The Bard of Bal Harbour
Updated: Mar 7
"Why would someone want to read about my life? I’m not a celebrity.” Peter Weisz, the owner of Palm Beach-based Peter Weisz Publishing, says he gets that question a lot.
“I answer that question Jewish-style. With another question,” he says. “If I could somehow magically produce a memoir book written by your grandmother, would you want to read it?” The answer is always “Definitely.” Of course, the means for her to easily write her life story were not available back then. But, they are today.
Since 2000, Peter has been assisting non-celebrities in not only authoring, but also in designing, publishing and promoting their personal histories. He has produced more than two dozen such memoirs over the years and a surprising number of them have been in behalf of Bal Harbour residents.
“Not that surprising when you think about it,” Peter points out. “People who move to this community are, for the most part, men and women of accomplishment. They come here at a point when their professional lives are behind them. They have the time and the means to reflect on what they wish to leave behind for the next generation.”
Values Over Valuables
Peter speaks often to his clients about placing “Values over Valuables.” This means creating a legacy that is more meaningful than merely assets and trust accounts. A memoir book, he points out, is perhaps the best way to transmit a family’s history and its essential ethos from one generation to the next. He calls it “Creating a literary legacy.”
“I have produced books for clients all over the country, but for some reason, there seems to be a concentration of interest here in South Florida and especially in Bal Harbour.” Besides their Florida addresses, Peter’s clients represent a diverse cross-section from all walks of life.
“Among my Bal Harbour clients, I’ve produced several books for Holocaust survivors,” he says. “Two of the five have been biographies of women.” Peter’s clients include members of the financial industry, higher education figures, attorneys, doctors and business leaders.
The Name Game
Asked about whether his name appears on the cover of the book, he states that this is a decision entirely up to the client.
“Sometimes it will list the client’s name as the book’s author followed by “with Peter Weisz.” Other times, I’m a complete ghost and my name is nowhere to be found. It’s up to you.”
Peter’s work style is pretty straightforward. He will typically schedule a series of one-on-one interviews—either in person or remotely—with the client and friends, family and associates. He will then take that material and use it as a basis for his extensive research into the client’s profession, family history, etc. Such components as the book’s cover art, a photo section, a family tree, a timeline, an introduction, etc. are produced and, at the end of the day, he will present a publication-ready manuscript to the client for approval. The final step is professional proofreading before the book is printed.
Roll The Presses
So how is the book produced and distributed?
There are two options. One is the traditional method of selling the rights to the book to a commercial publisher. This is difficult for a first-time author without much name recognition. Hence, Peter typically advises his clients to go the self-publishing route. He helps them to connect with an online P.O.D. (Print On Demand) provider. In this way, the client need only purchase the number of books needed. It also makes the book available for sale globally at both online (Amazon.com) and at retail bookstores. Sending copies of the finished book to friends and family is also made much easier by using one of these services.
Online publishers also allow the author to select between hardcover and softcover versions and allow them to customize their books in terms of color, paper quality and the like.
“And the production quality these days is outstanding,” Peter points out. “It’s impossible to tell the difference between a self-published book and one produced by a commercial publishing house.”
P.O.D. publishers also provide an easy method of producing an eBook or Kindle version.
Literary Luxury Item?
What about the cost?
Creating a lasting hardbound testimony of one’s life is certainly not something that’s within everyone’s budget. But, when considering the amount of man-hours needed to author and produce say, an 80,000 word, 300-page book, the costs of such a project become understandable.
“There’s no standard rate,” Peter advises. “It depends on what the client has already prepared and what they wish to see created. And that varies greatly. In most cases, the total investment is in the same ballpark as the cost of a new car.”
Peter meets with clients initially at some length to learn something about the person’s personal story and also what they envision as the scope of the book and who they see as their readership. Once these parameters have been laid out, Peter is able to provide the client with a turnkey price for the project.
