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    Illustrate Your Family History With Historical Photos

    Photographs and images of various sorts can bring family history books to life. Especially for younger readers growing up in a world of digital images pictures are increasingly important. Technological improvements in both offset and digital printing have made it both easier and cheaper to include photographs in a family history book. Why wouldn’t anyone use photos to illustrate their book? Simple, availability. People often tell us that they don’t have family photos to use in their books.

    When that’s the case historical photographs that document the time and place where ancestors lived can fill the void. Images can provide a historical context to help readers get a sense of the ancestors world and the events occurring around them.

    Where do you find those historical images? We’ll suggest three resources that will help link you to a variety of collections of photos and images.

    1.      Wikipedia “Public Domain Image Resources” stored on Wikimedia Common

    This site offers “... the largest free images only repository and it contains many public domain images.” It offers links to collections of historical images, books including Project Gutenberg and the Google Library Project, general photo collections and government files. The links connect you to over 3.5 million images.

    2. “Historic Photos & Photo Collections”

    The site helps you “discover thousands of free historic photos for use in your family history projects in these online collections of digitized historic photos and portraits.”

    It contains links to 30 image collections. I have used several including the Library of Congress American Memory Collection, the BYU Historical Photograph Collection, UC Berkeley California Heritage Collection and the San Francisco Public Library’s Photograph Collection. All of them are excellent.

    3.      University of Houston Digital History

    The site offers links to collections with images of topics including: Advertisements, African Americans, Architecture, Art Books and Pamphlet Images Canada, Civil War, Daguerreotypes, Ethnicity, Federal Government Images, Holocaust, Maps, Medicine, Music, Paintings, Photography, New deal, Political History, Portraits, Radicalism, Science and Technology, Slavery, Southwest, States, Trials and Court Cases, World War I, and World War II.

    If you are looking for images to illustrate a book it’s likely that one of these sites will guide you to them.



    Amazon: A Third Wave Rocks Publishers' Leaky Boat, Pt 3

    In the two previous blog posts we have examined how developments in the business of book publishing and sales have affected publishers and booksellers. Today let’s look at what it has meant for authors and readers.

    Amazon promises readers two things: access to more books than have ever been available to them, and personalized recommendations tailored to each individual.

    On the first score Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, "We want to make every book available—the good, the bad and the ugly." With Bowker, the company charged with issuing ISBN numbers, estimating the now published annually at over one million there are plenty of all three.

    But the sheer volume of choices available to Amazon buyers has had something of a perverse impact on book buying. As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top."

    As Colin Robinson, publisher of OR Books, explains in an article in The Nation, one of the reasons is the result of the algorithm Amazon uses for its personalized recommendations. He cites a comment by ex-Amazon editor James Marcus who said, “Personalization strikes me as a mixed blessing. While it gives people what they want—or what they think they want—it also engineers spontaneity out of the picture. The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist. And that's a problem."

    Amazon’s algorithm doesn’t point readers toward that vast array of choices but toward a limited number of recommended choices. As Charlie Winton, CEO of Counterpoint Press says, "Shopping on Amazon is a directed experience—it works best when you know what you're looking for. But how does that help with, for instance, a first novel?”

    The other element of the algorithm that most readers are unaware of is that recommended titles may be based on paid promotions not juts purchase data.

    The impact of tactics at both big box retailers and Amazon are having an impact on authors as well. Consider a recent price war between Walmart and Amazon. They went head to head selling hardcover bestsellers by authors like Stephen King and John Grisham for $10. In the case of Kings thousand page plus Under the Dome that was a 75% discount off the publishers recommended price.

    The American Booksellers Association requested that the Department of Justice look into possible “predatory pricing.” The New York Time’s reported that Grisham’s agent, David Gernet said, “If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over. If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s Ford County, for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25?” He might have noted that arbitrarily setting the price of ebooks at $9.99 might have a similar effect.

