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Silver Spring, MD
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888-577-9342

Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

Stories To Tell Books BLOG

Want to Sell Your Genealogy of Family History Book?

Nancy Barnes

Are you trying to figure out how to sell your genealogy or family history book? It’s not just a matter of putting your book up on Amazon. Books of this sort are not generally of mass market interest. They are classic examples of niche books whose market consists of genealogy libraries, professional genealogists, and family researchers interested in the details your book can provide about your lineage. How can you sell books in such a specific and limited market?

Connecting with specialized booksellers can offer a way to reach potential readers. How do you find these genealogy booksellers? Here are some places to look for booksellers who might be interested in your book.

Biblio.com Bookstores Specializing in Genealogy This is a very complete and current list of links to genealogy booksellers.

Books & Publications: Genealogical Materials This list is a bit jumbled and requires you to look carefully for useful links booksellers. Make sure to scroll down to the Marketplace – Genealogy & Family History Related Materials.

Cyndi’s List This site has a good list of Books- Used Books, Rare Books and Book Search Services. Again you’ll need to sort out the booksellers who may be of interest.

When deciding which booksellers might be willing to stock and sell your book, consider local or regional interest, ethnicity, etc. to make sure your book is a good match for the bookseller. Contact the bookseller with a pitch for why they should want to sell your book. Your pitch should include a good description of your book (limited to a page or less) and an author biography.

Steps in Successful Self-Publishing

Biff Barnes

As authors grow close to finishing the writing of their book they are also often anxious to get it into print as soon as they can. The impulse is easily understandable, however rushing to publication can not only result in a book of lesser quality than the author hoped for, it may actually result in higher costs, and cause the process to take longer than it needed to. Successful self-publishing is not a process of doing multiple things simultaneously; it is a process of following a simple plan one step at a time.

 

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Learn How to Be a Profitable Author

Nancy Barnes

Would you like to sell more books?

You’re working hard to promote your book on social media and with in-person appearances, but it’s not finding the audience you had hoped for. If so, you’re like most other authors. Nearly 90% of all published authors are getting the same results as you are. Most authors in today’s marketplace don’t know how to write books that will sell, nor do they know how to effectively promote Profitable Authors Institute was created to change that. We are profitable authors. We want to show you how to be one, too (without wasting gobs of time spinning your wheels and still not selling books…).

12 industry professionals, including Stories To Tell founder Nancy Barnes, offer forty-eight video courses online in three tracks:

  • Writing
  • Publishing
  • Book Promotion

Courses cover such nuts and bolts issues a how to “Structure Your Book for Success,” Nancy’s four session series “How to Make Self-Publishing Work for You,” and how to “Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon.”

The best news is that when you register for courses before May 31st, you receive a 30% discount along with free webinars and members only Q and As.

Sign up today on the Profitable Authors Institute site.

If you have already signed up, we’d love your feedback. Please leave a comment below.

Should You Use a Template to Publish Your Book?

Nancy Barnes

There are a lot of template based publishing sites on the net that offer one-stop shopping where you can lay out your book’s interior, create a cover, and print your book. Should you use one?

Stories To Tell’s founder and chief book designer, Nancy Barnes recently received this question.

I’m beginning to work on a new project for my Mother. It’s primarily going to be a Cookbook, with many of her recipes from the past 70 years.  I also want to include Quotes and Tips from her, including copies of Calligraphy she has done. I see there are many templates which can be downloaded and even complete the book printing. However, I’m not sure that I want to go this route. Please give me your thoughts.

Here’s Nancy’s response:

That sounds like a very nice project. I wish I had done the same with my mother.

I've never found a template program that can do what InDesign, the book design software I use, can do. Of them all, the best is blurb.com. Have you checked them out? They are the only one that I would use – but just as a printer, not for the templates - because they will accept a PDF, and they will print just one well-made hardcover book, a request I get occasionally.

