Family history books are complicated. They often contain not only text, but endnotes, appendices, a bibliography of sources, charts, and images. Family historians who want to self-publish often find this complexity overwhelming. We get it.
The problem is that many people try to do too many things at once. Let's look at how to do it one step at a time.
Not so long ago publishing a book intended for a limited audience of family members and friends was an expensive proposition. Today, technological changes in the world of printing and the evolution of the publishing industry have given authors an opportunity to dramatically reduce the cost of publishing books like family histories and memoirs. Here are four ways to save money when publishing your book.
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.
I don’t pay much attention to celebrity memoirs. They are usually ghost-written and convey little insight into their subject.
But when Elvis Costello, a singer/songwriter I have enjoyed for years appeared at Washington D.C.'s Sixth & I to discuss his memoir Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, I went to hear what he had to say. Costello is somewhat unique among celebrities. He actually wrote his own memoir. I hoped he would talk about his writing process. I wasn’t disappointed.
I never met my Uncle Cecil. He died June 17, 1944, just over two and a half years before I was born. But I thought a lot about him as we took a few days off over Memorial Day Weekend. That was appropriate because Uncle Cecil, known to everyone in the family as Squeak, along with so many other American soldiers, was killed in Normandy, near the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, eleven days after D-day.
We are working on a second edition of Squeak’s War: Letters from the Front Lines of World War II...As we edit Squeak’s letters, and prepare pictures and documents for the book, I can’t help but think that there is no better way to honor someone who has served in our military than to remember that person’s stories so that generations that never had the opportunity to meet the veterans in their families will have a chance to know them and what they gave to defend their country.
As we move into Memorial Day weekend it is a time for all us to remember and honor those who served their country, and to reflect on how that service impacts their lives, and ours.
Are you are a veteran? We urge you to tell your story. If you know a veteran, we urge you to encourage and assist them in making sure that their story is preserved. At Stories To Tell, we are always happy to help you preserve your veteran’s story.
There’s no better way to learn than to listen to a master. Last night Nancy and I had the opportunity to hear two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough talk about his new book The Wright Brothers.
Today we’re in St. Charles, Missouri for the National Genealogical Society Conference which opens tomorrow. We’ll spend four days talking with people who are working on family history books about how to tell their stories. The best advice I might offer is three insights contained in McCullough’s talk last night in Washington D. C..
We’re at RootsTech, the annual Salt Lake City extravaganza which melds the latest technological bells and whistles with genealogy and family history. It’s a wonderful event. Stories To Tell founder Nancy Barnes will be presenting two computer lab sessions on restoring historical photographs with Adobe PhotoShop. We picked up some good ideas for better ways to help authors from the Innovators’ Summit today. But, at the moment, I’m thinking about what technology can’t do for the family historian.
Have you ever watched the way a child explores a new book? She might pick it up an examine the cover image, then flip through the pages, stopping occasionally, usually on a picture or photograph. She often has a fully formed opinion of the book before she begins to read it.
I have watched adults examine books and seen the same thing. They peruse the books images before going back to examine the text.
As you create a family history book, consider making yours an illustrated book.
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, and My Canvas's Ease of Use.
Before choosing My Canvas as your publisher, you might want to ask some additional questions.
Thinking about writing a family history book someday? Most genealogists and family historians do.
Over the years, we have offered lots of advice on how to research your ancestors in ways that will help you write an interesting family narrative that will engage your readers. Today we will focus on a much more nuts and bolts topic: documentation.
Must your family history have a bibliography and source notes? No. There are no rules about what your book will or won’t contain. You are the author. You get to decide. However, if you want to create a record of your ancestors that other genealogists (maybe the next generation in your own family) can build on, you’ll need to document your sources.
As Family Search advises, “The best way to judge the quality of a family group record is by its source footnotes.”
So, if you do want document the story your book tells, here are two pieces advice that will save you time and frustration as you do.
Telling a good story often depends on asking the right questions while you discover the facts of the tale you want to tell. Keeping three questions in mind as you research your genealogy will help you to create an interesting family history which will engage your readers.
