Your family history is unique. So why would you want a cookie-cutter template? At the RootsTech Family History and Technology Conference, a number of people came to our Stories To Tell exhibit and asked, “Do you have software or a template to create books?” We didn’t, and we don’t ever intend to make a book according to a template. A template-based book, compared to a custom book, is like a child’s paint-by-numbers kitcompared to a real, original work of art. We don’t offer templates, but a lot of people do. For example,ancestry.com’s My Canvas promises, “Family History Books auto fill with your family group sheets, pedigree charts, and timelines using Ancestry.com records.” Others offer lists of questions to answer which would generate some book text, and there are publishing packages to create family histories. These packages suggest that if you just point and click, you have a book. Ease of use is often a good thing, but what if something important is lost? The function of a template is to mass produce items in the same shape and pattern. Your family may be special or unusual people, but your book won’t be.
Is an ebook right for you? Ebooks are another alternative for self-publishing authors who want to produce and distribute their book. We have been creating ebooks for a few years now, and they are easier to create than ever. Let's look at how ebooks are produced, who sells them, who buys them, and whether this option will work for you. Much of the positive hype around ebooks is coming from the publishing industry. Publishers love ebooks, as they eliminate the cost of printing and therefore are cheaper to produce. Digital publishing also eliminates the middleman role of retail bookstores. Many readers have been motivated to buy an ereader device. Why? For the device’s portability, for the convenient digital bookstore, and for the inexpensive book prices, sometimes significantly less than print. This leads some people to believe that producing an ebook is cheap. With a text-only book, this is true, and you can make an ebook yourself. I recommend Smashwords. However, illustrated ebooks, like print books, are much more complicated to design, and they can cost almost as much to create as a print book. The savings is in the printing, not in the design.
Storytelling is a center of attention at the annual RootsTech genealogy and family history conference. During a stroll around the exhibit hall you’ll find new services for uploading stories to share on to the web, others to help you record or transcribe stories, not to mention plenty of videographers who will record you and your family telling stories. I appreciate the value of placing stories at the heart of family history. I fear that a critical ideas is getting lost in the process of saying “gee whiz” to the latest storytelling systems which will be both fun and so easy that all you need to do is click your mouse. Sharing and preservation are not the same thing. The emphasis with many of the new web-based storytelling systems is on sharing. But family historians need to give at least equal attention to the preservation of their family stories.
When you are writing, do you ever get stuck on how to move from one section to the next? This is a common problem, even for nonfiction writing. These “transitions” are widely misunderstood. It’s not only that the topic has changed, it is that your role as the author has changed. You need a new voice to suit the new material. How can you change your “voice” when you are writing – after all, you are the same person, aren’t you? Yes and no.
Self-publishing a book costs money. It’s a business venture. Hiring professionals to edit the manuscript, layout the interior, design the cover, and assist with publicity and marketing can constitute a significant investment. Savvy authors understand that it’s an investment worth making if they are to give their book its best chance of success Increasingly seeking pre-publication crowdfunding is emerging as a way to underwrite the cost of producing a professional quality self-published book. The most well-known crowdfunding site is Kickstarter, which bills itself as “…a new way to fund creative projects.” It was founded in 2009 and has attracted 5.5 million people who have pledged $959 million to support a variety of projects, books among them. Authors would do well to take a look at Pubslush.
What are the secrets in your family’s history? We may be bombarded by news about the disappearance of privacy in our society, but as Bruce Feiler observed in a recent story in the N.Y. Times, “Secrets endure. Especially in families.” It is often left to the family historian to discover them. The road to these discoveries frequently departs from the conventional path of scouring vital records, interviewing family members, reviewing letters, diaries, or journals and searching newspaper records. Finding the secret truths frequently begins with a surprising trigger that might easily be overlooked.
Imagine this: you’ve spent three years writing a book. You have done everything right, and hired a professional editor and designer so that your book will be perfect. The designer repeatedly sends PDFs of the book for you to check over. You print them out and confirm that each page is beautifully laid out, just as you intended. After careful scrutiny, you authorize the book to be sent to the printer. Now you eagerly wait for the big boxes of books to come. It will be a special occasion; a big family gathering, and everyone will receive a copy. Your investment is twofold: you’ve paid good money for the book order, and what you really want (and money can’t buy) is the affirmation from your family that you’ve done an excellent job. Everyone is delighted. They look through the book, naturally stopping at the pictures. Your heart sinks. Could it be? These pages don’t look like the PDFs you printed out at home! The pictures are much smaller. What went wrong? Fortunately, the family is thrilled, as they don’t see the difference. But you do. Here is what went wrong: one tiny checkbox in the author’s Adobe Reader print dialogue. Worse, it is the default checkbox: she didn’t know it had to be reset. My client had unknowingly been printing out a 6x9 book into a scaled-up format. She was seeing a different book than the PDF I sent!
Today we welcome Lynn Palermo, The Armchair Genealogist and creator of the Family History Writing Challenge, who joins us with a guest post: A 10 -Step Strategy to Writing a Family History Book
A family historian and a detective have a lot in common. Think about legendary detectives – Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Sam Spade or Kinsey Milhone . What makes them successful? They are all, despite dramatic differences in personal style, careful searchers, engaged in diligent inquiry or examination aimed at discovering the facts. Jack Webb became a TV legend as Detective Joe Friday on Dragnet with the line, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Family historians are equally single-minded researchers collecting the facts about their ancestors... Family historians also need to remember that being a good detective also means being a good story teller.
Here are some of the best recent thoughts from around the web on marketing self-published books to help you plan your marketing for the year.
Would you pay a monthly subscription fee to have access to an unlimited number of ebooks? Several startup services are betting that you will. Building on the model of subscription services like Netflix with movies and TV shows and Spotify with music, Scribd which has raised $25 million from venture capitalists offers an $8.99 monthly subscription. Oyster, with $17 million in start-up funding, has a $9.95 monthly fee. Oyster co-founder Eric Stromberg told the NY Times Deal Book Blog “The thesis is that over the next five to 10 years, more reading will happen on tablets and phones,” said Oyster co-founder Eric Stromberg. “We’re trying to create an experience that will lead the way.”
Estimating the cost of a custom self-published book project is a bit more complicated than walking into the auto repair shop and getting an estimate for a brake job. At Stories To Tell we always say, “Our rates are generally $50 per hour. When you are ready, send us your digital files and we’ll create a custom estimate for your project.” What’s involved in creating an estimate for editing, book design or publishing services?
If you are writing a family history or thinking about starting to, Lynn Palermo, The Armchair Genealogist, has a few questions for you: Have you been writing sporadically never finishing a story? Have you procrastinated writing your stories, not sure where to begin? Do you need that nudge to finish your stories and finally publish? Are you overwhelmed and need some support in getting started? If you answered yes to any of the questions, Palermo’s Family History Writing Challenge is designed to get you over the hump. The challenge is simple. Make a 28 day commitment beginning February 1st to write your family history every day.
The annual state-of-the-industry predictions by Mark Coker, President of the e-book publisher Smashwords, are always interesting and almost guaranteed to trigger some controversy. The list of 14 predictions Coker offered in the Smashwords blog post 2014 Book Publishing Industry Predictions - Price Drops to Impact Competitive Dynamics were no exception. Some of the more audacious elements of Coker’s list of prognostications were: Big publishers will lower e-book prices to make their books more competitive. E-book sales growth will slow. E-book unit market share will grow. The dollar value of e-book sales will decrease. Price promotions will become less effective. All authors will become indie authors. There’s plenty there to chew on. But for authors, Coker’s advice was simple: concentrate on writing high quality books and write more of them.