How to Get Paid Writing Memoirs

Many memoirs are written for personal satisfaction and often appear as books of less than one hundred pages distributed to a small number of family and friends. Often, no more that twenty-five books of a memoir like this are printed. There is no intention the memoir will become a best seller.

You can get paid writing these kinds of memoirs.

How to Get Clients
Let people know you are available to write memoirs. Create a website and a blog; print and hand out business cards; print and hand out ballpoint pens with your name, telephone number, and Web addresses; create your professional profile on Google, Yahoo!, and Linkedin; join a local or state writers’ club and become actively involved in their activities; be available to speak to organizations and professional groups.

Consider writing your first memoir for free for a family member or friend, then use the book as an example of your work.

What to Charge
You should charge a fee that best represents your skills and expertise. Determine what hourly wage you are prepared to work for. This could be $50, $100 or more. I have seen memoir writers charge $300 per hour. Turn your hourly rate into the total cost you will quote a client. It is not uncommon for memoir writers to charge $5,000, $10,000, or $50,000 for a project.

Offer your client a written contract that spells out what you will do and what the client will do. View a sample contract here.

Interviewing and Writing
Set up a series of interviews with your client. These could be sixty to ninety minutes each once a week for several weeks. Get a digital voice recorder for the interviews. After you have transcribed each interview (I prefer to pay someone to transcribe so I can concentrate on writing), you should edit, rewrite, and arrange the manuscript so events appear in a logical sequence and the finished manuscript sounds like the author. The editing and writing will take approximately ten times longer to finish than the interviews.

Present the final manuscript to your client. I prefer to put the manuscript on a CD rather than print out the pages. Your manuscript should have a contents page, page numbers, and chapter headings.

Producing a Book
Make a separate agreement for preparing the manuscript to become a book. I use ten percent of the interviewing and writing fees as an initial guide.

Producing a book involves finding a short-run printer, often called an on-demand printer; exchanging emails and telephone calls with the printer; determining the cover art and the appearance of the inside pages; proofreading; and printing and delivery of the finished books. The client pays for each of these services and pays you to facilitate their completion.

Here is wishing you the best of success with many happy clients.

File photo.

Denis Ledoux: Create Better Lifestories With Action

Guest article by Denis Ledoux
Denis Ledoux

Action drives your story and keeps your readers interested. Writing with effective action is the key to creating better lifestories.

1) The action of your story is its plot. Generally speaking, something must happen in your story to retain the interest of your reader. Some people have had roles in the political, economic, cultural life of their times. These people's lives exhibit an external drama. They, just like those of us who have not had these roles, must find a way to convey their stories in a way that has internal rather than merely external drama.

The amount of action necessary to retain interest varies enormously according to the sensibility and the education of different readers. Someone who prefers reading about ghosts and unpredictable supernatural occurrences will not find the English psychological novelist Virginia Woolf very interesting. But it remains true that readers--both of pulp fiction and of serious writing--need some sort of action to move the story along. Although much of Virginia Woolf's action is internalized, it counts as plot nonetheless.

2) The action of a story should start in the middle of things. If you are writing about the time you got fired from a job, don't start with the first vocational aptitude test you took in high school. Instead, start when you are given a warning by a supervisor and get to the unhappy conclusion. Only with this sort of quick pacing will you keep the interest of the reader.

3) Explanations and background material are best given briefly, often preferably in phrases. Avoid the lengthy, informational flashback. Providing too much context can overwhelm your story and dissipate the energy of the action.

Avoid writing something like: Groveton, an industrial city founded in 1809 and having a large population of Slovaks who started coming in 1892, Hungarians who first migrated in 1896, Byelorussian who arrived in 1899, the Greeks whose numbers swelled after 1901, and Armenians who arrived around 1909, was the birthplace of my father.

4) To heighten the drama of your story, place your action in a context of historical movements. If you were the first woman in your family to get your own bank loan, you might mention how banks nationally were reacting to the phenomenon of two-worker families and responding to the realities of couples having separate financial lives. You might include how you were not raised to take responsibility for your own financial life and you might mention how others reacted. In so doing, you have created a panorama of a historical movement. You have created a larger context for your story, a situation that is peopled by an Everywoman!

By utilizing these tips you will be able to write a story with an action-driven plot capable of catching your reader's interest—and keeping it. Action is the key to better writing.

Good luck with your writing!

Denis Ledoux is an author and founder of Soleil Lifestory Network which certifies persons to teach memoir writing. Photo courtesy Denis Ledoux.

Confederate Girlhoods: New History of Springfield, Missouri from the Perspective of Women

Book Review
Confederate Girlhoods: A Women's History of Early Springfield, Missouri
Edited by Craig A. Meyer, with Casey D. White, Adam C. Veile, and Amber V. Luce
Moon City Press, 2010
Softcover, 396 pages with appendices and index


For the most part, history is written by men and about men. It was refreshing and enlightening for me to participate in a roundtable discussion at the Carnegie Midtown Library, Springfield, Missouri of a new book about a history of Springfield written from the perspective of women.

