Writing Memoirs for Others

By Eric Hammer

(A business idea for writing memoirs as a service.)

According to surveys, about half of all Americans believe they have "at least one book" in them, with many of them wanting to write their memoirs. So why don’t more people try their hands at writing that memoir they wanted to put down into words? Surely they have something of interest to say about their own lives.

Reality Sets in When People Try to Write that Book

The reality is however, that while many Americans believe they have "at least one book" in them, "in them" is exactly where it ought to stay. Writing a book is hard work, much harder than most people realize and when people do sit down to try to write their memoirs, they quickly realize that they simply don’t know enough about the mechanics of writing a book to actually get their ideas out on paper so that they will sound like something worth reading. This conundrum however leads to an interesting concept for those of us who do know how to write and who in fact write for a living – writing custom books for hire.

Ghostwriting, with a Twist

Now, if you’ve been around the writing world for a while, you’re probably thinking that this is nothing new – ghostwriting is as old as the publishing industry and there is nothing special about someone hiring a ghostwriter to help them write a book that they simply feel incapable of writing themselves. True enough, but we’ve come up with a twist that you may not have thought of.

Most People’s Lives Are Interesting to Family and Friends Only

Here’s the reality of the fact: if you didn’t have a terrible childhood or do something particularly interesting or noteworthy with your life, then your life story may be fascinating reading to future historians wanting to know what everyday life was like in our times but other than that, it will be of interest primarily to family and friends who would enjoy a written record of their loved one’s lives. When people realize this, the idea of spending the $10K+ a professional writer will charge for ghostwriting a memoir rapidly becomes unappealing. The twist on traditional ghostwriting then is to allow people to create a memoir that can be quickly deployed without a writer spending six months or a year working on the manuscript.

How it Works

In essence, instead of the usual interviews with clients and follow up interviews, you would have clients write their own life story. You create a web form with a series of probing questions – it should consist of at least several dozen such questions (ideally over 100) which you ask the client to answer in paragraph form. Questions that are not relevant would be ignored, however you should get a good base of material to work with. Questions might include, "your happiest childhood memory" or "your favorite place to go as a child that no longer exists."

Let them tell you in their own words about what they want to say. Then, you as the writer simply organize the text and edit it for clarity and flow. In other words, you create a custom made memoir without the usual style of creating a custom made memoir.

Now will this necessarily create the Great American Book? Probably not. Then again, you’re not trying to create something that will be read and enjoyed by millions of people. This is a personal memoir so it needs to simply guide your client on their way to creating it. You stand in the background and help it along, in much the same way that tax preparation software helps you prepare your taxes and then you can opt to have a human being read it over and check for mistakes.

How Much Can You Make?

This is, needless to say a bit more complicated than tax preparation software and will require a little more work on the part of the writer, but instead of the usual ghost writing fee in the tens of thousands of dollars, a project like this can conceivably be edited and prepared for your client inside of a month, sometimes less, thus allowing you to charge a fee many middle class Americans could afford, for a book they can pass down through the generations and call their very own.

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You might offer to include photos for an extra charge.

Qualifications / Requirements

No formal requirements, just the ability to write and convince others of the quality of you writing.

First Steps

Practice that writing by starting your own memoirs.

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