Ancestry has found a new home for My Canvas. There has been a good deal of celebrating in the genealogy community. At Stories To Tell we are always happy to see more opportunities for people to share their family history. But this is a good time to ask whether My Canvas, the best known place to publish a family history, is really the best way to create a family history book.
There are two reasons My Canvas seems an attractive option to people who want to publish a family history, but don’t know much about how book publishing works.
- Ancestry’s Credibility: Ancestry is a well-known brand whose website will continue to offer My Canvas even after the service finally moves over to its new home at Alexander’s six months from now. For many people the reasoning is simple, “I rely on Ancestry to help me research my genealogy, why shouldn’t I rely on it to help me put that genealogy into a book?”
- Ease of Use: My Canvas promises to provide all the tools you’ll need to create a book even if you have no technical knowledge at all. Just plug your text and images into the templates provided and click your mouse to create a book. What could be simpler?
But, before choosing My Canvas as your publisher, you might want to ask some additional questions:
Who will own your book files? My Canvas allows users to create books using its proprietary software. To be allowed to do so you must accept certain conditions. The My Canvas Terms and Conditions state, “My Canvas acquires no title or ownership rights in or to any content you submit…” However, there is a little more to it. If you publish using My Canvas, you can’t request your book file to take to another printer. Maybe a lot of relatives see your book at a reunion and want one. You want a lower cost version to put up on Amazon so they can order one. You’ll find that you own the copyright to the material, but you don’t own the book file created on My Canvas’ proprietary software. You’ll have to recreate the file without the software.My Canvas is also free to use your content. The terms and Conditions state, “By submitting User Provided Content to My Canvas, you grant My Canvas, its parent company and all of its affiliates, a transferable license to use, host, sublicense and distribute your submission to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered.” Are you comfortable with My Canvas having the freedom to distribute your family history as they “deem appropriate?”
Will my book look just the way I want it to? When you put in the time and effort to create a family history you want it to look good, to be just as eye-catching and professionally designed as you might see on the shelves of your local bookstore. You can envision a beautiful dust jacket with an artful blend of photographs and graphic images on the front and back covers, along with your author photo on one flap and a snappy description of the book’s contents on the other flap, with title and subtitle and cover copy in type fonts that pop, all in vibrant colors. Should it be 6” X 9”, 7” X 10”, or 8” X 10”, the most common trim sizes in bookstores? How long will it be when I begin adding photos to the text?
Before you get too caught up in imagining your book, it is important to understand that My Canvas is not Burger King. You can’t necessarily have it your way.
My Canvas is a template based process which offers you limited options. A dust jacket is not one of them. You can have a leather cover foil stamped with your title or a custom cover (A real misnomer! You can plug in one photo of your choice on the cover. That’s not custom design.) Forget the 6” X 9” trade book size or the 8 “ X 10”. My Canvas offers only three trim sizes 8” X 8”, 8 ½” X 11”, or 11” X 14.” How long is your book? With My Canvas there are page limits. An 8” X 8” book cannot exceed 80 pages. The page limit for an 8 ½” X 11” book is 80 pages or 250 pages depending on the cover option you choose. An 11” X 14” coffee table book must be 80 pages or fewer for one cover option and 120 or fewer for another. As a person who has with over a hundred authors to create books, I can safely say that few family histories fit neatly into these page limits. The templates used in My Canvas to create interior pages have similar limitations. You have only a handful of fonts and page layouts to choose from.
Will My Canvas catch and correct any errors in my prose or images before printing the book?
The short answer is “No!” They are not a full service publisher offering editing and interior design services. My Canvas will print the things you upload – text and images – as you loaded them into their software. Don’t expect them to do more than that.
That’s too bad.
Best-selling author guy Kawasaki, in a piece titled The Top 10 Mistakes Authors make When Self-Publishing a Book listed “Not hiring a professional copyeditor” as number two. A book designer can help you make sure that the scans of your photos are suitable for print. Many people don’t know that images suitable for the web are not suitable for publication.
Professional help will allow you to make sure your book avoids embarrassing errors.
What will it cost to print my book? Let’s suppose you want to publish 25 copies of a 250 page book (the maximum My Canvas) allows with a Nuba leather cover (the least expensive option My Canvas offers). Using the pricing chart available on the My Canvas website and the 20% discount My Canvas offers for orders of more than 20 copies the cost would be $2,953.
How does that compare to other potential book printers? InstantPublisher.com will charge you $550.50 for the same book with a laminate hardcover on which multiple images and text are allowed , a feature not available on My Canvas. Want your book quickly 48HourBooks.com will give you a laminate cover full color interior for $1,560.19. You can order laminate hardcovers with full cover interiors from Lightning Source, the subsidiary of Ingram used by many major publishing houses, for $316.50. Want a higher end art printer, consider Blurb.com. You can’t have an 8 ½ X 11, but an 25 copies 8” X 10” laminate hardcover will cost you $1,182.14.
My purpose is not to advise you to use one of these printers, but to advise you to see that there are many companies out there that will print your book and that prices will vary significantly. Taking the time to explore publishing options is worthwhile. What you’ll learn is that My Canvas’ prices are always on the high end of the spectrum.