Search

Follow STTBooks on Twitter

Our Author's Guide

view on Amazon.com

This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Thursday
    Mar172011

    Capturing Unique Speech in Your Family History

    How do you capture Great Grandma’s speech in your family history book? She was an immigrant who spoke with a distinctive accent and even a dialect reflecting the neighborhood culture she first experienced in America. Do you simply present her speech in Standard American English and lose the unique style of her dialogue or do you try to capture the peculiarities of her speech in the way you write it.

    Charles Carson, managing editor of the Journal American Speech offered some useful advice in a recent post on the Grammar Girl Blog. He cautioned, “To flavor a novel and provide authenticity, authors often use dialect in their written dialogue. But the use of dialect is tricky, and if you don’t use care and sensitivity it may backfire.”

    When done skillfully capturing accent and dialect in writing is wonderful. Frank McCourt presents the speech of the Irish beautifully in his Pulitzer Prize winning Angela’s Ashes.

    Carson explains, “When we talk about a person’s accent, we’re referring to how they pronounce words. So when Eliza Doolittle [in My Fair Lady] sings, ‘Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins! Just you wait.’ She is using Standard English with a cockney accent.”

    This works wonderfully for Learner and Lowe in the musical. But it doesn’t work for everybody. Novelist Oakley Hall discusses the danger, “Phonetic spelling may be the easiest way to indicate dialect peculiarities, but it is a crude device. Misspelled words tend to jump off the page and assume undue importance, and apostrophes indicating missing letters take on the appearance of barbed-wire entanglements. The following passage from Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is almost unreadable:

    Th’ general, he sees he is goin’ t’ take th’ hull command of the 304th when we go in the action, an’ then he ses we’ll do sech fightin’ as never another regiment done.

    They say we’re catchin it over on th’ left. They say th’ enemy driv’ our line inteh a devil swamp an took Hannieses battery.’”


    “The other option for communicating a character’s accent to readers, which I recommend,” says Carson, “is to use standard spelling along with description of the character’s speech in the text introducing the character. One might write, ‘Her roots in the South were evident in her slow, melodious speech,’ while using standard spelling when writing her speech. This method is much easier for the reader…”

    One tool for portraying a character’s unique speech while using standard spelling is to capture the person’s favorite expressions. For example, my mother often said of people , including me, who were not really paying attention, “They are drifting and dreaming.” My father seldom said, “Hurry up.” He preferred to say, “Time’s a wasting.” Favorite expressions can reveal a lot about the people who use them and add color to your family hsitory.

    Click here to read Charles Carson's post on Grammar Girl

    

    Tuesday
    Mar152011

    Interactive Timeline Takeaway

    We were in the Bay Area this past weekend and stopped in to Oakland’s excellent museum to see how the California history exhibit has been faring in our absence. I love museums, not just for their collections, but for the art of exhibiting information itself. Reading books is nice, but even I am willing to concede that interactive learning beats all.

    Here’s one interactive exhibit I thought was a great idea for family historians. The timeline spans a long wall, so many people can view it and post on it at the same time. Imagine their conversations as they make their choices for the most important events of the year.

    I can see many applications for this exercise, which could be set up temporarily and inexpensively at a family reunion, a seminar, or a book planning session. And it’s adaptable: just change the timeline to decades, for a longer-in-scope book, or to months or even weeks, for a memoir spanning a shorter period.

    The key, I think, is the post-it notes. (What a brilliant invention – how did we ever live without them?) We recently suggested using index cards to get organized in one of our seminars, but some folks just couldn’t envision the color-coding. Anyone can get organized with post-its.

    

    Friday
    Mar112011

    Lessons from a Self Publishing Author's Experience

    “[I spent] six years sailing around the world. Three years writing about it,” says Larry Jacobson.

    The result was a book, The Boy Behind the Gate, which Jacobson recently self published. He discussed his experiences in a recent post on The Book Designer Blog titled 8 Keys to Self Publishing Success. Jacobson’s book was intended for commercial distribution, but his observations are interesting for authors planning both commercial distribution and limited non-commercial distribution to family and friends.

    The first, and in some respects most daunting, challenge he faced was planning and organizing the project. “Fortunately for me, I had been and continued keeping my ship’s logs and personal logs. I also had hundreds of emails back and forth with friends and family,” said Jacobson. “All of this documentation left with me nearly 2,000 pages to work from, and I was truly overwhelmed.” Developing a sound outline involved making decisions about the book’s intended audience, goals, illustrations, and format.