The book, Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri, was published by Moon City Press, part of the English Department at Missouri State University. It brings together in one volume many of the letters, memoirs, family histories, stories, journals, photographs, and newspaper clippings in the Campbell-McCammon Collection at The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County.

Springfield founder John Polk Campbell came to southwest Missouri from Tennessee in 1825 to expand his family’s mule and horse trading business. The Campbells were slave owners who were staunch supporters of the Confederacy during the Civil War. John Purdue McCammon came to Springfield from an Iowa farm family in 1879 and became a prominent attorney and founded an insurance company.

The correspondence and stories of the Campbell-McCammon women reveal their “struggles, disappointments, joys, courage, determination, and sorrow,” writes Greene County Associate Commissioner Roseann Bentley in her foreword to the book. At a time when about the only things available to women were teaching, marriage, and writing the women stood resolutely for temperance, preservation of historical places, education, business opportunities, dignity and honor for the dead, entrepreneurship, and improving the lives of women.

Among their achievements: They were founding members of the Ladies Saturday Club, which is still in existence and is the oldest federated women’s club west of the Mississippi River; led the effort for reburial of Confederate soldiers in National Cemetery; were leaders in establishing Hazelwood Cemetery; and they donated land for what is today Jarrett Middle School. Louisa Campbell sewed medicines into her petticoat and smuggled them to Confederate soldiers after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The Campbell homestead became a hospital where Campbell women and young girls cared for Confederate and Union wounded and dying. All of this and much more were separate from their daily heroism to just survive in frontier America.

Primary editor Craig A. Meyer, a graduate of the English Department of Missouri State University and a doctoral candidate at Ohio University, worked with twenty other editors, transcribers, and compilers over a period of four years to bring the Campbell-McCammon materials to publication. Although The History Museum for Springfield-Greene County has done its best to preserve the original materials since they were donated by Lucy McCammon in 1990, some deterioration has occurred. The materials are now in archival appropriate sleeves, folders, and boxes and many have been digitized.

It is a great service to researchers and to those with a casual interest in history—as well as a tribute to the legacy of the Campbell-McCammon families—that the materials have a new life and a new audience in this book. It is unfortunate that similar materials, by men or women, regarding Springfield in the Civil War era are not available from a Union perspective. There are Union materials in the library at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, but they originated elsewhere, many in St. Louis.

The release of the book this month puts Moon City Press squarely onto the playing field for observances in 2011 of the one hundred fiftieth year since the start of the Civil War.

Photo: Some participants in the roundtable discussion. Left to right: Joan Hampton-Porter, James Baumlin, Craig A. Meyer, Pat Pike. Photo by Wayne Groner.

Genealogy in Memoirs Can Be Tricky

There is a distinct difference between genealogies and memoirs, although they can be used together effectively to create a much more informed book. Memoirs lean heavily on storytelling, where genealogies lean heavily on dates and official records.

I prefer storytelling to a lot of genealogy. Genealogy searches can go on forever
(theoretically they will take you back to Adam and Eve). Unless you really know what you’re doing, or can find someone who does, my advice is to steer clear of a heavy reliance on genealogy in your memoirs and stick to telling stories. Stories are much more readable and much more fun. I know, there are those who disagree with me on that.

Researching can be a crutch
Then, too, you can get caught up in the process of research and think you’re doing a great job, when in reality you may be putting off writing stories that matter. I was in the home of person who showed me her office that was piled from floor to ceiling on three walls with cardboard boxes filled with thousands of notes on her family. Her desk and computer were against the other wall. She never got to actually writing her family memoirs.

A distant cousin of my wife, along with his wife, spent thirty years assembling and writing stories and genealogies of my wife’s family. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, is a well-done work of more than 463 pages, plus 47 pages of appendices and an index. There are tidbits of insights into the lives of persons listed and a few short stories—as well as lots of photos which are fun to look at—but for the most part it’s a genealogical listing and copying of official records of just about everyone in the family from 1756 to today. Don’t get me wrong; we are thrilled to have this fabulous and complete family record. If you use genealogies in your memoirs consider using them sparingly.

I recently helped a man write his memoirs that included some genealogies and lots of photos and stories. The finished hardcover book, size 8.5 inches by 11 inches, has only 67 pages, including four pages of blank family record sheets and note pages for other family members to start their own searches. There are ten major family headings in the book in which we followed only the genealogical lines of the author’s direct predecessors. We listed others, but we only touched on them briefly, choosing instead to focus on his direct links to the past and on stories more than genealogy.

Where to get more information
There are too-many-to-count books, libraries and websites where you can get information on searching genealogies. An excellent place to start is the Midwest Genealogy Center, Independence, Missouri, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library. Information on its many free services are at www.mymcpl.org/genealogy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints arguably has the world’s most extensive collection of genealogies. Besides its Family Center Library in Salt Lake City, Utah there are Family History Centers throughout the world. More at www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp.

Also check with your local librarian, bookstore, or online bookstore for other resources. Type the word genealogy into your computer’s browser field.

Final thought: Don’t become overwhelmed by the process of genealogy. You’ll have a lot more fun telling stories.

Photo: Midwest Genealogy Center main atrium. Courtesy Charvex.