Stephen Covey offered some sound advice when he said that highly effective people “begin with the end in mind.” That’s certainly true for family historians setting out to create a book. It would be difficult to ever get your family history into print if you didn’t have a pretty clear idea of what it will look like when it’s printed.
In some of our workshops Nancy and I use a simple exercise to help authors at the beginning of the process of creating a book visualize the finished product. It’s designed to help focus on the book’s intended audience. We ask the workshop participants to create a dedication page for their book by answering two questions:
- Who is this book for?
- Why are they special to you?
Having decided upon whom you will be writing for, you can decide what will make your book special for that person.
Many people we meet want to write a book for their grandchildren. A book for younger readers should focus on a lively account of ancestors using stories and anecdotes to pique the kids’ interest. You should also understand that younger readers growing up in a digital world are often much more visually oriented than their elders so effective use of photos and other illustrations will be an important way to draw them into the book.
On the other hand, a person whose goal is to create a serious document for future family historians and genealogical researchers will want to emphasize facts, documentation and sourcing. Charts and graphic may be very effective in organizing the factual details of the book. Extensive footnotes or endnotes on sources and documentation will play a more important role in your book.
Your initial visualization of the type of book you want to create will help you decide the best way to organize your family history research and make choices about what to include and what might better be left out. It can also help you decide how you might deal with more than one goal while focusing on you target audience. If you are writing primarily for the grandchildren you can still attend to source notes and documentation in an appendix or even in a CD placed in a sleeve on the inside back cover. The kids may never look at it, but future researchers will thank you.
Some early thought to the exact type of book you want to produce will save you a lot of time during the creative process and will help you produce a much better book in the end.