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9. Collective Memoirs, Corporate Histories
and Fund-Raising Books

Your quick and easy-to-read guide to life-story writing, by Anna Foster

Do you wish to mark the achievements of a local group or commemorate a special occasion? A collective memoir may be a fitting tribute.

Collective memoirs include:

  • village picture books
  • histories of schools, charities and businesses
  • fund-raising books, such as school cookery books
  • books to mark anniversaries, such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 or a 75th birthday
  • books for local history societies

Appoint a Project Manager

A collective memoir can be run effectively as a community project. You are advised to appoint a project manager or an editor who will collect pictures, stories and any other material.

If this job is too much for one person, then establish an editorial committee.

The responsibilities include requesting information and pictures, collecting the material, checking copyrights, seeking printing quotes, checking facts, proof-reading and - being available.

You may also need to employ a self-publishing company to typeset and lay out the book before it goes to the printer. Is there someone in your company or local community who has these skills, so that you can save on costs?

Patience, tact and a sense of humour are invaluable qualities when dealing with volunteers and advisors.

You need to be able to inspire people to take part and to cajole them when they are late with a task.

Allow plenty of time for a collective memoir. It may take at least six months to request and collect all the material, and another six months to get it edited and printed. Collective memoirs often take longer than individual life stories.

Editorial Tasks for Collective Memoirs

Here's a step-by-step guide to getting the job done.

  1. Hold a meeting with the group to ensure there is support for the project. Talk through the idea with a self-publishing company or printer to obtain approximate costs.
  2. Appoint one or two individuals to oversee the project. The tasks can be divided: one person handling the editorial work, and another, the finance, admin and marketing.
  3. Discuss the contents of the book in broad terms - anecdotes, pictures, an overall introduction, historical documents, a map and so forth.
  4. Think about the size and appearance of the book – paperback, hardback, black and white, colour?
  5. Work out specific requirements from any outside contributors, e.g. parents if you are doing a school cookery book.
  6. Give contributors the exact requirements and set a deadline.
  7. Collect the material and check it for copyrights and accuracy. Chase late contributors.
  8. Once the material is in, talk again to the self-publishing company and/or printer and get exact quotes for the typesetting, layouts and printing. Request a proof copy. Work out the number of copies needed.
  9. Prepare the material to print-ready format. Either you or a self-publishing company will need to work to a printer’s specifications.
  10. Follow one of the following printing options:-
    1. take the print-ready material to your local print shop
    2. send the print-ready material to a commercial printer
  11. Advertise the book to the target audience. Seek advance orders and payment for copies.
  12. Hold a book launch party.

Case study
Biddenden in Pictures — People, Places and Events

The Biddenden Local History Society in Kent had built up a considerable archive of pictures of people, places and events in the village. In 2009 it decided to publish a fund-raising book for a new archive room in the village hall.

A committee of six to eight people was formed to produce a 100-page book of photographs and postcards, with descriptive captions. I joined the committee on behalf of YouByYou Books.

Monthly meetings were held. Committee members agreed the pictures from a large collection and selected individual pictures for which to write captions.

A further half dozen local people were co-opted into caption writing. We interviewed older people in the village, getting to know some of the famous (infamous?) characters and building up a picture of life through the last century.

This process took over a year. A professional archivist was engaged to establish as many copyrights as possible and a list was produced for publication.

YouByYou Books was employed to typeset and lay out the book, and two printing quotes were sought. A local artist designed the cover, with an illustrated map.

In October 2010, Biddenden in Pictures was launched in the village hall. Over 350 copies of the book were sold on the day and valuable funds were raised.

In the following weeks, sales rose to 700, many people buying multiple copies as Christmas presents.

The book gave everyone a sense of participation in a worthwhile village project.

Do you have any questions from this section? Please email me and I will try to help you.