An author aiming for commercial success must approach their book as a business person. Your book is, after all, a product you wish to sell. One of the first questions to consider is, how have similar books done in the marketplace. Michael Larsen, a partner in Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents wrote in Katherine Sands’ excellent book Making the Perfect Pitch: “The moment you have an exciting idea for a book… • Check the competition • Make yourself an expert on your subject by reading the most important the most important competitive books and browsing through others.”
Anytime you run into anyone interested in books, be they readers, authors, book sellers, or publishers, you find people anxious to talk about what’s happening in the publishing world. Lately that conversation has focused on the implications of the Justice Department’s recent lawsuit against Apple, and publishers Hachette Group, Harper Collins, MacMillan, Penguin, and Simon and Schuster who the government alleged engaged in the fixing of e-book prices Everybody seems to have an opinion. This weekend the New York Times Sunday Dialogue presented some excellent opinions on the topic Books in a Digital Age. They are worth your time.
We spent the weekend at the L.A. Times Festival of Books having some wonderful conversations about books. One of the topics authors seemed most interested in was who controlled the rights to their books. Great question! Copyright is what often comes to mind first. The U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” Should you register that copyright? The Copyright Office explains, “In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.” The so-called “Poor Man’s Copyright” in which you mail a copy of your work to yourself may establish the fact that you created the work, but does not provide legal protection. The Copyright Office explains, “There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.”
“One of the markers of a life well lived must surely be the stories, experiences and memories that are told, retold, remembered and re-experienced throughout the life span,” said Kathleen Adams of the Center for Journal Therapy in Denver which conducts life story writing programs for seniors. The Grub Street Memoir Project in Boston has recently published its second anthology My Legacy is Simple. The first is titled Born Before Plastic. Alexis Rizzuto, the Memoir Project manager and senior writing coach, says that two striking features of both books are the ability of the seniors to make their stories “come alive” and the “profound sense of place” their stories of Boston contain.
Self publishing requires a lot more decisions for authors than traditional publishing ever did. The first question is whether the book is intended for a commercial audience or a private publication for family and friends. The answer to this question can affect every aspect of the production of the book including editing, design, printing and distribution. Here are some questions to consider in deciding which type of self publishing is right for you and your book.
Faced with the need to close and renovate the west wing of the American History Museum, interim director Marc Pachter had a problem: what would happen to all the beloved and famous objects housed there, like Kermit the Frog, or Archie Bunker’s chair? The museum staff solved the problem by selecting just over a hundred objects for display in a new exhibit titled American Stories. These objects were chosen to symbolically represent the larger American story. “We wanted to create an exhibit that would give people an introductory experience to American history,” explains curator Bonnie Campbell-Lilienfeld. “…this was supposed to set a context for the rest of the museum.” Memoir writers and family can learn a valuable lesson from the way the Smithsonian dealt with its problem.
People often think of an interview as a Q & A between the interviewer and her subject. That might be the case if you are doing a radio interview or a piece for a celebrity magazine. But to do a successful oral history interview you need to think about the process in a quite different way. The goal of your oral history is not generally an attempt to add to your store of facts, but a quest for colorful and detailed stories to enhance understanding of the facts you already know.
Is publication by a university press a realistic goal for a family historian? It could be if the author understands that university presses are commercial publishers who operate under many of the same market imperatives as any other commercial press. University presses generally publish three categories of books:
Getting your book printed may seem like a long way off. But if you plan ahead now, as you’re working on your book, you can save time and expense when it comes time to design and print your book. Here are steps you can take to stay organized as you plan, write, and complete your manuscript.
Houston, we don’t have any problem at all. We’re here for the Family History Expo this weekend. Family History Expos are always great events with lots of enthusiastic people looking to improve their skills at researching their family histories. They will attend wonderful classes on how to find the facts about their ancestors: how to explore the vital records to find the details of births, deaths, marriages, children, military service, homes owned, etc. No doubt many of them will be filled with enthusiasm and excitement triggered by release of the 1940 Census which is sweeping the genealogy community. A lot of those at the Expo will come to us to talk about creating a family history book. Our role is different from the folks who have been talking about how to be a better researcher. We suggest that people step back from the mass of facts they’ve collected to look for the people behind those facts. What’s their story, both as individuals and as a family extending over multiple generations.
As a self-publishing author, you choose your book's design. What makes a truly great book cover, one that will captivate readers? Over the next few weeks we will take occasional looks at books we feel offer good examples of creative and artistic answers to this question. Here’s the first.
“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter,” said Reynolds Price, novelist, poet and professor at Duke University. Not necessarily, asserts Tim Parks, a novelist, essayist, translator, and an Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University in Milan writing in a New York Review of Books Blog post, Do We Need Stories?
As you use the exercises outlined in our article “Gathering Life Story Ideas for Your Memoir” or those described in greater detail in the Stories To Tell Author’s Guide, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of memories you have triggered and the volume of stories you might include in your memoir. Relax. You can’t include everything that has happened in your life in your book, nor would you want to.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Good advice, and yet that’s exactly what we all do. Appearances matter. You know when you see a well-designed book, as compared to an amateur DIY project, in the same way you see and know the difference between a designer suit and a workman’s overalls. You may never have met me, or any other book designer, but you appreciate our work every time you browse in a bookstore or library. When you’re writing a book, you think only of the text. You imagine your text in a printed, published book. Yet there’s a step in between a manuscript and publishing. We must transform that Word document into a digital file that a printer will use. (Actually, two files – the interior of the book, and the cover.) Large publishers have an art department to handle this step, but self-publishing authors usually hire a book designer. A book designer serves two functions for a self publishing author.
How can you know if your audience will find your book interesting? That depends on who your audience is, and what they find interesting. Your hard-earned knowledge is fascinating to you, but what excites your readers? The earlier you ask yourself this question, the easier it is to choose the contents of your book. Many family histories are intended for private publication and they will only be read by the family. In this case, you can concentrate on sharing personal, or even intimate, family stories, photos and documents. This “insider” history, along with the family’s jokes, beliefs, recipes and myths, will fascinate your relatives, and intensify the sense of identity and belonging that families enjoy.