A state grant started a thriving memoir business
Denis started as a writer of autobiographical fictional. When he shared his stories with audiences, it struck a chord, and the Turning Memories into Memoirs workshop was born. At first funded by a state grant, Denis segued into teaching memory writing at community workshops.
In this episode, we discuss:
- how resistance to writing memoirs abated in the mid-1990s
- how clients write their own memoirs with Denis’s help, then use presentations to sell copies of their books to the public
- the difference between writing for family and writing for the public.
- the importance of honesty when writing your memoirs
- helping clients learn elements like suspense and foreshadowing. e.g. “How could this change?” Adding a simple line to the end of a paragraph.
Maximize your income
Prioritize by starting your day with the work that produces income. Denis makes sure he does ten hours of billable time per week, including coaching, editing, and ghostwriting. This is augmented by income earned on work that he subcontracts to other editors.
[Hint: Denis is always looking for good editors, so get in touch if you’re looking to work as a subcontractor. It’s an excellent way of focusing on your writing without the added pressure of all the other tasks: marketing, sales conversations, invoicing, etc.]
- the importance of keeping your work and free time separate.
- underpromise and overdeliver.
- on billable time: if he hasn’t done his 10 hours by the end of the week, he catches up. He can do more, but not less.
- in addition to his 10 hours, Denis earns a cut of the income from his editors, plus the profit from selling packages.
- the importance of giving honest feedback to coaching and editing clients. Don’t avoid the hard moments. Do it honestly, lovingly, and offer suggestions when there’s a problem in a manuscript.
- if you’re a life story writer and you send your client’s manuscript to an editor, don’t take criticisms personally. Editors want your book to be the best it can be.
- some suggestions lead to a discussion with the client, and a hybrid solution comes about.
What’s the difference between coaching and editing?
Coaching proceeds without a manuscript, more focused on the client, carrying the client along.
Editing is more focused on the manuscript.
Sometimes they become indistinguishable.
“Who am I to think that I should write?”
When clients ask this, they’re acknowledging the fact that they are impelled to write, but they’re fighting the voice that tells them they don’t have the right to write. Denis’s suggestion: Set a certain amount of time to write everyday. That way you don’t have to decide whether you “should” write or not. One coaching client calls Denis every day, a thirty-second accountability call. That’s part of coaching: supporting the writer.
Adult children sometimes want a book done on their parents, and the parents don’t get on board. We talk about the difficulties with dealing with a third party (e.g. the adult child). This usually doesn’t work in Denis’s experience; it very often does in mine.
To make your services appealing to a wider group of people, have an array of products and services, including coaching or editing, which can more affordable than ghostwriting a memoir.
Average costs for services:
- $8,000-$12,000 per one hundred pages; on the lower range for people who are involved in the editing and writing. If the cost of a ghostwritten memoir is out of someone’s budget, offer other products at different price points.
- Workshops: 40% of people who came to workshops bought a subsequent product, e.g. editing or coaching services.
- Speaking: at libraries, clubs, fellowship halls, etc. also a good way to find clients.
- One year Denis earned $22,000 of work from four speaking gigs; another year none. As a beginner, workshops are a good source of local clients.
- Send a press release, bio, photo, and promise of a free book or 1/2 hour coaching. That goes into the outreach (don’t depend on the venue to do that). Arrive 25 minutes early, set up a table with books, go around and chat with everyone. That creates an intimacy.
Denis bases a workshop on five talking points. He uses his Turning Memories into Memoirs; use your own, open it up and read from it to illustrate examples of what you’re teaching. For example, if you’re talking about creating effective dialogue, read a passage of dialogue from your book.
The personality of memoir coaches and ghostwriters: desire to serve. But this must be balanced with selling, making your memoir writing into a business.
If you don’t sell, you’re being of less service to people, because you won’t be able to continue. Learn how to sell, people!
The first time a woman asked Denis for a discount: He suggested that the woman ask her children to contribute to the cost of the book. She was appalled, said she couldn’t ask them to give their own money. Denis responded by pointing out that she was willing, in effect, to take money from him and his family to fund the project.
Denis’s rule for himself: Don’t care for someone else’s memoir more than they care for it themselves. If they ask you to subsidize the cost/give a reduction, walk away.
Personality types: there are thinkers and feelers (Myers-Briggs), and the people who get into memoir work are generally feelers. Feelers can identify with their clients. Many are also intuitive.
Build on your natural gifts.
The sense of the observant self: looking at yourself from the outside as you create characters and dialogue and suspense in a memoir. This ability to observe is what makes us become better at writing. You can bring that same sense of the observant self to your business of memoir writing. Reflect and analyze the prices your charge and the products you offer. It must add up emotionally and financially.
First steps for new memoir professionals:
- assess your writing skills; are they up to snuff? or should by join some writers groups and have your writing critiqued
- do a practice memoir of someone close to you
- ask another life story writer to be a critique partner
- do programs and workshops at libraries and other places where people are interested in learning to write
- start at a lower rate at the beginning , maybe $25-40 per hour, then with subsequent clients add $5 or $10 per hour
Denis offers packages for memoir professionals, including a speaker’s manual, a great way to launch your career
The Memoir Network, Denis’s website
Every year there are new people who want to write their memoir—or have it written for them. Are you going to help them?
If you enjoyed the show, leave us a review on iTunes. And if you have any ideas to share or questions about this episode, share them in the comments.
Now go out and save someone’s story.