There are two problems with template software, including Blurb's. One is that once you put your materials in, you can't get them back out. The resulting file isn't a PDF, it's their proprietary file type, and the only thing it can be opened with is that company's print service. You're stuck with them, and if you don't like the quality, you can't move it elsewhere. If they upgrade their software or printer, your old file may not work, or if their business goes under, all you'll have is your printed copies. For family history books, preservation for future generations is important. We always recommend you keep the book's PDF files so you can print more copies, and to pass the files down to the kids, so that they can print fresh copies years later, after any physical copies degrade. 

The second problem is the printing. These template programs are all provided by printing companies trying to sell incredibly overpriced books through an automated intake, and often the quality of the books is poor. They are often meant for photobooks, with limits on page count, number of images, etc. That may be OK for a small, disposable book project, but it doesn't work for longer, more complex books.

I think your decision boils down to a few things:

Do you want to own and preserve the book file itself, or will you be satisfied with just one print run (if your templated creation can't be opened later?)

Do you want to have control over the paper and binding?

Do you want a longer book? Many template services have page limits.

Do you want multiple copies? These printers charge so much more per book that a run of 25 copies, for instance, can cost thousands of dollars. That's for suckers.

If you want just a few copies, and don't care about the issues I've mentioned, then you could get away with a template, and the printing of just a few overpriced books won't break the bank. 

Then the question becomes, do you want to design the book? Book design, for a project like this, is an art. If you like to do art projects, then doing the Photoshopping and text styling and page layouts, etc., is an enjoyable project. But if you don't enjoy it, you won't want to spend the time on the learning curve, and you'll benefit from someone with more experience to do it. The advantage to not designing it yourself is that you can simply provide me with the raw materials, both in Word and scans of the images. You can tell me what you envision, and I'll do the rest to make it beautiful. That also allows us to choose a higher quality, lower cost printer, so you'll save significantly on the cost of the books, which would offset some of the cost of my help.

Is This Offer From a New York Publisher a Good Deal? You Be the Judge

Nancy Barnes

An author we worked with to design and independently self-publish a book called recently. He was very excited. A New York publishing house, not one of the big 5, but a New York publisher nevertheless, had contacted him offering a contract to purchase the rights to his book and publish it. He wanted to know if it was a good deal.

I explained that his question was one for a literary agent or an intellectual property attorney. My advice to him was to talk to his attorney, then consider the publisher’s offer without emotion, strictly as a business proposition.

I know that’s easier said than done. There are two things about getting an offer from a traditional publisher that are likely to turn an author’s head:

Prestige – Despite the growing success of self-published books, for many authors there remains a stigma about self-publishing. A contract from a traditional publisher confers a certain legitimacy on the publication of their book. It’s a sort of pat on the back that says you have made the grade. Having that contract in hand gives them bragging rights. I get it.

A cash advance – Self-publishing cost an author money up front. There’s no denying that. When somebody says we will write you a check, instead of you having to write a check, that sounds pretty good. Again, I get it.

Let’s put those two very good things aside and, as they say on NPR’s Market Place, “Let’s do the numbers.”

Our author’s self-published book, a 6” X 9”, B&W, nonfiction, trade paperback, was printed by IngramSpark. He set his retail price at $14.95. His agreement with Spark called for a 40% retail discount. (He knew he wouldn’t get bookstore sales, but was happy with a higher return on widespread online distribution.)

The New York Publisher’s Offer

The publisher offered an 8% royalty on the publisher’s net with a $1,000 advance.

We should note, that’s less than is usually paid by the major houses. In his blog Chip MacGregor, a prominent literary agent, says the big publishers usually offer first time nonfiction authors advances of between $5,000 and $20,000.

The $1,000 is an advance payment to be repaid to the publisher by royalties from the book’s sales. The author will receive no additional compensation until royalties repay the advance, or as they say in the trade, the book earns out. At that point, the author will begin to receive an 8% royalty on each book sold.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the publisher agrees that the author’s self-published book was correctly priced and sets the retail version at the same $14.95.