    Authors of somewhat more literary novels face a different impact. Publishers are less inclined to publish books that aren’t likely to be blockbusters. . "Look at books like Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies or Roberto Bolaño's Savage Detectives," says Paul Yamazaki, chief buyer at City Lights in San Francisco. "These are serious, sophisticated books that began life with modest expectations, but after dedicated work by the publisher and independent booksellers, they went on to reach wider audiences. This sort of publishing is under threat today."

    Finally, authors can expect smaller advances for books that are published. As Colin Robinson reported, “…a boss at Scribner, where I was a senior editor for two and a half years, announced at an editorial meeting that when it came to advances, ‘$50,000 is the new $100,000.’ Speaking with agents at this spring's London Book Fair, I found widespread corroboration that advances had indeed dropped precipitously.”

    Should we be concerned? American Booksellers Association warned, "If left unchecked...predatory pricing policies will devastate not only the book industry, but our collective ability to maintain a society where the widest range of ideas are always made available to the public."

    Click here to read Colin Robinson’s, “The Trouble with Amazon” in The Nation

    Click here to read Onesha Rouchoudhuri’s, “Books After Amazon” in The Boston Review


    Amazon: A Third Wave Rocks Publishers' Leaky Boat, Pt 2

    In the first post in this series, we examined the trends in the business of publishing and selling books over the last 40 years including the consolidation of publishing houses by a handful of conglomerates, the arrival and dominance of big box retail chains Borders and Barnes & Noble, and finally the growing market control exerted by Amazon. The result has been the elimination of over 2/3 of independent booksellers and many small to mid-sized independent publishers.

    Today, we’ll look at how the eBook and particularly Amazon’s dominance in the eBook market has accelerated those trends.

    To establish a market for its Kindle eBook reader Amazon set the price for all of the eBooks it would sell at $9.99. “Amazon’s handling of e-book pricing – and publishers’ response – will have perhaps the most far reaching effects on the industry,” said Onnesha Roychoudhuri in a recent Boston Review article.

    The price was set without consulting publishers. A large publishing house, selling a twenty-dollar hardcover book to a bookseller or Amazon at a 50% discount receives about $10. From that amount the publisher must pay about $3 in royalties to the author, printing costs of $2 or more, approximately $1.20 for distribution and $2 for marketing. That leaves the publisher $1.80 for the rest of its costs. “Ebooks reduce the cost of printing, binding and paper, but royalties tend to run higher and all other costs are largely unchanged,” reports Roychoudhuri. “Publishers account for these costs when they slap a cost on a book, so Amazon’s decision to set prices irrespective of them set off a wave of anxiety.

    Amazon tried to allay the fears of publishers by paying them the price they would have received on for a printed book. In essence, Amazon made the decision to take a loss on the book to assure market dominance for its Kindle.

    Publishers are concerned that Amazon’s willingness to pay the costs of its ebooks will not last forever. “There is no way they can continue to sell…at a loss,” says Johanna Vondeling, vice president of Berrett-Koehler, a san Francisco business book publisher. “Eventually they’re going to change their minds on this, and I think all publishers should be worried about what’s going to happen when they do. They are going to keep the ebook price where it is. They’re going to turn around and say to publishers, ‘Tough. All we’re going to pay you on is the split of $9.99.’”

    Amazon hasn’t succeeded in maintaining ebook prices exclusively at $9.99.

    John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan, whose imprints include Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Henry Holt; Picador; and Times Books, attempted to negotiate a different ebook price, Amazon removed the buy button from all Macmillan titles. Sargent wrote a post on the Macmillian blog exposing Amazon’s tactics. Amazon backed down and announced that the publisher “has a monopoly over their own titles” and, therefore, could control pricing.

    Smaller publishers don’t expect to have the same success. Johnny Temple of Akashic Books said, “If we had a room full of lawyers, maybe we would be working with them and thinking about future terms. But we’re just trying to stay in business.”

    “The conceit is that the market demands the $9.99 price tag,” says Roychoudhuri. “But in the case of ebooks Amazon is the market.”

    However, the market may be changing. The introduction of the Apple iPad was accompanied by an agreement between Apple and publishers that allowed publishers to set prices for their titles over a range beginning at $9.99.

