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    Friday
    Oct222010

    Add Your Insights, Along With Family Stories

    I recently read a novel I would recommend highly, called The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. In it, an institutionalized woman secretly writes a memoir of her life in Ireland. In just the first few pages, I was hooked. The book is part mystery, part memoir, and contains insightful passages that shine like small jewels.

    I was delighted with this passage about the role of family stories. The narrator is remembering a story her father loved to tell. He had experienced a miracle, he said, when an Indian friend saved his life and appeared to sprout wings from his back like an angel. She concludes,

    "...my father's curious happiness was most clearly evident in the retelling of this story. It was as if such an event were a reward to him for being alive, a little gift of narrative that pleased him so much it conferred on himself, in dreams and waking, a sense of privilege, as if such little scraps of stories and events composed for him a ragged gospel. And if ever there were to be written an evangelical gospel of my father's life – and why should there not, as every person's life is said to be precious to God – I suppose those wings merely glimpsed on his friend the Indian's back would become more substantial, and things merely hinted at by him would become in the new telling by a second hand solid, unprovable, but raised up even higher into the realms of miracle. So that all and sundry might take comfort from it.

    My father's happiness. It was a precious gift in itself, as perhaps my mother's anxiety was a perpetual spanner thrown into her works. For my mother never made miniature legends of her life, and was singularly without stories, though I am sure there were things there to tell as good as my father's.

    It is funny, but it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls, reducing entire lives, no matter how vivid and wonderful, to those sad black names on withering family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.

    My father's happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, like a second more patient and more pleasing soul within my poor soul. Perhaps his happiness was curiously unfounded. But cannot a man make himself as happy as he can in the strange long reaches of a life? I think it is legitimate. After all, the world is indeed beautiful, and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it.

    There is a lesson, or sevaral lessons, to be learned here. It is not just the family story that captivates us. The author who comments on the story, who draws conclusions about what it means to her, can add a whole new level of meaning. What an opportunity for all of us, as authors, to not only reproduce and record family stories, but also to enrich the family narrative by conveying our own vision of the world.

    

    Tuesday
    Oct192010

    Topical Organization for a Family History

    Best-selling author Bill Bryson (Mother Tongue, Made in America: A Short History of Nearly Everything) has written a new book that might be of interest to people planning a family history.

    The New York Times recently reviewed Bryson’s newly published At Home: A Short History of Private Life. Says reviewer Dominique Brown, “Bryson’s focus is domestic; he intends, as he puts it, to ‘write a history of the world without leaving home.’” The book is organized around the rooms of Bryson’s house. “Moving from room to room, talking while we walk…” he touches on such disparate topics as antique parlor chairs, buttons, vitamins, stairs as a cause of fatal accidents, the Erie Canal, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, the history of ice, Building materials, the numerous words important into English when India dominated the cotton trade, pillows, petroleum, and guano as fertilizer.

    “Bryson’s conceit is nifty, providing what business majors might recognize as a “loose-tight” management structure,” said Brown, ”flexible enough to maintain a global scope without losing track of the mundane.”

    It’s that organizational structure that can be useful for a family historian looking for an alternative to lock-step chronology. Whether frustrated by a shortage of stories to supplement the genealogical facts about some ancestors or simply looking for a more interesting way to relate the family history, topical organization can be a useful tool.

    A book might be organized around

    • Life experiences such as occupations, education, child raising, military service, migrations (everything from the stories of immigration to America to moves across the country or across the street) or food.
    • Values like courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work
    • Character traits including courage, intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, persistence, hard work

    Whichever topics around which you decide to organize your family history you will be able to add interest by using the historical context of the time and place in which ancestors lived to supplement their stories.

    Click here to read the full review of At Home: A Short History of Private Life.

    

    Thursday
    Oct142010

    Organizing a Family History Book, Part 2

    There is another way to assure your book is compelling, and that is to proceed from the best of what you actually have. This may mean taking a topical approach, grouping your stories and research into sections and chapters that are something other than time periods.