MacGregor indicates that major houses usually offer a 7.5% royalty based on the retail price of the book for trade paperbacks. So here’s the royalty, $14.95 X 75% = $1.12 per book. The author must sell 893 books to earn out his $1,000 advance.

The offer our author received was for 8% of the publisher’s net. MacGregor explains, “Many newer publishers don’t pay on the retail price of the book — they pay on the net price, which is the amount of money the publisher actually receives from the bookstore.” Publishers usually sell to bookstores at a55% retail discount. That works out to $14.95 X 55% = $8.22 discount. The publisher’s net on the deal is $14.95 - $8.22 = $6.73. So the 8% royalty is calculated on the $6.73. $6.73 X 8% = $0.53 per book. The author will not begin collecting that royalty until the $1,000 advance is repaid. It will take 1,887 sales for the book to earn out.

SELF-PUBLISHING

Using the Publisher Compensation Calculator on IngramSpark’s website we find that our author will earn a $4.34 royalty on every sale. If he sold 1,887 (the number required to earn out under the publisher’s offer) he would earn 1,887 X $4.34 = $8,189.58.

Okay, let’s say the author couldn’t match that 1,887 sales with his self-published version. How many books would he have to sell to earn $1,000 (the amount of the advance offered by the publisher)? $1,000 divided by $4.34 = 231 sales.

231 sales seems very possible if the author makes any reasonable attempt to market the book, even if he spends nothing to do it.

MARKETING

The significant difference in the earnings per book between the New York publisher’s offer and the author’s self-published book make promotion and marketing a key consideration in evaluating what’s a better deal. If you can sell a lot more books working with a traditional publisher, then the smaller per sale return is worth it.

It’s essential to realize that the quality of your book will play a big part in determining its success.

Rachelle Gardner, literary agent for the Books and Such agency examined what you might expect from a publisher in a post on her blog titled Do Publishers Market Books? Her short answer was, “Yes, they do. But not as much as they used to. And they’re not very effective without the author’s involvement.” She offered a further caveat which is important for first time authors, “…the “bigger” the author (i.e. the more money they expect to make on you), the more they’ll spend on marketing.”

Some of the things marketing departments may do to promote your book include:

  • Prepare promotional materials
  • Trade advertising, print and retail
  • Internet marketing
  • Internet advertising
  • Specialized promotions
  • Trade publicity
  • Consumer publicity

 These things, says Gardner, “…represent tasks that would take you dozens or hundreds of hours AND be prohibitively expensive. And many of them, you wouldn’t be able to do at all because you don’t have the access, the experience, or the contacts.”

In addition, a major benefit in working with a publisher is that publishers “…have a sales team (or rep group) who proactively sells titles to retailers.”

However, the author plays a major role in promoting and marketing the book.

As author and book promotion expert Valerie Peterson explained in a post on The Balance, “… the reality of the book marketplace dictates that, in order to be successful, most writers need to work hard at promoting their own books and do as much, if not more than, the in-house book marketing and publicity staff (who, by the way, will be each be working on probably a dozen books at the same time as they are working on yours).

That means, as The Writer’s Edit put it, “…much of the book marketing grunt work now falls to the author, as budgets for promotion are increasingly limited. Authors are expected to build an author platform where they can share and promote their work with a target readership they’ve built online. They are also expected to manage social media pages and attend promotional events.”

Our client’s contract offer made that explicit, “The author agrees to use his or her best efforts in promoting the Work through social media…”

So, an important question to answer in evaluating a publisher’s offer is, what can I expect specifically from the publisher as far as publicity and marketing and what will be expected of me? The more you know that goes beyond generalities to the details of what the publisher will do, the better evaluation you can make.

Our client’s draft contract contained few specifics in this regarding marketing and publicity. We advised him that this was an important area to explore before making a decision.

