She sits alone, in her kitchen, or her bedroom, or maybe even in her office. Just her and the computer, a desk and a pile of books. Shoulders ridiculously hunched, nose almost touching the screen, as if her breath alone can conjure magic out of those search engines. If she’s lucky she’ll have a relatively unusual surname, though thanks to the traditional family habit of naming offspring after themselves she’ll have a merry time figuring out James senior from James junior and James junior junior. She spends a good deal of time sighing, and occasionally swearing and muttering to herself, and wondering whose idea it was in the first place to set off down this endless, foggy path into her family history.
It doesn’t help to know it was her idea, and that no one ever forced her to do this, or pressured her to keep going, or let’s face it, gives a hoot one way or another.
The one thing she knows is she will never give up: despite the outside world’s indifference, the loneliness and the frustration and the thought of all those other things she could usefully be doing with her life, such as earning a living, or volunteering, or improving her house. This is not a hobby so much as an addiction.
On occasion, as a treat, she will don her hat and gloves and trot into town to visit the library. This is a real day out: lofty surroundings, special, even rare books, carefully selected and placed reverentially on the desk in front of her.
Hours later and they’re switching off the lights and metaphorically putting the chairs on the tables. She blinks into the daylight and forces herself with difficulty back into the 21st century. It’s not until she gets home and looks through her notes that she realises, really, how little of value she’s managed to discover in all that time. Except. Except. You never know. Nothing is ever wasted, except time.
Now and again the miraculous happens. After hours rummaging through Trove, hunting, hunting, revising the search terms, ignoring the creeping feelings of despair, the ticking clock and the rumble of a stomach deprived of nourishment, she has a Eureka moment: a genuine find, a nugget of new information, an explanation of a puzzle only she was ever aware of. This is her very own piece of solid gold. So what if her excitement is out of all proportion to the size of the piece of the jigsaw. It is one small step on the way to the filling in of the puzzle, the lifting of the fog.
Now and again she will receive a message from a stranger, a distant relative who’s found her on the internet. And they will share their knowledge and findings, and the puzzle will become a little more complete and for a short glorious moment she will know she is not alone.
She is in her own way a hero. Unsung, unrecognized, but a hero nonetheless.
For the good people who attended the Society of Genealogists workshop on self publishing on Saturday 8th July, here as promised is the gist of what we covered:
First off, it is important to find out as much as possible about the process in order to avoid getting confused and/or ripped off. There are sharks out there.
Self publishing is ideal for family historians for several reasons:
You get to control everything: the length of the book and the look of it including the cover
You can mix the genres (ie history/family history/memoir and fiction)
It doesn’t matter if you only intend to sell a few copies (see POD below)
You can edit the text, images and/or cover at any time and re-publish the book at no extra cost
Your book never goes out of print
PRINT ON DEMAND (POD)
This is what has made self publishing in print form possible and financially viable. Instead of having to print off hundreds or thousands of copies of your book, and find somewhere to store them, Amazon (or whoever) files your book electronically and only prints a copy when someone orders one. Unit costs per copy are the same no matter how many you order. Shipping costs on top vary according to the country the buyer lives in and how many copies he/she is ordering. So if for example you order ten copies to be sent to the same address it will not cost ten times as much as ordering one copy.
Having written your book and polished it to within an inch of its life, it’s a good idea to have it professionally edited. Every writer no matter how successful or experienced needs an outside eye to check for overall structure, clarity, repetition and consistency.
(That said, if you are only intending to publish for your immediate family this may not be essential, though the right editor can always improve any book.)
COPY EDITING & PROOFREADING
Copy editing means checking the book for grammar and sentence structure. Some editors will do this for you, but don’t expect it.
Proofreading means checking for typos. You should be able to get a sharp-eyed friend or colleague to do this for you.
Once your book has been written, rewritten, edited and proofread, the next step is to gather it together in two documents:
The interior consists of Front matter, text and End matter. What goes where is a matter of choice but generally speaking this is what I go for:
INTERIOR FRONT MATTER
Table of contents
INTERIOR END MATTER
Appendix & chapter notes (or notes if you have footnoes)
In my first book The Worst Country in the World I didn’t use footnotes for various reasons: a) I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the text and b) footnotes don’t generally work in ebooks. Instead I referenced my sources in the Appendix and Chapter Notes, and expanded on various things only the seriously interested, such as family members, might want to know. This was a personal choice however. With my current book I may rethink.
