Tag Archives: qualifications

Encore! 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…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.


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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Six Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Historian.

Recently I wrote a post about the advantages of using the services of a personal historian. Today I’d like to focus on six questions you need to ask before hiring a personal historian. There are no professional bodies that certify or oversee personal historians. Anyone can hang up a shingle that says “personal historian”.  So it’s buyer beware.

  1. Does the personal historian belong to any professional associations? Belonging to an association such as the Association of Personal Historians, the Oral History Association, or the National Storytelling Association is important. It means the personal historian takes his work seriously as a professional. Associations provide their members with opportunities to learn more and improve their skills.
  2. Does the personal historian have samples of her work? Even if a personal historian is just starting out, she needs to be able to show you a book or video that she has completed. You want to be able to assess the quality of her work.
  3. Is the personal historian open to having you talk to previous clients about their experience? It’s useful to get previous client’s evaluations. While it’s not foolproof, it does allow you to have a better feeling for the person you may hire.
  4. Does the personal historian operate in a professional manner? Does she show up for appointments on time? Does he have a contract that spells out precisely what each stage of the production will entail and how fees are to be calculated? Does she answer all your queries in a prompt, courteous, and clear manner? Does he refrain from pressure tactics?
  5. Do you feel comfortable around this person? Whether you’re hiring a personal historian for yourself or another family member, you want to feel at ease. It will not be an enjoyable experience if you end up spending many hours with someone you don’t like.
  6. Before becoming a personal historian, what was the person’s previous work experience? Personal historians come from all kinds of work backgrounds. But it’s fair to say that many come with experience in the humanities. It’s not uncommon to find former journalists, filmmakers, editors, librarians, and teachers now working as personal historians. There are exceptions to every rule but you’ll likely find a more skilled personal historian coming from the ranks of those who’ve “apprenticed” in the arts. Someone with little life experience whose previous employment hasn’t lent itself to crafting skills in interviewing, writing, and editing may not yet be ready to take on a professional assignment as a personal historian.

Photo by Gareth Simpson