Encore! 10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian.

10 Commandments for the Professional Personal Historian. I’m not Moses or even a prophet for that matter. But I’ve been around for a while! As a freelancer for thirty years,  I’ve learned some key lessons that can be summed up in these ten commandments that I try my best to follow. Not always successfully!  For those of you starting out, these might provide a useful checklist. For the experienced among us, perhaps the commandments will be a  useful reminder of what we need to keep doing. What are your … Read More


Can I Make a Living as a Personal Historian?

I get asked this question with increasing regularity. And my response is – it depends. Like most things in life, there isn’t a simple answer. Here are a few things to ponder.

What do you consider a living wage?

If you need to earn a 6 figure salary in order to maintain your lifestyle, you’re unlikely to achieve that as a personal historian .  I’d suggest you take up cosmetic surgery. ;-)

But maybe you’re thinking, “I’m looking at a more modest income, maybe  around $50,000 a year.”

Okay. Let’s do the math.  On average it takes about three months to complete a personal history book.  You might be able to produce 4  books a year. That means you’re going to have to charge your clients $12,500 per book to make $50,000 a year. And remember, you’ll have to deduct your business expenses from that figure.

If you can find clients who are willing to pay you that amount, great. But I’ll be frank. While $12,500 is a reasonable price to pay for a personal history, you’ll find many potential clients will be shocked by the price.

People love the concept of personal histories, but they haven’t a clue about the costs of producing one.

How soon do you need to earn some money?

If you’re new to self-employment, you’re in for a surprise. It’ll take you at least a couple of years of hard work to make your business profitable.

Without another source of income or sufficient savings to tide you over, it’s almost impossible to reach a point where you’re making a living from personal histories.

Do you have the right qualities to be a personal historian?

If you don’t have the qualities that are required of a personal historian, you’re going to find earning a living from this work a challenge.  Here’s a check-list of some of those qualities. How do you think you fare?

  • excellent interviewing skills
  • non-judgmental
  • enjoy working alone
  • able to market and promote oneself
  • patient
  • empathetic listener
  • self-motivated
  • comfortable at public speaking
  • proficient writing and editing skills
  • love variety
  • a positive attitude
  • enjoy working with people

How hard are you prepared to work?

Being a personal historian can be a very enjoyable hobby. But if you’re intending this to be a business, then be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. For the first few years this can means 10 to 12 hour days, 7 day weeks, with few if any holidays. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Putting in this kind of effort works if you’re passionate  about what you’re doing. But if you don’t have that “fire in your belly”,  then do yourself a favor and don’t even start.

Conclusion

You can make a living being a personal historian provided you’ve got the right personality, love life stories and people, are prepared to work hard, and aren’t looking to earn top dollars.

Photo by Renee

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup you’re in for some chuckles with the video Hilarious and Surprising Predictions of the Future…From the 1960s! And for some vacation reading load up your eBook reader with selections from 20 Best Websites to Download Free EBooks.

  • 10 Ways to Beat Online Obscurity. “Listen, I’ve got some bad news for you. More than likely, no one knows who you are. And more than likely, they never will. How can I say that with such authority? Easy.”
  • A Brief History of Film Title Sequence Design in 2 Minutes. “In his graduation project, an absolutely brilliant motion graphics gem, Dutch designer and animator Jurjen Versteeg examines the history of the title sequence through an imagined documentary about the designers who revolutionized this creative medium.”
  • 1000 Lives In 100 Words. “… is here to remind us that our lives are important. It’s here to remind us that it’s not the years in your life; it’s the life in your years. Because we’ll all end up as 100 words someday. So let’s make each one count.”
  • 20 Best Websites To Download Free EBooks. “It would be nice if we’re able to download a free e-book and take it with us. That’s why we’ve again crawled deep into the Internet to compile this list of 20 places to download free e-books for your use.”
  • A Story for Every Purpose. “On the Internet, you will find no lack of efforts to collect and share stories, either on an ad hoc basis, or as a site’s raison d’etre. Following are a few that have caught my eye recently.”
  • NYTimes.com’s most looked-up words for 2011.“One of the cooler-but-lesser-known functions of NYTimes.com is its word “look up” feature: Double-click on any word in the text of an article — insouciance, say, or omertà — and a little question mark will pop up. Click the question mark, and you’ll get a definition of the highlighted word directly from the American Heritage Dictionary.”

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Encore! Stop With The Effects!

Stop With The Effects! Have you noticed an annoying trend? Every videographer from “Cousin Harry” in Saskatoon to the BBC in London is causing our eyes and ears  to bleed with cranked up sound and tightly edited, over-the-top visual effects. Today, even the simplest home editing software  has a myriad of “bells and whistles”. You can use the “Ken Burns” effect to pan or  zoom in and out of photos. You can have dazzling titles and credits not to mention fancy dissolves … Read More


3 Keys to Creating Trust with Potential Clients.

Here’s a shocker! I was reading that a CBS News/New York Times Poll revealed only 30% of respondents believed people in general are trustworthy. Not surprising perhaps but disillusioning.