Whether you decide to go it alone or get people to help you it is useful to have some idea of what you want your book to look like. It can be helpful to find a book whose layout you like and use it as a template. (I chose Kate Grenville’s The Secret River for the plainness of style, clarity and size of font and relatively generous margins.) These are the considerations:
Page/trim size: Amazon’s POD templates are limited to standard book sizes such as 5” x 8” (standard novel), 6” x 9” (standard non fiction) etc. (I chose 6” x 9”)
Font and font size: (I chose Palatino 11 point – on the large size, deliberately; I experimented with different fonts and sizes, & margins, by printing out a few pages and cutting them down to the relevant size, but it’s difficult to see how it looks until you can see the full printed proof)
Margins: (mine were top & bottom 1.9cm, inner 2 outer 1.5, gutter .33)
Chapter headings layout: (Aligned L, R or C, upper or lower case, start some way down the page)
Extras: such as drop caps (1st letter of 1st sentence in each chapter enlarged), small caps at beginning of new chapter, headers
Images: (photos, maps, family trees) – see below for copyright
Received wisdom says don’t try to create your own book cover unless you are an experienced graphic designer or au fait with Photoshop. Professionals know what is eye-catching and what is not and what is appropriate for the genre. They should also be clear about how many versions and amendments they are willing to provide for their fee. Fees differ according to how much they are required to do; original artwork will obviously cost more than if you provide your own image, or if they are able to use stock images from copyright free sources. Expect to pay from around £250 upwards.
Alternatively look online for cover designers and if you find one you like, contact them direct. Likewise in a bookshop: the designer’s name may be on the fly-leaf of the book, otherwise contact them through the publisher.
As we touched on in the workshop copyright is a minefield, and I cannot pretend to be an expert. However I did come up against a copyright issue when I wanted to use a 19th century painting by Australian painter Tom Roberts for my cover. The image itself was out of copyright but the high-resolution photo of the image online belonged to an art gallery in Ballarat, Australia. They allowed me to use it on condition I signed a detailed license form stating I would not change the image or superimpose text on top of it, and that I would send the final proof to them for their approval. In the end my cover designer decided she couldn’t comply with their demands, so we didn’t use it.
So while an image may be out of copyright the online photo of the image – or in the case of books or documents, the scanned version uploaded online by an organisation or library – may not be.
This is what appears on the back of a paperback or on your Amazon page. The blurb is notoriously difficult to write, but it is your selling tool, and should be:
Brief – no more than 200 words
Written in the third person present tense
A selling tool not a synopsis
Here for what it’s worth, is my blurb for Worst Country:
In 1787 a handful of people – convicts, marines and government servants – sail across the world to settle a new colony and call it New South Wales.
In 1801 Mary Pitt, a widow with five children, migrates to New South Wales from her home in Dorset to live among these same convicts.
Two hundred odd years later Mary’s great great great great granddaughter travels to what is now Australia to discover why her ancestress risked the lives of her entire family to make her home in a penal colony. She uncovers tales of astonishing bravery and bloody-mindedness, the origins of a unique form of class distinction, why her own Australian/English mother was the person she was and how what was once regarded as the worst country in the world became one of the ‘luckiest’. (135 words)
I’m not saying this is an ideal example (nowadays I think I’d edit it down a tad), but what I’ve set out to do in three paragraphs is:
1) The original story
2) My family’s part in the original story
3) My quest to investigate 1) and 2)
HOW TO GO ABOUT SELF PUBLISHING
There are three basic options
DIY using POD with either Amazon Createspace or Ingram Spark – the cheapest option
AIDED – through a reputable publishing company or individual
HIGH-END – custom-made with special paper, size and shape and/or binding, eg coffee table book. Ideal for image-heavy books.
DIY – This is the option I chose but I would only recommend it if you have a lot of time and patience. I formatted both the paperback and ebook versions of my book – it took me longer than it should have or than it would do now. It isn’t that difficult, you don’t need any particular IT skills no matter what the books tell you.
If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of doing things yourself you can find more technical details here
Amazon Createspace: https://www.createspace.com Amazon are the market leaders for self publishers. They may be behemoths, and tough employers, but they are very efficient and easy to deal with. Their submission guidelines are very straightforward and easy to follow. They can also show you what kind of royalties you can expect to receive according to how your book is priced. The submission process is free, they don’t start to make money until you start to sell books. They also provide their own free ISBNs and barcodes.
Ingram Spark: http://www.ingramspark.com Ingram have been around forever but Ingram Spark, the self publishing arm, is relatively new on the scene. The advantages of IS are they have print outlets in the UK and Australia as well as the US (Amazon CS is US-based), their distribution is considered to be better, and for the Amazonphobes, they are not Amazon. The quality of print is also slightly better, in my experience. The drawbacks are you have to provide your own ISBN (available in the UK in batches of 10 through Nielsen – http://www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk/controller.php?page=121) – and you have to pay a small fee to submit your ms (unless you are a member of ALLi, see below).