Your family has lived through a variety of historical turning points. But if you’re like many genealogists who want to turn their research into a family history, you don’t think about your ancestors in relation to those pivotal moments in history.
Here's why you might want to.
Thousands of people write memoirs every year. How do you make your memoir standout from the crowd? Here’s so advice from masters of the genre on how to make sure yours is a good one.
Novelist Suzanne Berne’s book Missing Lucile: Memories of the Grandmother I Never Knew chronicles her search for meaning in her family’s history.
The experience is one that is familiar genealogists and family historians. It might also be a cautionary tale they would be well to examine.
At the heart is her grandmother, Lucile, who died of cancer in her early forties. However, her father, a very young boy at the time, always believed that his mother had abandoned him. He said, “We were told she was gone. No one ever said where.”
Berne decided that her missing grandmother was "the Rosetta stone by which all subsequent family guilt and unhappiness could be decoded.” She set out to unlock the family secrets by discovering what she could about Lucile’s story.
If you plan to write about a person’s life – yours in a memoir or a family member’s in a family history – think about your audience before you begin. Why will anyone want to read the life story you have written?
Few people are looking for a simple factual account of events, although attention to getting the facts right is essential, as James Frey learned when he fabricated his memoir A Million Little Pieces. Readers are interested in insight and understanding. A memoir or family history may start in individual experience, but it should go beyond the purely personal space to suggest insights and understandings readers can apply to their own lives.
Consider the most widely read memoir and family history of the last 50 years: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes published in 1996 and Alex Haley’s fictionalized 1976 account of his family history Roots.
The first step in the process of actually creating the family history book you keep saying you will write someday is to transform it from a dream to a specific goal on your to do list.
Genealogical research is infinite. There’s always more to do. As long as you’re focused on research your book remains a dream.
A book is finite. It requires specific actions to make it a reality. The first step is to set a target date for completion. “I’ll have my book written by _____.” Once you have established a target date, you can plan backward from that date to set sub-goals which will lead you to completion of the book.
“I just don’t have a lot of family stories,” say far too many genealogists who want to write a family history.
I understand. Everyone always wishes they had taken the time to gather family stories when they had a chance. There are plenty of questions you wish you’d asked Grandfather Harry or Great Aunt Sue, who was the family busybody and knew everybody’s story. But the opportunity to sit down with them with a notebook and pen or even better a tape recorder has come and gone.
But that doesn’t your family history is doomed to be a dutiful recounting of facts recalled from your genealogical research and pages of pedigree charts. You can make your book lively and interesting. All it takes is a little perspective.
What’s the best reason to write a family history book?
At the beginning of October I posed this question as we began Family History Month. Today. I’d like to share a great answer with you.
Mike Casey is writing a biography of his great-grandfather Henry Bothin, who came to San Francisco from Portage, Wisconsin in 1871 with the shirt on his back, a formal education ending at fifth grade, and a strong work ethic which he employed to become the owner of both one of the leading steel companies on the West Coast, the largest property owner in the city at the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire and the founder of one of the first private charitable foundations in California. In the preface to his soon to be completed biography, Mike Casey explained why had written the book.
You are writing a memoir. You have an amazing story to tell. Your account of the remarkable experiences you’ve had is sure to captivate readers…
Hold on for a minute. Before you go any further, consider Douglas Crow’s comment on the Working Writers Blog:
Nobody cares about your book. What people TRULY want is to improve THEIR lives. The only reason someone may find your story interesting is how it relates to them. The old radio station, WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is the most popular thought on the planet.
The reason people read memoirs is to gather perspectives, insights and lessons that they can apply to their own experiences. The things which allow memoirists to connect with readers are universal themes viewed in a new or unique way. (See our post Writing a Memoir: Unless You’re a Celebrity It’s Not All About You)
To tap those themes you as a memoirist could use some guidance from your potential audience. As they read your story, what touches them?
How do you get that kind of feedback?