October is Family History Month. We want to invite you to help us celebrate by participating in a poll. It short and sweet: What’s the best reason to write a family history book? Leave you answer in the comments (or if you would rather Tweet them using the hashtag #STTBooks). We’ll compile the results and post them at the end of the month. We hope you’ll enjoy telling us what you think. Encourage your friends to share their thoughts. We are looking forward to hearing from you.
If you do research for a book – and almost all of us do whether it’s for fiction or non-fiction – what can you legally take from your sources and what might get you into trouble? The obvious answer is what they told you in elementary school, “Don’t copy.” So high profile writers have been embroiled in some ugly public flaps over this simple idea. Alex Haley, author of the blockbuster Roots settled a copyright infringement suit with fellow novelist Harold Courtlander for $650,000. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin settled with writers of three books following accusations of plagiarism by the Weekly Standard. But assuming you are trying to play by the rules, what are those rules? The answer is based on the legal concept of Fair Use.
I love book festivals. We exhibit at some of the biggest and best in the country including the Tucson Festival of Books, The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and the Miami Book Fair International. Nancy and I are looking forward to Wordstock in Portland, Oregon next weekend. If you love books, you can’t beat the conversations at a book festival. Each time we go we meet some wonderful people, talk about interesting and exciting books, explore the craft of writing, and learn more about what is happening in the business of books. You can get a great education at a book festival just by walking around, talking to people, visiting fellow exhibitors, and dropping in on some of the speaker sessions. We come home enriched by the experience. Each time I go to a festival I set a goal. This my goal time is to learn more about tools that will help self-publishing authors in their roles as entrepreneurs.
Here are my Top 10 Tweets from the past week. If you missed these follow @STTBooks on Twitter for more great tips, tools, and creative ideas from around the web.
Genealogical Mysteries on My Fall Reading List British author Fay Sampson has written a wonderful series of mysteries with a genealogical twist.
Three Unconventional Tools You Might Not Be Using for Your For Your Genealogy Research These web based tools will help simplify the way you manage your research.
Rebecca Skloot on Producing Creative Nonfiction Lessons from the best-selling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
How to Get Writing Material From Your Life How to capture and use the details of everyday life to tell your story.
The Writer’s Craft
How to Find Beta Readers for Your Work You need quality feedback to guide you in revising your book. Here’s a way to make sure you get it.
Artist Creates Gorgeous Story Structure Map A beautiful tool for planning your story structure.
Promoting a Virtual Book Tour Virtual book tours have allow authors to reach a wide potential audience. Here are some great tips on how to make sure yours gets the publicity it deserves.
Nonfiction Query That Survived 75 Submissions Check out a query letter that finally hooked a literary agent and led to a publishing contract.
People With E-Readers, People Without E-Readers This wonderful infographic on The Self-Publishing Review will help you decide whether an e-book, a print edition or both is best for your book.
INDIEstructible: Inspiring Stories from the Self-Publishing Jungle Success stories from authors who self-published or signed with a small press. Will yours be next.
Share your best recent web find in a comment!
Thinking about publishing a book? Would it be better as an e-book, a print edition, or both? The Self-Publishing Review offers some illuminating statistics on the subject in a wonderful infographic by Catherine Tosko titled People With E-Readers and People Without E-Readers. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider in making your decision.
Family historians are researchers first. They must look carefully and thoughtfully for the facts of their ancestors lives, assemble them, and organize them into a narrative. Some researchers are more skilled or more fortunate than others, but the truth is that none of them will be able to gather all of the facts they would like to have about their ancestors. What do you do when you want to write a family history, but come face-to-face with the fact that the historical record you have been able to discover is incomplete, even fragmentary? Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd offer some useful advice in their book Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.
Forbes.com has some valuable business advice for authors who want to self-publish their books: Get professional help. Many self-publishing authors see the process as a DIY proposition. But Forbes reports that “authors who did their own editing and cover design made only 38% of the average” amount earned by self-published books. Authors who got help with editing, copy editing and proof reading saw their earnings increase 13%. Authors who hired professional book designers as well as editors saw their books earn 34% more than the average for a self-published book.
There has been a lot written celebrating the elimination of gatekeepers – agents, editors, and traditional publishers – who blocked many authors from access to publication. Self-publishing has allowed writers to find their own readers. E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Grey series have inspired many people to say, look what happens when a writer can get her own books out there to find an audience. So self-publishing has provided authors with opportunities that didn’t previously exist, but, although not many people are talking about it, authors also lost some important things when it became possible to do an end around and totally bypass the traditional gatekeepers. Let’s take a look at some of the things authors lost.
