When you are writing nonfiction, particularly about people who are still living, it’s worth giving some thought to some of the legal issues which might arise. Most questions which arise about the portrayal of a person in nonfiction are based on one of two legal questions: Defamation: A person may claim that the book contains falsehoods that hold the subject up to scorn. Invasion of privacy: Legal expert Howard G. Zaharoff told Writers Digest that a person mentioned in a book has “The right to avoid disclosure of truthful but embarrassing private facts…” The issue here is not the truth of what is reported, but whether it is “not related to public concern.” Both are potential issues. Even when a person portrayed in the book is dead, his family members might claim either defamation or invasion of privacy.
“All writers think of what they do as an art,” said novelist Barry Eisler. “Smart writers understand that writing is also a business. Really smart writers see themselves also as entrepreneurs.” That means you need to approach your book as a business person would. You have a product to sell – your book. How will you get the maximum number of potential readers to buy it? That will take some thoughtful planning. You’ll need a good marketing plan for your book. Today we’ll focus on seven things you should think about before you formulate your plan. (Creating the plan itself will be next Monday’s post.) Several of the things we’ll cover today are resources you’ll need to create and use as you put your plan into action.
Working on a nonfiction book? How will storytelling help you make it one people will want to read? The fact is that most nonfiction writers don’t think of themselves as storytellers. They’re reporters putting together factual commentary on information or events, or maybe analysts investigating problems, ideas, or policies. But storytellers, not no so much. That’s too bad because a writer, whether producing a novel or a work of nonfiction faces the same challenge of grabbing a reader’s attention and keeping him engaged. Plunging the reader into a story works well for a novelist, but it may work equally well for a nonfiction writer. Let’s take a look at how two gifted nonfiction writers use a narrative open to hook their readers attention and draw them into the topic they will then explore.
We just discovered another reason to love reading and writing. The American Academy of Neurology just released a statement which says, “New research suggests that reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory.” Wow! That’s big, especially when you realize that the National Council on Aging reports that 42% of older Americans are very or somewhat worried about memory loss.
You have finished the first draft of your book. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment, but realize that you are at a critical crossroads in your book’s development. Experienced writers realize that their manuscript has a long way to go before it's ready for print. Inexperienced writers often don’t. They are “finished” writing and believe their book needs only a quick copy edit to get the commas in the right place before it will be headed top spot on Amazon. That’s too bad because their book will probably fall far short of what it could have been. Inexperienced writers haven’t yet learned the iterative nature of their craft. A good finished product requires iterations of writing and revision. Revising well is an essential step in producing a quality book. Let's look at how to do it well.
Digital printing has dramatically changed the look of family history books. Twenty years ago family history books were almost exclusively text, either prose written by their authors or charts and documents they had collected. Digital printing has made it possible to include photos and illustrations of all kinds and to do so in full color at a reasonable price. When you look at a newly published family history it is almost always an illustrated book. Creating illustrated books has raised some new issues for family historians. The most important are: Choosing which illustrations to include Finding quality images for those illustrations Let’s look at some ways to deal with both questions.
You’ve traced your lineage back ten generations. You know who came over on the Mayflower, or crossed the Middle Passage on a slaver, or came steerage to Ellis Island. You have all the details documented to the highest possible level of proof. How do you pass the product of your years of diligent research on to the next generation? Put it in a book! Think about the people with whom you want to share your knowledge of the family’s history. They are your book’s intended audience. What will they want to know? Think about how you can chronicle the family history in a way that will engage them – even the grandchildren.
If you are part of an extended family that gets together for summer reunions, big holiday gatherings, or to commemorate important occasions like 75th birthdays, 50th anniversaries, or retirements, then you are fortunate. These family gatherings are virtual gold mines for the would-be family or personal historian. Bringing together your relatives gives you eyewitness sources who can add information to whatever you are researching. There are some simple things that you can do to make sure that you take maximum advantage of the opportunity your family gathering will present.