    Here are some examples if you were to group stories and research around important events:

    • Places We’ve Lived
    • Good Family Times
    • Careers & Skills
    • Travels
    • Achievements
    • Other/ Etc

     

    On the other hand, you can use a topical organization for deeper themes:

    • Guiding Principles & Beliefs
    • Triumphs &Tragedies
    • Heroes & Villains
    • Faith & Religion
    • Historic & Social Changes
    • Other/ Etc

     

    The possibilities for these topics are endless, and they are created from the family history stories and research you actually have. It takes some thought, though, and this may be an area where you work with an editor for “developmental editing”, to figure out the best way to organize what you have.

    Within your topical order, you should be able to include all the same records, photos, stories, profiles, and whatever else you have gathered, that you might have put into a chronological book. Or you may choose to narrow your focus, developing the topic and eliminating some of the artifacts.

     The value of a topical organization is that for a casual reader that you hope to “hook” on family history, a topical order emphasizes what is important. You will be contextualizing information that otherwise they might find boring and distant.

    

    Tuesday
    Oct122010

    Possibilities for Organizing a Family History Book

    If you have been researching your family history for some time, you have probably accumulated a lot of information, too much to fit into one book. That’s OK. Much of that information may not be suitable for a book anyway, if you want your book to be a pleasurable reading experience. This is the first criteria to help you sort through the abundant possibilities of what to include in your book: what will your readers find interesting and valuable? (The drier, less engaging information can be shared on a companion CD, so you needn’t worry about depriving the reader of some critical facts.)

    Organizing a family history book can be imagined as two broad categories: a chronological approach, and a topical approach. Within these categories, there are many possibilities for crafting your family history into a compelling narrative. As long as the premise of the book is cohesive, such as focusing on one branch of the family, or a given period of time, both chronological and topical orgnizations can work well.

    Most people begin planning with a chronological approach. This seems the most logical, because that is the way history actually occurs, and your research is organized in this way. It seems logical to transfer the research to a book, in order. This has inherent problems, though. Usually the earlier periods lack specifics, and you’re less likely to have interesting stories about those earlier ancestors. The danger is an unbalanced book, one that is short and boring in the first chapters, and that only becomes interesting as you move toward the present.

    There are ways to compensate. The incomplete stories can be supplemented with some research and speculation, a reconstruction of the world that surrounded your ancestors. Another technique we often recommend is to use one section at the opening of the book for your most distant and incomplete research, which may only be a summary. Then launch the interesting stories in section two.

    How do you decide whether to use a chronological or a topical approach? As always, when planning a book, think of your reader first. If your readers are also historians, they will appreciate a chronological approach. It allows them to easily add your information to their existing knowledge. For more casual readers that you hope to “hook” on family history, a topical order emphasizes what is important.

    Our upcoming blog, to be posted on 10/14, will explore topical organization and give you some examples of how to re-think your family history.

    

    Friday
    Oct082010

    Who is Lightning Source, and Why the Buzz?

    If you Google “self publish a book”, you’ll see all the commercial leaders: CreateSpace, (Amazon’s self publishing division), Lulu, Xlibris, and more. CreateSpace and the others cater specifically to authors who want to directly access printing and publishing services. They have user-friendly websites with simple requirements. If you don’t have your book adequately prepared, they are happy to sell you supplementary author services. They will design your cover, sell or give you an ISBN, and offer you marketing services, too.

    Your Google search won’t reveal Lightning Source. Why not? Lightning Source emphatically doesn’t market to authors. Their niche is for publishers, people in the business of publishing books for commercial distribution. The website is nearly impenetrable to the casual browser, requiring an account login before you can learn about pricing or print specifications. One must apply for an account by passing a quiz on your publishing experience (!) and then following up with an account rep.

    So why bother with Lightning Source? Because they are the biggest print on demand (POD) supplier in the United States, supplying books to brick and mortar bookstores and fulfilling the orders of online booksellers such as amazon.com and barnes&noble.com. As a division of Baker & Taylor, your book is listed in the B&T catalog, and that puts you on amazon.com, barnes&noble.com, etc. (The only retailer that does not sell Lightning Source books is borders.com.)

