Memoir Magic

Samantha Reynolds knows what it’s like to lose a lifetime of memories.

When her grandmother died suddenly after a routine operation several years ago, Reynolds realized she had missed the opportunity to record her grandmother’s stories and felt the void of a legacy lost to time.

With the help of her family she created a book of testimonials and memories about her grandmother and went on to do similar books for friends and family members who were getting married or celebrating milestones.

Inspired by the notion, she launched a business dedicated to the creation of personal memoir books for anyone who wanted one; Echo Memoirs specializes in making hardback coffee-table books with an entirely personal edge.

Life stories, family histories, entrepreneurial accomplishments and the lives of pets and kids are just some of the topics clients can focus on when they commission a book.

“It is deeply gratifying to help people express their love for the people in their lives,” says Reynolds, founder and president of Echo Memoirs in Vancouver. “When we can help a daughter articulate how much her father means to her – and those words are forever preserved in a beautiful book – that is truly priceless.”
In the bindery, two staffers put some finishing touches on a book.

Clients are first treated to a phone consultation in order to determine the subject, basic length and purpose of the memoir. During subsequent taped interviews, by phone or in person, thought-provoking questions are put to the clients in order to get natural responses. These are then transcribed and professionally edited and woven into chapters, which are later shown to the clients for feedback, suggestions or any corrections.

The best photographs are gathered by family, with the guidance of the project manager, and professionally scanned. Once the book’s layout and design is complete, it is sent to a colour printing press and later hand-bound in hardcover at Reynolds’ Vancouver studios.

Reynolds says the final result always induces an emotional response.

“We always hear back from our clients and I’m proud to say we have a 100 percent cry rate,” she says. “It’s incredibly emotional for our clients to see their lives in print, or to read about how they have impacted others. I love that emotional side of what we do.”

Reynolds, who studied journalism at the University of Victoria and worked as a freelance writer and designer, says working closely with her clients is instrumental to a project’s success.

“The design of each of our books is unique and based on the story, the photographs and the distinct personality of the person or business celebrated in the book,” she says. “We have been known to base our whole design for a book on the way a client decorated her living room so that the book would be a perfect addition to the room’s décor. When it comes to creating these books, we don’t cut corners.”

This devotion to duty is reflected in the price of the projects: personal memoirs start at $30,000; corporate books start at $50,000.

Twelve to 15 people from the editorial department are assigned to one project, giving each client between 300 and 3000 hours of personal attention with interviewers, writers, proofreaders, designers, book-binders and photo technicians.

“The pay-off is that our books don’t make the gradual creep up to the attic or get tucked away in a bookshelf; our books are proudly displayed on coffee-tables for family and guests to read.”

Since the company started in 2001, Echo Memoirs has created over 200 personal and corporate memoirs across Canada and the U.S.

As for her dream project, Reynolds jumps at the chance to share:

“My dream project would be to do a surprise book for Oprah Winfrey. She is so great at honouring the contributions of other people so it would be fabulous to turn around and give her a book full of reflections from the people closest to her telling her how much she has impacted them.”
Traditional book-making practices are used to make the highest-quality, handmade product possible.
Reynolds says it’s imperative for family members to record and preserve their own family histories and offers some simple guidelines:

· Ask parents and grandparents questions about the past and urge them to tell their stories. Record those conversations on tape.
· Take lots of photographs and caption them right afterwards, either in a scrapbook, on the back of printed photos or by digitally naming a file.
· Go on a family vacation to a place of ancestral meaning (a grandparent's childhood hometown, the country where your great-grandparents emigrated from, etc.) and bring along a handheld video recorder to record the family's experience.
· Tape-record your "elders" at the next family reunion - or just at Christmas dinner this year.
At 31, Reynolds has a lifetime of her own memories yet to create, but she imparts some sage advice to anyone with a dream.

“Do something that you love. If you’d still do it even if you won the lottery, you’ve found your passion. Starting a company is hard work so you might as well be working hard at something that you really love.”


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