But all’s not lost. When a  similar group was asked,“What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?”  the response jumped to 70%.  Clearly knowing someone makes a big difference. The more people get to know us, the higher the level of trust. It makes sense.

A key factor in whether potential clients will hire us as personal historians is trust. But how to build trust in an introductory meeting?

I turned to The Oxford Dictionary for help. It defines trust as: a  firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. If we take each of these components of trust, they provide clues to building rapport with a new client.

Reliability

Reliability begins with the simplest of acts – showing up on time for your meeting. Nothing kills  reliability more than changing an already fixed appointment date or showing up late or early.

It also helps if you’ve been in business for a few years, have a track record,  and have a set of glowing testimonials.

Avoid being needy. It reeks of desperation and raises questions about the health of your business. No one wants to sign a contract with someone who’s about to go under.

Truth

Refrain from being somebody you’re not. People can smell phoniness.  You don’t have to adopt a “marketing”  persona or be over solicitous.  Go into your meeting with a new client confident, friendly, and mindful. That’s it, nothing more.

Forgo trying to be all things to all people. For example, if your specialty is producing video biographies, don’t “fudge” things by selling yourself as a book specialist in hopes of  getting the job. You won’t sound convincing. It’s better to recommend a colleague whose expertise is print. You’ll win points for being honest. While you might lose the contract, your good name will spread in the community. And that matters.

We all expect straight answers. Your clients are no different. Questions about your fees, expertise, years of experience, and the time to complete a personal history need to be answered  without obfuscation.

Ability

If you’re new to personal histories, you may have little to show prospective clients. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t highlight your previous experience to establish your proficiency.  For example, print and video editing, interviewing, counseling, radio and film producing all require skills that come to play in producing a print or video life story.

Regardless of the number of years  experience, you want to display your interviewing expertise from the moment you meet your prospective client. If you’re friendly, curious, attentive, and  non-judgmental, then you’ll have modeled  good interviewing skills. This is subtle “selling” but it works in establishing trust and rapport.

Photo by iStockphoto

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup if you like to see how things are created, don’t miss How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made. If you’re a fan of vintage neon signs, you’ll love  An Architect’s Quest to Document New York’s Neon Heritage. 

  • Is a Bookless Library Still a Library? “We’ve been hearing about it for years, but the bookless library has finally arrived, making a beachhead on college campuses. At Drexel University’s new Library Learning Terrace, which opened just last month, there is nary a bound volume, just rows of computers and plenty of seating offering access to the Philadelphia university’s 170 million electronic items.”
  • One word or two? “Frequently confused word lists abound, and a good list can be a copyeditor’s dear friend when a brain cramp sets in or a deadline looms … It struck me that copyeditors might find a quick list of these word pairs a handy tool to fight a sudden brain cramp.”
  • How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made. “In this fascinating short documentary, part of The Getty Museum‘s excellent Making Art series on ArtBabble, we get to see the astounding patience and craftsmanship that went into the making of medieval illuminated manuscripts.”
  • The Me My Child Mustn’t Know. “Everyone has a past, and it’s a very personal decision to reveal — or not reveal — the more unsavory bits to our children. It’s possible for most people to smooth out the rough edges of their histories, to edit out indiscretions or sanitize their mistakes. After all, some things are none of our kids’ business, right?” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this item.]
  • An Architect’s Quest to Document New York’s Neon Heritage. “Kirsten Hively is an architect with an unusual affection: not for buildings but kitschy neon signs, on storefronts and against windows. Hively scoured New York City for remnants of what was once abundant in the city, photographing them as part of her series Project Neon. So far, the architect has over 400 photos, as well as a modified Google Map with pins tacked to the signs’ locations.”
  •  Northern B.C. ghost town resurrected on Facebook. “Ramona Rose is raising a town from the dead. But she’s not an exorcist; she’s an archivist. The University of Northern B.C. head of archives and special collections runs a project to preserve what remains of a ghost town. Using Facebook, she’s been rebuilding Cassiar as a virtual community.”
  • 10 Life Lessons from Esquire’s “What I’ve Learned” Interviews. “Since 1998, Esquire magazine has conducted more than 300 interviews with artists, athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, scientists and writers. The series — called “What I’ve Learned” — provides a fascinating cross-section of the lives of prominent people. From Buzz Aldrin to Batman, the interview list reads like a Who’s Who of our era.”

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Encore! The Introvert’s Survival Guide to Conferences.

