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.
Most people writing family history books and memoirs have a very small audience in mind. They want their children, grandchildren and maybe a few close friends to know something about their origins and life experiences. They see their book not as a commercial project, but as a way to share and preserve their heritage with a group of people they love. They are not experienced authors and know very little about the world of book publishing. Unfortunately, they hold onto a great myth about getting their story into print. It’s rooted in the experiences of people they may know or have heard about who published a book just a few years ago. The people they heard about went to offset printers – the only kind available at the time – and found they had to purchase a minimum of 250, 500, or even a thousand books. It cost them thousands of dollars and they still have boxes of unread books sitting in their garage. The family historians who want to pass on their stories to their grandchildren may not know much about publishing, but they know they don’t want to have that same awful and expensive experience. They don’t need anything fancy. To economize, they’ll take their book down to the local copy shop, get it printed and coil bound and give copies to their intended audience. They will save a bundle in the process. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.
Microsoft Word is great for word processing, that’s what it’s designed for. If you ask it to do anything else you can drive yourself crazy. Have you tried to put pictures into a document and had them move around on you when you edit the text? .Frustrating. Word 2010 has some features and tools that make it possible to do things that were difficult or impossible with previous versions, One thing that should make genealogists and family historians happy is that it’s gotten a whole lot easier to create a family tree using Word 2010. About.com has a wonderful You Tube video on how to do it.
Being published by a traditional publisher carries with it a certain cachet. It confers the prestige of being a “real” writer that self-published authors often lack. Some of that is changing. Self-publishing grows more legitimate by the day. But, let’s leave the question of who published your book says about your standing as a writer aside and look at it strictly as a business proposition.
Do you want to promote your book to a huge audience for free? Of course you do! The Google Books Partner Program allows authors and publishers to do just. You send Google your title or upload a PDF of your book and it will be included in the Google index for free. Google Books will then match the content in your book with user searches. This is the same sort of process uses in delivering personalized search results or targeted ads with Google Ad Words. When Google Books displays your book, it does so for a targeted audience which will be most likely to buy it. Here’s a quick summary of how the process works.
Does the term storyteller give nonfiction writers the wrong message? Novice writers, particularly those writing nonfiction, see their responsibility as researching to gather information about events and then telling their reader the story of what happened. Their role is to organize and report, in a history, a biography or a memoir, the facts as they have found. The result often has a “This happened...then, that happened…then, the next thing happened,” quality to it. The author has discovered the facts and told the reader what they are. She has told the story, but it reads more like a list. Think of the difference between a historical monograph and a narrative history. The monograph – the standard form for academic history – is a focused methodical exposition of the facts involved in one limited aspect of history. It can often make the most interesting material dry and dull to read. Narrative history, however, utilizes the tools of the literary artist to bring an event or story to life. Is it any wonder that historians like David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro have found a large popular audience for their narrative histories while monographs have remained deep in the recesses of the research library? History would be better served if historians heeded Rudyard Kipling’s advice, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
You have just been through unique or dramatic events, overcome apparently overwhelming obstacles, or traveled to exotic places. These are all experiences which might be the stuff of a compelling memoir. Or, maybe friends tell you that you’ve had such an interesting life that others will be fascinated to read about it. All you need to do is get an account of your life into a book and you’ll have a best seller. Before you start your first draft it might be a good idea to think about a recent comment made by British novelist Hilary Mantel, winner of consecutive Booker Prizes for her novels Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies set in Henry VIII’s England. Mantel, who in addition to her novels has also written a memoir, was asked for the NY Times Book Review, By the Book feature, “What Makes a Good Memoir?” She said: “Memoir is not an easy form. It’s not for beginners, which is unfortunate, as it’s where many people do begin. It’s hard for beginners to accept that unmediated truth often sounds unlikely and unconvincing. If other people are to care about your life, art must intervene. The writer has to negotiate with her memories, and with her reader, and find a way, without interrupting the flow, to caution that this cannot be a true record: this is a version, seen from a single viewpoint. But she has to make it as true as she can. Writing a memoir is a process of facing yourself, so you must do it when you are ready.”