    Once he had a draft of his manuscript, Jacobson had to make some critical decisions about how much help he would need to bring it to publication. The first regarded editing the draft. Jacobson said, “I have always enjoyed writing but knew I had limitations. Be smart enough to know what you don’t know. I hired a professional editor and we worked together for almost two years on three very intense edits/revises/re-writes.”

    With a fully edited manuscript in hand Jacobson again decided he needed help, this time from a book designer. “I know how to use Word on the computer and I have iPhoto, so why couldn’t I just do the design and layout myself? (Laugh Out Loud),” he said. “Not a chance-I tried a couple of pages-and knew I needed a professional.”

    Finally Jacobson explored his publishing options and decided on self publishing. “While I do know that publishers supposedly have the distribution down, in a world where distribution of books is no longer set in its ways,” he reasoned, “I decided to go alone and start my own publishing company. I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with a publishing house…even if they were interested.”

    The lessons from Jacobson’s experience for anyone considering self publishing are clear. First, take the time to develop a clear plan for the book which will allow you to write a good draft. Second, decide where you need professional help in preparing the manuscript for publication. Finally, consider the options concerning the publisher or printer who can best meet your goals for the book.

    Click here to read Larry Jacobson’s post.

     

    Wednesday
    Mar092011

    A Visit to the World Your Ancestors Lived In

    What was it like to live in Great Grand Dad’s day? That’s a question any family historian trying to bring his ancestors to life in the pages of a book ought to ask.

    Getting beyond the rather cold facts of a relative’s genealogical record requires drawing upon family stories when they are available. But it also means trying to recreate the time and place in which that person lived, their historical context. That’s the realm of the social historian.

    The City University of New York has placed the work of its American Social History Project a mouse click away. The website is maintained by the University’s Center for Media and Learning. “Informed by the latest scholarship,” promises the Project, “we make the past, and the lives of the working people and ‘ordinary’ Americans who shaped it, vivid and meaningful.” The website “presents history from the perspective of working men and women, pairing a lively narrative with extensive visual and written documentary evidence.”

    It’s a wonderful resource for a family historian.

    There are a variety of windows into the past. Three I found of particular interest were:

    • Who Built America? From the Great War of 1914 to the Dawn of the Atomic Age in 1946  is a multimedia exploration of three of the most tumultuous decades in U.S. history. Spanning two world wars and the Great Depression, this CD-ROM presents a comprehensive and engaging overview of the history of the period along with an extraordinarily rich body of primary sources: dozens of oral interviews, period songs, speeches, radio programs and film clips, hundreds of illustrations, and thousands of pages of primary text documents.

    • The Lost Museum: Exploring Antebellum American Life and Culture “a three-dimensional re-creation of P. T. Barnum’s American Museum, the most visited cultural attraction in the nineteenth-century United States.”
    • The September 11Digital Archive “contains more than 150,000 digital items, including more than 40,000 emails and other electronic communications, more than 40,000 first-hand stories, and more than 15,000 digital images.” (I know, Great Grand Dad wasn’t around then, I just liked the archive.)

    The American Social History Project offers several other multimedia resources and much more including podcasts, blogs, and documentary films. Check it out! Not only will it help you add colorful context to your family history book, it’s just fun to surf.

    Let us know what you think! Leave a comment.

     

    Monday
    Mar072011

    Dealing With the Dark Side of Family History 

    Is there a black sheep in your family? A seldom (never?) talked about scandal? 

    If so, you are probably asking yourself, “How much truth should I tell in writing my memoir or family history?”

    There’s been a lot of discussion in recent genealogy blogs about rattling the skeletons in your family’s genealogical closet. Almost every family’s story has had its traumatic moments and dark secrets. They may feel uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. Do you have to include them in your memoir or family history? No. Should you?

    One way to make decisions is to imagine the people who will read your book. Would you be comfortable revealing the information to them face to face? Is that what you want? If not, just don’t include it.

    Consider these questions before revealing painful truths:

    • Is this truth necessary to tell your larger story?
    • Will the story hurt anyone if you bring it out in the open?
    • Was it common knowledge at the time it happened?
    • Does it deliberately vilify someone? Does your telling the story show malice or spite?
    • Is it fair to all concerned?
    • Are you telling the story only for its sensational value?
    • Are people in the story still alive? Can you talk to them about it?
    • How will it affect any children involved?
    • What will be gained if you include it?
    • What will be lost if you omit it from your story?