    Today, Google announced its entry into the ebook market. A post on the Google blog said that the Google eBooks Web Reader available from the Google eBookstore. The Google ebooks will run on laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and e-readers including applications for Apple and Android devices. (But notably not the Kindle.) Books can be store in online accounts and accessed as one might log into a gmail account.

    What the entry of these new players into the ebook market may mean remains to be seen.

    In our next post we’ll look at how changes in book publishing and distribution have affected readers like you and me.

    Click here to read Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s article “Books After Amazon” in the Boston Review.

    Click here to read the Wall Street Journal’s article “Apple in Talks With Publishers”

    Click here to read Google's blog post, "Discover more than 3 million Google eBooks from your choice of booksellers and devices"



    Amazon: A Third Wave Rocks Publishers’ Leaky Boat Pt. 1

    It’s no secret that book publishers have had a tough time keeping their ships afloat over the past three decades. A good way to look at why is the lens provided by a question in Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s recent article in The Boston Review. He asks, “What happens when an industry concerned with the production of culture is beholden to a company with the sole goal of underselling competitors?”

    Historically - or at least in the early 1970s – publishers looked for the best writers they could find, published their work, and left it to independent publishers to sell their books. The local bookstores knew their clientele and chose books for their local markets. Staff recommendations at bookstores often helped books find an audience.

    The first wave of economic change to transform the industry hit in the 1970s-80s when traditional publishing houses were largely gobbled up by multinational conglomerates whose number one criteria for evaluating the publishers performance was their return on investment. Focus shifted to blockbuster books promoted to the hilt. New or mid-list books found it tougher to find a way into print.

    The second wave – mega chain book retailers Barnes & Noble and Borders – washed over the industry in the late 80s. The result was the disappearance of independent bookstores. In the early 90s there were over 6,000. Today there are 2,200.

    The big box bookstores grew by demanding and getting preferential pricing from publishers. Independent booksellers customarily bought at a 40% discount off the publisher’s price. Chains got a 48% “volume” discount. The independent bookseller’s trade group the American Bookseller’s Association filed two lawsuits against the discriminatory discounts. Both were settled out of court.

    The big box retailers then went after the publishers with demands for co-operative advertising fees, usually referred to as co-op. These fees bought preferential store placement, provided special in-store discounts on selected titles, and amounted to 4% of publishers’ net revenues.

    The retailers began to dictate content. Roychoudhuri reported that, “One editor at a major publishing house, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of employer sanctions, told me that agents of Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Target are frequent participants in meetings about potential books. Without their buy-in, the publisher is unlikely to go forward with a book.”

    When the third wave became visible, in the form of in 1994, there seemed some cause for optimism. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said, "We want to make every book available—the good, the bad and the ugly."

    However, Amazon has merely accelerated some trends that were initiated by the big boxes. It has pushed the discounts at which it purchases from publishers to 52-55%, while even the chains get only a 50% discount.

    Publishers Weekly in 2004 reported that Amazon demanded that publishers pay higher co-op rates. If they didn’t they faced “…Amazon not selling their books at a discount and not having their titles ‘surface’ in various merchandizing and advertising programs.” When publishers resisted they found books “de-listed” meaning they could no longer be found on Amazon. Others found the “buy” button removed from their books’ listings. Charlie Winton, CEO of Counterpoint Press called it “a discount grab in the guise of getting co-op.”

    Roychoudhuri reported that most publishers refused to speak on the record about Amazon’s strong arm tactics.

    Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and of Small Press Distribution said: “I think even people at Amazon would say that it’s essentially a widget seller that happens to have begun by focusing on books. Many people, like me, will say you can’t sell a book the same way you sell a can of soup.”

    In upcoming blog posts we’ll look at what the e-book, particularly Amazon’s Kindle, will do to the trends already in motion and what those trends may mean for readers like you and me.

    Click here to read Onnesha Roychoudhuri’s article “Books After Amazon” in the November / December 2010 Boston Review.

