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Our Author's Guide

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    Photos and Storytelling

    One of the wonderful things changes in printing technology has done for family historians and memoirists is to allow their books to be illustrated throughout. But, that benefit has also presented some sometimes difficult choices to authors. Which of the photos in the family album get into their book? Photos can enhance a book's text in different ways.

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    You Need a Good Project Manager to Get a Book Into Print

    Creating a book is often viewed as if an author were some sort of alchemist transforming the base metals of an idea into the precious golden prose of a book. Let’s take a step back and look at creating a book in a less pretentious way. Creating a book might also be viewed as an exercise in project management.

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    If You Plan to Self Publish...

    “How will you celebrate family history month?” asks Randy Seaver on his Genea-Musings blog. For more and more people the answer appears to be by writing my life story. The desire to create a book is a wonderful impulse, but many of the seniors who respond to it do so with very little knowledge or experience concerning what it takes to get a book into print.

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    TED Offers Ideas Worth Spreading

    Have you run into TED? I discovered the website today and think its worth sharing. The site says, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.” TED offers some fascinating stuff from some of the best minds in the world.

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    Answering Questions About Family History Books

    Friday and Saturday we will be appearing at the Northern California Family History Expo at the San Mateo Event Center in San Mateo. We’ll be teaching two classes: • How to Plan and Organize a Family History Book at 3:30 p.m. on Friday • Family History Books: Editing, Design and Publishing at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday We also offer authors working on family history books free consultations at our table in the exhibit hall. Our goal is to help people navigate the winding road into print.

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    Writing Commercial Fiction?

    Check this out! There’s a new kid in town, and this one is accepting unagented manuscripts. If you write genre fiction, such as mystery, romance, or science fiction, this is a chance to be discovered. They are called Musa Publishing, and they have a number of genre imprints, and also a speculative fiction eMag called Penumbra.

    Of all the obstacles that face new authors, being without an agent is one of the most formidable. After all, you just want to submit your book, right? Why this two-step process, then, of finding an agent to represent you?

    Agents have traditionally been the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, screening manuscripts to locate the ones most likely to succeed at a given publishing house. For an author, this means giving up perhaps 15% of a book’s revenue to the agent – a tough price to pay. Traditionally, authors have grudgingly paid their dues to gain access to a publisher.

    So when a publisher comes along who will deal directly with an author, without the agent’s cut, it gets interesting. And this new publisher, Musa, posts the terms of their author contracts online.

    Musa royalties are set up as the following:

    • For trade paperback copies sold less returns: 15% percent (FIFTEEN) of the cover price received for each sale made directly on the Musa Press site.
    • For trade paperback copies sold less returns: 15% percent (FIFTEEN) of the cover price for each sale made on third-party wholesalers, distributors, resellers, or vendors sites.
    • For electronic edition copies sold: fifty percent (50%) of the cover price received for each sale made directly off the Musa Press site.
    • For electronic edition copies sold: fifty percent (50%) of the NET amount received for each sale made directly from third-party wholesalers, distributors, resellers, or vendors.
    • For electronic edition copies sold on sale: fifty percent (50%) of the sale price received for each sale made on the Musa Press site.

    Here’s the interesting twist it took me a moment to understand: Musa starts all authors off with ebooks, and then, depending on their sales, goes to print. Their site states:

    PRINT—Musa will select books for our print line based upon sales. If your sales reach a certain level, your book will go into print. At that time, for any book sold on our site you will receive 15% of the cover price and through a third party you receive 15% of the net.

    Is this a good deal? That’s a matter of perspective. The unknown question, as with any publisher, is what will they do to market and promote your book. How many copies will be sold? If your book is accepted by a publisher who then lets it grow stale on the shelf, it’s never a good deal. If the book gains lots of exposure because the publisher does the job of marketing and promotion well – then that is the stuff of an author’s dreams come true.


    Just What a Writer Needs - An Algorithm

    “There’s a sucker born every minute,” said P.T. Barnum. And this afternoon I found out I was one. While working on my last post encouraging writers to get their books finished, I came across a website called Is My Book Done?, created by Boston based writer and multimedia developer Brendan Gannon. The site offers a special tool BookCheck. It explains, “BookCheck is a tool that scans your writing and determines whether it’s done.” Ridiculous, said I, no software program can make that kind of judgment.

