Self publishing for family historians (again)

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.

BEFORE PUBLISHING

EDITING

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:

  • INTERIOR
  • COVER

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  

  • Title page
  • Copyright page
  • Dedication/quote page
  • Map/family tree/photo
  • Table of contents

INTERIOR END MATTER

  • Afterword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix & chapter notes (or notes if you have footnoes)
  • Bibliography
  • Author biography
  • Index

FOOTNOTES

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.

DESIGN

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

COVER

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.

Recommended cover designers

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.

COPYRIGHT

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.

BLURB

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)

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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

Recommended organisations:

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.

SilverWood http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/packages – Silver, Gold and Platinum service. Much recommended by fellow indie publishers.

Matador  http://www.troubador.co.uk/matador.asp  A large organisation with a rather confusing website. Probably American but also based in the UK. Again recommended by indie authors.

HIGH END – Custom-made, recommended:

I Am Self Publishing – see above
Lifelines Presswww.lifelinespress.com
Pynto – as above

WEBSITES

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.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

ALLi guidebook
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere*
ALLi 2
Published by ALLi and available on Amazon and elsewhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*There seems to be a problem with this Amazon link. I will query it with ALLi and repost.

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES

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.

MARKETING

Not of great relevance to family historians necessarily. But if you want to submit an article or ask for reviews here are some online magazines.

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.

EBOOKS

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.

Submission is straightforward, and free, through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: https://kdp.amazon.com/

For other e-devices such as Apple iBook, Nook and Kobo, you can use one site to distribute to all platforms such as Ingram Spark or

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com
Draft2Digital: https://www.draft2digital.com/

Again it is free to submit your book.

That’s about it. If there is anything you would like to add or comment on, or if you have any further queries, please either comment on this post or email me at patsytrench@gmail.com.

 

 

Why do you write? – The power of negative motivation

So, dear writer, what is your answer to this question?

sketch reduced
Sketch by Anna de Polnay

I expect many people will say ‘Because I have to’ or ‘Because I’ve always done it/wanted to write’ or even ‘I feel I have something to say’. Some might actually confess they enjoy writing. (Weird, but possible.) Some non fiction writers are probably motivated by a passionate interest in a subject, a place, or maybe even themselves and their own story.

My answer to the question is a rather negative one: ‘To fill the void’. Or to put it another way, because I had nothing better to do.

I’m not being entirely disingenuous. If you’ve ever felt the need or the urge to express yourself in a creative way then nothing else will give you the proper fix. Writing books is one of the most purely creative ways of expression – it’s just you and the page, or the screen, with no one telling you what to do or, to put it another way, trying to curb your creativity. If this is indulgence so be it, but it’s not an easy option to say the least.

I once earned a living writing scripts for television. I really wanted to be a playwright but having spent many years reading and commenting on other writers’ plays I couldn’t find any ideas that I could make work on a stage. I never saw myself as a writer of books partly because it is an impossible way to make a living and partly because, yes, I confess it, I’m not much of a reader. I’d rather watch a play or a film, no question.

But when I hit my sixties and I gave in my part-time job I didn’t know what to do with myself. Too old to be employed, all I had to keep wolf from door was bits and pieces of teaching and theatre tour organising and a small state pension. So I decided to do two complementary things: let my flat and go off to the far side of the world to write a book about my ancestors, the former paying for the latter.

And it worked. It took me several years, and a lot of hard work and learning. In my first effort at writing a scene set in late 18th century Dorset I had one character crossing his legs four times without ever having uncrossed them, ending up therefore as a corkscrew. As an (ex) actor and would-be playwright I could handle the dialogue, within reason, but had terrible trouble with the bits in between; where in a play you can simply write ‘pause’ or even ‘silence’ or at a pinch ‘beat’, in a book you’ve got to have your character do something, and I still find that tricky (hence the corkscrew legs). Not to mention the ‘she saids’ and ‘he saids’.

George Matcham (Illustrated London News 10 October 1931, p573) bl newspaper archives-page-001
George Matcham, family member, the man who crossed his legs

But along the way I discovered a passion, which simply put is – for finding things out and writing about them in (what I hope is) an entertaining way. The topic in my case was early Australian colonial history, as seen through the eyes of my ancestors, about which and whom I knew nothing and cared less. The first is not a disadvantage because part of the process of writing about what you don’t know is discovering things you find interesting and then finding a way to convey your interest to other people. The caring naturally follows. Or if it doesn’t, then look for another topic.

