#335: Marjorie Turner Hollman’s Journey from Memoir Writer to Book Coach to Author of a Nonfiction Book Series

One of the most important capabilities you can develop as a self-employed professional is the ability to pivot and adapt as your business grows and your life situation evolves. 

Not only is life full of surprises, but what worked for you 5 years ago may not be as palatable today. Whether it’s the types?of clients you work with, the type of work you, pursue or the side projects you take on.  

Marjorie Turner Hollman is an excellent example of this. A long-time writer, Marjorie has faced a number of challenges in her life—including some physical disabilities—that have forced her to reinvent herself and what she offers.  

Her work has evolved from freelance writer to personal historian to book coach for struggling authors to the author of a nonfiction book series.  

There are many things I love about Marjorie’s story, but I find her resilience, resourcefulness and adaptability inspiring. And I think you will too.  

The topic of accessibility and how we all use adaptive aids in everyday life is a concept Marjorie learned from Kam Redlawsk. She is a remarkable, articulate advocate for those with disabilities. 

I hope you enjoy this conversation. 

Marjorie’s website. 

Marjorie’s Amazon author page. 

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Key Topics and Bullets: 

  • Collaboration and impact on the writing community
  •  Managing editing clients and coordinating projects
  •  Specialization in memoirs and book coaching
  •  Transition from personal historian to editor
  •  Early challenges and adaptations in writing business
  •  Financial challenges and pandemic complications
  •  Adapting work to focus on online projects
  •  Tips for finding potential clients and always having a backup digital recorder
  •  Marketing to existing readers and collaboration with genealogists
  • Advocacy for disability normalization and spiritual aspects of her work
  • Marjorie’s website, private Facebook group, and community building around Easy Walk books

Timestamp Overview:

06:23 Marjorie– You had this audio webinar about writing opportunities out of the box. And so I just said, sure. You know, what have I got to lose but an hour to hear what you have to say? And one of those was talking about Jennifer Campbell. She has a book, How to Start Your Own Personal History book. And you put that out. And as it got described, it just hit me like a brick of, oh my goodness. This is what I’ve been needing to know about. I’d never heard of it. Within 2 weeks, I was at a personal history conference in Boston. I live south of Boston. Meeting people that I’m still friends with all these years later, is just right. The right time, I went into Boston, which was a big deal, and just started. It was really very life-changing. It taught me the whole realm of self-publishing, that whole world that I had never known. And it also got me connecting with other people, sharpening my skills for longer narratives. I’ve done 1,000, 2,000-word profiles. This was now 30,000 words that I was helping draw people out. And the basis of it is an interview. It’s as opposed to genealogy where you’re looking at all the dead facts of what people have done, it’s the stories of people who are still alive now before they’re lost, getting them documented, getting them readable, making them shareable.

Ed– So you find yourself at this conference. You realize that this is really what you were meant to do. You had kind of been going in that direction already.

09:29 Marjorie -Memoir has a lot of potholes in the road. When you start bringing other people into your story, they may not like to be brought in. And you have to be very mindful in how you do that. And I came across several where it became very problematic and kinda took the fun out of it for me. I found myself moving towards basically, people came to me who wanted to write their own book and needed support. And so just kind of by happenstance, they started coming to me and I said I really like this a lot more. It’s their book. I don’t have the headaches of it.

12:05 Ed– You said you live in a rural area, so I’m curious as to how much you felt that physical presence mattered because, I assume that a lot of these interviews are conducted over the phone anywhere, or do you find that, no, you have to be physically present there?

Marjorie– The pandemic has changed that. But for the most part, a lot of your clients as a personal historian are going to be older. And so even just handling what we’re doing now by Zoom is problematic. And so for a lot of potential clients, you really do have to be physically there in person. The pandemic made that much more difficult, and so people adapted some. But for me and my health challenges, I don’t travel easily. And so I really had confined myself to about an hour away from my home. So there are a number of clients that I turned down because I physically wasn’t able to get to them.

16:40 Ed– So would you say If you had you found something that works really well for where you are in life right now, limitations that you have and preferences. But if somebody were really intrigued by this idea of being a memoir writer or personal historian, what 2 or 3 things would you tell them that they really need to focus on in order to be successful?

Marjorie– One of the first things is, like I said, write a sample, find somebody who’s willing to get practiced on, get a very simple digital recorder. I was a newspaper reporter, so I wrote everything down. And this introduced me to recording a person’s voice. It’s different. You get a different quality. You also don’t miss things that you wish you’d gotten before. So just, relatively inexpensive.

19:18 Marjorie– So that’s I’m doing the, you know, doing the practice project, having something in hand, finding colleagues, getting some you know, don’t go and buy a whole recording studio. Start simple because you don’t know which direction you’re gonna end up. Most people have some specialties. And then just talk to people and find out what’s missing. People are, you know, what are you gonna be sorry for when it comes to by the time you’re at a funeral, it’s too late to get that person’s stories. So you look for the pain point and start practicing conversations with people, finding out what they do have, finding out what they wish they had, and what are they going to do to make that happen? It’s really a hard sell sometimes because for most of us, we don’t think about it until it’s too late. And so that’s, emphasizing that possibility of loss is a you know, from a marketing standpoint is really important, but people don’t like to think about loss. Sort of have to kinda push the engine a little bit and say, you know, you don’t wanna wait till the funeral to say, oh, I guess I wish.

22:31 Ed– So let’s now move into the area that you’ve transitioned to a little bit more because I’d like to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing. What do you call yourself today? Like, how do you refer to yourself?