YOU BE THE JUDGE

What would you recommend our client do?

ProStamm: A Great, Cloud-Based App for Genealogists and Family Historians

Nancy Barnes

Every genealogist I know is always looking for a better way to organize family information, photos, documents and stories, and for easy ways to use them to create genealogy presentations.

We’re at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Philipp Mayer of Group National Publishing is launching a new cloud-based product, ProStamm, which does just that.

Your first thought might be ProStamm, strange name? What’s that? Stammbaum is the German word for family tree.  You might have guessed that Philipp is a German-American.

Mayer gave me a tour of the ProStamm, demonstrating how a genealogist can quickly and easily import the products of a lifetime of research and create galleries of family information, photos, documents, events, notes, observations, and stories. From any of the galleries the user can generate and print presentation ready pages of pedigree charts, family trees, documents, photos, and narrative. For those who want to go further, it’s easy to generate slide shows and even the pages of a book.

A feature I found particularly interesting is the emphasis on promoting collaboration among family members while allowing the initial subscriber to maintain control of what is uploaded.

When a person subscribes they become the PRO (primary record owner). The Pro can invite other family members to join as:

Family Circle Full (FCF) members who can see the entire family record, make changes, and add new information, upload and modify profile photographs, create family event folders, and upload and modify event documents and photographs. The FCF cannot upload GEDCOM files.

OR

Family Circle Limited (FCL) members who can view the family record but have no rights to its development. Participation in the family record is not mandatory. If desired, the FCL can upgrade to an FCF user status.

I haven’t seen anything like this among genealogy programs currently on the market. Check it out at ProStamm.com.

What's the Best Way to Write about History?

Nancy Barnes

I have recently read two excellent pieces of historical fiction. They raise some interesting questions for those of us want to write about history or family history. The first is Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night. The second is Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

The two books are stylistically quite different. Chris Schluep, writing for The Amazon Book Review describes The Last Days of Night in this way:

Great inventors take the stage in this historical fiction/legal thriller based on the lighting of New York City in the 1890s. The story is told by Paul Cravath, an attorney hired by George Westinghouse to take on Thomas Edison in a battle over lightbulb patents. The setup may sound dry, but Graham’s pacing keeps the story driving forward. There are crimes. There’s a mysterious woman. There’s a mad genius in the form of Nikola Tesla. And it’s all sets against the backdrop of the glittering Gilded Age.

Moonglow is much more literary in style. In 1989 Chabon visited his mother’s home in Oakland, California to see his terminally-ill grandfather. Under the influence of powerful painkillers and impending death his grandfather told him stories about the family that he never heard before. These stories became the basis for Moonglow

  1. The result is a sprawling, yet intensely personal, paean to his grandparents, their lives together and as individuals. World War II and its atrocities cast long shadows, as does the Space Race and the titular moon, which hangs over the story as a bright dream of escape and a dark reminder of failed aspiration. - Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review

Different as they are both books work, re-creating a time and place and capturing the drama of unfolding events. Isn’t that really the essence of writing history?

Of course not say most historians and family historians. The historian’s duty, they would say, is to gather the facts, document them, and report what happened. And that’s a valid point of view. However, even among the most professional of historians the search for truth is not always completely pure. Historian David Lowenthal in his essay The Frailty of Historical Truth on the American Historical Association website observed, “Every historian makes things up while writing—selecting, omitting, and reshaping data to make an argument clear, a point vivid, a conclusion indubitable.” That reshaping is often in service telling the story of what happened well, for as Pulitzer prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman has said, “Narrative is the lifeblood of history.”

