Jennifer Campbell: Starting and Running a Personal History Business

Call for book reviewers. See note below.
Jennifer Campbell

Book Review: Start & Run a
Personal History Business
Jennifer Campbell
Self-Counsel Press, 2011
Softcover, 179 pages, with CD for Windows

This book is on my reading guide at

There are thousands of books on how to write and how to make money writing. And there are thousands of books of memoirs and how to write memoirs. Based on my preliminary research, this is the only book I’ve found on how to turn writing memoirs into a business. Please let me know if you find others.

Whether they are called memoirists, lifestory writers, or personal historians, they do the same work: “help people tell their life stories and publish them.” Campbell takes readers through the essentials of getting paid for their work:
  • What you need to succeed.
  • Who your clients are.
  • Where to find clients.
  • How to price your product for profit.
  • Finding your niche.
  • Communicating the value of your services.
  • How to market yourself.
  • Sales and public speaking.
  • Ongoing education.
  • Listening and interviewing.
No educational degrees or coursework are required to become a personal historian; only a strong enjoyment of dealing with people, gathering information, and being creative. People with all kinds of backgrounds get into this business: teachers, writers, broadcasters, counselors, health-care workers, genealogists, scrapbookers, and people involved in eldercare.

Campbell says a personal history business has low overhead, your office can be anywhere in the world, the work is important and satisfying, there are few barriers, and it’s a young industry with unlimited potential. It can be a part-time business or a full-time business.

Prepare a business plan
She includes a personal assessment quiz to match your skills with desirable qualities. If you are ready to get started after taking the quiz, your next step is to learn everything can about the field. Search the library and Internet, find out about professional associations, and join a writing group. Then, prepare a business plan. Her business plan template includes the following questions about your potential customer:

“My target client is _______________.”
 “He or she is facing a problem about _______________.”
 “I can help him or her because _______________.”

In all, Campbell provides twenty sample forms or quizzes on the printed pages which are reproduced for downloading on the CD. The forms range from a start-up to-do list to an interview outline and include sample client agreements. The CD also includes a list of resources.

Interviewing is at the heart of it
She says the interview is the heart of personal history. “It is possible for anyone to press an ‘on’ button and ask some questions. It’s how you ask them and what you ask, and the rapport you build with your narrator that will determine the difference between a mediocre story and a special story.” As with all aspects of her book, she takes you carefully through the process of the interview: preparing yourself and your client, information gathering, time and place selection, keeping on track, family influences, and working with the frail elderly and terminally ill.

Campbell recommends developing a marketing plan that focuses on selling the benefits of your services and products. A marketing plan template helps you with that. Marketing materials include business cards, stationary, brochures, presentation kit, media kit, and business video. Related, but not under the heading of marketing, is information on setting up a website, using social media, and producing a sample book to show potential clients.

Jennifer Campbell is a professional writer, editor, personal historian, and owner/operator of Heritage Memoirs, a personal history business. She may be reached at

Photo courtesy Jennifer Campbell.

Have you turned writing memoirs into a business? What tips do you have for making it work well? Leave your comments  below.

Call for book reviewers. I’m seeking reviews of memoirs and of books on the craft of writing memoirs. Send me an email if there is a book you would like to review. 

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