as you are willing to pay my expenses, I'll be there. We'll try to do most of the interviewing in a day or two and follow-up with some telephone interviews afterward.