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How to Write and Publish Your Family Story in 10 Easy Steps
By Noeline Kyle
University of New South Wales Press LtdCopyright © 2011 Noeline Kyle
All rights reserved.
Writing and publishing a family story is a challenging, exhilarating and creative enterprise – but it can be a daunting task for the novice.
Ask for help. Become a member of your local family history society. Make every effort to talk to local and family historians in your community. Research how other writers go about their writing and publishing.
Join a writing group. Take part in and visit local and family history research rooms. Search out local printers and digital publishers. Study how others write and publish their books.
The latest versions of genealogy software and other writing software have templates and designs to assist you to construct a 'book' – with these you can collate charts, insert biographical data and images, and add a contents list. However, such software cannot write, edit or publish the book for you. That task finally rests with you. And it is a very worthwhile task – preserving your family story in the portable, accessible and relatively inexpensive format of a book allows generations of family members to know their history.
Things to think about
Each chapter in this book presents a series of easy-to-follow steps to help you move from researching and writing your family story to the final printing and publication of a book. It is written with the novice writer/self-publisher in mind, although more advanced researcher/writers will also find it useful. The book introduces the reader to the concepts and strategies offered by new technology but does not ignore traditional means of getting your family story into print.
Some of the issues you face as a self-publisher include grappling with editing; proofreading; page layout; and inserting images, maps and charts. You will need to think about how to construct chapters and choose a title. You will make decisions about what to put in, and what to leave out of the many stories that make up your family's narrative. You will ponder over the writing of biographical entries, trying to ensure they are historically authentic and textually pleasing but often unsure about how to do this. The ever-changing technological maze of self-publishing may at times overwhelm you as you try to shape your family story and, at the same time, make it fit the actual page.
Family historians generally have been quick to use digital technology, the Internet and email. It has been their sustained and meticulous research into and use of early historical records and primary documentary research that has fostered and underpinned the development of online indexes, increased accessibility to state records for all researchers, and the use of computers, printers and new software for recording, writing and producing family history. And, like all writers, family historians have had to keep in touch with changes in book production, as e-book technology and handheld readers enter the market.
Publishing family stories, local history, autobiography, biography, memoir, travel stories and much more via the Internet, on DVD, CD or video, and via other social media is increasingly popular, especially among younger writers. Nonetheless, the physical book has remained a publishing medium of choice for the family historian and for writers in other genres. It is unlikely this will change, although you can add the e-book to the range of possibilities you consider for getting your family story into print.
This book demystifies the process of how to get your family story published. It has practical advice drawn from more than thirty years of my work with family and local historians, and teaching classes on how to write, edit, construct stories and publish family stories, memoir and local history. Indeed there are a great number of different ways of writing and publishing your story and I canvass them throughout this book. And whether you make the decision to stay with a printed book, publish online or create an e-book, you will continue to construct your text in such a way as to appeal to your reader.
The chronicler of family stories begins the writing and publishing journey with many years of research. I have written at length about how historians are drawn to and begin to enjoy this research process. It is one of the most satisfying and personally rewarding tasks you can do. Who wouldn't be excited by the prospect of finding out the fascinating and often intriguing data you discover about your family? How often have you waited with bated breath as your search of an immigration index downloads its precious results? And that skip of a heartbeat as you see for the first time your name, your family name, there in the records telling you so much about the past?
But as much as you love the research, it is not enough. At some point, you will take up your pen and write, and the earlier you do that in the research process the easier the writing will be. Writing as you research is the way to go: if you begin your writing as early as possible, your ability and confidence will improve over time so that you will be better prepared to write the final draft of your book. Further, writing at the same time as you do the research will ensure your research is more focused and more useful for your later history writing, editing and publishing.
'Ah yes,' you might say, 'but in what way do I write, and how do I get started?' In my earlier book Writing Family History Made Very Easy I list specific strategies for getting started with the writing process, and I discuss at length how to write more authentically and vibrantly about characters. I provide advice on how to choose a format and I tell the reader that asking questions, critical questions, leads to the best kind of family story writing. I include strategies and writing exercises for the novice as well as the more advanced writer.