    No matter where your book order is placed, Lightning Source will print and ship your book in one day. Even better, you don’t have to pay for shipping This fast, reliable, free order fulfillment is wonderful for authors. If you’ve ever tried to sell your own offset printed books, or if you have been responsible for shipping costs from POD online stores, you know this is fantastic.

    A wide distribution, easy order fulfillment… what more could an author want? Higher profits, of course. With Lightning Source, you can sell your book on amazon.com at a “short discount” of 20%. That means amazon.com will take a smaller cut; just 20%, off the cover price of a Lightning Source book, while they take 35% or more from a CreateSpace book!

    For all these reasons, self publishing through Lightning Source can be the best game in town – in certain cases. Look for my upcoming blog, “Is Lightning Source Right for Your Book?”

    

    Wednesday
    Oct062010

    Want to Write a Family History, but Aren't a Writer?

    It’s always interesting to see how someone else responds to a situation you’re often presented with. That’s why I liked Lynn Palermo’s recent post at The Armchair Genealogist.

    The problem she faced was one we regularly encounter. "’But I’m not a writer’ is a common excuse I often hear when I am encouraging family historians to record their genealogy in a book format,” said Palermo.

    For people who feel that way, she offered a list of a dozen tips to help them get their family history written. It was a sound list, worth taking a look at. However she acknowledges that developing one’s writing skills can be an arduous task which can take some time.

    The alternative we frequently suggest to non-writers who want to create a family history book is to record the text, then transcribe it or get someone else to do it for you. All of us have told stories all our lives. Simply telling them into a digital recorder is an easy way to create a manuscript. And recording your stories will make sure that your distinctive way of speaking – what creative writing teachers call your voice - will appear in your book when the stories are transcribed. (If you didn’t see our series of posts on story recording in late August and early September, check them out. You’ll find plenty of advice on how to employ voice recording and transcription tools even if you are a non-writer.)

    Whether you decide to employ digital recording technology to “tell” your stories or sharpen your writing skills to the point where you’re ready to draft a manuscript, I think you’ll find that as Lynn Palermo says, “…the satisfaction of having written a family history book will be reward enough.”

     

    Click here to read Lynn Palermo’s post.

    

    Sunday
    Oct032010

    Commercial Book Publishing Choices

    “The publishing world is expanding with opportunity now, especially for authors who are willing to build themselves a platform and find readers for their books regardless of how they publish them,” says author Joanna Penn in an article on Publishing Options for Your Book offered in the September ezine on her website the Creative Penn.

     

    Penn looks at digital publishing, self-publishing, print on-demand and traditional publishing. She provides links to additional information on each publishing category. If you’re are planning a book for commercial distribution Penn’s article provides plenty of useful information. Check it out.

     

    Click here to read Penn’s article.

    

    Thursday
    Sep302010

    Encouraging People to Share Their Stories

    We have recently had inquiries from several people who were interested in creating books that were community projects involving multiple contributors. Here's the advice we've given these people.

    We have met a number of people like you who had great ideas for community book projects, but they never seem to get them off the ground. Why is that? Here are the conclusions we have drawn:

    1. You cannot ask non-writers to write.
    Imagine this: I am not very athletic, yet each year when I visit my uncle he wants me to play golf with him. Golf! That takes years to learn how to play well. If I attempt it, I know I will fail, so I politely refuse. The same applies to writing. It may be your beloved hobby, but to others it is as specialized as golf, a game they do not play. The solution? Ask for their knowledge and stories, but don't ask them to write. Plan to interview these contributors with a digital recorder, just as journalists have done to get the story for many years.