The degree to which an author may reshape history runs along the spectrum. Chabon’s approach lies at the completely fictional end of the spectrum. He completely reimagines the world described in his conversations with his grandfather to produce what his publisher described as, “A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir…”

Moore’s work is much more rooted in historical fact. He explains in an author’s note:

As a work of historical fiction, this novel is intended as a dramatization of history, not a recording of it. Nothing you’ve read here should be understood as verifiable fact. However, the bulk of the events depicted in this book did happen and every major character did exist. Much of the dialogue comes either from historical personages’ own mouths or from the tips of their prodigious pens. Yet many of these events have been reordered and characters appear in places they may not have. I’ve frequently invented situations that very well could have happened but were certainly not documented. This book is a Gordian knot of verifiable truth educated supposition dramatic rendering, and total guesswork.

Tuchman moves a step further along the spectrum. Limiting herself to what she can prove through primary source documents, she explains that her goal has been, “to write history so as to enthrall the reader and make the subject as captivating and exciting to him as it is to me.” She employs many of the elements of fictional in the process. The result is what many would describe as creative nonfiction or narrative nonfiction.

At the furthest end of the spectrum lies academic history. Reportorial and analytical it concentrates on organizing and interpreting the facts of history, often with little regard for the story behind.

All are valid methods of writing about the past. Which is best? The answer depends on your inclination and the audience to which you want to appeal. When you set out to write about history or your family’s history it’s best to consider all of the possible methods you might employ before choosing the one you actually should employ to create your book.

Should You Use a Template to Publish Your Book?

Nancy Barnes

There are a lot of template based publishing sites on the net that offer one-stop shopping where you can lay out your book’s interior, create a cover, and print your book. Should you use one? We recently received this question:

I’m beginning to work on a new project for my mother. It’s primarily going to be a Cookbook, with many of her recipes from the past 70 years.  I also want to include Quotes and Tips from her, including copies of Calligraphy she has done. I see there are many templates which can be downloaded and even complete the book printing. However, I’m not sure that I want to go this route. Please give me your thoughts.

This was my response:

That sounds like a very nice project. I wish I had done the same with my mother.

I've never found a template program that can do what InDesign, the book design software I use, can do. Of them all, the best is blurb.com. Have you checked them out? They are the only one that I would use – but just as a printer, not for the templates - because they will accept a PDF, and they will print just one well-made hardcover book, a request I get occasionally.

There are two problems with template software, including Blurb's. One is that once you put your materials in, you can't get them back out. The resulting file isn't a PDF, it's their proprietary file type, and the only thing it can be opened with is that company's print service. You're stuck with them, and if you don't like the quality, you can't move it elsewhere. If they upgrade their software or printer, your old file may not work, or if their business goes under, all you'll have is your printed copies. For family history books, preservation for future generations is important. We always recommend you keep the book's PDF files so you can print more copies, and to pass the files down to the kids, so that they can print fresh copies years later, after any physical copies degrade. 

The second problem is the printing. These template programs are all provided by printing companies trying to sell incredibly overpriced books through an automated intake, and often the quality of the books is poor. They are often meant for photobooks, with limits on page count, number of images, etc. That may be OK for a small, disposable book project, but it doesn't work for longer, more complex books.

I think your decision boils down to a few things:

Do you want to own and preserve the book file itself, or will you be satisfied with just one print run (if your templated creation can't be opened later?)

Do you want to have control over the paper and binding?

Do you want a longer book? Many template services have page limits.

Do you want multiple copies? These printers charge so much more per book that a run of 25 copies, for instance, can cost thousands of dollars. That's for suckers.

If you want just a few copies, and don't care about the issues I've mentioned, then you could get away with a template, and the printing of just a few overpriced books won't break the bank. 

Then the question becomes, do you want to design the book? Book design, for a project like this, is an art. If you like to do art projects, then doing the Photoshopping and text styling and page layouts, etc., is an enjoyable project. But if you don't enjoy it, you won't want to spend the time on the learning curve, and you'll benefit from someone with more experience to do it. The advantage to not designing it yourself is that you can simply provide me with the raw materials, both in Word and scans of the images. You can tell me what you envision, and I'll do the rest to make it beautiful. That also allows us to choose a higher quality, lower cost printer, so you'll save significantly on the cost of the books, which would offset some of the cost of my help.

