Family history books are unique. They are usually targeted to a very small audience of family members. As a consequence, producing a family history presents an author with some unique challenges. Many family historians think finding a publisher is one of them. The truth is, they’d be better off without one.
One of a family historian’s most important concerns is with protecting the rights to his or her book. The content is copyrighted when the author creates it. However, when you contract with a publisher to produce your book the publisher assigns an ISBN designating it as one of the company’s publications. The author finds that if he or she wants to create a second edition to incorporate new research or take the book to another publisher for any reason, the company owns the rights to the book files. Some companies will release the files in exchange for an often substantial fee. Others won’t do it at all.
What does the author get from the publisher in exchange for the rights he gives up? Traditional publishers paid authors a cash advance against the royalties the book would earn through sales. But only a tiny percentage of family histories are traditionally published because most won’t ever sell enough to cover the cost of production let alone earn royalties. Instead a number of companies, most notably those which are imprints of Author Solutions – XLibris, Author House, Tafford, and iUniverse, among others, offer to be your publisher in exchange for a fee. Often the company’s publishing includes a variety of services like publicity, marketing, book trailers and advertising that are not of interest to the family historian. The price can be substantial.
What a family historian really needs is a printer. A family historian who decides to self-publish maintains control of all rights to his book and is able to control the cost of the project by doing what he can himself and hiring freelancers for those tasks he can’t or doesn’t want to do himself. He’s better off without a publisher.