    2. The rewards are not clear, or are not powerful enough.
    It is human nature to ask, What's in it for me? Too often you are the only one who benefits, and yet you want something, either time or effort, for nothing in return. The solution? Create a reward. If you are doing this as a for-profit venture, pay for each story. Non profit? Sometimes even a token payment, such as a gift card for the bookstore, or perhaps a donation to their favorite charity in their name, will make it worth their while. Often, simply offering to get together for a cup of coffee is a good enough "social reward" - people love to get out of the house, and you promise to make it fun for them. The promise of seeing their story in the finished book, however, does not seem to be an incentive, as it is too abstract, at least until the book is actually finished. At that time, they may be very interested in purchasing the book, or receiving a free copy as thanks for contributing.

    3. The scope of the project is unknown.
    Too often, the person who wants to do the community book has "a great idea" but no plans beyond gathering the stories. In their enthusiasm, they pitch the idea poorly to others, who are not impressed. These contributors feel they are being drafted, and they doubt the project will succeed, perhaps rightly so. If the author does not prove that she/he has a good plan, why should they get involved? The solution: Make a plan, and pitch the plan effectively. They will want to know who the other contributors are, and how many stories are going into the book. They will want to know about your plan for organizing the book, your schedule for completing it, and how you intend to publish and distribute it. The money issue must be addressed: are you making a profit, and if so, will they be compensated? In addition to all the information about the book as a whole, they will need to know what you want from them in particular. Give definite guidelines for the length and content of the story. It is very reassuring to hear that there are limits, such as "I just want to record you telling your story for 15 minutes."

    4. Relationships matter more than you imagine.
    They say that all transactions take place in a social context. When people listen to your book project proposal, they  will consider their relationship with you before they decide on their interest in your book. Friendships have a loyalty factor, as in "please do this as a favor for me, because you are my friend". Acquaintances do not have any such obligation. They will listen to your proposal, and they will use their reason to gauge the value of the exchange; how much effort will this take on their part, and and how important their contributions are to your plans. That is why it is important that your sources like you, and want to help you, on a personal level. The contributors must have a "good feeling" about the author and the project for it to succeed.

    Ultimately, I think that authors who want to do such a book have to take full responsibility for it. They need to accept the role of project manager, as well as author, and they need to be realistic about the relatively small part that others will play. When you ask others to contribute to a book, they will respect your efforts more if they know you have already shouldered the greatest share of the work, and expect relatively little of them.
    

    Tuesday
    Sep282010

    Tweeting to Promote Holocaust Memoir

    Ninety-one year old Willie Sterner is tweeting.

    Sterner, a Holocaust survivor has written a memoir of his experiences, The Shadows Behind Me, which will be released today. As part of the book’s launch Sterner’s book will be tweeted in three daily updates each day for thirty days.

    Sterner’s Twitter posts are part of a plan by Montreal’s Azrieli Foundation , which is publishing his book as a part of its Holocaust Survivors Memoir Program, to reach readers who would otherwise not be exposed to the stories of Holocaust survivors.

    "Most Holocaust survivors can't find publishers for their memoirs," said Naomi Azrieli, chairperson and executive director of the foundation. "They write their memoirs because they don't want to lose their stories. We realized this is a great role for philanthropy, because there's no other way to get these stories out there."

    Sterner’s memoir and others in the series will be sold in books stores and available for free download on the Azrieli Foundation website.

    **********************************************************************************

    The Azrieli Foundation’s effort to reach out to a new audience is one author’s seeking to promote their own books should consider. Social media can be a powerful in creating a buzz about a book. Plug Your Book! Online Marketing for Author’s  by Steve Weber provides a comprehensive look at using other online tools to promote your book.

    Click here to read the Montreal Gazette’s report on Sterner’s book launch.

    Click here to visit the Azrieli Foundation website.

    

    Sunday
    Sep262010

    Good Advice on Book Marketing

    If your goal is commercial publication, Kendra Bonnett’s List for Writers: 10 Tips for Marketing Your Book or eBook on her Women’s Memoirs Blog is well worth your time.

    She provides a quick guide to some excellent resources for authors who want to promote books whether they have been published by traditional publishers or are self-published.