So what was once a void has now been filled to bursting point with what has become a passion and an addiction. Twelve years later I am halfway through book two of my Australian ancestors, still struggling with the bits between the dialogue and the he saids and she saids, but still engrossed in the business of learning about, in this case, Australian agricultural practices in the 19th century and trying to make it interesting.

It hasn’t earned me a living, needless to say. I’m not even sure that I’ve broken even. Truthfully speaking when asked my profession I should say ‘landlady’. But hard work though it is it gives me a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction, not least to know that in my seventies I am still learning things; and that, who knows, one or two people out there may also discover something as a result of my efforts.

So there’s my answer to my own question. I’d be interested to hear yours.

Who was Claudia Faraday?

 

twitter-countrysideI’ve been asked this question a lot recently.

Was she Mrs Dalloway? (a fictional character)

Was she the Duchess of Hertfordshire? (is there such a person?)

Was she the Queen’s long-lost second cousin thrice removed? (No)

She was not aristocracy, that’s all I’m saying.

I also promised to guard her identity with my life. (more or less)

 

 

 

 

Pitching your story

for-sale-cropped

Yesterday evening ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) organised a very enlightening meeting with film director and writer Charles Harris on the thorny topic of how to sell your story.

jaws_in_space_3d
(charles-harris.co.uk)

He was referring specifically to the film industry of course, where busy producers expect writers looking for a commission to grab their attention in one sentence, or preferably one phrase, as in ‘Jaws in Space’, which is apparently how the writers sold the idea of the film that turned into Alien, and the title of Harris’ latest book.

Of course if you are an author, and specifically an indie, you will not necessarily be verbally pitching a story in order to get a commission. But what you will be doing is trying to grab readers’ attentions on online retail sites like Amazon, so the same principle applies to your blurb.

In my family history workshops I encourage participants to write a blurb for their book there and then, and then to read them out to the rest of us for our comments: did those few sentences make you want to read the book?

It’s fiendishly hard as we all know. But there’s another thing: if like me you get some way into your story and think to yourself why did I start to write this book in the first place? it helps if at some point you have already written down the answer, in other words what it was that fired you up in the first place, which is to say, the blurb. The blurb can change, it undoubtedly will, and that doesn’t matter. But as Charles mentioned last night for all writers when it comes to pitching an idea, the most important person you should be targetting is yourself.

It can also be a useful unblocker, when you feel yourself grinding to a halt, to take a break and write down, in no more than three sentences, the essence of the story you found so exciting all that time ago.

Thanks to Charles Harris for the talk, to Helena Halme for organising it, and to Waterstone’s Piccadilly for providing the premises (and a few bottles of wine).

If you are interesting in attending meetings like this then it’s worth joining ALLi (click on the logo on the right).

Patsy Trench, London
November 2016

 

Keeping a diary

If Shakespeare had kept a diary there would arguably be far fewer books written about him.

shakespeare-2

If we knew for instance

  • What he got up to during the ‘missing years’
  • How he got to leave his home in Stratford and fetch up as an actor/playwright in London
  • How much of the 37 plays he actually wrote
  • Whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare or someone else
  • Who the Dark Lady of the sonnets was
  • Whether or not he got on with his wife
  • Etc etc etc

We wouldn’t need to endlessly speculate. And it would not be half as much fun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

What will people say about you when you’re gone? 

Diary-less ancestors tend to be remembered for what they did rather than what they might have said. Or rather for what they did that made the public records. So we are likely to know more about men than women, especially if they played a prominent part in society. We may also know more about the ones who got into trouble, and the ones with police records, especially if they ended up in Australia.

silhouette-sepia-again
Who was Mary Pitt?

As a family historian I’d have given anything for my ancestors to have kept diaries so I knew exactly why my four times great grandmother decided to emigrate to a penal colony. 

On the other hand lacking the facts gives one scope for one’s imagination; so what would have been a case of simple transcribing becomes something rather more creative. The challenge of filling in the gaps while remaining as true as possible to the character you think your four times great grandmother was, for instance, is a fascinating one. 

A certain amount of mystery is no bad thing.

If you want to read the story of my pioneering Australian ancestress please click here: The Worst Country in the World.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Who was Claudia Faraday?

brown-flipped-smaller
Claudia Faraday?

