Does someone you know want to write a memoir?

Elderly person writing a memoirEver had a writing project just pop up and take over your life? This month I’m going to tell you about the memory book I’m working on just now­ — partly because it’s taken over my head­ — but mainly because, now I come to think of it, you might be able to make money from something similar. Or make people happy for nothing if that’s your thing.

I’m compiling and publishing a little book for the family and friends of an acquaintance who died a year or so ago. Now, with the internet age and all, this particular project has been made simple by the fact that this pal left behind several thousand fascinating and witty emails. He was a member of an email list of a couple of hundred people, who all bickered and joked and swapped news and stories on a regular basis. After the nth person said, ‘I wish I could read his emails again, they were so funny,’ I realised that we could actually do it.

We scanned the archives for every email he ever sent to the group and I began the task of sifting through for nuggets of pure brilliance. Now the whole is edited and I am preparing a small book in mobi, epub, paperback and pdf formats. It won’t be sold; I’m using Createspace for the paperback but won’t be marketing it anywhere. The circulation will be 20 or 30 people at the most. A friend designed the cover, half a dozen people have chipped in with a few bucks to cover the cost of a handful of paperback copies for his immediate family and the rest of us will either take an electronic version or pay the basic production cost of a paperback.

Now then, here’s the thing. I’m doing this as a labour of love because the chap concerned meant a lot to me, ditto the other people who are involved. Modern ways of doing things — video cameras, hand-held recorders, email, voice recognition software, etc.­ — have made memory books and memoirs very easy to compile. Plus, you have the skills (or the tutorials here at IU) to get it done.

Most of us have used Createspace or Lulu for print books, and maybe Smashwords or KDP for eBooks, so you know how easy it is. If you want to bypass the sales sites completely, here’s a tutorial from BigAl on making perfectly acceptable ebooks with Calibre. If you are comfortable using WordPress, my favourite site for making eBooks that bypass the Amazon/Smashwords system is PressBooks, where you can produce print-ready pdf and web-based formats as well as epub and mobi.

If you normally pay someone to format books for you, I guarantee you are paying less than someone who wants a family memory book and has no idea where to start. I have a friend who is a reporter on our local newspaper; she is often asked to write someone’s memoir, just as a record for the family. I asked her what she charges and had trouble closing my mouth again. ‘And do you turn it into a book for them?’ ‘Oh no, I just write it, then they can have a book made if they want.’ You can guess where these people are going for their book can’t you?

Modern palliative care encourages the dying to ‘tell their story’ somehow. Families bring in recorders, videos, notebooks, etc. and do the best they can, but then they are frequently left with a load of raw material and no way to refine it. I’m not suggesting that you go out and fleece the elderly, but why not let your local hospice/funeral home/newspaper know that you offer a memory book service? Not everyone will have produced reams of emails like my obliging pal, but letters can be transcribed, friends interviewed, favourite stories repeated. ‘Tell me about the time when…’ can bring forth a tale that everyone loves to hear just one more time…how fantastic to have it in a book for the future.

We know that there are plenty of tools that are free and easy to use. Nobody else does; if they did, Author Solutions would be out of business. So, if you were to charge reasonably for your time, you would be providing a much-needed service for a fraction of the cost that people expect.

My friend’s Wit and Wisdom will be out for Christmas and I hope it will make some close friends tearily happy. And then maybe I’ll start pitching the service around too.

Author: Carolyn Steele

Carolyn writes websites, copy and nonsense about emigrating. She also occasionally ambles off to do something daft in case it’s interesting enough to write about. Her latest book grew from the blog Trucking in English, and you can learn more at her blog and her Amazon author page.

10 thoughts on “Does someone you know want to write a memoir?”

  1. This is *such* a lovely idea. I know so many elderly folks whose stories should be told. Even if it’s done for free, I bet it could open a lot of doors to other opportunities. Fantastic, Carolyn!

  2. Excellent ideas, Carolyn. After writing my aunt’s biography and chatting to folks about their own stories, I have wanted to go around to retirement homes to talk with folks about this very thing, but have never gotten around to actually doing it. I published my own dad’s autobiography, and it’s been a treasure trove for the entire family. It makes me sad to think how many stories are lost, just because they don’t get written down. And you’re right–this could be a very rewarding vocation if anyone wanted to really get into it. I hope if anyone does, they let us know how it goes.

  3. It’s not the same as telling your own story. Sometimes you have to use threat and torture to get the words to the surface and pull the story out. Whatever it takes. Right?

    Nice post. Thank you!

    1. Well, possibly short of thumbscrews. 😉 Not everyone has the need I don’t think, but so many do, and don’t have the means. Thank you for stopping by and commenting Brenda. 🙂

  4. What a great idea, Carolyn! And talk about a meaningful gift.

    (Sometime before my mother died, I tried to get her to sit down with me and a tape recorder. But she wouldn’t do it. I’m still disappointed.)

    1. I realise now that my son has no direct tales of his grandparents, and I wish I’d tried harder back then. Perhaps this is why I’m doing it for another family right now. It’s also, actually the reason I began writing, come to think of it. Although that didn’t turn out as planned either, lol.

  5. I’ve just done what you wrote about, Carolyn. I had to take an emergency trip to be the caregiver for my parents when my brother broke his leg (who was their caregiver). I stayed with my family for 7 months, sleeping on the living room sofa. I wrote my experiences and my parents’ reminisces as blog posts, then compiled them into a book, A Day Out with Mom, just now available online. When going over the proof, I was visiting Mom and went over chapters with her, a real unifying experience.

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