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.
The author’s journey from an idea to a finished family history book has six steps: imagine, plan, create, edit, design, and publish. The first three, during which you create the draft manuscript of your book can be completed primarily using a word processing program like Microsoft Word or Pages if you are a Mac user. What you are generating at this stage of the process is text files and that’s what word processing software is designed for.
The rest of the journey from idea to finished product requires a variety of software programs. Most professionally book design – the process of transforming your manuscript into a beautiful illustrated book with quality photographs, clear, well-designed charts, and a striking, professional-looking cover – employ the software of Adobe’s Creative Suite including Photoshop, Bridge, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat.
We like the DIY approach and always advise authors to do everything they can themselves. If you know how to work in Photoshop or InDesign go ahead and use them to design your own book. Some authors, however, try to design their books using MS Word. Word is an excellent program for writing, but it’s a poor one for book design. That’s especially true for books which contain photos, documents and other images. When you place an image into Word, its quality is reduced, making it unusable for high quality printing, although it may look fine on a computer screen. Printers usually don’t accept books in Word format, and you should be wary of the ones who do. The printer may offer to convert your Word file to a PDF (for a fee) but he is not a book designer. This means that your book will look exactly as it did in Word, marking it is an unprofessional effort.
Most of us are not skilled in the use of the Creative Suite tools. The programs of Creative Suite are complex and require a considerable amount of time to master. That’s why many family historians choose to hire a professional book designer to help them create their books. Seeking such help helps authors make sure that their family history is a beautiful heirloom book that they will be proud to share with family members.
If you choose to hire a professional designer it is best to create separate folders for text and images as you write the book. When you are reader you give both files to the designer. The designer will work with you to place the images into the text exactly where you want them with captions you have written for each image.
Book design is both a craft and an art, and part of the pleasure of having your book done professionally is to consult with your designer. If you wish, you can ask about the many possibilities for typefaces and other design features, and get involved. The interior of the book is just the beginning. When you get involved in your cover design, you’ll discover how much fun working with a book designer can be!