AIDED – Here is where you get someone else to do the work for you. You can buy in services a la carte so to speak, in other words you can provide the cover yourself but hire someone to proofread the book, or to format it.
Before contacting an outside organisation, there are things to be wary of.
DO be clear exactly what you are looking for
DO make sure you hang onto the rights to your book: if you’re using a self pub company pay the one-off fee to get the book up there and that’s it
DO make sure the royalties come straight to you and not through a third party: otherwise you’re dealing with vanity publishing and have the worst of all worlds and will make zilch money
DON’T sign any long-term contracts
I Am Self Publishing https://www.iamselfpublishing.com. A young brother and sister organisation, very friendly, very savvy, experienced in producing all kinds of books. They offer an initial no-obligation consultation, either in person or on the phone.
If you don’t already have your own family history website I would recommend creating one. It is an excellent way for other family members to get in touch with you. I have a static (ie not a blog) site at marymatchampitt.wordpress.com and I’ve had all manner of distant relatives contact me with very useful information. You can create one for free, or for a small annual hosting fee, at WordPress.
*There seems to be a problem with this Amazon link. I will query it with ALLi and repost.
An organisation run by indie authors for indie authors. They publish a list of recommended service providers (available to members only) and books (available to all). They also have a closed Facebook page and monthly meetups in London and elsewhere, plus they offer other perks such as reduced rates with Ingram Spark and free entry to the London Book Fair, among other things. If you want to know more, click on the ALLi logo on the top right of this page.
For example when I contacted Who Do You Think You Are for a review they were pretty sniffy, but I sent them a copy anyway and heard nothing more. However they do – or did – have a feature in their magazine called ‘My Family Hero’ and when approached were very keen to include a story about my ancestress.
Whether or not you are thinking of publishing in e-form (not so suitable for picture-based books), ebooks are easy to produce – again on your own or with help – and you receive a higher royalty (70% through Amazon compared with around 20-25% for paperbacks). Most indie authors sell more ebooks than paperbacks, partly because bookshops are generally reluctant to stock indie published books, and partly because of the cost of POD. My sales are 90% + ebook, and of those, 95% are through Amazon Kindle.
In what she describes as a ‘Five Faves Geneameme’ Jill Ball of Geniaus, the Australian family history blog, has invited other family history bloggers to share details of five books they’ve found most useful in their ‘geneactivities’. (Enough puns already … )
So here, whittled down with great difficulty and in no particular order, are my chosen inspirations:
Australia: A New History of the Great Southern Land, by Frank Welsh (The Overlook Press, New York, 2006)
Since my books are set very much in the context of early colonial Australia I needed to gen up on my history. This book is not just all-encompassing, it looks at Australia in the context of a larger colonial world. It’s also very readable and has a nice, wry take on historical events, which I really like.
Next on the list is Station Life in Australia by Peter Taylor (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1988)
Also very readable, with some wonderful anecdotes about the New Chums in early colonial Australia. (The ‘New Chum’ was the Pom who arrived fresh-faced and dewy-eyed and ready to make his fortune on the land without knowing a horse from a heifer; a bit like me.) Essential introduction to a subject I knew nothing about.
Eleanor Dark was doing in the 1940s what other writers such as Kate Grenville don’t dare to do in the 21st century, which is to write about events such as the arrival of the First Fleet from the point of view of Aboriginal people. In fact she writes from the point of view of everyone, from Governor Phillip to convicts and settlers, evenly-handedly and with great perception and understanding. The Timeless Landis book one in a novel trilogy.
Macquarie Country by D G Bowd, (Library of Australian History, 1979)
I had to include this one. It’s about the Hawkesbury – where my ancestors made their first home in New South Wales in 1802 – in the days of Governor Macquarie. It even features my family, who were visited by the governor and his lady wife soon after they arrived in the colony. Full of vivid and useful detail about the earlier days of settlement.
In her memoir Old Days, Old Ways (Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1934)Mary Gilmore was actually writing about her childhood in the Riverina district in the latter part of the 19th century, where she was brought up. The book is a cornucopia of intricate and sometimes hilarious social history; such as the rope that was strung across the room during the Wagga Wagga Gold Cup ball in order to segregate the ‘grandees’ from the ‘commonage’; and the way in which ladies riding horses in crinolines wore weights in their hems in order that their ankles should remain hidden from the gentlemen. Like Eleanor Dark she writes with great humanity and understanding and, crucially, humour.