In this book, I take you a step further and map out the strategies to shape your stories, your family memories and your biographies into that bigger story: your family history. In other words, this book is a practical guide to how you move through and from your research, your writing, your ideas and your collected photographs, maps and charts to construct a manuscript that will be readable, interesting and ready for the printer or publisher.
Since the late 1970s, there has been substantial growth in online indexes, increased use of the Internet for the quick downloading of advice and information, and many developments in technologies that support writing and publishing at home. It is relatively easy today to find the software you need to help put together your chapters and there is a plethora of programs, ranging from free or inexpensive software through to the expensive industry standards such as InDesign, QuarkXPress or PageMaker, to help with page layout, scanning images and constructing a book. Nonetheless, despite advances in editing, printing and publishing technology the old adage remains: rubbish in, rubbish out! Your writing and your final story will only work if you take the trouble to construct your text in a credible, interesting way. This book will help you sort through your many ideas and your proposed family story to find the best way to shape your story and produce your book.
Publishing a family story is a unique process. However, it has at its heart a challenge familiar to most writers: how to rein in and shape a coherent story out of the overabundance of collected data now residing on our desks, in our computers and even under our beds! In this book I focus on constructing a family story – a family history – from a range of source material. However, this model or template can be used to write a memoir, a local history, a story of a business or indeed an account of a personal journey. All of these formats are being used by family historians and all are underpinned by a wide range of family history research.
Know your audience
Before you can begin to construct your story, choose a format and get it in shape, you might ask the question: who am I writing for? The answer will help you decide how to begin the task of planning your book and getting it into print.
There is no doubt most of us write to be read. You write stories for family, knowing that they will be your readers; if you are writing a local history, your readers can extend to a wider range of readers in the community. Some life stories have a universal appeal – they may resonate with people who have lived through a particular historical period or event such as a world war or an economic depression. It's important to start thinking about these things early in the research and writing process, and to arrive at some answers well before you write your final draft.
Nevertheless, no matter how widely your story is to be read it is your project too. What kind of family story do you want to write and see in print? You may be writing a family history to coincide with a parent's 80th birthday celebration, a family anniversary or a family reunion, and in that case the format of your book may tend toward a traditional (linear or chronological) structure. If you prefer to record the story of a favourite character, a biographical format might appeal.
Are you looking for a genetic link to the past? Do you look at your grandchildren and recognise aspects of yourself when you were young? Who else in that ancestral past might have had similar characteristics? I have many strong women in my family. My mother steeled herself and left a broken, dangerous marriage in 1956. Her life thereafter was testament to her as a woman of courage, character and fierce determination to succeed. Her grandmother became a single parent in 1890 when she told her feckless Irish husband to go after he had gambled away a baby's layette. Who else in my past could have been like that? There are patterns of character, behaviour, occupation, talent and relationships which emerge in a family and I am constantly surprised by the stories family historians tell me about this. We all want to find an answer to these questions of likenesses, hopes and dreams which filter down the generations to surprise us even today.
Do you have a puzzle to solve? Is there a crime, a secret or a strange event that continues to haunt the family? In chapter 9 of this book I outline the privacy and ethics issues you will need to address if you intend to include sensitive or debatable information in your stories. A case of bigamy, family breakdown or family dysfunction in the distant past may have little impact on descendants today. However, it is wise to check with individuals or family members who retain both familial and emotional links to that past because their feelings about exposure may differ markedly from your own.
The answers to all these questions will determine how you go about approaching the final layout, design and construction of your book.
The first steps
Before you start, consider the following:
* Talk to other family historians about how they go about constructing, editing, writing and designing their family stories.
* Join a local family history or local historical society and check out their resources; attend their meetings and listen to the stories members tell about their experiences of researching, writing and publishing family stories.
* Research printers and publishers in your area. Digital printers can be found in the Yellow Pages and you will find lists on the Internet, at libraries and in publications on how to write and publish books.
