Tag Archives: self-employment

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

If you enjoyed this post, get free updates by email.

Monday’s Link Roundup.


Another Monday and a potpourri of fascinating links to the world of stories. Two of my favorites this week are Mapping Main Street and a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity. And for those of you considering self-employment be sure to read Leo Babauta’s piece on getting started. He’s got some very practical advice.

  • Put Your Ancestors on Our Cover! “We’re looking for a great ancestral photo to feature on the cover of the January 2010 Family Tree Magazine (that’s our 10th anniversary issue!).  Maybe your family photo is the one.”
  • Mapping Main Street: “… a collaborative documentary media project that creates a new map of the country through stories, photos and videos recorded on actual Main Streets. The goal is to document all of the more than 10,000 streets named Main in the United States.”
  • Interview: Sue William Silverman on Memoir Writing: “Sue William Silverman’s newest book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, reads like a memoir about writing memoir – and that’s exactly what the accomplished and respected nonfiction writer had in mind when she decided to do a book about writing craft.”
  • Once upon a time in Palo Alto: “Unlike their bigger oral history counterparts, these videos are low-budget and brief but they give watchers impressions of a city that most of us probably don’t know too well, if at all.”
  • I Love My Librarian Award: “… encourages library users to recognize the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, or university librarians. The award is administered by the American Library Association with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The New York Times.”
  • Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity: “Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.”

Photo by fdecomit

Share this post.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine