Family historians love the idea of including photographs in their family history books. They see images of ancestors as completing the sketch of a person which emerges from research in the factual record. Their books will help them preserve the family photo albums, so they focus on identifying the people in the pictures. But many family historians overlook the value of photos as storytelling tools. Think about the elements of a good story. Characterization is at the top of the list. What kind of a person was great-great-grandfather? What motivated your parent’s family to do something? Thoughtful use of photographs can help you get beyond the who, what, when, and where aspects of an ancestor’s story to the why which is often more interesting. See how the choice of photographs might have a big impact on the story you want to tell.
Creating a family history book is a two part process. The first is, of course, research to gather as much information as possible about the ancestors who will be included in the book. Unfortunately, no matter how we might try to keep things organized research often takes on a somewhat random quality, running into brick walls here only to uncover unexpected discoveries elsewhere. While the events of an ancestor’s life are arranged on a simple timeline, there is seldom such a clear pattern to the way we learn about it. Step two then is deciding how to impose order on our rather disheveled mass of research when we begin to write about it. Posing two questions will help do it: How do you know what you know? How do the facts which you have gathered relate to other things you know?
It’s the end of National Novel Writing Month. You have a finished (or even almost finished) draft in hand (or on your hard drive). Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment. Relax for a couple of days, then take the next step in getting your book ready for publication. If you’re like most of the people who met the NaNoWriMo challenge you’ve produced what Anne Lamott, in her book on writing Bird By Bird, calls a “shitty first draft.” How do you get from here to a version you want to send off to a printer or a literary agent? Think about revision as a three step process.
You have probably seen every marketing, promotional and sales trick in the book in the run up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As an author, particular a self-publishing author, you may be asking yourself, how can I make my campaign to sell my book stand out in the blizzard of marketing messages? Here are ten great tips from around the web to help you do just that.
How do you make critical decisions? John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishers, presented his answer in an inspirational TED Talk in New York City last week. He focuses on making critical choices when the outcome is unknowable, as Sargent out it, on “…making decisions that you don’t have historical context and you don’t have information that is useful in making the decision.” Ultimately, says Sargent, you must decide whether you will experience the unknown, or whether risk is too great. He frames the talk with his own decision to join other major publishers in working with Apple to create the iBookstore for ebooks.
We are happy to host today's guest post by author, creativity coach and commedian Bryan Cohen who is stopping by as part of the blog tour for his new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More. Welcome Bryan! The invitation came through my freelance writing website. So many emails from that site are spam, it would've been easy to miss. The message came from North Wildwood, New Jersey. I'd never been there, but my upbringing in suburban Philadelphia gave me a vague understanding of the Jersey Shore's geography. Carolyn, the co-leader of the conference, had read through my work and extended an invitation to speak at the North Wildwood Beach Writer's Conference that June.
Many biographers, stuck for a more clever title, have simply called their books The Life and Times of [their subject here]. It’s not terribly creative, but it does convey an important idea for every biographer or family historian to remember: every life comes with a historical context. A person’s life story is shaped by the time and place in which he or she lived. What social, cultural, technological and political forces might have had an impact upon the subject of your research? For family historians exploring those larger forces can seem like a huge endeavor tacked onto canvasing family and vital records to gather the essential facts about a family member. That task just got a lot easier. The Associated Press and Ancestry.com have announced a partnership that will make more than one million stories from the AP newswire available in a searchable database.
If you plan to write about a person’s life – yours in a memoir or a family member’s in a family history – think about your audience before you begin. Why will anyone want to read the life story you have written? Few people are looking for a simple factual account of events, although attention to getting the facts right is essential, as James Frey learned when he fabricated his memoir A Million Little Pieces. Readers are interested in insight and understanding. A memoir or family history may start in individual experience, but it should go beyond the purely personal space to suggest insights and understandings readers can apply to their own lives. Consider the most widely read memoir and family history of the last 50 years: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes published in 1996 and Alex Haley’s fictionalized 1976 account of his family history Roots.
You have finished the manuscript for your book? It has been thoroughly edited and you are ready to move ahead with self-publishing? At this point you may ask yourself, should I design the book myself? One aspect of the question is the complexity of your book. If your book has extensive graphics, photographs or illustrations, or is heavily formatted the design issues are more complex than for a simpler text only book like a novel. But, even with novels professional book designers employ the tools of the Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge and InDesign to achieve a professional look. Are these tools part of your skill set? Let’s consider some of the reasons for using a professional book designer.
If you spend any time in the tech world you have no doubt bumped into discussions about the importance of the user experience. If you are writing a nonfiction book you would benefit from some similar thinking about the kind of reader experience your book will produce. Begin by thinking about the audience you want to reach.
Veterans Day is the day Americans officially honor the service of our military veterans. What better way is there to honor them than to preserve the stories of their service? That preservation can take a variety of forms. The Library of Congress Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center is preserving oral history interviews with veterans. The project website provides specifics on how you can participate and offers guides to the interview process. A quick web search of veterans’ history” will provide listings for many state and local veterans history projects which support the work being done at the Library of Congress. Books make a great preservation tool.
Music provides the sound track for our lives. Nancy often says, “There’s a song for everything,” and quotes a lyric. It’s no wonder that writers seeking to create a mood or capture a moment in time should be tempted to do the same thing. But when you are tempted to quote a song lyric in your book, think twice.
The first step in the process of actually creating the family history book you keep saying you will write someday is to transform it from a dream to a specific goal on your to do list. Genealogical research is infinite. There’s always more to do. As long as you’re focused on research your book remains a dream. A book is finite. It requires specific actions to make it a reality. The first step is to set a target date for completion. “I’ll have my book written by _____.” Once you have established a target date, you can plan backward from that date to set sub-goals which will lead you to completion of the book.
To construct a narrative family history one must gather the family lore and stories to supplement the facts drawn from vital records. Unfortunately, as most family historians know too well the people we would like to ask about those stories are often no longer with us. When that’s the case, you need to reconstruct your family’s narrative from the limited records available. Letters and diaries can be a rich source of family stories. Even a single letter can be a wonderful tool in understanding an ancestors time and place. Letters and diaries are part of the cultural conversation of the times in which they were written. The topics they address are those which were important not only to their authors, but to their contemporaries. These personal writings can help us to understand both our ancestors’ connection to their times and their the unique way they experienced those times.
“I just don’t have a lot of family stories,” say far too many genealogists who want to write a family history. I understand. Everyone always wishes they had taken the time to gather family stories when they had a chance. There are plenty of questions you wish you’d asked Grandfather Harry or Great Aunt Sue, who was the family busybody and knew everybody’s story. But the opportunity to sit down with them with a notebook and pen or even better a tape recorder has come and gone. But that doesn’t your family history is doomed to be a dutiful recounting of facts recalled from your genealogical research and pages of pedigree charts. You can make your book lively and interesting. All it takes is a little perspective.