What's the Best Way to Design a Family History Book?

Biff Barnes

When you set out to self-publish a family history book you need a variety of skill sets. These skills include research and writing, but there is another there is another type of expertise that many family historians overlook – technological skill. Let's take a look at what it takes to create a beautiful heirloom quality book.
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Save Money as an Indie Self-Publisher

Biff Barnes

Who should publish your book? Every author faces the same choice. Increasingly the choice is between “assisted self-publishing” and becoming an “indie” who truly self-publishes. Before you sign up for an all-inclusive package with a heavily advertised giant like Author House, Xlibris, or Outskirts Press it’s important to understand that when you choose one of them you will pay an inflated price for every book they print for you. Let's see how it works.
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What Makes a Memoir Great?

Biff Barnes

Writing a memoir that connects with an audience is not about telling your story. “Unless you're Bill Clinton or Mick Jagger,” said novelist and memoirist Holly Robinson, in The Huffington Post, “nobody but your best friend cares about your life story (and she might be pretending).” Writing a great memoir depends on telling your story in a way that gives readers an insight into their own lives and the human condition. Great memoir relies on the tools of the story teller and is reflective rather than reportorial.
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Source Notes and References in Your Nonfiction Book

Biff Barnes

Nonfiction, whatever form it may take, is built on a foundation of facts. Whether they present an account of actual events, as in family history or biography, seek to prove the validity of an argument, or demonstrate the correctness of a method of doing something, as in a how-to book, an author’s words are judged by the quality of the facts on which they are based. A nonfiction reader is likely to ask, “What’s the evidence for this?” Generally that evidence is based on documents, research, or accounts written by others and used by the author. So it behooves the nonfiction author to include references to allow the reader to know and evaluate the quality of the sources from which that evidence is drawn. Let's look at how to do it.
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Using Styles to Add Headings and Subheadings in Your Nonfiction Book

Sarah Hoggatt

When you’re writing a non-fiction book, it’s a great idea to include headings and possibly subheadings in your manuscript. Headings and subheadings not only help keep you organized and stay focused in your writing, but it also break up the content into manageable chunks for the reader, provides a visual break on the page, and assists them in locating the content they want to read. These features can be easily added using the Styles feature of your word processing program.
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Building Your Author Platform on Goodreads

Sarah Hoggatt

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a social media website just for book lovers? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a place where people can recommend your book to their friends and you can post the books you’re reading in order to better connect with your readers? This describes a website called “Goodreads” and I highly recommend you join if you’re an author.
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Create an Author Business Card

Sarah Hoggatt

Have you ever been talking with someone about your writing and have to scribble your website on a piece of paper so they can look you up later? Or do you ever get home with a scribbled e-mail address from someone but don’t remember why you have it and what you’re supposed to do? I’ve been in both situations and it’s embarrassing. One of the best things we can do for ourselves as authors is to create business cards to hand out the next time someone asks us what we do.
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Printing Your Self-Published Book in Landscape

Sarah Hoggatt

Are you thinking about publishing a family history, photography or children’s book on CreateSpace or Lightning Source? Have you thought about what size the book will be? Before you start working on illustrations or editing your photographs, it’s important to decide what size of book you’ll be printing and where you’re going to print it so the illustrations fit well on the page. You don’t want to have all the art finished and then find parts of the illustration are going to be cut off or you have to leave empty space at the top or bottom of the page to fit it all in.
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Deadlines for Self-Published Books

Sarah Hoggatt

One of the easiest and the hardest aspects of self-publishing is having no one to report to. You are the organizer, the lead, the boss. When you publish your own books, you are the one who calls the shots. This can be a wonderful gift as well as be frustratingly difficult, especially when it comes to deadlines.
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