    Ernest Hemmingway, in the preface to his memoir, A Moveable Feast, offers us a good guideline. He wrote, “For reasons sufficient to the author, many places, people, observations and impressions have been left out of this book.”

    

    Saturday
    Mar052011

    The Pros and Cons of Photo Scanning Services

    You find a nice quick, easy, low cost photo scanning service online and ship them the photos you want to use in your family history book. They come back on a CD which you forward to your book designer. The designer tells you that some or all of the photos will need to be rescanned. Whoa! What happened?

    Shipping your photos off to an online scanning service is similar to the inexpensive service provided at Costco. For purposes of this post we’ll look at Scan My Photos International of Irvine, California, a large online scanning service. Their services are fairly typical. (There’s a link to their website at the end of the post.) Because all photos are scanned at just 300 DPI, this is a limited, one-size-fits-all solution. What does that mean for authors?

    The service will probably work fine for fresh, modern prints, but they are often inadequate for older, more precious pictures. First, these services usually use a sheet feed scanner which feeds multiple pictures through the scanner at the same time. If any of the photos are delicate, as many old photos are, this can be dangerous. Older photos should be hand scanned on a flat-bed scanner which will not stress the photo in any way.

    When these services scan at a resolution of 300 DPI, this is the minimum acceptable size DPI for book printers. This is important when you have a smaller photo you would like to enlarge in your book. To enlarge while maintaining image quality, the initial scan must be at a higher resolution. For example, if the photo is 2” X 4” and you wish to blow it up to 4” X 8”, it should be scanned at a resolution of at least 600 DPI. Generally it’s a good idea to scan at the highest possible resolution. Scanning services can be an acceptable alternative for scanning slides. Most people don’t have a slide rack for their scanner. When scanning slides, the scanning services offer a range of resolution choices and price points, because they anticipate that the small images will be blown up.

    Scanning services appear attractive both for convenience and their relatively low prices. They are handy for photos that will be shared via the web, as a shortcut to get your prints into a digital format.

    However, books require the highest quality images, as they will be printed at high resolutions. If you are scanning photos to be reproduced in a book you will be better served to “hand scan” them, or to get some else with a good scanner and some experience to do it for you. Precious older photos should be hand scanned on a flatbed scanner to prevent bending. The scanner settings can be adjusted specifically to the size and condition of the original. A good scan is the first part of image processing; with the proper settings, it is possible to achieve better corrections to be made in Photoshop at the next step.

    A word of caution as you prepare your family photographs for publication in your book. Realize that all photo scans are not the same. Low-end scanning services are fine for the web; but not for book design. Higher resolutions are needed to reproduce well you’re your book is printed – something you cannot see on your low-resolution computer screen. Even the most humble scanner today will scan at 1200 DPI. Why shortchange the future, when your grandchildren will be viewing images at even higher resolutions. With scanning, bigger is always better.

    Click here to visit the Scan My Photos International site.

     

    

    Thursday
    Mar032011

    Creating Imagined Dialogue: Give It a Try

    In our previous post we discussed  how to create imagined dialogue to enliven your family history book. We looked at

    • How time and place might contribute to what ancestors thought and discussed
    • Imagining the emotions they might have felt
    • Examining retrospectively what motivated them at that time
    • Using what you know about ancestors favorite expressions or style of speech

    All of these things can help you to imagine how they would have sounded in a conversation.

    Creating imagined dialogue is not as difficult as you may think. The best way to test that statement is to try doing it. To help out I’ll give you two prompts to practice on. You won’t have to think about your own ancestors here. Just imagine a conversation involving the people described in the prompt.

    1. It’s 1937. A husband and wife in Enid, Oklahoma are sitting at their kitchen table of their farmhouse. The country has been gripped by depression for almost a decade. Oklahoma topsoil has been blowing away for almost as many years, creating what has come to be known as the Dustbowl. Several of the couple’s neighbors have lost their farms to foreclosure. The couple fear the same fate. They have just received a letter from a former neighbor who moved to California with her family. After several months of looking for work the neighbor’s husband has found a job as a laborer constructing the massive Shasta Dam just north of the small town of Redding.

    Write the dialogue for the conversation the couple might have had.

