Sunday, August 2, 2009

10 Questions to ask yourself before ghost writing a memoir

People seem obsessed with telling their life stories. That's a personal decision. Have you thought about writing someone else's memoir? If so, you might want to consider answering these questions first.

1. Who is your subject? Does anyone really care about his/her life?
2. How old is your subject? The older, the more difficult. An older person has a lot of memories (if they're lucky enough to be of sound mind). Also, be prepared for an unexpected death.
3. Does the person have an unusual story with a twist that will appeal to a reader or even a niche market?
4. If the person is a celebrity, is he/she A-list? If so, why would they want you to write their memoir instead of a professional memoirist?
5. If the person is a B-list celebrity, are you prepared to do a whole lot of marketing to reach your target audience and let them know the book is out there for them?
6. Do you have a plan? Going in to interview someone for an article is not like writing a memoir; I found out the hard way. Interviewing someone for a memoir illicits memories that stray from your questions but are critical to their story.
7. Are you willing to do a lot of transcription, or pay someone to do it?
8. Once you have a transcript, how many hours do you have available to edit the material?
9. Does your subject have enough photographs to accompany the text and illustrate what makes his story unique?
10. Are you a perfectionist? If so, stop right there and go find something else to do. Getting someone else's story perfect is not like writing your own story, especially if they pass away and you can't call them up to ask questions.

I learned the answers to these questions the hard way. Fortunately, my subject passed away after I had finished all of the work and we were just getting together as friends. Even so, during conversation over lunch, a new tidbit would dribble out of his mouth, causing me to push the red button on the recorder that was always always in my hand. I can't call him up if I have a question about something he said but I have a vast number of resources, including his wife and colleagues, who are able to verify facts for me.

My advice? Think twice.


Axel Pliopas said...

Transcriptions are soooooooo time consuming! One should do a bit of it before starting a great project, in order to take some care when recording the interview, to make it as clear as possible and make the transcription process a little bit easier....

It's a good list you made! ;)

Susan Cross said...


The transcription was the hardest part. I didn't want to contract it out because only I know what to pick and choose for my project (and I didn't have the money to pay someone). This is a one-woman show. Deadline is looming.