    As I indicated in my comment on Women’s Memoirs, we’d also recommend a look at two books on marketing books: Aaron Shepard’s Aiming at Amazon and Steve Weber’s Plug Your Book: Online Book Marketing for Authors.

    If your goal is to sell your book you need a marketing plan. If you don’t have one yet the resources above will help you create one. If you already have one, you might still want to take a look to see if there is something you might add to improve what you are already doing.

    Click Here to read Kendra Bonnett’s List.

    

    Friday
    Sep242010

    Interesting Examples of Topical Memoirs About Food

    “I am a foodie; I always have been, and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” says Fliss on her blog All Lit Up as she opens a post titled Food For Thought: Three Food Memoirs. That was enough to get me – a fellow foodie - to read it. But the post contains some lessons for memoir and family history writers as well.

    One of the most perplexing problems encountered by many people who want to write a memoir or family history is how to organize their books. The might do well to look at the three books Fliss reviews.

     

     

     

    Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser

    The book covers a period between when Hesser, a food writer, meets her future husband and their wedding day. The chapters were originally written as articles and each is followed by a series of recipes.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    French Milk by Lucy Kinsley

    This, says Fliss, is “a graphic novelesque travelogue of a monthlong vacation in Paris,” during which “Knisley is almost totally obsessed with food.”

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

    This memoir covers the first few years of Bard’s life after she moves to Paris. It is well-seasoned with recipes.

     

     

     

     

     

    Each of the three books is an example of a writer successfully creating an interesting book by limiting the scope of their stories both chronologically and thematically. By organizing their books around a single topic the writers assured a unity of purpose and coherence.

    These books are examples of an organizational technique that will work for both memoir and family history and for a multitude of topics.

    Click here to read Fliss’ reviews.

     

    

    Wednesday
    Sep222010

    A Self-Publishing Case Study

    The process of self-publishing a memoir or family history book presents first time authors with many potential journeys into unknown territory. Considerations about who will edit a manuscript and how to design the cover and and interior of the book face the author who is often most concerned with the question, “What will it all cost?” For a person who has never been through the process of self-publishing a book the prospect can seem quite daunting.

    A recent post by Joel Friedlander on his blog The Book Designer helps to illuminate the process of creating a book. Friedlander offers a case study of a single self-published book, The Andrew Street Mob, by Andrew Marais which he describes as a “…firsthand account of growing up amid a group of 40 or more kids in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1950s.”

    The book was a non-commercial project. Friedlander describes how he worked with Marais to, “Create a book that can be handled and read, that’s economical to produce, and that minimizes the cost to print as much as possible.”

    If you’re considering self-publishing, following Friedlander’s account of the choices that took the project from manuscript to printed book will be illuminating. It will also give you an idea of the sort of collaborative relationship you will want to seek with your editor and/or book designer.

    Click here to read Joel Friedlander’s post.

    Monday
    Sep202010

    A Readable Cover For Your Book Online

    Book marketing expert John Kremer looks at some highly promoted recent books in a post on his Book Marketing bestsellers. What he sees leads him to ask a question about book titles: “Should you be able to read them?”

    Kremer examines half-a-dozen covers and finds that in many cases reading the title or the name of the author can be a chancy proposition. Let’s look at an example:

    Says Kremer, “Jonathan Harr’s title is unreadable at this size (the size in most catalogs and websites). I think it says something like The Lost Painting, but I cheated. I made the graphic larger to make out the last word.”

    He raises an important point. As more and more books are sold online what makes for a successful cover is changing. Covers were once designed to appeal to bookstore buyers who picked the book up and examined it. But with the shift to web sales cover designs have to display well in thumbnails and at low resolution.

    When you work with your cover designer, make sure that the appearance of your book online is an important element of your discussion.

    Click here to see the rest of the covers and John Kremer’s assessment of them.

    

    Saturday
    Sep182010

    Family Facts in Historical Context

    People who want to create family history books often tell us that while the have done lots of factual research they have only a few family stories. What, they ask, can I do?

    One of the ways to bring facts to life is to surround them with a historical context. If you don’t know many interesting details about your ancestor, try to find out what was going at the time and place where they lived.

