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    « 6 Tips on How to Write a Family History Book Your Audience Will Love | Main | Turning Illustrated Books Into eBooks »

    The Truth About Templates

    Your family history is unique. So why would you want a cookie-cutter templateAt the RootsTech Family History and Technology Conference, a number of people came to our Stories To Tell exhibit and asked, “Do you have software or a template to create books?” We didn’t, and we don’t ever intend to make a book according to a template. A template-based book, compared to a custom book, is like a child’s paint-by-numbers kit compared to a real, original work of art.

    We don’t offer templates, but a lot of people doFor example,’s My Canvas promises, “Family History Books auto fill with your family group sheets, pedigree charts, and timelines using records.” Others offer lists of questions to answer which would generate some book text, and there are publishing packages to create family histories. These packages suggest that if you just point and click, you have a book.

    Ease of use is often a good thing, but what if something important is lost? The function of a template is to mass produce items in the same shape and pattern. Your family may be special or unusual people, but your book won’t be.

    Publishing packages are often priced attractively, at first glance. Consider what you get, for what you pay: there are limited number of sizes, limits on photos or other illustrations allowed, limits on the number of pages, and simplistic cover designs. The quality of these books, both in the template’s DIY design and in the printed paper, binding, and cover stock, is often painfully poor.

    There’s something else they aren’t telling you. Why give you free templates? Because you’ll have to print the books through their service, and you will pay an inflated price for each printed book. Worse, your book is locked into their software, and you can’t retrieve it to print the book elsewhere. They own the rights. Check the fine print – will you be allowed to download your completed book after you’ve designed it in their template?

    We help people to find an independent printer, because authors should own their book files, and retain their complete rightsAs an author, you should be able to tell your ancestors’ stories any way you want, without shaping them to fit someone else’s template. Want a beautiful book with lots of images? You can have it. Want to own your book so you can shop around for a deal on printing? Insist on that.


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    Reader Comments (6)

    I am thinking about using one of Joel Friedlander's Word templates when I am ready to format the text of my book. I feel capable of formatting it myself, but it looks as if these templates would save a lot of time without restricting the layout of the book. I was wondering if you would include them in the templates you describe in your post.

    Feb 14, 2014 at 10:26AM | Unregistered CommenterLaurel

    Hi Laurel,
    I am sorry to say "there's no such thing as a free lunch!" Those templates may be fine, as a start, for print-only novels; but I suspect you can already set up a document in Word. However, illustrated and non-fiction books are very different from text-only books.
    When Joel gives away the Word templates, he uses them to sell his "Premium Services", which means you'd hire him to customize the book after you'd drafted it in his Word template. He then charges for each aspect of a book design separately, as a "premium" service.
    These are the same services that we offer, but we aren't nearly as good at marketing as he is! If you think you're getting a "free design" by downloading those templates, here are the services he charges for:
    PDF Creation
    Add a Table of Contents
    Add New Front or Back Matter Pages
    Insert Images with Captions
    Add Custom Text Styles
    Create a Custom Trim / Page Size Template
    Substitute a Custom Font
    Convert Your Completed Ebook to a Kindle-Ready HTML File
    Convert a Finished Print Book to an eBook
    Review your Book or eBook File for Formatting Issues
    Advanced Tech Support
    The fact is that MS Word is a poor way to design a book. It's not about the template's layout, it is the limitations of the software itself. If you're writing a print-only book, it can work for book design. But just like us, Joel is using better software to provide more advanced design services.

    Feb 14, 2014 at 12:14PM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

    Thank you for the additional info. I'm surprised at some of the items not contained in the template (e.g., TOC) and the apparent lack of flexibility (set number of front and back matter pages?). I had intended to compromise by using Word for the text formatting and paying for a professional cover. For now, I'm still researching and writing.

    Feb 15, 2014 at 10:48AM | Unregistered CommenterLaurel

    That's the problem with templates. If you are going to work in Word, you could do just as good a job yourself by thoughtfully setting up your Word document. Your book should be exactly what you intend, without limits imposed by the template.
    Are you intending to include illustrations, or is yours a print-only book? That is where I would draw the line - Word is terrible for more complex page layout and for the export of images to a printing press. Among other pre-press settings, important color and resolution options cannot be modified.
    We all want a cheap and easy solution, but if and when we compromise, we should understand what is being sacrificed. After going to all the trouble of writing a book, I think the design should be taken as seriously as the content.

    Feb 15, 2014 at 1:08PM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

    Excellent post. Thanks ………..

    Feb 15, 2014 at 9:08PM | Unregistered CommenterPhoto master

    Thanks! We appreciate your comment.

    Feb 16, 2014 at 10:06AM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

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