They may not ever be best-sellers but they have a built-in loyal readership of friends and relatives, at least. A number of new Web sites are helping people to write accounts of their life stories or family histories to preserve for posterity.
Many of these services promise to keep the authors’ autobiographies and biographies online forever. It is up to the writers whether they want to limit readership with the use of passwords or to make their stories available to the world.
I tested two of the sites: LifeBio.com and biowriters.NET. Both proved helpful in organizing key parts of my life and prompted me to remember important moments, people and situations — some of which I would prefer to forget.
But when it came to a finished product, the results were a little disappointing, especially when I opted for the least expensive choices. Those left you with little more than a list of disconnected sentences about yourself and your recollections.
People who have no writing skills but who want to create stories with a gripping narrative are going to have to pay up. Biowriters sells a 14-chapter biography compiled by a professional writer for $3,450.
To get started with either of these services, you first need to sign up online to get a member ID and password. You’ll need to use the password whenever you want to access your online biography.
LifeBio’s online interface is intuitive. Its template is divided into four main headings containing many areas of interest, including historical events and favorites as a child. Each heading is subdivided into groups of questions. You click on an entry and select the questions you want to answer, save your answers, then go on to other questions.
The service offers three types of membership. The entry-level InstantBio membership for $9.95 lets you answer 102 basic questions about hobbies, pets, high school and other obvious milestones in life. The basic membership for $39.95 has subscribers answering 250 questions divided into categories. The select membership is similar to the basic one except it also includes a memory journal, a hardcover book with 250 questions and space to answer them all. It’s designed for people who prefer to handwrite their biographies and not to broadcast them on the Internet. A select membership costs $49.95.
Many of the questions included in the basic membership are very general (“If you have experienced divorce or remarriage, you are welcome to share your memories and feelings.”); some are obvious (“Where would you go on dates?”); and some are thought-provoking and meant to allow you to give your life’s philosophy (“What advice would you give to future generations about love?”).
But unless you decide to try to weave all those answers into something resembling a real biography, you’ll end up with just your list of answers. The company’s InstantBio membership allows users to hide the questions but it still makes for a choppy narrative. LifeBio is testing a new approach that includes having a writer interview the members by phone. The end package would include an audio recording of the interview on a CD and a printout — all for about $199.
Signing up for biowriters online also is simple. You just click on the My BioWriters icon on the main page and create a password. You are then routed to your own home page with three headings: My Bio, where you can answer questions about your life that are divided into chapters; My Media, where users can upload pictures and PDF files; and My Purchases, where you can buy the company’s products.
This service offers a variety of payment options. Users can pay a $10.95 monthly subscription fee for the duration of the writing process, for which you answer 370 questions, upload pictures and other documents, and access the company’s writers, who will correspond by email or phone. Or you can pay $34.95 and have a lifetime of access.
Like LifeBio’s main memberships, biowriters’ basic final product is a list of answers to questions and a brief online synopsis biography. If you want the company’s writers to turn your answers into a real biography, biowriters charges $485 per chapter.
Biowriters also offers a service where users get a binder questionnaire and a recorder to have their stories later transcribed by professional writers. The transcription service costs $225. When finished, users ship everything to the company, which then will assign you a writer.
With both services, you can write as much or as little as you wish in response to the questions. Biowriters is more expensive than LifeBio but has more package options and tools, such as the transcription service and the writing assistants. Biowriters’ staff members will help users review, edit and put together a final product that looks more or less like a professional job.
- Email me at Sarmad.Ali@wsj.com. Walt Mossberg is on assignment.