    Click here to read Colin Robinson’s article The Trouble with Amazon” in The Nation, August 2, 2010



    Bring Facts to Life in Family History

    Authenticity and truth are topics that frequently surface in our workshops and conversations with people working on family history books. As they talk about family stories they may comment, “Of course I’m not sure if it’s completely true,” or “I can’t really prove that.” As a consequence they shy away from including interesting and colorful stories in their books. That’s unfortunate. It’s also understandable as we are bombarded by a steady stream of “false memoirs.”

    A memoir hoax is back in the news. Court House News Service reported that “A publishing company can sue a Belgian woman who wrote a bogus memoir about surviving the Holocaust and later won millions of dollars from the publishing company, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled.”

    The book, Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, by Misha Defonseca was initially unmasked as a falsehood in 2008.

    Blake Eskin summarized the book in Slate. He wrote, “Published in 1997, Misha is about a Jewish girl from Brussels who walked across Europe by herself during World War II and spent months living in the forest…Even if you forget for a moment that Defonseca has two prolonged encounters with wolves in war-torn Europe, her story strains credulity: She walks from Belgium to Ukraine, sneaks into and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and stabs to death a Nazi rapist who attacks her—all between ages 7 and 11.”

    Misha sold only about 5,000 copies in the United States. Disney had an option on the film rights but let it lapse. Oprah taped a segment with the author at a wolf preserve, but it never aired.

    However, in France and Italy, the memoir sold more than 30,000 copies. French-Jewish filmmaker Véra Belmont made a feature film Survivre Avec les Loups, based on the memoir.

    On the eve of the book’s exposure by the Brussels newspaper Le Soir as a fabrication Defonseca released a statement through her lawyer, "I told myself a life, another life. I apologize.” She said, the book "is not actual reality, but was my reality, my way of surviving."

    [Note to the genealogists among us: It was genealogical research that proved that Defonseca’s story was untrue.]

    What Defonseca and other “false memoirists” like James Frey did is fraudulent. They made up the whole thing. If their book had been shelved in the fiction section it would have been fine.

    That’s a long way from a family historian using techniques borrowed from fiction to make a book more interesting. The family historian has a factual framework generated by his research which lays out the detailed records of ancestors’ lives. Bringing those ancestors to life by researching the historical context of the time and place they lived to help readers understand their experiences is a very legitimate way to help sharpen the story you are telling. Weaving family lore and stories passed down through the generations helps to create a more lively portrait of your ancestors. Looking at the factual record in an imaginative way to explore possible emotions, motivations or even dialogue which might have accompanied documented events are all valid tools to help characterize real people.

    Family historians shouldn’t hesitate to make their books as colorful as they can by employing a variety of literary techniques. They have nothing to worry about regarding being truthful because their factual research is the framework for the entire book.

    Click here to read Jeff Gorman’s article, Publisher Can Sue Over Holocaust Memoir Hoax

    Click here to read Blake Eskin’s story, Crying Wolf: Why did it take so long for a far-fetched Holocaust memoir to be debunked? in Slate



    Why You Need a Professional Editor

    When a self publishing author completes a draft of a manuscript their first question is often, “What’s next?”

    Susan Daffron of the website Self Pub U, advises, “As someone who has worked in publishing for a lot of years, I believe that I can safely say that everyone -- and I mean everyone -- needs an editor.”

    Not every author agrees. They believe that they have carefully revised their manuscript and checked it for correctness. They don’t need an editor.

    There’s something that first time writers don’t understand.

    “Every writer has blind spots to his or her own writing,” says Ricky Pittman of Writers Weekly.  “You see, you know the story so well that your eye will play tricks on you while you read and you WILL miss what others will see. This is why you need readers and editors.”

    Some authors ask friends, colleagues or their high school English teacher to edit their manuscript. But, as Jerry Simmons of the Readers and Writers Blog cautions, “Though it may be tempting to save money and do it yourself, self-editing is not a good substitute for professional editing. Having an objective, experienced eye to evaluate and edit your work is worth its weight in gold. A good editor won’t just fix your grammar and usage oversights, but will let you know what sections in your book need to be expanded, clarified, or removed…an editor will also make sure your story stays consistent, not just in tone, but in plot and “voice” as well. Your editor will let you know about all the problems you (or your friend the high-school English teacher) weren’t aware of.”