    1. It’s late 1942. A woman and her neighbor in Ypsilanti, Michigan are sitting at her kitchen table. The United States has entered World War II. Both women’s husbands been drafted into the Army and shipped off to basic training. They will shortly be headed overseas. Some women in the town have already taken jobs at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory. The local radio stations and newspaper are filled with advertising calling upon other women to join those already at the factory. The women want to do their patriotic duty. They are also concerned with their responsibilities as mothers.

    Write the dialogue for a conversation the women might have had.

    There are no rules for what you should do. Let your imagination take over. We’d love it if you would share your results by posting them as comments. Have fun!

     

    Monday
    Feb282011

    Creating Imagined Dialogue for Your Family History

    Nancy and I attended the Family History Expo at St. George, Utah over the weekend. We had a great time as we always do at an Expo.

    One of the classes we presented is titled A Good Read: Make Family History Books Exciting. Its focus is on how to use family stories to make your book dramatic. We discuss ways family historians can employ techniques of fiction writers in their accounts of their ancestors’ lives. One of the techniques we discuss is using imagined dialogue. We suggest that you can bring your relatives to life by imagining conversations they might have had at key points in their lives.

    How do you do that and remain faithful to a factual portrayal of history? Let’s take a look at some of the things that might guide you. First, people live in a particular time and place. This means that they may face some distinctive challenges or opportunities. Begin by trying to understand as well as you can what your ancestors unique location both geographic and temporal would have meant for them. The situation in which they found themselves will have a lot to do with what they might talk about and what they might say.

    Next recognize that circumstances lead to emotions. Speculate on what a person living in that time and place might have been feeling. Their speech will reflect the emotional tone of their situation.

    People say things because they are motivated to do so. As a historian, you have the benefit of hindsight. You can look back and see what your ancestor did in response to being in a particular situation. Whatever they did, it’s likely that they talked about what they might do, exploring the things that might ultimately have motivated them to take the course of action they chose.

    Finally, you may know something about the way you ancestor spoke. For example, maybe you have heard relatives say that great granddad had a favorite expression or two. If you don’t have that kind of direct knowledge, maybe you have letters written by the relative in question or even a journal or diary. These will give you some ideas about their favorite turns of phrase and how they might have liked to construct sentences.

    With a little thought and imagination you can combine these things, all of which have a basis in fact, and construct a speculative conversation in which what your ancestor might have said is fairly represented.

    In our next post, we’ll offer a writing challenge in which you can try out some of the things we discussed today.

     

    Thursday
    Feb242011

    What's the Difference Between a Chronicler and a Historian?

    What’s the difference between a historian and a chronicler or documentarian? Anyone contemplating writing a family history ought to give the question some thought. A person who wants to chronicle events is primarily concerned with creating and documenting a record of everything that happened. It’s not surprising that the daily newspaper I read is called The Chronicle. It sees its responsibility as capturing events great and small which occurred the previous day. Some are of earthshaking import, but most are not. There’s a reason that newspapers often wind up on the bottom of people’s birdcages.

    A genealogist’s research is intended to create to create that sort of documented record of his ancestors. It involves gathering facts and demonstrating through documentary evidence the accuracy of those facts.

    But, when a genealogist decides to become a family historian by turning his research into a book his role changes. You need to recognize that you are writing for an audience and that you have a responsibility to present your family’s history in the most interesting way possible to that audience.

    • Rule One: Realize that just because you have gone to great length to acquire knowledge about a particular detail or event and to document its factual basis it won’t necessarily be interesting or important in the eyes of your audience.

    Your readers will probably find it more interesting and significant that your ancestor landed on Utah Beach on D-Day than that he spent eight weeks in training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. The two facts don’t deserve equal time in your book just because they both happened. One might not even need to be there at all.

    • Rule 2: Recognize that life’s turning points, triumphs and epiphanies aren’t distributed equally over the years of a person’s life. Look for the dramatic and significant events in your ancestor’s life. If there were stretches of years when things just rolled along without anything of interest happening, you don’t have to give those years equal time (or maybe even any time) in your book.

    Getting away from straight chronology is a good way to free yourself to focus only on the big events giving the most attention to the most important aspects of your family’s history.

    A historian interprets events. She makes choices about what is important among the many facts at her disposal and uses them to show why some events are especially significant. By choosing anecdotes that are interesting and unusual to tell your ancestors’ story you will also make that story engaging for your audience.

     

    Tuesday
    Feb222011

    Tried and True Organization for Your Family History? 

    What’s the best way to organize a big project, like a family history book?