A Bibliography of Benefits
A gifted and recognized writer over the course of his life, Peter identifies his memoir-creation enterprise as a second career founded after he sold off his interest in a midwest family business and moved to South Florida in the early part of the century. He points to a long list of benefits he has enjoyed since he embarked on this mission. Not merely financial benefits, either.
“The best part of doing this is the unique opportunity I’ve had to meet and profoundly learn about the lives of truly amazing individuals,” he observes. “The common thread among all my clients is their universally strong work ethic fueled bay a deep passion for what they do. Each one also has a high regard for family. They all want their heirs to know who they were.”
A recent call from the daughter of a former client drove this point home to Peter.
“I was contacted by a woman for whose father I had written a comprehensive memoir some fifteen years earlier. The gentleman was a true force of nature. A political figure, a global industry leader with a genuine Only-In-America success story. The book was well-received and portions of it were read at his funeral some eight years later. His daughter sent me the following emotional message:
“Dad was was a wonderful, generous man. He left trust funds for all his kids and grandkids. He left us boats, planes, cars, houses in Florida and many other wonderful assets. But it’s now been more than six years since his death and all of those gifts have been absorbed by the family. The money is now part of each of our estates. The assets have been sold or are no longer connected to Dad in any way. The only thing we have that we still think about as part of our father’s identity is the book you two wrote. We are so thankful that he had the presence of mind to record his amazing and inspiring life story. That’s how he stays alive in our hearts.”
Fad or Fashion?
Does Peter think writing one’s memoirs might become something of a trend among the denizens of Bal Halbour?
“If it did, that would be a terrific thing,” he stated. “The results of doing so speak for themselves.” While ostensibly writing one’s memoirs is done for the benefit of one’s family or perhaps for the sake of history, the biggest beneficiary is always the book’s author.
“Writing something like this, something that covers your earliest years, can force a person to confront situations they haven’t thought about for decades. Doing so through the prism of a lifetime’s experience is enormously beneficial to one’s mental health. It is so often that I hear a client say: ‘I haven’t thought about that person in years,’ or ‘Now I can understand why that happened.’
Is Vanity Fair?
Some people refer to ventures like Peter Weisz Publishing as a “Vanity Press.” Does this appellation apply in this case?
“Certainly, there’s an element of ego whenever someone writes their memoirs,” Peter admits. “But, let’s face it. These are people who have accomplished a great deal with their lives. They have a right to be proud. But that’s not the same thing as being boastful. Like I tell my clients when they ask ‘Won’t my friends think I’m bragging when they hear I’m writing my life story?’ Just tell them that Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. all wrote their autobiographies and they were the most humble people on earth.”
Asked if he was ever criticized for capitalizing on a high-priced status symbol for the rich and not-quite-famous, Peter bristles. “That’s not true,” he replies sternly. “I encourage everyone I talk with to produce a lasting record of their life stories and I list numerous ways it can be done for next to nothing.” Asked for an example, he pointed to a friend who wanted to share his life story with his kids and grandkids, but could not afford to hire Peter to help him produce a memoir book.
“I suggested that he set up a Zoom call with all his kids and grandkids who were spread all over the country. Instruct them to come prepared with some questions. He did it and started off with some background about the family’s history and about the major highlights of his own life. The kids then asked questions and he shared many stories drawn from his priceless memories. The entire thing was recorded and each family member has a copy of it. Total cost of producing this valuable record of his life and legacy? Zero.”
Finally, in response to the question he says is the one he faces most often: “When are you going to write your own life story?” Peter smiles and says this:
“Yes, it’s a case of the cobbler’s kids going barefoot. But I’ll be 76 this year and I’m reaching that point when I, too, would welcome the idea of some literary immortality. The problem is that with each amazing life that I chronicle, I become more convinced that my own pales by comparison. My life’s accomplishments cannot begin to stack up to what my clients have been able to achieve. Also, before I write about myself, I would like to write the story of my late parents, both survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust and true giants in my eyes and in my heart.”