How to Write Your Own Memoir

You may not be famous, but you deserve to write your own memoir with assistance from professional editors and designers or personal historians.

By Arlene Hisiger

How many times have you promised yourself that you would permanently capture the life story of someone special in your life or perhaps your own life story? Memoirs are not just for the rich and famous. Though we may not be famous, we are all rich in experience. And what we have experienced is of particular interest to our families, friends and, at times, to an even greater audience.

Once you’ve decided who the subject of the memoir will be, you will next need to decide whether you will create the memoir by yourself or whether you will turn to a personal historian—think life Sherpa—to guide you through the process.

The DIY Memoir

For most, making an audio recording of the person/s to be included in a memoir may be a task easily accomplished. But that is only the first step in the process of memoir creation. Once the recording has been made it will need to be transcribed (set down in written form) and edited for clarity and continuity. Before you proceed to the design and print stage of the edited manuscript, you must write the memoir itself.

Once you have a manuscript that you are satisfied with you move on to the final stages of design, where you consider what you’d like to include along with the text, such as photos, family trees etc. Lastly, you will need to find a printer to print your book.

Memoir Writing Resources

Here is a sample of online and in-person classes in New York City, all designed to educate you in the art of memoir writing:

Gotham Writers Workshop, one of the oldest and most well-known writing venues, offers both online and in-person memoir writing classes. The cost for a 10-week, online, beginner’s level course is $425 and will give you a firm grounding in the basics of memoir writing. Gotham also offers a one-day intensive class held at 555 8th Ave. The next class will be on Friday, September 15th, 10 am. Cost: $175. For more information about courses and more advanced memoir writing courses, see their class schedule.

The Loft Literary Center, a leading literary arts center, advancing the artistic development of writers, offers an online memoir writing class. The course, given by Pushcart Prize nominee, Jennifer Lang, is ideal for beginning memoir writers. Lang employs a variety of writing prompts to ease you into the process. “I explain that the best way to learn how to write is to practice writing. Writing is a muscle that must be flexed. And the best way to flex it is with writing prompts and in-class exercises,” Lang says.

“Jennifer is an exceptional teacher and she crafts her lessons in a structured but fun way. Her writing prompts brought out things that were sometimes unexpected for us. Each week we acquired new insights, and she gave constructive criticism to everyone,” Liora B, Memoir writing student. Cost: $234. For further details see Memoir Writing: A Window into the World Around You.

92nd Street Y. This well-known Upper East Side of Manhattan cultural institution offers memoir writing workshops. The classes are held at the corner of East 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue. A class by Melissa Febos is held for four consecutive Tuesdays beginning on Tuesday October 17, 2017, 6:30-9:00 pm. The class will aid you in creating story outlines, synopses and story-mapping. Cost: $385.

Family histories
On October 12, 2017, you can attend a free lecture on writing a family history, at the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwartzman Building, at 476 Fifth Avenue, 10018 (42nd & 5th). The lecture is open to the public on a first come, first served basis. For more information call (917) 275-6975 and/or visit the NYPL class schedule.

Book Design & Printing Resources
Amazon offers a number of publishing packages. Their basic package includes a full-color cover, standard interior black & white formatting, ISBN number, and 3 free revisions of your manuscript, plus one-on-one support throughout the process. Cost: $1,199. For more information regarding this package and others see Outskirts Press.

Some Memoirs from Outskirts Press.

Baker & Taylor Publisher Services is a publishing company based in Ashland, Ohio which offers customized book publishing services that include both design, editorial services and much more.

Book1One, a printing company in Rochester, NY is considered to be a major resource for digital technology printing.

Memoirs printed by Book1One.

Personal Historians
Or, you can work with a professional personal historian who will guide you through the process from beginning to end.

Below is a detailed description of the process involved when working with Remarkable Life Memoirs, a private publishing company, based in New York City.

A custom-made book by Remarkable Life Memoirs can include special bindings, maps, and full color printing.

Remarkable Life Memoirs

An Upper East Side private publishing company in Manhattan, Remarkable Life Memoirs specializes in publishing personal or family histories in book form. It is run by Samantha Shubert, editor and Susan Hood, book designer. “In memoir writing, trusted partners can make the difference between a joyful experience and a frustrating one. Our top-notch editorial, design and printing lets you focus on telling the story that only you can tell,” Shubert says.

A graduate of Cornell University, Shubert was a magazine editor for Esquire Sportsman and Esquire Gentleman. Her newsletter clients have included American Express and NATA Journal. She also served as a copyeditor and proofreader for Simon & Schuster and Hearst Books.

Susan Hood has designed some 500 books on a variety of topics, 50 of them memoirs. When Shubert and Hood met and saw how much they had in common, they brought their shared business vision and complementary skills under one roof in 2016.

Though their history together may be short, their experience is vast. With Shubert’s 25 years publishing experience and Hood’s 35 years of the same, they have a combined 60 years publishing experience.

“Samantha and Susan are true professionals,” says Evelyn Kupin of New York City, “and it’s a joy to work with them.” Kupin, who is in the process of producing a memoir that focuses on her passion for opera, recorded eight hours of interviews this spring. “The time just flew by,” Kupin says. “When I read the first draft, I thought, ‘I’ve had the most wonderful life, haven’t I?’”.

The Process

Initial free consultation—client chooses desired memoir: family history, whole-life story, or mini-memoir focusing on a particular life milestone or catalogue, showcasing a personal collection.

After approving a proposal that includes the number of interview hours, choice of book design and details of printing and binding, the client signs a contract and pays a deposit.

The memoir author decides what topics to discuss; Remarkable Life Memoirs then creates an interview schedule. Each session takes typically one to two hours. Interviewees are reminded before each interview of the next scheduled topic, but have complete freedom to tell the story as they see fit.

Recorded interviews are transcribed and edited. At the same time, the client chooses which images to include in the book (i.e. family photographs, letters, and documents). If needed all images are improved for the printing process.

The book is designed to incorporate client-approved text and photos. Special elements like a family tree or custom map can be created at the client’s request.

Books are printed and may be hardcover or bound in leather or cloth. Leather and cloth-bound volumes can be kept in custom slipcases.

The cost for publishing a family history or whole-life story, using choice materials, starts at about $10,000. Mini-memoirs, collection catalogues and other short books cost less.

Unedited audio recordings of interviews are available at no extra charge, as are digital versions of the client’s improved photos and documents. Clients own all rights to their books.

Additional personal historian resources:

Dawn Roode, Modern Heirloom Books, email Dawn offers a One-Hour Heirloom option.

Amanda Faye Lacson, Family Archive Business, email Amanda offers a variety of services dedicated to preserving family objects, heirlooms and memories.

“Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you,” Paul Simon famously sang in his song Bookends. How will you preserve yours?

Arlene Hisiger is a world traveler who now lives in Rochester, NY where she writes for local media and corporate clients. Arlene’s website is

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