A Personal Publishing Primer

We are in the middle of the Information Revolution where technology is generating opportunities for individuals to share information with few restrictions. One element of this revolution – self-publishing – has had a significant impact on the genealogy community. Not only are we scanning and sharing photos, letters and other documents from our personal archives, but a growing number of family historians are publishing their family histories.

For discussion purposes, I’m defining this as personal publishing rather than self-publishing. Why? While we are using self-publishing tools and platforms to create, distribute and even sell our works, for most of us this is a labor of love rather than a business endeavor. And, while I would be delighted to see a family history publishing project become a run-away best seller, I don’t see many family projects starting with that as a goal. That being said, we all want to be taken seriously and need to create a professional-qualtiy publication in order to do that. This primer introduces the basic elements involved in a publishing project. From here, future articles will discuss specifics on tools, services, platforms and other publishing elements that support our efforts.

The steps in publishing project include:

  • Research. This is where we’re most comfortable. We’ve already been doing this for some time. That won’t stop me from discussing useful tools and services, though.
  • Writing. From idea to manuscript, there’s a lot of time and effort in between. In addition to organizing and writing the story, you also have photos, charts and other graphics to manage. And don’t forget those source citations! There are tools and resources to improve your writing skills as well as manage the actual writing process.
  • Editing. There’s more to editing than a good spell-check. You can develop your editing skills along with your writing skills, but it never hurts to have more than one set of eyes look at your manuscript. Discussions in this area offer resources for both self-editing and getting outside help.
  • Layout. Turning a manuscript into a publication requires skills beyond basic word-processing. There are tables of content, footnotes and bibliographies along with typography, page design and book covers to be created and managed. You can format a manuscript into a professionally-formatted publication once you know what is required and develop the necessary formatting skills. If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are a number of affordable services to do it for you.
  • Publishing. It’s not just hard cover or paperback any more. Now there are ebooks in a number of different formats. As your own publisher, you control those decisions. Understanding how the publishing world works these days helps make those decisions easier.
  • Distribution. Where do you want your published project made available? Once again there are a number of options and your choice(s) here will influence which layout, publishing and promotion options you will have.
  • Promotion. How will you get the word out about your published project? Whether you goal is to generate revenue, attract cousins or both, you will be using the same services and platforms to make those goals a reality.

It doesn’t matter whether you do all the work yourself or farm out tasks to others, you are the publisher and you make the decisions needed to complete your project. The more you know about the options available to you, the better those decisions will be.

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