a stack of vintage black and white photographs showing children of various ages

How I Helped Publish My Grandparents’ Memoirs

I grew up hearing my grandparents’ stories in bits and pieces. Often they’d mention their families or their lives growing up, and even if it was something I’d heard before, I still found it interesting. Occasionally they’d tell me something I hadn’t heard before, in which case I was even more intrigued. As a young adult, it began to occur to me that they wouldn’t always be around to tell me their stories or answer my questions. I wanted a tangible way to remember my grandparents and their stories so that future generations that wouldn’t have the pleasure of meeting them would still have the opportunity to get to know and love my grandparents as I did.

In January 2020, I began working with each of my dad’s parents to formally document their lives and stories via a subscription publishing service. Each week, I sent them a question or prompt through the service’s website. Examples include “What is one of your fondest childhood memories?” “Tell me about an adventure you’ve been on . . .” and “What advice would you give your grandchildren/great-grandchildren?” By the end of the year, I had fifty-two stories from each grandparent, neatly organized and formatted on the website.

Once my grandparents had written all their stories, I got to work editing them. I cross-referenced and fact-checked names, dates, locations, and other details to ensure accuracy, and I edited for grammar and clarity. Then my grandparents and I spent a day sifting through boxes in their attic to find photographs to accompany some of the stories. With my dad’s help, I scanned and formatted the photos, then attached them to the stories on the website. When the interiors of the books were finished, my grandparents and I designed their covers. This whole process took about four additional months to complete.

Included in the initial subscription price for each book was one finished, hardcover copy. Receiving those first copies in the mail after all the time and effort we put into creating them was unreal. Little did we know when we started the project that it would become a way for us to connect and bond when we weren’t otherwise able to due to COVID-19. The initial months of isolation were difficult, especially for my grandparents. Having such a meaningful project to work on kept us sane. It provided my grandparents with a chance to reflect on and take a dive deep into their lives and legacies, and it provided me with the chance to get to know each of them in a much more intimate way.

Later that year, in December 2021, we had one of our first family gatherings in almost two years. Every family member received copies of my grandparents’ books, complete with personalized, handwritten notes in the front covers. It was extremely special to share them with everyone and to see their reactions. I won’t soon forget how interesting and fulfilling the process of publishing the books was, and I’m so grateful to my grandparents for their willingness to share their time and stories with me in a forever way.

Firing on All Cylinders

Being on a short production schedule is challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun: at any given time, we have at least three projects ongoing concerning different aspects of the book. We’re putting the finishing touches on the structure of manuscript–tweaking the order of the chapters, placement of key lines, and chapter titles. We’re also going full-speed ahead on selling the book to our book representatives. These are the people who we will depend upon to convince Powell’s, Barnes and Noble, and other bookstores to stock and handsell our book, so we really want to make a memorable impression on them. Sales kits, which are fun little bundles of promotional materials that get sent to book reps, are in process. There are lots of possibilities here–roadmaps? postcards? something alluding to Brautigan’s bizarre fascination with mayonnaise? We shall see. Sales kits are a great opportunity to show off our cleverness and creativity while piquing the interest of our book reps. Given the budget we have, it’s an opportunity to be resourceful as well. Being a publishing student means mastering the art of doing excellent work for cheap. I’m really excited to see how our sales kits turn out. We’ll be assembling them and sending them out next week. Naturally, we have other things going on as well–there are events to plan, awards to apply for, and a blog tour to plan. As always, we have our hands full.