Thinking about publishing your family stories? Smashwords can help. Here’s an introduction to publishing using Smashwords.
My favorite app on my iPad is Paper by FiftyThree [iPad - $6.99]. It’s an artist journal/sketchbook where you create journals and sketch, write, doodle or whatever on the pages. The app itself is free, but only includes the pen tool. Other tools (color, sketch, write, outline) are in-app purchases of $1.99 each or you can get them all for $6.99.
I’m a doodler at heart so this app quickly became a favorite. When I stumbled onto Stuff I Remember, a book two sons put together from their father’s childhood sketchbook, and How to Make a Journal of Your Life, about sketchbook journaling, I found even more inspiration.
It’s also quite easy to save journal pages as graphic images, so I can incorporate my doodles into my Day One [iOS - $4.99, Mac - $9.99] journaling apps. Now I have the best of both worlds – hand-crafted entries in a high-tech journal.
Does tech get any better than this?
I’ve been providing some genea-research support to a friend who is writing a local military history. He has been looking at some of the more scholarly publishers to produce his book, but realizes that with his project’s limited audience he’s not likely to get their attention. I’ve tried to talk him into self-publishing with Lulu, but he resisted it – until recently. What made him change his mind?
In his research, he was able to connect with the family of a man he wanted to spotlight. In addition to documents, letters and photos, they showed him a memorial book one family member had made – and published using Lulu. He was very impressed with the quality of the book and the clarity of the photos and scanned documents included in it. Now, he wants to learn more about Lulu and what it can do for his history.
While the debate will continue on the advantages/disadvantages of electronic publishing, examples like this convince me that it facilitates the return of the hand-crafted book. Someone in this family spent the time and effort to collect the information and artifacts of their loved-one’s life and build a memorial to him. In earlier days that may have been done in the form of a scrapbook which would be handed down from generation to generation. Over the years, the pages and content would start to crumble or, even worse, it might get thrown out. Today’s hand-crafted book is professionally printed and bound and any family member who wants one can have it. Copies can be donated to local libraries or historical societies to add to the area’s history and insure this loved one won’t be forgotten.
Electronic publishing – with it’s many formats, services and platforms – gives us all the opportunity to produce a hand-crafted family history in any number of ways. Whether it’s a printed book from Lulu or Blurb, a PDF publication that can be read on a mobile device or printed on a home printer, an ebook read on an e-reader or a digital scrapbook, it’s our choice. And isn’t having choices a wonderful thing!
Smashwords, the largest distributor of “indie” ebooks, has created a Library Direct program to make these titles available to libraries. Their first client, Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries, has just received 10,000 ebooks. It involved some serious database tweaking to create a collection of titles appropriate for the library. This effort has been documented in a recent article at Library Journal’s The Digital Shift blog:
The transaction took much longer than initially expected, but it ultimately helped both parties discover ways to weed, filter, and tweak a list of independent titles to develop an optimal collection for DCL’s patrons.
“It was a lot more complicated for us than we expected,” said Smashwords founder Mark Coker, “We’re giving libraries the option to slice and dice by multiple categories and multiple filters. And, along the way we discovered some cool ways to surface titles more accurately, that we think better reflect the interests of readers.”
The list began with Smashwords’ top 10,000 bestsellers—titles that have proven their appeal through sales. However, DCL and Smashwords soon realized that relying exclusively on a sales ranking could cause problems, such as leaving popular book series incomplete. Focusing instead on bestselling authors, and simply purchasing everything they had written, wasn’t an ideal solution, either. Hypothetically, what if an author had published 1,000 books, each of which sold only a few copies, Coker said.
Smashwords responded by developing a simple new mathematical ratings model—total sales by author divided by their total number of books—to help identify titles that were truly in demand. The bestseller list was then based on this model, and specific filters requested by DCL were applied. DCL then had the opportunity to further weed the proposed collection using an early version of a new online procurement system that Smashwords developed for the Library Direct service.
This is good news to more than just Douglas County library patrons. According to the Smashwords article describing the program, one of the libraries waiting to complete their order is Internet Archive for their Open Library project. Author/publishers using Smashwords for distribution can choose whether or not they want their titles included in the library program and choose from several pricing options if they do. According to Smashwords, library exposure increases sales. This could be some of the best marketing an independent author/publisher can get.
It’s definitely worth watching how this program progresses. I look forward to seeing what kind of reads become available at Open Library and it will be interesting to see how this affects revenues.
I’m still experimenting with storytelling ideas for my Barker family in Georgia. Once again, my storytelling tool of choice is Keynote [Mac - $20 and iOS - $5], the presentation graphics app included in Apple’s iWork suite. It comes with loads of great themes and companies like Jumsoft provide even more. In this example, I’m using the Parchment theme.
Since this is presentation graphics software, it handles all kinds of charts and diagrams easily. Custom family tree diagrams can be drawn quickly using a style that matches the theme of the project. Yes, this is a manual effort, but the custom results are well worth it. The photograph in the background also takes advantage of Keynote functionality. Keynote offers several design options to frame photographs included on a slide. One of those is an edge blur. By blurring the edge then reducing the opacity of the image itself, it becomes part of the background – enhancing the family chart rather than competing with it.