    Once an author decides that hiring a professional editor is the best thing for her book, there is one more pitfall to avoid. Nancy Peske calls it the #1 myth about hiring an editor. “Any editor can help you with any type of book you’d like to publish.” In reality, says Peske, “Excellent editors may work in several genres, but for the most part, editors specialize. They can’t be experts on everything, and an editor with integrity will tell you flat out if he’s not the right person to help you with your book.”

    So when you finish your manuscript give some serious thought to hiring a professional editor who specializes in your genre. If it’s memoir or family history we hope you’ll choose us.

    Click here to visit Self-Pub U

    Click here to read Ricky Pittman’s full article Why Beginning Writers Need an Editor

    Click here to read Jerry Simmons’ article on Interviewing an Editor: The Seven Questions You Need to Ask by Lauren Hidden

    Click here to read Nancy Peske’s full article, Seven Common Myths About Hiring a Freelance Editor for Your Book



    After 100 Years a Mark Twain Autobiography

    If you are interested in life stories, there’s something special just off the presses – Volume I of The Autobiography of Mark Twain.

    We’ve had to wait one hundred years since his death. Twain ordered it. He didn’t want to be inhibited by a concern with offending anyone. The trustees of his estate haven’t completely respected Twain’s wishes. Several segments of the autobiography have appeared in print. However, as Guardian reviewer Tim Adams put it, “Never before has the book been published as Twain wished it, though – in all its fragmentary and convoluted glory.” Volumes 2 and 3 will appear within the next few years.

    If you are concerned with how long it’s taking to get your own book done, take heart. Twain began his Autobiography when he was 42 years old and worked on it in a rather desultory fashion for the next three decades. He ultimately settled on what he described as “The Final (and Right) Plan” to get the book finished. Concerned that his real story was the interior monologue going on in his own head, Twain hired a secretary to walk around with him transcribing his thoughts.

    How true to America’s greatest writer was the result? Twain suggests that his readers keep in mind his mother’s description of him as a boy, "I discount him thirty per cent for embroidery, and what is left is perfect and priceless truth without a flaw in it anywhere."

    I am certainly looking forward to reading it. After all, how often do we get the chance to see a new work by an author like Mark Twain who has been dead for a hundred years?

    Click here to read Tim Adams review in the Guardian online.



    Factual Family History - What Gets Lost?

    Novelist Suzanne Berne’s new book Missing Lucile chronicles her search for meaning in her family’s history.

    The experience is one that is not unfamiliar to genealogists and family historians. It might also be a cautionary tale they would be well to examine.

    At the heart is her grandmother, Lucile, who died of cancer in her early forties. However, her father, a very young boy at the time, always believed that his mother had abandoned him. He said, “We were told she was gone. No one ever said where.”

    Berne decides that her missing grandmother is "the Rosetta stone by which all subsequent family guilt and unhappiness could be decoded.” She sets out to unlock the family secrets by discovering what she can about Lucile’s story.

    The result leads Julie Myerson, British novelist, columnist for the Financial Times and book reviewer for the BBC2’s Newsnight Review, to comment in her New York Times Book Review, “…this is my kind of book. Why, then, did I find it so arduous?”

    The answer lies in Berne’s decision to tell the story not as a novelist but as a journalist or historian might do it. She commits herself to creating a factual account of the family’s history. She does imagine what might have happened or have been said, on occasions where all of the facts can’t be discovered. But each time, she stops the narrative to tell her reader what she’s doing.

    The string of cautions and qualifiers leads Myerson to say, “I began to dread the sight of another lumpen passage dotted with Berne’s increasingly repetitive what-ifs and perhapses.”

    That’s too bad. There is another way.

