Transforming your “as told to” story into a book

When someone contacts me to write a book one of the first questions I always receive is, “What is an as told to book?” Well, as you probably guess, an as told to book  is all in the name. You are telling me your story, so that I can recreate that story into a book. The next question I sometimes receive is, “Why would I hire you to write my book when you’re just rewriting what I told you?” Fair question, and recently it came up and that’s why I’m writing this post today.

Story time: Recently I was contacted by a small business owner interested in writing a book about the struggles he faced when starting his own business. He wanted to use the book as a handout for customers, friends, and family. This is pretty common. After our initial discussion he asked me the question posted above, “So, why am I hiring you when I can just carry a recorder around with me and transcribe my own notes into a book.” my answer was this, “I don’t know, that is something you can do.” He laughed. 

We then got on the discussion of what hiring a writer to help with your as told to book really does. After all, a writer will not recreate your life, likely doesn’t know your story, and isn’t a mind reader. So, your story, your as told to book, must come from you. 

He understood, and said, “You know, I think I’ll try recording my story and writing it myself. If I get too busy or don’t want to write the book after then I’ll just give you my recordings to write the book.” While his understanding that writing a book has obstacles if you are not dedicated to it, he was missing an important piece to an as told to book – the collaboration. 

That was two months ago. Update to this weekend and I received a text message, “Call me, I need your help.” Thankfully, I saved his name in my phone or I would have thought the number was spam. I called, and this potential client said, “I recorded myself telling my story and it just took ten minutes. I don’t think I have enough for a book. Any ideas?”

I read what he had transcribed, then began asking questions…lots of questions. His realization came to light that. yes, there is enough to tell a book. And second, a writer does a lot more than just scribble down your story. 

Okay, so, my blog is two-fold. First, I encourage everyone to write their story. I think legacies are vital to living life. Even someone who thinks that they had a boring simple life has a great story – they just forgot it. So, by all means write your story. Second, if you need help writing your story I’m here for you. I am a full-time writer and I specialize in as told to stories. So, yes, I’m hoping if you want to tell your story you hire me to help. So, this blog will help you understand the basic steps behind writing your story, and what I do to help you write your story.

Now, I’m not going to get into the finer details on how to write, perspective, or even chronology. What I will talk about are 8 steps that are key to writing your book or hiring me to write your book for you.

  1. The bullets: The first thing I tell everyone when starting on their book is to write out bullet points of the key moments in your life or that you would like to talk about. one word, a simple sentence, just anything to jog your memory. This is what we will use to tell your story. I’ve had people who just wanted to talk without any prep. That’s fine, but what you will get is a lot of repetition and confusion. The bullets will help you stay focused.
  2. Recording or interviews: While this seems like it is easy enough for you to do on your own, this is one area that if you were to do things on your own, you hire me to help you with. That’s funny because this is the step most people suggest doing on their own. The component of interviewing yourself is that you are telling something that you’ve told yourself countless times in your head. What you get is what my client above got – 10 pages. What you are missing is the person who helps pull information from you. During our interviews, and while I am transcribing interviews I will come across questions that will help provide context to your story, move your story forward, or are interesting bits of information. If you’re not a writer, you can easily miss those necessary bits of information. Which is why and how a writer can turn your ten pages into 200 pages.
  3. Transcribing: “I can type fast.” Yep, I’m pretty sure you can. But, can you translate what you are saying, and type it out while keeping up with the stop and start of a recording? Transcription is not difficult, but it is time-consuming. For someone who doesn’t transcribe it can take ten-times or more time that the interview. For someone experienced it can take six-times as long. For someone who does this as a living four-times. The reason it doesn’t take me as long as I have the subscription tools and experience. If you want to give it a go, I suggest using an online tool called Trint. They take your recording and transcribe it. Then you can go online and listen to your recording while you read their transcription. Audio to text conversion isn’t 100% reliable, so this isn’t a plug and go system, but this is a lot faster than typing everything out yourself. Most interviews I conduct take 6-10 hours. Depending on how well a person speaks, this can take about 40 hours to transcribe and up to 60 if a person uses a lot of non-words.
  4. Filling in the details: Some people may be good at fleshing out details from their initial interviews. During an interview I am constantly jotting down notes and asking questions. I later verify facts, do additional research, and then create lists of follow-up questions. That is how I fill in the details. One example I have is from a small Civil War skirmish that occurred near where I live. It was a fight between the North and South and almost entirely made up of soldiers from the same rural town. That is the basic story most people know. However, by looking deeper into the battles previously fought by these companies of soldiers, where they had marched, where they lived prior to the war, etc. I was able to fill in some interesting details and build context into why this skirmish was so important to the history of the entire war.
  5. Getting creative: There is a degree of creativity to telling a story. After all, you are writing a story that you want people to read. If it is boring, flat, lacks details (even small ones, you might have a story, but one that no one reads. Creativity doesn’t mean you need to be a poet, but things such as adding pictures, telling fun stories that are relevant but a little off topic, and adding in historical context people can relate to their selves is important. After all, would you tell a story from August to October of 2001 without mentioning the terrorist attack of the World Trade Centers? I hope not, because that is something that most people will recall and will get people wondering what you were doing at that same moment.
  6. Editing: I remember someone a few years ago wanted to help edit books I write. I asked if they had experience. The answer was a very snarky, “I went to college. I can put words together in a sentence.” Well, their editing didn’t turn out so well. It’s not because they weren’t educated and didn’t know how to put together a sentence. It’s because if you aren’t fanatic about grammar there is a lot more to editing than you think. Don’t believe me? Pick up a recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style and its 1.146 pages.
  7. Publishing: I did not start out publishing. But, most books I work on are as told to books for people who only want to print 25-100 copies for family and friends. Yes, it’s true that most people aren’t interested in sharing their life with the entire world, though I do get my share of people who insist, “my story is going to be an automatic best seller.” Now I provide publishing services for books. Usually I use Amazon’s publishing for paperback and eBooks. Though I also use other more traditional book printers if you want to spend more money. I can provide a simple, yet attractive interior design, or I can contract interior design out if it’s more complicated. Additionally, I work with several illustrators for cover designs.

These are the basic steps of your as told to book(s). You can certainly tackle this on your own, but if you choose to hire me, I can work with you from step one to completion, coach you through it, and even just help you with one or two steps if you choose.

If you are looking for a writer to help with your book or other writing/editing project please contact me to discuss. You can find my rates and types of projects I work on here.

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