    We regularly teach a seminar, How to Plan and Organize a Family History Book. We recommend that people begin with the big ideas first, listing what should go into the book. And ultimately, they should arrive at an outline. But in the middle between these two points, there’s a murky area, a process that seems to stump our audiences.

    Ironically, the sticking point comes when we refer to a process we all probably learned in middle school: index cards. Remember them? There are software variations now, using the same principles of organization.

    We like index cards because they are hands on, they’re visual, and they are easy to change, add or discard. You can use different colored cards to designate big ideas, subheadings and specific details. After you develop one organization, it’s easy to move the cards to a different arrangement of ideas. When you’re happy with the way the cards are arranged, you can transfer the ideas on the index cards to paper and you’ve got a preliminary outline.

    For most folks the index card method makes perfect sense, but others just don’t get it. “Should it be a red card or a green card?” they ask. “How many subheadings should I have under a big idea?” The very strength of the system, its flexibility, confuses people.

    Do you have other techniques to suggest? How do you like to organize ideas for a big project? Post a comment and share with us, and our readers, your favorite method of organizing. We’ll look forward to reading what you have to say and I’m sure our readers will too.

    

    Sunday
    Feb202011

    A Question for Family Historians: Do Your Images Lead to Stories?

    As you plan and organize your family history of memoir you should carefully review the photographs and images like documents and letters that you have. When you do you face a potential fork in the road. There are two ways you can proceed. Ask yourself, “Do I want my images to be the primary organizing principle to guide the narrative, or do the stories come first, with images supplementing my stories?”

    When you consider the stories and images you have, you may decide to employ pictorial storytelling. Think about magazine like Life and Look or even Sports Illustrated, which used vivid pictures to tell a story. Text was used to supplement and explain the images. Or think about documentary photography like Dorthea Lange’ iconic depression photos which capture a time and place.

    To create a pictorial history, choose the images first, and eliminate stories that are not tied directly to the illustrations.

    When choosing your images consider the:

    • The physical quality of the images. Are the photos faded, torn or scratched?
    • The vividness of the story told by the photograph. Is it interesting enough?

    Choose photographs that:

    • Evoke laughter or cause emotion

    • Are candid and show character

    • Show stages of life; such as pictures of the same person taken years apart
    • Are action shots; in general they’re more interesting than posed photos

    • Are close-ups rather than long distance shots

    • Are horizontal rather than vertical; these usually make better illustrations.

    Documents tell important family stories. Including scanned images of old letters, diaries, birth or death records, property records, military records, marriage certificates and wills can add to the stories told by your photo collection.

    

    Friday
    Feb182011

    Interactive Narrative: A New Tool in Storytelling

    Bill Smith posed a question on his blog, Dr. Bill Tells Ancestor Stories, “Have you seen Welcome to Pine Point?” (Thanks, Bill!) I hadn’t. I followed the link to the Nieman Storyboard, the blog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

    Blogger Andrea Pitsker opened her post with this introduction:

    What if your hometown disappeared, literally vanished from the map? How would you hold onto it? Would the community of people who had lived there continue? “Welcome to Pine Point” is a website that explores the death of a town and the people whose memories and mementos tell its story today. The site lives online under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada and came into the world via the creative duo of Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge (also known as The Goggles). I haven’t seen anything quite like Pine Point before — it incorporates music to haunting effect but is especially innovative in its use of text and design.

    I had to watch. The result, which Pitzer describes as interactive narrative, incorporates text, old photographs, audio recordings, home movies, animation and music to tell a deeply engaging and entertaining story which had a surprising emotional impact on me. It’s somewhat hard to describe, but well worth watching. You’ll need about 15 to 20 minutes to watch the film. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

     Click here to watch Welcome to Pine Point.

    Enjoy the video? I hope so. Now you may want to read Andrea Pitzer’s interview with its creators Michael Simmons and Paul Shoebridge on the Nieman Storyboard.

    Click here to go to the interview.

    Is this kind of new media what family history or memoir might look like in the future? Interesting question to ponder.

    Post a comment and let us know what you think.

    Click here to read Dr. Bill Smith's post.

    

    Wednesday
    Feb162011

    Making Family History Books Interesting for Young Readers

    In a recent post on the Grove Creek Family History Blog titled “What is Family History?” blogger Rayanne Melick posed a question most family historians face: How do we engage children and grandchildren in the family’s history? Melick explained that her son said to her, “Mom, whenever people ask you what you do for fun, you say family history. Do you ever notice that their eyes glaze over?”

