Mike Oke of Bound Biographies doesn't write his clients' life stories; they do.
Funny how we think our way of doing something is the standard approach. And then along comes someone like Mike Oke, a 27-year veteran life story writer, who says he can't believe everybody else isn't following the model he practices. After our podcast interview, I can see where he's coming from.
Instead of sitting down to record an interview with a client, and then spending hours transcribing, editing, and polishing their prose into a shapely narrative, Mike puts the onus of writing squarely on the shoulders of his client. But the novice writer needn't fear a lack of skill, focus, or editorial savvy, because once every four to six weeks, Mike shows up with a lightly edited version of the client's previous writing assignment, and together they spend the next six hours reading through it and talking about what comes next. With his method, the storyteller is truly the storyteller, both in speaking the tale and in writing it.
How it works
During the first six-hour meeting, Mike spends time going over the ground rules, establishing the parameters of the collaborative relationship and building rapport. He also usually creates a simple family tree; not to spark a conversation about genealogy, which he believes can be fatal diversion for an aspiring life story writer, but to get a feel for the principal players in the client's life—who were the grandparents and parents, the siblings and aunts and uncles, who had an impact on the client's life?
As the client talks and reminisces, Mike is busy taking copious notes—a practice he continues throughout all subsequent meetings. When it comes time to tackle a theme or an event or era, Mike refers to his notes and gives the client a gentle reminder of things he or she missed in the telling.
Once the two get into a rhythm, it looks something like this: Mike shows up to each meeting with a sheaf of typed pages, usually around 20-30 pages, that the client sent after their last meeting and that Mike has tweaked and edited. At the meeting, he reads it to the client aloud. This gives the client what every writer needs: the chance to hear his words through the filter of a reader. They take a break for lunch, then carry on for several hours afterward, continuing with the client's current writing assignment and discussing the next one, which they will in turn read, discuss, and edit at the following meeting. A work session runs from 10 am to 4 pm.
What the client gets
Some projects take 6-12 meetings, some 15 or 20 or more. The client determines how many times they meet and when the it's time to finish up the book. In addition to the editing Mike performs along the way, the manuscript is given a final proofread by an outside professional, and then it's turned into 10 paperback copies.
What Mike gets, or, how payments are structured
At the end of each 6-hour meeting, Mike collects a payment of £400 (roughly $525), plus taxes and mileage (for long drives). When the book is completed and in the hand of the client, he collects a £4,000 (about $5,250) product fee. The books run a minimum of 20-25K words but usually come in around 50,000 words, or 200 pages. For clients who want to continue meeting after they've reached this page count, they pay the daily meeting fee along with a £1,000 for each additional 10,000 words.
Why it works
By taking on a dozen or so clients at a time, Mike is able to spend two days a week in sessions with clients, and three days back at the office, editing the writing and running the business.
Is it for you?
Like I said at the beginning, Mike wonders why all of us life story writers aren't using this model. It's the way he fell into doing life story work nearly three decades ago, and it's the way that feels the most natural and productive to him. More importantly, though, he believes this is the best way to capture the storyteller's voice: by having them tell their own stories.
Links & Stuff
Find Mike's company here: http://www.boundbiographies.com/
And here's a link to his new course, "Write Your Family Story."
Win a free copy of Scrivener
Don't forget to enter our contest before February 18 to win a free Mac or PC version of the writing software Scrivener. To enter, submit a written review of the podcast to iTunes, then drop an email to amy@thelifestorycoach with "I reviewed the podcast" in the subject line. That's it!
Until next time, go out and save someone's story.