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    My Book Is Finished...But Wait!

    Remember when you were a kid in the backseat of the car on a road trip? How many times did you ask, “Are we there yet?” Finishing a book can be a lot like that. You finish a manuscript, set it aside for a few days, get some feedback from people you trust, identify some things to revise and make the changes. You’re done. Or maybe not. Authors often second guess themselves. A little more reflection and they think of something else that needs to be tweaked. Revise it one more time. The process turns into a feedback loop that never seems to end. Novelist John Dos Passos once said, If there is a special hell for writers, it would be the contemplation of their own works.” I have watched too many writers, especially those completing their first book, going through the agony of trying to decide whether they are finished. Is there a way to help them escape back across the river Styx? I think so.

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    Reflections on the Central Coast Book and Author Festival

    We had a wonderful weekend in San Luis Obispo, California, for the Central Coast Book and Author Festival. Reflecting on the numerous conversations we had with authors, I can think of a few pieces of advice to people thinking about writing a book or maybe already in the process of doing so

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    A Message to Authors

    We’re in San Luis Obispo, California this afternoon preparing to appear at the Central Coast Book and Author Festival tomorrow. We are excited to be here because the festival is something new for us. We usually appear at expos or conferences where we teach classes, or teach classes to groups. Tomorrow we’ll only be one of 60 some authors with tables in Mission Square. I can’t help thinking about the message we want to convey to people who stop by to chat with us. First, I know we want to help inexperienced or first time authors, many of whom want to self publish, understand the process of creating a book. We might say to them: Every book starts out as an idea. To make your dream of a book a reality, authors need help. Writing a book is fascinating and enjoyable…when you know how to proceed. An experienced editor and book designer can answer questions, teach you what you need to know, and speed your book to completion and successful publication.

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    Story Frames: A Technique to Make Your Stories Meaningful

    A good story, like a good picture, is more striking with a frame. A memoir or family history is intended to give your life (or at least the stories you’ve chosen to tell about your life) context and meaning. Your stories are usually illustrations of a larger point. But will your readers see your point? A frame is a device to help your reader see what the point of the story is. By framing a story with a brief introduction and conclusion, you can add levels of meaning that aren’t explicit in the story.

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    The Ethical Will: Memoirs That Share Your Morals and Values

    One form of memoir, the ethical will, is designed to provide a statement of the author’s accumulated values, beliefs and life lessons. Originally described in the Talmud and the Bible, ethical wills have recently recommended by a diverse group of advocates. All agree with Scott Friedman and Alan Weinstein writing for the American Bar Association who said, “A parent’s insight, knowledge and wisdom are the most important assets they can transfer to a child.”

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    The Difference Between Life and Life Story

    When you set out to write a person’s life story – your own in a memoir, an ancestor’s story in a family history, or a biography – one of the most difficult problems is deciding what to leave out. Many of us, particularly if we are inexperienced writers, see our principal job as reporting. We try to create a factual chronicle of what happened. All events great and small. That’s legitimate, but it’s not necessarily very dramatic, or interesting. If we want to engage our readers we need to root around in the facts to discover the stories buried there, because stories create meaning from events.

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    Your Book Deserves a Creative Team

    Meghan Ward, the author of the Writerland blog, which I follow, offered some interesting and useful advice to her readers in her post 10 Steps to Becoming a Self Publishing Superstar . I was particularly interested in Step 4: “If you do decide to self-publish, you should hire a freelance editor (even if you have excellent editing skills yourself) and book designer, so that your book is as professional as it would be if it were published by one of the Big 6.” It’s something I often tell authors I talk to. If you think about it for a moment the reason it’s sound advice is obvious.

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    World Building in Memoir and Family History Books

    In science fiction and fantasy, writers refer to it as “world building”. They must create a believable universe that allows a reader to feel as if she were there. But the problem is the same for writers dealing with less fanciful settings. Strunk and White observed in The Elements of Style, that, “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on one point it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the reader is to be specific, definite and concrete. The greatest writers…are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter.”

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