Creating Beautiful Private Autobiographies and Memoirs - Andrew Crofts
I was invited for afternoon tea on a sunny afternoon by Lifebook.co.uk and I was intrigued enough to graciously accept.
As a full-time ghostwriter I receive many enquiries from people who want their elderly parents to turn their memories into books. In most cases these books would have no commercial value but would have infinite emotional value to the parent in question, as well as to their close friends and family. There would also be the benefit for a parent, who might be feeling sidelined by old age, of being given the time to talk about themselves and their lives with someone who is asking genuinely interested questions.
With most enquiries of this sort it is not worth the enquirer hiring someone like me and it would be completely pointless for them to set themselves up for rejection by the Big Five publishers, or even by any of the smaller independent publishers.
The target markets for these books are sniper-sharp and narrow. So I am never quite sure where to send them and usually end up rather feebly advising them to have a go at writing it themselves, which in most cases is never going to happen.
I am also very aware that there are a number of shady operators in the market who will happily take money off people in this position and provide them with disappointing results. So I was intrigued by the package that Lifebook was offering.
Although their products can be tailored to suit each individual customer, there is an underlying modus operandi which works as follows:
You – or your parent – contact them and tell them what you want to achieve. They will then find an interviewer who lives close to the author - and that can literally be anywhere in the world. That interviewer will come for a dozen one or two hour sessions with a tape machine and get the author to talk through their life chronologically, prompting them with questions where required.
After each recording session the material goes to a writer who turns it into publishable prose, which then goes back to the author for checking. There is also a project manager back at Lifebook Headquarters, either in the UK or the US, who is overseeing the whole thing right up to the typesetting and printing.
All the author’s pictures will be scanned in their own home, so there is no fear of them going missing. Although the text will be professionally written, proof-read and edited, it will not be fact checked. These books contain the memories of the authors, errors and all. The team will offer advice on how to tell the story well, but the final decisions on what is written and printed will be entirely down to the author. If the author decides that they want to try to sell copies at a later stage, then they will have to arrange for their own legal read to check they are not libelling anyone.
Once the whole book is written it will probably be around 40,000 words. Ten copies will then be printed up to professional, presentation standards, creating a high quality gift item, (apologies for the ad-speak here, but this actually is how it works).
On top of that the author can also read highlights from the book for an audio recording and the company will create a reminder of how they sounded, all gorgeously designed and packaged.
The whole concept provides many of the same advantages as commissioning a portrait of a beloved parent, only these portraits are in their own words.
Although there are opportunities to print more copies or create more elaborate art work, it is possible to buy the package in the UK for around £6,000 – which I’m guessing would compare pretty well with the costs of having a portrait painted by an established artist.
The whole Lifebook concept is the brainchild of Roy Moëd, an avuncular businessman who stumbled across the idea when he realised that his elderly father was full of stories that Roy had never heard, and that if he didn’t do something about recording them they would be lost forever. He was also looking for a way to keep his father alert and interested in his later years.
So that was why I found myself arriving at Lifebook’s immaculate UK headquarters in leafy
It’s hard to imagine a more civilised setting. The business side of the company
takes place in an airy room which is part library and part conservatory, while
the publishing operation takes place in the hushed surroundings of a
beautifully converted barn just across the lawn. The place oozes calm
Tea and cake were served overlooking the garden, sitting beneath shelves filled with books that the company has produced and I have to admit I couldn't help wishing that Lifebook had been around when my own parents were still alive to record their stories for me, my children and my grandchildren.