    As Myerson commented, “Berne has said that she originally thought of writing her grandmother’s life as a novel, and you can see why. She’s a first-rate fiction writer, and the passages where she quits her detective-style ruminating and allows herself to bounce off on some imaginative tangent are by far the most vivid and successful in the book. Skies and flowers burst to life. History turns from black and white into Techni­color. You can smell the air, feel the breeze on your cheek. People have conversations that sound credible and alive. Who cares if they didn’t happen exactly as they’re written?”

    This is a lesson for family historians. Family history is not academic history. The goal is to bring ancestors to life, and draw the reader into your book, by telling their stories. The factual record may not tell a person’s whole story. It’s incomplete, with gaps that can only be filled by using inference and imagination to round out the story. That process is the basis for a relatively new literary genre - creative non-fiction.

    We can see the genre as it has been employed by masters in books like Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, Joyce Carol Oates’ On Boxing and George Plimpton’s Paper Lion.

    Lee Gutkind, author and professor at Arizona State University, who Vanity Fair dubbed “the Godfather” of the creative non-fiction movement explains, “Although it sounds a bit affected and presumptuous, “creative nonfiction” precisely describes what the form is all about. The word ‘creative’ refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction—that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and, often, more accessible.”

    When you write your own family history consider employing the techniques of creative non-fiction to tell your family’s stories. It will make the experience for your readers much more lively and interesting than relying only on what can be drawn from the facts. You can preserve the documentation by listing source material for the factual record in an appendix, for those who want to read it.

    Click here to read Julie Myerson’s review of Missing Lucile.

    Click here to read Lee Gutkind’s article What is Creative Non-Fiction?



    What Do Readers Want?

    Would you like to know how to make your book more appealing to readers? Would it help the revision and editing process if you knew which sections of the book readers found most interesting and which they skipped over?

    Tools to answer questions like these may soon be available on Scribd, a social publishing website sometimes called the You Tube for documents. Visitors can browse millions of documents or “upload your PDF, Word, and Power Point docs to share with the world’s largest community of readers.”

    Scribd CEO Trip Adler recently announced that the site would offer a free tool, Scribd Stats. The new statistics will provide, he said, “new data on reading that’s never been available before."


    Jason Kincaid of Tech Crunch described some of types of data available with the new package including:

    • Data on search queries that led people to your document
    • Data on what people are searching for within your document
    • Graphs that allow you to track your document’s popularity over time
    • Data analyzing Scribd’s Read Cast feature which let’s readers share content they’ve just read on Facebook or Twitter

     “Perhaps the most interesting feature of the new Scribd Stats package is the heat maps that will run down the side of each document…,” said E.B. Boyd of Fast Company. [see image above] “The heat map represents the entire document. Red indicates pages that users spent the most amount of time on, blue the least. Clicking on a section of the heat map takes you to that particular page in the document.”

    Ann Westpheling, Scribd’s new strategic partnership manager who recently joined the company after 11 years in publishing marketing, said…“If I create an excerpt with material from three romantic novels, I can now see which author drove the most traffic. Experimentation [with different marketing strategies] becomes more meaningful.”

    The implications of the new data are potentially enormous.

    Boyd said, ”The stats could provide insight into how long people read different kinds of material--leading, perhaps, to new optimal lengths for different genres of books--as well as how reading speeds vary by day of the week or by age of reader--which could also lead to changes in how authors write.”

    Click here to read Jason Kincaid’s Tech Crunch article. 

    Click here to read E.B. Boyd’s Fast Company article.

    Click here to visite the Scribd website. 





    Great Weekend at Atlanta Family History Expo!

    This weekend Nancy and I participate in the Atlanta Family History Expo held at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia. It was our seventh FHE this year. We have had a great time at every one.

    The Atlanta Expo offered the between 1000 and 1500 people who attended the two day session two days crammed with opportunities to learn and share ideas about genealogy and family history. There were thirty exhibitors, and 110 classes providing research tips and techniques, technology tools, opportunities to post and publish results, and resources of all kinds. Most of all there was plenty of encouragement and inspiration for the family historian.

