Dear Janet Reid,
I've been helping ordinary people tell their life story now for 22 years, and discovered some time ago that I was not alone. Think of the Association of Personal Historians when you get some of these noncelebrity memoir queries -- in a sense, personal historians are ghostwriters or collaborators for hire, but unlike collaborators hired to write memoirs published by traditional publishers, personal historians do the whole package, from interviewing (or teaching a life writing course, or editing a manuscript) to production of a book, or an oral history (and transcript--for those who suspect a digital recording might not be easily accessible 50 years from now), or a video. For an example of the latter, look at Jim Walsh's tribute to his father:
I've provided a link to some resources for people who want to tell their story here:
Here are more videos:
You can also find resources here:
Association of Personal Historians
(and there is a conference in mid-October in St.. Louis, this year -- it's a moveable feast)
(I am a past president of the organization, by the way.)
With clients who can afford the Full Monty, I've overseen production of some books that are far nicer (in production quality) than any I've seen from traditional publishers. But it's the stories and the words themselves, and the photos, and the capturing of moving images and sound, however raw or polished, that count with these personal histories. And the process alone is invaluable. Here's a story I wrote for the Journal of Geriatric Care Management:
The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities
I was at the first two conferences of Biographers International (in Boston and DC) but skipped the one in Los Angeles. In my mind, doing personal histories for private clients is one way authors who are living on lower-than-ever advances can supplement their income. That's why I started doing it, and once I started I did not turn back (although I also do organizational histories).
I also teach life writing workshops at the Writer's Center in Bethesda. Similar workshops are taught all around the country (and are sometimes sponsored by churches and other community centers). This is no way to make a living but it is one of the most satisfying things I do, and the people who take the courses really get a lot more done, because they have a ready-made audience and a weekly deadline. They bond, they become friends, and they start writing about things they have not thought about (or talked with their own family about) for years. At the moment I am putting some of the products from these workshops to bed as books. This kind of thing is happening all around the country. It is hot!