The Introvert's Survival Guide to Conferences. I love people, but I must admit I can’t be around them continually. It drains me. Hello, my name is Dan and I’m an introvert. I previously wrote  “Attention Introverts! You Can Market Successfully.”  Now I’d like to turn my attention to another challenge for introverts – conferences. If the thought of spending days  submerged in a sea of people is daunting, don’t despair. This article is for you… Read More


Do You Make These 5 Common Audio Mistakes?

Imagine yourself in this situation. You’ve just completed videotaping an hour-long interview. It was  nicely lit and framed. And the interview itself was fantastic! Excitedly you rush back to your editing suite,  put up your interview to screen, and then the shock. The picture looks great but the audio is terrible. There’s nothing you can do to fix it. The interview is ruined!

I know that getting flawless sound all the time is nearly impossible. But you can improve the odds if you avoid making these 5 common audio mistakes.

1. Using the wrong microphone

All microphones are not created equal. The worse choice is using the microphone that comes with your video or audio recorder. These are passable for family events but not for a professional interview.  Built-in mics  pick-up the electronic clicks and whirs of the equipment and are sensitive to any hand contact.

Don’t use wireless mics for interviews unless you plan to spend the big bucks. Inexpensive wireless mics can pick up frequency interference from a host of sources such as cell phones, TV stations, CD players, computers, and PDAs.

Your best bet for interviews is to use a lapel mic or shotgun mic mounted on a stand. This will ensure better sound quality because the mic can be placed close to the subject.

2. not eliminating Background noise

Nothing spoils an interview more than background noise. You need to have the ears of a bat to eliminate unwanted sounds..

Make certain to turn off or unplug everything that you’ve control over. This includes heating and cooling systems,  refrigerators and freezers, radios and music players,  cell and land line telephone, and ticking clocks. Also make sure to close outside windows and the door to the interview room.

Before starting the interview put on your headphones and listen carefully for any stray background noise. If you’ve done your job thoroughly, all you should hear is the faint breathing of your subject.

3. Not using headphones

If you’re not wearing headphones, you can’t adequately monitor the quality of the audio you’re recording. Over-the ear headphones are the best. Spend some money and invest in a good pair. Failing that, anything is better than nothing. Even the earbuds from your iPod will do in a pinch.

4. recording with Automatic gain control

Unfortunately,  most consumer video and audio recorders come with Automatic Gain Control or AGC. While it’s easier to record sound it also produces poor quality.

The problem is that the gain control monitors the loudness or quietness of what you’re recording and automatically adjusts the level. For example, when the interviewee pauses, the AGC raises the recording level which in turn causes an increases in the ambient sound. When the person begins talking again the recording level is lowered. This produces a pulsing effect with the ambient sound that’s difficult to eliminate without time consuming sound editing.

Do yourself a favor and spend enough to purchase a recorder that has a manual gain control. It’ll mean monitoring your audio input continually, but you’ll end up with good sound.

5. Failing to eliminate electronic hum and buzz

Electromagnetic radiation or EMR  is produced by such devices as power cables, computer monitors, radios, and TVs. Placing your video or audio recorder and audio cables next to these EMR sources can result in an audible hum or buzz.

Make sure that all your recording equipment is separated as far as possible from these EMR sources. Even a few inches can make a difference. If that’s not possible, try crossing your power cable at right angles to your mic cables.

the bottom line

Don’t push the record button until you’ve done everything possible to ensure that your audio will be pristine.

Photo by Alper Tecer

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this  Monday’s Link Roundup have some fun with Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds. For something serious be sure to read Oral history, unprotected.  And memoir writers will find two interesting articles, What Exactly Happened and ‘Memoir Project’ Gives Tips For Telling Your Story.

  • On Acknowledgements. “Anyone who wants to study writers’ idiosyncrasies need look no further than their acknowledgments…Acknowledgments also offer an all-too-rare view of the writer as actual human being.”
  • Oral history, unprotected. “Researchers who conduct oral history have no right to expect courts to respect confidentiality pledges made to interview subjects, according to a brief filed by the US Justice Department on Friday.”
  • The case for and against the Oxford comma. “When linking three or more elements, some writers place a comma before the “and”: bell, book, and candle. That’s known as the Oxford comma (or serial comma). Other writers don’t use that comma: bell, book and candle. Wars have been fought over less.”
  • Literary Games for Bored Book Nerds. “In the New York Times this week, Dwight Garner writes about literary games one can play with friends that aren’t anxiety-inducing. He writes, “Many people flee from games they fear will be public I.Q. tests or will expose gaps in their literary knowledge.” So true. Which is why we at Flavorpill would like to introduce a few games into your summer repertoire,..”

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Encore! 15 Great Memoirs Written by Women.

15 Great Memoirs Written by Women. I don’t know about you but I find a friend’s assessment of a book is often as good, if  not better, than some of the reviewers. That’s why I wanted to share with you this list, compiled by some of my colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians.  Here are fifteen gems to add to your list of summer reading… Read More