Why Would You Want a Print Book? asked Rich Meyer in a recent post on Indies Unlimited. While the reasons he gave for publishing his quiz books exclusively in e-book formats may be valid for him, his was only one answer to a complex question. It deserves a more complete answer. Let’s look at some of the reasons you would want a print edition of your book.
Nonfiction writers can learn a great deal about writing from Sherlock Holmes. True, Holmes never wrote a word. Dr. Watson served as his Boswell, faithfully reporting the stories of the famous sleuth. Think instead about what made Holmes the world’s most memorable detective? It was not his investigative skill. He didn’t gather a mountain of facts. What he did was to make brilliant deductions based on inferences from a few facts which allowed him to construct a narrative of the entire case. Why is that important for a nonfiction writer? Because it represents a mindset almost totally opposite to the one most nonfiction authors adopt. They set out to gather all of the facts about a subject and then display them before their reader.
Brick walls, those frustrating points where you can’t find the information you need and don’t know where to turn which stop your research in its tracks, are favorite topics when genealogists gather. How do you break through that brick wall? You may run into the same sort of blockage while you are writing your family history. Often the barrier is a missing detail. Until you can find it, you can’t move on. Your family history is stuck. You take off your writer’s hat and slip back into the role of researcher. Fortunately there’s a way to overcome such obstacles. The important thing to understand is that just because you family history occurred in a chronological sequence, you don’t have to write your book by following the same sequence. It’s perfectly okay to deal with ancestors, events, or stories out of order as you develop your manuscript. You can go back later to fill in the details of the hurdle that’s obstructing your progress now and add transitions to smooth out the book’s flow. Here are five tricks to help you avoid getting stuck when you run into an obstacle.
Rigid adherence to a chronological framework can be one of your greatest enemies when you are trying to write a memoir or family history that interests readers. Using a chronological approach to help organize your book often leads to chapters of equal length with time periods homogenized so that all events seem to have equal importance and receive equal attention. Life, however, isn’t lived that way. Some times or events are pivotal. Understanding those turning points is the key to the story. Other segments of your life can be dealt with in a more summary fashion. Let’s face it, not everything that happens to us is all that interesting. So, how does one avoid falling into a chronological trap?
Looking for a literary agent for your book? The conventional route involves creating a list of agents who handle books like yours and contacting them. You can look in the acknowledgements of recently published books comparable to yours. Then use Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents or The Writer’s Market to learn more about them and their submission guidelines. We described the whole process in our post How Do I Find a Literary Agent? Let’s look at some online tools you might want to add to your agent search toolbox.
As you are working to get the coals just right for your Labor Day barbeque, take a moment to think about how we happen to be celebrating this day all across America. The holiday’s origin goes back 119 years to 1894. The American Railway Union had undertaken a drive to organize railroad workers nationwide, triggering strikes across the country. A strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in the Chicago area was the lynch pin of the effort. The administration of President Grover Cleveland, which was solidly anti-union, sent 12,000 troops to Chicago to break the strike. U.S. Marshals fired on protesters near the city, killing two, and the strike collapsed. But the results sparked a massive backlash against Cleveland’s heavy handed actions and only six days after the strike ended both houses of Congress had approved a bill proclaiming Labor Day a holiday and Cleveland had signed it hoping to quell the protests. It’s a fascinating story. You can learn more about the Pullman strike in an article titled Pullman Strike of 1894 in the California Historical Society’s journal California History. A post on the PBS NewsHour Blog The Origins of Labor Day provides details about the holiday itself. If you are a family historian think about the working men and women in previous generations of your family. A search of some of the many excellent collections of documents in libraries and archives will help you understand much more vividly how your ancestors lived.
Is it OK to take a long time? Yes. Writing a book is like a lasting friendship. If you don’t abandon it and periodically give it “quality time” your book will become stronger. Over an extended period of time, you evolve, both as a writer and as a person. Writing itself makes you more skilled as an author. Not only should you consciously attempt to learn the craft, you will inevitably develop a greater sense of command and strengthen your voice. And, assuming you grow wiser as you age, your point of view toward your subject will shift, too. What are the negative consequences to writing a book over a long period of time? How can I benefit from taking more time, and do this right? Should I go back to the beginning each time I’m away for a while? What if I never revisit my earlier material, and resume writing where I left off? How can I make my pieced-together book cohesive?