Marjorie– Several different things. I call myself an editor now, which I never would have done when I was a reluctant writer. I’m not a I’m not a copy editor, meaning that editing level of of getting things so that they’re ready for a a proofreader. I know there’s copyediting that’s more commercial writing. They’re they’re kind of mixed terms. So I call myself a book coach, a a developmental editor which is looking at a story and saying, how are you gonna make this the most compelling that you can be? That’s where my storytelling skills kick in that that training in telling stories. I have a a strong sense of beginning, middle, and end, and how do you make things flow from 1 to the next to the next? So, so I’ve got a couple of different hats. They they all complement each other.

27:06 Ed– It could be, I have the idea, but, you know, I need some help Getting it out of me or they think they have it down. You just named an example where well, yeah, but they’re not very focused. It’s kind of all over the place. Or I have, you know, something workable, but it’s got issues. Right? So that’s where the developmental editing really comes into play.

Marjorie-I can’t think of an instance when somebody came to me just with a germ of an idea and said help me write this. I’m I’m trying to remember. I feel like I might have, but can’t think of it right now. Most of the people I can think of have written something but know that they need some help. Okay. They just you know, they they understand, but they’re not even sure, what to do. And so I basically will do a manuscript review and then go back and say, here’s what I’ve seen. Here’s what we can do if you’d like to work with me.

29:47 Ed– Why don’t you tell us about the Easy Walkbooks? Because I think it’s a fascinating story And, and really want to know where it’s taking you. Not just the books themselves, but the community that you’ve been able to build.

Marjorie– I was writing for a newspaper even as I was doing this personal history work, and I just get bored after a while. I’m an instigator. I’m not a sustainer. I like to get things started. And so I said to the editor, how about if I just talk, write about local trails that people might want to visit? We can just make it a series. And so I went out with my photographer and visited local trails that I knew of. And after about a year, so about 12, I finished that and said, you know, I’m ready to do something else.

31:18 Marjorie– And, you know, they kept finding my article. After about the 500th time somebody had asked, where’s Joe’s rock? I said, you know, I think there’s a need there. I don’t think people know where to go to get outside. And I mentioned this to my editor, and she said, do you really think there’s enough places to make a book? I said, well, why don’t I see if I can? This was not pre Internet, but very little was on the Internet. This was 2012. And so I’d already been learning about publishing and I had to go out and do fieldwork walking into conservation offices and saying, do you have any trails that might be enough for me to walk on there with my hiking poles? I don’t have real obvious paralysis, but I can only take easy walks. So I went out and did the field work. Some were one and done and didn’t get into the book.

38:04 Ed– I’m curious about how you balance your coaching business now with this other self publishing arm that you now have. Right? Because there are things to do there. It sounds like you don’t like to sit still, which is wonderful. But how do you find, how can you balance all of this when you’re excited about both of them?

Marjorie– For one thing, the collaboration has really freed me from the fieldwork, which is, yes, I enjoy doing it, but physically, it’s hard for me. So, it’s a burst of effort in discrete time. In my Milwaukee Book, they had a deadline that they wanted to get for a book launch. And so the week before, as we were going back and forth with edits, was pretty intense. And I I did spend quite a bit of time, but I was sort of between clients for the editing job. So that worked out. Right now, I have 3 different editing clients.

41:10 Marjorie– I would welcome more collaborators with the EasyWalks projects. It’s just fun. It isn’t tremendously lucrative for me at this point, because the people that do the field work deserve to get paid for their time. I’m basically writing contracts that make it so on I keep the online sales. And since they’re local, any marketing efforts are to their benefit for the physical books. So you know, I gave the copyright away for 1 nonprofit organization I worked with, and I’m really sorry I did because I no longer have the control to be able to order books when I do make local presentations. So for these others, even though they’re a long way from where I live, I wanna keep the copyright because it makes it a growing body of work that I have. I’m happy for them to get rewarded for their work, and I would welcome more of those, like I said, I’m negotiating with somebody in Detroit right now. Never been to Detroit either.

44:28 Ed– So, Marjorie, as we wrap up, I have a couple of questions for you. 1 is a bigger question and then an easy question for you. But I’m wondering as you reflect on the journey that you’ve taken, what impact do you hope you will have on the writing community and beyond that, particularly those with disabilities?

Marjorie– I did write a book specifically targeting those who live with a changed life. And that’s the more spiritual side of things. It’s my liturgy of easy walks. It’s a series of meditations about the process and the experience of dealing with loss, dealing with change, finding a way to create a new life that you never planned on. I have been told that that book has made a difference to some people.That means that means a lot. It’s not just that it’s my story, but people are able to see those core, life lessons in what I’m writing about. It’s not just me, me, me. Here’s my story. Here’s life lessons learned. Take what you can from them and leave the rest. So for that, I I feel very strongly I’ve become much more of a disability advocate. When I first started writing the easy walks books, I didn’t really acknowledge the disability. It was just a trail guide.

48:05 Ed– Marjorie, thank you for coming on today, for sharing your story, sharing your insights with us. I, I do want to just commend you for one thing, beyond everything that I’ve already said. You took action, took in what I like to call inspired action. You know? What is it? 12 years ago, you heard, read something I put out there. And, and that was a spark that took you on a very different path. And that might not seem like a big deal, but I can’t tell you how many people just hear something, get that nudge, they don’t act on it, And, things don’t get better. So I think you’re a beautiful example of someone who went ahead and they felt inspired. They didn’t wait.

Marjorie– You know, a lot of us, I don’t wanna keep you, but a lot of us have that inspiration to give people. And if we ever hear that somebody is inspired, we say, oh, wow. That was really something. And I say, well, it doesn’t take a lot, but it takes something.

49:30 Marjorie– And for those of you, those of us who offer that something, to see somebody take it and run with it really means a lot. So I have felt grateful that I could tell you that you did something. And that was what it took. So do something. You never know what’s gonna happen. I bet you didn’t have any idea that that was gonna happen.


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