Claudia kept a detailed diary of a crucial period in her life when she made a discovery that altered her entire outlook on life and on the people in it. The fact that she kept this diary in her loft, to be discovered by generations to come, suggests to me she wanted them to be found, and to be published.

Nonetheless such was the intimate nature of the diary I went to great lengths to protect her reputation by not just changing her name but the names, and some details, of her daughters and her friends, and a few other bits and pieces beside.

So I defy anyone to identify her.

If you’d like to read her story click here: The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday.

Have you kept a diary?

I have, from time to time. It makes for hilarious and sometimes embarrassing reading. It is also a handy reminder of the person you once used to be, and if you think – as I often have  – you are still an eighteen-year-old wrapped up in a middle-aged woman’s body, it is good to be reminded that, actually, you aren’t.

But I wouldn’t want anyone to read them, no way. Unlike Claudia I will make a point of destroying them before I pop my clogs.

 

When your characters run away from you

In life I’m a bit of a control freak, but when it comes to creating characters in fiction I don’t seem to be able to have any kind of power over anything they do.

Controlling your characters.jpg
(sketch by Anna de Polnay)

This is annoying for a dyed-in-the-wool planner. As an example in my current oeuvre my central character – a woman in her forties whose husband, who was a spy in WW1, died under mysterious circumstances – has just decided that rather than accepting an invitation to visit Lady Ottoline Morrell in her mansion in Garsington (both of which I have researched industriously) she is going to embark on a quest to find out exactly how her husband died.

This not only alters the trajectory of my book, it threatens to turn what was meant to be a cheerful memoir of a free-thinking woman of the 1920s into a spy thriller. Now I have to down tools and make trips to the Imperial War Museum and read up on what spies did in WW1, mindful of the fact that everything to do with the secret service in the war was by definition secret, which means the answer isn’t going to come easily, if at all. (Though one joyful discovery: it turns out they – both spies and spy-masters – really were known by letters rather than names, as in ‘C’ and ‘R’ and so on.)

Imperial War Museum (2)
Imperial War Museum

How does any writer plan a book so he or she knows what’s going to happen in the end? I guess if you’re writing thrillers, or anything where plot is paramount, it’s easier to manipulate your characters to fit the story; though they are still people, with wills and desires and temperaments and a natural human instinct for disobedience. Or if they’re not they probably won’t be that interesting.

This really all came about as a result of NaNoWriMo (for those not in the know, this is an annual scheme to encourage writers to try to write the best part of a novel in one month, November). When you have to get your 2000 words a day down and you simply don’t have time to go back on things or to change your mind, let alone to research something, you find yourself making decisions on the spot that may come back to haunt you later. Hence the fact that my character married a spy. (Where did that come from?)

Writing books with recalcitrant people in them certainly keeps you on your toes, and it teaches you something else. I know a lot more about WW1 than I ever did, and even a fair bit about spying. Maybe my next book will be a spy novel.

Imperial War Museum Somerset Maugham
Did you know Somerset Maugham was a spy in WW1? (photo in Imperial War Museum)

NaNoWriMo 2

It is now nearing the end of the NaNoWri month, and no doubt many clever and tremendously hard-working writers out there are about to complete and submit their 50,000 words.

I am not one of them, though at around 33,000, which is maybe half a novel, I’m feeling relatively pleased with myself.

NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo.org

Has it been worthwhile?

YES.

Partly for the reasons explained in my last blog, and partly because

  • there have been many times I’ve come to a complete halt and while I would normally have shoved what I’ve done into a bottom drawer (figurately) to get back to later (or not), on this occasion I have ploughed on.
  • there’ve been several times I’ve needed to research something – WW1, the Suffragists, spying in the 19th century – but rather than nipping out to spend several hours or days in a library I’ve done a quick flip through my history books (and yes, Google) and ploughed on. Research and adjustment can come later.
  • not allowing myself to go back on stuff means I’m not getting as sick of re-reading my own writing as I usually am.

Will the end result constitute a viable novel? Maybe, maybe not. Once it’s done, all 70,000 or so words of it, that’s the time for the bottom drawer.

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who has kept at it throughout the month, whether or not you’ve achieved your 50,000 words. As the NaNoWriMo website keeps telling us: WE ARE AMAZING.

Happyface