Whenever I get this question, I cringe. The first thing I know right away is that I'm going to have to turn the person down. The second thing? Awkward!
I've got to be honest. When I'm asked to write someone's story, I immediately feel uncomfortable and slightly insulted. Would you go to an established artist and ask them to paint your idea... free of charge? Would you walk into a restaurant, ask the chef to prepare their signature dish, then not pay the tab and pass the recipe off as your own? In other words, I'm gearing up to say no.
When someone asks me to "write their story" what I hear is this:
Here's the deal.
I'm not a biographer. Anyone asking me to "write their story" is in effect, asking for a biographer. Unfortunately, doing research on finding and paying someone to pen their life's story sounds like a lot of work and a hefty investment. What's not such hard work? Finding out what kind of writing I do. All you have to do is ask.
I'm not a publisher, either. Information on publishers is as difficult to get as heading to your nearest library for some research. Pen in hand (or ready with change for the copier) you can look up which Writer's Market literary genre your story would fall into. The alternative is to self-publish. Don't have time to do the legwork on those options? Gee, that's too bad.
Nope, not a literary agent! Literary agents come a'knockin when you've published enough and/or you've gotten a big enough fan base. They're the ones who negotiate book deals, tours, and the like. They're the ones who help you get what you want. They're also the ones who help you handle everything from fan mail to negotiating with publishers. It didn't take much searching for me to find an excellent blog post by Neil Gaiman titled, "Everything you wanted to know about literary agents." It's a great, informative read.
I'm not a charity. Sure, I do volunteer work here and there. But, I don't live on an ethereal cloud of rainbow-farting unicorns who clothe, shelter and transport me anywhere I want to go. I live in the real world where there are bills to pay, and time is money (especially to a freelancer).
I'm not a developmental editor, either. If you have done enough research to know what different kinds of editors and writers there are out there, that's great. One of the reasons I love to write and edit is because of the research involved. Seriously. It's like going on a treasure hunt. I had to amend this post here once more to include information on developmental editing. What is developmental editing, exactly?
"Developmental editors help you develop your project from an initial concept or draft, and can consult with you before the writing even begins. Developmental editors can help plan the organization and features of your project. They may make suggestions about content and presentation, write or rewrite text, do research, and suggest additional topics for you to consider." - Northwest Independent Editor's Guild.
* I'd like to learn more about developmental editing in the future. At the moment though, it's not part of my writing repertoire.
Finally, what I do for a living is just that, a living. It's not a hobby; it's my career. This blog post? This was work. Drafted and revised work that I enjoy doing, and it takes about three to five revisions for me to be satisfied enough to share it publicly. My work might suck, or it might piss people off. It's the risk I'm willing to take because I love what I do. It's worth the risk, every time.
What you won't get to experience if I "write your story?" The many hats a freelance writer has to wear. A writer needs to think up, write, edit, vet, revise, pitch, follow up on, negotiate, submit, publish, get paid for and get credit on published work. Freelancers are their own administrative assistants, accountants, researchers and tech support too.
You won't feel the stomach-churning nervousness that accompanies waiting for work to be accepted while wishing you could have done just one more revision. The insomnia that follows when your work is accepted and you're waiting for feedback is a given.
When you the writer submits a piece, you're at odds with your own perfectionist scrutiny. The part of you that worries about the backlash of a badly-written or incendiary piece is the same part of you that hopes your piece gets enough attention to generate a conversation. Oh, and the free publicity of backlash may not be so bad, either.
You won't have to deal with conflicting drafts. You'll miss out on the crashing computer, the layout changes that won't take, and the plethora of calls you have to make and follow up on. You won't be on the receiving end of the dreaded "endless draft" because self-promotion is a static state. The dynamics of a perfectly-told tale can change from one minute to the next thanks to simply being alive.
You won't get to experience the frustration of having to turn down attending social events and missed business opportunities because you were too busy. You'll get to sleep through the night undisturbed by all the unfinished work yet to be done.
If you're still convinced that I (or any other writer) should "write your story," maybe it's best to think of your inquiry as a type of interview first. Publishing is a business, after all. Think of it this way:
So, before approaching a working processional with a proposal like "write my life's story," be ready. Ask yourself first if you'd sacrifice a quarter of the preparation and work it takes to consider such an undertaking. If you're still compelled to express yourself no matter what the obstacles are, then congratulations! That there is inspiration.
By all means approach me or other professional writers whose work you've at least read some of first. Lead in by asking if the writer would be interested in collaborating on a biography or ghostwriting project. Tell them what publishers or self-publishers you've looked up that best meet your needs, genre-wise and otherwise. If the writer expresses interest, supply a list of literary agents you've contacted - or better yet, the ones who have contacted you. Give the writer an idea of the project's scope and some of your end goals. That is something a writer can wrap their head around. It lets us know that you're serious.
If not? Don't bother us. We're too busy writing our own damn stories.
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