Former Business Reporter Turns To Personal Histories: Three Things You Should Know

Reading a book at the beach

Jennifer Bott VanderWeele was once a business reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Now, she and another writer have started Your Personal Memoir LLC, a company that helps people document and preserve their family history.

Bott VanderWeele interviews family members to create personal life story books complete with photos, recipes, or other memorabilia. The books aren’t intended to be “published” (aka on bookshelves or on Amazon.com): instead, they’re family keepsakes like photo albums, she says.

She spoke with Poynter.org today about the transition from business journalist to book creator/designer/publisher. That discussion is archived here, but here are the takeaways:

  • In metro Detroit, where Your Personal Memoir is based, the service charges what works out to be $50 an hour. That’s much better than a journalist salary (but when freelancing, you don’t get a guaranteed 40 billable hour week…and you have to pay more in taxes).
  • Since these projects are so different from working in a newsroom, Bott VanderWeele thinks (but isn’t sure) that you could do this on the side without arousing editorial ire. (“Can staff photographers do family portraits for folks on the side? Well, this is the written equivalent.”)
  • This type of work easily translates to other areas—instead of doing a family history, you could do the history of a building or of a city. In fact, “we’ve already been approached by a community just outside of Detroit to possibly write a history,” she said. For city histories, there might even be grant money available: check with your local oral history association to find leads, she said.