Here’s one example where scrapbooking techniques and presentation techniques have been combined. Graphical elements have been layered and shadows added to give them impact. The Keynote theme’s styles for fonts and colors are being used for the journaling on the page. Journaling has been kept relatively short with lots of images telling their own part of the story.
The schoolhouse in the bottom right corner was a black and white copy machine copy of an old photo. By cutting out the distracting clutter in the sky around the building, tinting it to match the slide’s color scheme and adjusting the opacity to let it blend into the corner of the slide, I was able to give a poor quality image the historical importance it deserves. And, while the class photo is also tinted to match the theme, the ragged white frame and shadowing allow it to stand out next to the school image.
Keynote – and other presentation apps – offer a lot of useful functionality and plenty of creative leeway, making them great platforms for any number of family history projects. They make it easy to combine text and images, create diagrams and add new pages any place within the project. They also offer any number of ways to share the final product. Keynote can export the presentation to a PowerPoint file, a PDF document, individual image files or a QuickTime movie. And, you can post your presentation at online platforms like Slideshare to take advantage of Keynote’s multimedia capabilities. Both of these platforms support animations and sound, however the user experience will depend on the operating system and browser used to view the result.
Presentations graphics aren’t just for the board room. They are becoming an impressive component of the family historian’s digital storytelling toolbox.
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.
I consider myself a family historian rather than a genealogist. I have no credentials in anything to do with genealogy but I do have decades of experience with the history of my family. Growing up in a small town that also just happened to be the oldest city in the United States, genealogy wasn’t a study but a social structure defining where you fit into the community. I was “Bubba’s eldest” or “one of Tot’s girls”. Many families could trace their local heritage back 9 or 10 generations, but ours was a family of newcomers who didn’t arrive here until the 1920s. I grew up on a creek that 300 years earlier was used to float coquina (a local shell-rock) across the bay to build the Spanish fort that still dominates the city’s bayfront. Like genealogy, history is also part of everyday life here. It’s not unusual to find pottery shards and other historical artifacts anywhere and before you can do almost any kind of construction within the city limits, the city archaeologist comes to look for anything of historical significance.
Although I enjoy chasing elusive ancestors, most of all I want to preserve and share the family artifacts and stories that have been a part of my life. I want those stories to be fascinating as well as factual with the appropriate source citations. And, I don’t want to restrict myself to one format. A “coffee table book” of family art and treasures is a project already in its initial stages and my artist uncle recently presented us with a beautiful watercolor collage of my father’s maritime career. There are many other project ideas yet to take off. My current focus is on the people I have known personally. They were extraordinary, ordinary people (I love that term!) and I want to show what made them so. It’s a challenge.
Having also spent a few decades in the technology world, I’ve enjoyed watching the genealogy community embrace the tools that have allowed us all to expand our research horizons and capabilities. Technology that was once both expensive and complicated has become accessible, affordable and user-friendly. I’m just as delighted to see the same thing happening in the publishing arena. For me, personally, it offers a broad range of options for building more than project ideas. Most of all, it’s opening up publishing to everyone. The technology is here and functional, but we’re blasted with so many choices that it’s awfully distracting. The challenge is to find one or two options that fit my needs and support my work style. I’ve found one – blogging with WordPress – but I’m still looking for book-building and multimedia options.
Just like research tools, publishing tools are a personal choice. This app isn’t better than that one, it’s just that I find it more suited to the way I work. There are many options out there and more arriving every day. The geek in me wants to try them all. The family historian wants to tell some stories. Looks like both of them are going to be very busy.
Fraktur for Thomas Ford
Genealogy databases are wonderful, but how much time will you – much less your family – spend perusing its family group sheets? You’ve got to attract their attention before you can generate their interest. As you can see, a family group can become a work of art and with today’s graphic options it’s easier than ever to make your own. Who knows . . . it might even become a treasured artifact in a museum collection someday.
Lulu.com provides so many services for the family publisher that often many of them get left out of the conversation. One of those is the author’s store – more commonly known as the author spotlight. If you are using Lulu.com to publish your family history projects and have more than one publication, learning how to customize and advertise your books in your store will make it a whole lot easier for others to find them. Right now there are more than 283 pages just listing books matching a “genealogy” search. Chances are good your book is buried somewhere in the middle of that stack. Having a bookstore makes things a whole lot easier – just give your family and other interested prospects the link to your spotlight page.
Everyone who has published in Lulu.com has a store. They call it the “author’s spotlight” and you’ll find a link to it just under the author’s name on any book page. The example above shows what an untouched author page looks like. Notice the customization tools available at the top of the screen. With a bit of effort and a little imagination, this unimpressive screen can become a welcoming place that gives your published works the emphasis they deserve.
Need some inspiration? Take a look at Thomas MacEntee’s store. This page is very inviting and makes you happy to hang out and browse through the publications he has offered. And, he’s included links to his web sites so you’ll know where to go to learn more.
One more advantage . . . the link to a spotlight page is much shorter than the link to any individual book page. You’ll find Thomas at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/connectedgenealogist.