What you will need
Make sure you have access to the equipment and software programs you will need:
* Computer and printer. Unless you are proficient in the use of advanced scanning, printing and editing technology it is not necessary to purchase anything other than a standard PC or Mac computer for word processing, editing and generally working on your text. If, like me, you prefer to print out the text for revision and editing, a black and white laser printer is economical. However, if you require some colour reproduction the newer model inkjet printers are adequate for printing photographs and other material for your own use.
* Scanner and digital camera. A digital camera can be used to photograph family members, documents that provide interesting illustrations throughout your text, and context images (of landscape, houses and other buildings, and workplaces). You can scan photographs and documents to file with a flatbed scanner or multifunction printer. Chapter 7 has more advice on scanning, inserting and choosing images for your book.
* USB memory stick, flash drive or external hard drive. You will need enough memory to store back-up files, your completed manuscript, images and additional research material.
* Software. A copy of Microsoft Word and software such as Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Photo Pro for editing and manipulating your images are adequate for the self-publisher. Genealogy software is widely used for storing and recording the large amounts of data collected. You will find advice on how these can help with the writing and publishing process in chapter 2 (Formatting lives) and chapter 8 (Electronic and paper publishing).
If you are not confident using computing technology and other digital devices it is best to leave much of the above to your printer or digital publisher. Make initial approaches to several local printers and talk to other writers of family stories such as family historians, local historians and local published writers so that you have a good knowledge of what you will have to do to get your family history into print. I have self-published two family histories and several other books and with advances in digital technology it has become much more possible for the amateur to do these tasks. However, there are complex processes involved and as the researcher, writer and now self-publisher of your book there are specific steps to take and questions to ask yourself before you start. Let's begin.
The following websites can help you sort through the many issues you face as a writer and self-publisher. They offer advice and free downloads on how to find an agent, useful resources, style guides, rates of pay for writers, funding opportunities and tips on getting published:
Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc. (United States) http://aaronline.org
Australian Society of Authors www.asauthors.org
Canadian Authors Association Writing Guides & Newsletters www.canauthors.org/links/general.html
WritersServices (United Kingdom) writersservices.comCHAPTER 2
Organising your text into a credible, readable and appealing family story is the next step for turning your manuscript into a book.
It is not mandatory that you include long lists of names and dates simply because you have collected them. There are different and distinctive ways of organising paragraphs, chapters, sections, stories. However, each paragraph should flow easily into the next one, and each story and chapter should fit well with those before and after it.
Write a family story that others, and especially your family, will want to read and which is clearly set out, authentic and easy to read.
Your family will be the prime market and it makes sense to test your ideas on them as early in the process as possible. Perhaps they'll suggest alternative ways of arranging your narrative.
In the early stages of writing family history, one of the main tasks is working out where individuals, families and generations fit together. This is also true when writing any history, biography or memoir. Genealogy software can be helpful here allowing you to print out individual charts, family charts or trees and lists of names and dates. Such software is very useful for sorting out errors in dates, eliminating duplication and generally fixing the glitches that creep into record keeping over the years.
In a recent self-published family history I made every effort to present my generations so as to make them readable. I think I did succeed but I was surprised when individuals, on a first reading, found some family relationships complex and difficult to understand. What this taught me was that although names, dates and events become very familiar to the author of any family story, readers will never spend the same amount of time perusing the text. At most they will carefully read the entry relating to their parents and grandparents or read the stories of familiar individuals and families. Therefore, as the family chronicler you should keep this in mind as you decide on a structure for the book.
The trick is to construct your family stories in such a way as to make the data accessible and comprehensible to readers who are not as familiar with it. This advice is true for other genres too, such as memoir, biography, travel writing or local history. As researchers and writers, we become very familiar with the many characters, complex relationships, places and events, but we sometimes forget that readers can find such detail confusing. Your readers will need signposts and/or sensible explanations to ease them into the text. Classic novels such as William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair contain innumerable major and minor characters and a great many plot lines. It is easy for the reader to become lost although most of us will keep reading. It is likely your readers will not be as persistent as Thackeray's, however, and you will need to make a real effort to guide them through your text.
Excerpted from How to Write and Publish Your Family Story in 10 Easy Steps by Noeline Kyle. Copyright © 2011 Noeline Kyle. Excerpted by permission of University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
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