q & a
a. Yes, let’s get that out of the way. I took the photo that I’m using as the background on this website in an old-fashioned candy store in Coronado, CA. I like it. It’s colorful, and it brings back memories – spending summers on Cape Cod, walking along the Atlantic City boardwalk, riding the Belmont Park Giant Dipper roller coaster in Mission Beach. What jogs your memory?
q. I don’t know if I want to write an autobiography, a life history, or a memoir? What are the differences?
a. First, I wouldn’t worry about labels, although there are differences, as well as similarities.
Autobiography or “your biography,” if you will, and life history are usually more encompassing than a memoir. They tell your story from A to Z. A family history does the same, as well as including stories you remember of your parents and grandparents and perhaps your children and their children, as they’re growing up. A memoir is often smaller in scope, focusing on one or several stories of people or events that you want to preserve.
To complicate the situation, but in a most loving way, you can write about someone else, perhaps a grandparent or close cousin. This could be done as a biography in the third person or as a memoir, based on your remembrances of that person.
It’s more important to decide what story you want to tell. Do you want to write a history of your business or your community? Do you want to include your entire life or an aspect of your life? Do you want to discuss growing up, raising a family, overcoming a crisis, dealing with old age, or all of the above?
There are so many questions. I’m happy to help you discover the answers.
q. How do you differ from other personal historians?
a. I am also a social historian. When writing life and family histories, I think it’s important to put stories in a social, political, or cultural context. I believe that such a perspective provides a greater understanding of a person’s recollections. History makes life and family histories come alive.
If this is of interest to you, I ensure that the projects I work on include such a perspective.
q. What education, experience, and skills do you have?
a. I have a B.A. in English and Social Psychology from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a M.Sc. in Communication Research from Boston University. Working on my later degree, in particular, I honed my interviewing skills, knowing what questions to ask and ensuring respondents feel comfortable.
As an advertising manager, I became adept at analyzing information and identifying trends.
Having worked for small businesses, I’m sensitive to both costs and deadlines. Understanding the need to be flexible, I can turn on a dime.
Working for myself, I know that it’s important to set goals, and organization is key to reaching them.
By nature I’m an optimistic person. If you want it to happen, I’ll make sure we make it happen. There is no problem that can’t be solved.
q. My children aren’t interested in my life history. What should I do?
a. Not everyone shares an interest in the past. It’s unfortunate, as the popular novelist Michael Crichton in his novel Timeline observed:
“If you don’t know your family’s history, then you don’t know anything. You are like a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”
However, it’s important to remember that you’re writing for yourself and, if not your children, then their children. Plenty of people, organizations, and libraries are very interested in your memories. These include city and state historical societies, as well as universities and religious institutions.
q. How do you work?
a. It’s a back and forth process. While I enjoy meeting my clients in person, this is not always possible. All of my interviews are conducted over the phone, usually in one-hour calls scheduled at your convenience. When I have finished a section or a chapter, I will send you a copy of the work-to-date for your comments and approval, before we move on.
q. What If I tell you an embarrassing story that I decide I don’t want to include in my book?
a. No problem. You have full control over the contents of your book. You review and approve any and all work, before it goes to the book designer or printer. If you change your mind after that, well, it can get a little messy and, possibly, costly, but nothing that can’t be fixed.
q. How much does a life or family history cost?
a. Costs are dependent on the size of the project, and each project is customized to meet your unique needs.
For smaller projects and tasks, such as organizing photos or letters and editing material that you’re already written, I charge an hourly rate.
For a full-scale life or family history, the approximate cost is subject to a host of variables, including the length of the manuscript and the amount of research required. Typical life histories are about 50,0000 words and run 150 pages plus additional pages for photographs.
With a manuscript in hand, it’s then necessary to decide how to preserve it. With today’s technologies, choices abound. These include self-publishing with one of the many digital printers that can be found on-line to using a more traditional approach to produce a hard or soft cover book on archival paper that will last generations.
The type of book you want affects your costs, as does use of black and white or color photographs, the service of a book designer, and the number of books to be printed, among other factors.
From start to finish it might take three to six months to prepare the manuscript and another two months to publish it. It can be a long process, but it’s a very fulfilling one.
q. How do I get started?
a. One decision you need to make is whether or not to go it alone. Many have. There are on-line courses and local workshops, as well as how-to and self-help books, to guide you along the way. So many memoirs written by the famous and infamous are available through your favorite bookstore or public library. Pick up a copy and see how others have dealt with their lives.
On the other hand, working with a personal biographer or historian can smooth out the process, ease your pain. It’s often a struggle to decide where to start and what to include. That’s where I come in.
I can help with research, writing, editing, and organizing, among other tasks.
If you want to discuss your project, whether you’ve started or you’re thinking of getting started, let me know at SusanMargBlog@gmail.com. I offer a FREE one-hour consultation to determine how I can help, how long it might take, and how much it might cost.