    I think Ginger Smith, who writes the Genealogy by Ginger Blog, had a fairly typical reaction. She wrote, “This was a good experience overall though because I finally got to see exactly what a conference like this entails and it was very cool to be able to talk about GENEALOGY (and some about technology) for two whole days!!!!”

    Nancy and I had the opportunity to teach two classes twice each: Family History Books – Editing, Design and Publishing, and A Good Read – Make Family History Books Exciting. We always enjoy the opportunity to teach. It’s fun to share what you know with others.

    What’s even more fun at conferences like this is that we get the opportunity to talk with individuals about their own family history book projects. We spoke with people at all stages of the author’s journey from gathering ideas to choosing a printer. Our message was always one of encouragement. Anyone who wants to create a family history book can do it. We’re happy to offer advice and help.

    If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a Family History Expo or another big genealogy conference I’d encourage you to check into the possibility of doing so in 2011. I am sure you will find it both worthwhile and a lot of fun.

    Click here to read Ginger Smith’s post on the Atlanta FHE

    Click here to visit the Family History Expo site.



    Generosity Based Publishing

    We have written a lot in this blog about new directions in publishing. “Now,” as they used to say on Monty Python, “for something completely different.”

    The Concord Free Pressinvites readers to, "Be part of our revolutionary experiment in generosity-based publishing."

    Concord’s business model is simple.We publish great books and give them away. All we ask is that you make a voluntary donation to a charity or someone in need. Tell us about it. Then pass your book along so others can give. It’s a new kind of publishing, one based purely on generosity, and it’s changing the way people think about books.”

    Concord has generated $155,000 in donations to a broad spectrum of individuals and causes with its first four titles.

    The publisher is overseen by an advisory board which includes literary heavyweights Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Megan Abbott and Gregory Maguire.

    Novelist Stona Fitch founded Concord. “Give + Take , my fourth novel, inspired the idea,” she said. “It’s about a jazz pianist who steals diamonds and BMWs and gives away the money – in short, a modern retelling of the Robin Hood fable. But it’s also about the limits of generosity and the slippery nature of value. When the book ran into classic delay at a major New York publishing house, I decided to start the Concord Free Press and give it away, asking only that readers give some money to a charity they believed in or someone in need.”

    The Concord Free Press List currently includes five titles:

    • IOU: New Writing on Money edited by Ron Slate
    • The Next Queen of Heaven by Gregory Maguire
    • Push Comes to Shove  by Wesley Brown
    • Give and Take by Stona Fitch
    • Rut by Scott Phillips

    “I’m the Robin Hood of publishing,” Fitch laughs. “Or the Guy Fawkes of publishing. Or the death of publishing. The best phrase anyone has come up with to describe what we’re doing is ‘a grand experiment in subversive altruism’.

    “Our approach is certainly unusual and against the grain. But noble? Let’s just say that I’d rather make trouble than money.”

    Click here to visit the Concord Free Press website.

    Click here to read more about Concord Free Press in the


    A Guide to Self Publishing Options

    The author who is considering self-publishing may find his attempt to gather information about how to proceed obscured by an array of terminology. Mick Rooney clarifies some commonly used terms in an article on The Self-Publishing Review, “The Types of Self-Publishing – Peeling Away the Layers of Confusion.”

    Self-Publishing Review

    Rooney provides descriptions of Vanity Publishers, Subsidy Publishers, Partnership Publishers, POD (Print on Demand) Publishers, and Independent Publishers. Rooney brings some transparency to the jumble of terms which confront authors. That’s useful.

    But there’s one thing missing – true self publishing. In the most of the paths to publication Rooney describes the author signs an agreement with the publisher to provide services. Often in exchange the company receives control of rights, including copyrights to the book. The book then becomes theirs. The author receives royalties for a percentage of the sales. In the meantime the publisher often provides in-house editing and design services.

    In a true self-publication the author handles all the arrangements to produce the book and retains all rights to the book. If the author requires services like editing and book design, he contracts with free lance editors and designers. If the author wants help with marketing services she hires someone to provide them.