Readers have short attention spans and lots of choices. If your book doesn’t pique their interest quickly they’ll put it down and pick up another from the bookstore shelf or click away to another Amazon listing. People writing for the internet understand the problem. BJP Copywriting warns, “From the first moment a customer arrives on your website, the clock is ticking…you’ve got an average of just 7 seconds to grab a reader’s attention and give them the information they want, before they leave your site.” Potential reader may give your book a few seconds longer, but you need to have a sense of urgency about grabbing their attention. Charles Dickens could get away with beginning David Copperfield with, “I am born,” when it was published in 1849, but you can’t. Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, your book needs a hook.
Mark Twain once observed, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Writers would be well advised to understand that narrative and narrative summary present a similar problem.
Bookstores are disappearing for two: they can compete with Amazon.com, and print books are being replaced by ebooks. These two threads are part of almost any discussion of book publishing and the book business. However, recent trends suggest that both beliefs may be wrong. Kristine Rusch in an excellent post on her blog The Business Rusch, describes The Changing Playing Field. First, she finds that the bookstores, rather than dying are experiencing a resurgence. She cites a recent report in National Real Estate Investor titled Brick and Mortar Book Sellers Gained Shopper Traffic in the First Three Months of 2013 which says: In spite of the intense competition from digital book sellers, bricks-and-mortar bookstores were among the top gaining categories in shopper traffic in the first three months of the year, behind financial planning shops and bars. Bookstores as a group experienced a 27 percent increase in shopper visits during the period and moved up six spots in Placed Insights’ ranking, to number 46. Barnes & Noble in particular moved up eight spots on the list of the most visited stores in the U.S., to number 17.
If your self-published book is going to be a commercial success, one of the things it needs to be is eye-catching. That begins with a great cover. Chip Kidd, of Alfred A. Knopf, who designed the iconic cover for Jurassic Park among other bestsellers, explained the goal of a book cover in a recent TED Talk. He said, “I want you to look at the author’s book and say, ‘Wow! I need to read that.’” “It’s a billboard,” said Peter Mendelsund, Kid’s colleague at Knopf who designed the cover for the Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. “You hope yours shouts the loudest or entices the most intriguing way."...Making sure that title is eye-catching title as well as readable is essential. Author’s often struggle with that. Would you read a novel titled Trimalchio in West Egg? That’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his third novel until his editor Maxwell Perkins convinced him The Great Gatsby might work better.
Amazon is king of print on demand, but sometimes it isn’t right for your project. For example: Amazon (actually their printer, CreateSpace) doesn’t print hardcover books. Or books with special packaging, like a CD enclosure. And there are trim sizes and papers options, etc., that Amazon doesn’t print, either. So what do you do if you have an unconventional project? You may still need the three things Amazon provides so well: internet search presence, payment processing, and fulfillment. A listing on Amazon is certainly helpful compared to selling from your own website, but it is the carefree billing and order fulfillment that makes Amazon so invaluable to authors. Can you use any printer you choose, and make a custom book, without the limitations of print on demand? Yes. Even if you don’t use them for printing, you can still use Amazon for payment processing and distribution of hardcover books, custom books with odd trim sizes, CDs, and other media products as well. This is a lesser-known method called Amazon Advantage.
One of the best things about attending a genealogy conference is getting the opportunity to talk with people about their interests and the projects they are working on. We are at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this weekend and I have had a chance to listen to people talk about family history books they are writing. Often people describe how they are documenting generations of ancestors by creating a fully-sourced book tracing the family chronologically through the generations. But at Jamboree several family historians wanted to break out of that traditional mode. They had embraced the advice know your audience. The result was some very unique approaches to creating a family history book. Let’s look at some.
Are you ready to turn your family history research into a family history book? The key to creating the book you dream of passing on to the next generation is organization. Taking the time to plan the structure of the book before you begin banging away at the keyboard will save you time in the long run and help you write a much better book. Here’s a simple, time-tested process to help you plan and organize your book.