    You know that your family moved from Oklahoma to California in 1933, but the stories of their decision to leave Oklahoma and of their journey west have been lost. But there’s plenty of historical accounts of life in Dust Bowl Oklahoma and the migration of Okies to California. You could give your reader a sense of your ancestors experience by drawing upon stories told by people like them. You could make very effective use of literary passages like those in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

    You could use political events associated with a time and place in the same way to suggest what life for your ancestors was like. Nancy Hendrickson, a Contributing Editor of Family Tree Magazine provides an excellent example of how it’s done. You have only an isolated fact to work with. In Hendrickson’s example, “My family was included in the Putnam County, Missouri, 1860 federal census.” Here’s how she puts that single fact into a rich historical context:

    In the fall of 1860, an Assistant U.S. Marshal traveled the rolling green hills of Putnam County, Missouri, questioning the people in every household.  He asked their names and ages, occupation and birth place.  As an agent of the Secretary of the Interior, he was charged with the responsibility of taking the Eighth U.S. Federal Census.  He was called the enumerator.                                                                                             As he traveled the county, he probably got an earful of local politics—after all, the presidential election was only weeks away and with the South’s threat to leave the Union  should Lincoln be elected, secession talk had to be in the wind.  That, and the institution that James Russell Lowell called “the relic of a bygone world”—slavery.                                                                                                                                                    In this census year, a separate enumeration called a Slave Schedule, was also taken. This would be the last time in the country’s history that slaves would be counted.

    The context makes the fact read like a story and helps us to understand the world in which the people listed in that census lived. It’s a way to help your reader share the experiences of the ancestors who people your book.

    Thursday
    Sep162010

    Lessons on Editing Your Family History

    Lynn Palermo, who blogs at TheArmchairGenealogist.com, offers some interesting and useful advice to people writing family histories and memoirs in her post Seven Key Lessons to Editing Your Family History.

    Here's her list:

    Lesson 1 - Never attempt to be writer and editor.

    Lesson 2- Prepare from day one for the editing process.

    Lesson 3- Do not take corrections personally.

    Lesson 4- Regardless of whether you are self-publishing, or using a printer, don’t shy away from paying for a proof or purchasing an advance copy.

    Lesson 5 – Resist the temptation for your book to be “a surprise for the family.”

    Lesson 6- There will be mistakes.

    Lesson 7 – Family members are very understanding of the work that goes into writing a family history book and are very generous with their praise, and less worried about mistakes.

    Good advice! All of these lessons are important. But a couple of them need some discussion for people new to the process of working with an editor.

    In lesson two Palermo recommends developing a system to track your documentation. She suggests a binder titled Primary Sources with a section for each person in the book and copies of all source material about that person. Says Palermo, “This book will later be your editors go to source to ensure all information has been transposed accurately from their primary source.” The term used in publishing for this process is “fact checking.” It is important to understand that fact checking is an additional service that editors may provide, but it is not something an editor routinely does. If you want your facts checked make sure to arrange for that specific service.

    A second note regarding editorial services is to distinguish between content or developmental editing and copy editing. Again, each is a separate service. A content or developmental edit focuses on the effectiveness with which your tell the story. It looks at how to improve your manuscript by adding detail to clarify or enrich stories, moving stories from one place to another where they will fit more coherently or deleting sections of the draft that are repetitive, unclear, or don’t logically fit. A content edit is a collaborative process of heightening your effectiveness as a storyteller. A copy edit focuses instead on correctness. Your copy editor will look at your draft for errors in grammar, spelling, word usage, punctuation, etc. to produce an error-free manuscript for publication. Make sure that you arrange for the kind of editing services you want for your manuscript before handing it over to the editor you have chosen.

    Finally, it is important to understand that fact checking, content editing and copy editing may be done by the same person or by different people depending upon your desires. Just make sure that you have made clear with whomever you call upon to edit your book exactly what service you want them to provide.

     Click here to read Lynn Palermo’s full post.