    David Carnoy, a columnist at cnet,  wrote about is own experience in publishing a book  in an article “Self Publishing: 25 Things You Need to Know,” advised,  “I’d never work with [a publisher’s] in-house editors, copy editors and in-house design people…it’s better to hire your own people and work with them directly.”

    When the book is ready the self-publishing author can seek someone who will offer the best price on printing it without any related services added on.

    Is self publishing the route for your book or would you be better off with one of the publishing arrangements Rooney describes? The answer depends on your goals for your book, your budget for its production and your comfort level with managing all of the arrangements independently. But it’s certainly a possibility that any author seeking a path to publication should consider.

    Click here to read Mick Rooney’s “The Types of Self-Publishing – Peeling Away the Layers of Confusion.”

    Click here to read David Carnoy’s “Self-Publishing: 25 Things You Need to Know.”



    Is a Writing Group for You?

    Writing can be a solitary task. Sometimes it is difficult to get a good perspective on the manuscript you’re producing. One solution is to seek out other writers and join with them in a writing group or workshop.

    A recent interview between Kate Bittman of the New Yorker and actor James Franco, star of films like Milk, Pineapple Express and Howl. Their conversation which appeared in the magazine’s online Book Bench focused on Franco’s newly released story collection Palo Alto.

    Franco said he had written for years, but had only recently begun showing his work to others. When asked, what was the best advice about writing he had ever received, he said, “I suppose it’s finding good mentors and good readers; people who will give you a good sense of what you’ve written, because you can’t always assess it on your own.”

    About five years ago Franco discovered writer’s workshops when he could feedback from fellow writers about how to sharpen his writing skills.

    “Once I started enrolling in writing workshops and had people reading my work, it immediately gave me a new perspective," he said. "I was suddenly writing to communicate with others, which made all the difference. I no longer cut corners. I could no longer judge my work by its potential. Instead, I had to listen to how it was being perceived by others. I could no longer fool myself in isolation.”

    The advice and support provided by members of a writer’s workshop can make the difference in whether a project gets finished or not. It can almost certainly make the manuscript you ultimately create better.

    You can locate online groups or groups in your neighborhood with a quick Google search.

    Click here to read Kate Bittman’s interview with James Franco.



    Using Photos - Giants Win It All!

    I’ve been a San Francisco Giants fan for all 52 years since they came west from New York. Only baseball fans in places like Chicago, Cleveland and until fairly recently, Boston can understand what that means. Watching year after year as your team struggles futilely in its quest for a championship is indeed as a Giant’s broadcaster described it “torture.” So I am feeling a very strange sense of excited contentment today.  The photo below captures the reason.

    Freelance writer Randy Murray, in his blog First Today, Then Tomorrow, offers some excellent tips on using photos and illustrations.

    Murray begins, “Here’s the big secret: the image has to contribute to the reader’s understanding and comprehension of your text, not just to make the page more visually appealing.”

    How do you decide when the image does contribute to the reader’s understanding. Murray suggests four guidelines to decide:

    1.      You are referring to the specific image in your text – they purpose of your text IS the image.

    2.      The image will allow you to take a shortcut. By pointing to the image you can significantly reduce your description or be more accurate. “It looks like this,” with a picture, might save you 500 words and keep your readers’ interest.

    3.      The image reinforces your message

    4.      The image provides credible evidence to back up your words. Think “news photo,” like the picture of a house fire. [Or maybe the Giants!]



    Organizing a Family History - BYU Ancestors

    If you’ve been following our recent posts (or even if you haven’t) we have been looking at how to organize a family history book. The Brigham Young University TV series Ancestors offers some good insights on the subject. The website for the series which first aired in 1997 addresses several questions you’ll want to think about as you decide how to organize your book.

    • What type of history do you want to create?
    • How many people or generations should you include?
    • Who is your intended audience?
    • What style will you use? This section focuses on decisions about chronological or topical organization or combinations of the two. It also offers video clips which explain some of the choices you will face in organizing your family history.
    • Do you need an index or source citations?

    The website offers a variety of resources for family historians. It’s worth a look.

     Click here to visit the BYU Ancestors site.