    Since the younger generations are the intended audience for most family historians, certainly most of the authors we work with, capturing children’s interest is essential.

    So let’s look at what people who try to do this for a living – authors and editors of books for children – suggest.

    “If you want to teach young read­ers about the Irish potato famine…tell them a story,” says Susan Brown Taylor author of several historical titles for children including Robert Brown Sails to Freedom.

    Family history is, of course, rooted in fact, but as Reka Simonsen, Editor at Henry Holt and Company says, "Storytelling is storytelling. In nonfic­tion, the story happens to be true rather than invented, but the same rules apply: There should still he a strong story arc; there still has to be a problem that needs resolution; the characters have to be fully developed; there must be moments of dramatic tension and emotion of whatever kind appropriate to the events.”

    Stories help kids learn to think by engaging their curios­ity," says Shannon Barefield, Senior Edi­tor at Lerner Publishing Group. "It makes readers ask, `Then what hap­pened? Why?' and so on…storytelling techniques can bring to life a subject's significance in a way that just-the-facts writing can't always do. It's crucial for kids to learn the nuts-and-bolts facts of the Holocaust, for example, but to learn the human side of those events is critically important as well.”

    Once engaged by family stories children may find themselves drawn into the pursuit of  more knowledge about their ancestors. Judy O'Malley, former Editori­al Director of Houghton Mifflin Books says, "I prefer to focus on the literature of fact books that tell the shaped story of what is known about lives and times, and that include the documentation of those facts that model for young read­ers how exciting authentic research can be. That leads them to read further and deeper, starting with the author's trail and following wherever their pas­sion for the subject leads them.”

    So as you plan and organize your family history book make sure it has plenty of family stories to appeal to the young audience for which it is intended.

    Click here to read Rayanne Melick’s post, “What is Family History?”

     

    

    Monday
    Feb142011

    Begin Your Family History Book With the End in Mind

    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.

     

    

    Saturday
    Feb122011

    Every Author Needs an Editor

    I am always interested when someone chooses to write about book editing, so it’s no surprise that I was happy to find Alex Clark’s article “The Lost Art of Editing” in The Guardian’s online edition.

    Clark laments changes in the publishing world where the bottom line of the conglomerate has become more important than the quality of the books sold. Says Clark, “For some years now – almost as long as people have been predicting the death of the book – there have been murmurs throughout publishing that books are simply not edited in the way they once were, either on the kind of grand scale that might see the reworking of plot, character or tone, or at the more detailed level that ensures the accuracy of, for example, minute historical or geographical facts.”

    He recalls one particularly amusing incident: “One evening at the end of last September I found myself all set to interview Jonathan Franzen about his new novel, Freedom, on the stage of the Southbank Centre in London. I had anxiously worked and reworked my list of questions, but while my preparation was not in vain, it was swiftly put into perspective by an unexpected turn of events. It transpired that Franzen had that very afternoon, during the filming of a BBC television programme, discovered that the UK edition of his novel contained a number of errors – errors that he thought had been corrected during previous stages of production. In other words, the copies of the novel stacked high in the foyer, not to mention the tens of thousands on their way to bookshops, were not as Franzen, or indeed his publisher, intended.”

    At first glance, none of this may seem like it pertains to a memoirist or family historian considering limited distribution or self publishing. But on second thought, Clark demonstrates that even our greatest writers need a diligent, skilled editor. Experienced, thoughtful editors help authors shape the content of their books to make sure their stories are well told. They also help authors to make sure that they are correct on the sentence level.

    With the decline of editing in publishing houses and the rise of self publishing an increasing number of authors are turning to independent editors to help them make sure that their books are the best that they can be.

    Unfortunately a fair number of self publishing authors skip the editing step or gloss over it. Having a sympathetic friend or writing group review a manuscript is not the same as what an author gets from a skilled editor. The result can be a book with a story less sharply drawn than it could have been and a series of errors that could have been avoided.

    Even after a good editor has helped polish your manuscript, realize that the final responsibility rests with you, the writer. Diana Athill, who as an editor worked with literary greats like Phillip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike and Simone de Beauvoir, and after retirement wrote Somewhere Near the End, a memoir which won the Costa Prize for Biography, observed “The answer I found for myself is that I take much more trouble than I used to in the line-by-line editing of my own manuscript, and I think authors should now take that responsibility on themselves if they don't want to be annoyed by minor details.”

    Click here to read Alex Clarke’s article “The Lost Art of Editing”