This post is for all of my friends who have been impressed with the family history books I have written using Create Space through Amazon.com. It costs nothing to put your book on Amazon, although of course there is a charge if someone wants to buy it. This post is taken from my book “Travel Back to Your Roots”, also available on Amazon. Enjoy!
Three examples of the covers of my family history books.
Writing a Family History Book
Writing a family history or travel memory book is an easy project for almost anyone. Some companies offer self-publishing options for the novice. The final product is a wonderful keepsake and so much more efficient and less expensive than a traditional scrapbook. The only requirements to produce a book that will impress your family and friends are basic word processing skills and some knowledge of digital imaging (uploading and inserting photos, cropping, etc.)
Upon returning from my first heritage trip to Europe, I downloaded my photos to my computer and tried to make sense of what I had learned. My cousin Marita had gifted me with a binder of genealogy information with charts, copies of old documents and photos. Some of those items needed to be scanned. Our experience in the ancestral lands in Poland didn’t give me much information for the target grandparent, but it gave me the realization that hundred years of records could be found in a small village in the mountains. I had lovely photos of the village, a copy of one 125-year-old birth record, and thousands of photos from Krakow and Sweden. I was inspired to do more research but first needed to document what I learned for my family.
Unfortunately, some family members are apathetic about family history, but there are and always will be people who want to know their roots. You are writing for these relatives and those in the future. The people who descend from your ancestors will likely grow exponentially in the next hundred years.
It is exciting to think that someone born in the 22nd century may be grateful you made an effort to record this history that would otherwise be lost. Consider how you would treasure a book someone had written about your ancestors from the 1800’s. I always envy those friends who have these family books.
I now have grandchildren and tell them some wonderful stories about their ancestors. They enjoy hearing them, and I remind them they share these persons’ DNA and therefore many of these ancestors’ character attributes. I tell them to consider the bravery of Jadwiga who risked her life as she trudged through the forests in WWII carrying food to a priest hiding from the Nazis. They have the ability to be brave like Jadwiga! I also tell them stories of my grandparents who immigrated to America but never forgot the poverty and suffering of their families in Poland. The capacity to be kind and generous is part of my grandchildren’s character because of the legacy of their great-great grandparents. These books will remind each child of the stories I told them when I am no longer around.
With my original predicament as the “document poor” genealogist, I wanted to reverse this situation by making the stories, documents, and photos available to everyone who might be interested. Scrapbooks are lovely, but only one descendant can inherit it, so I needed to find a resource that could produce multiple copies.
Most people are familiar with photo books that can be created online through websites such as Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc. Anyone with basic computer skills can produce a nice looking full-color book, but the cost starts to become prohibitive once you go beyond twenty pages. I have created many of these books for weddings, travel, and collections of grandchildren’s photos through the early years. I even published short stories written my grandchildren using photo books.
Indie or Self- Publishing
Since our first heritage trip to Europe in 2014, the stories became more important than the photos and captions. The goal was now to record not just my journey in pictures, but to document the lives of my ancestors using their stories and history. I needed to find a less expensive way to produce a book that had lots of text in combination with photos and old documents.
CreateSpace, a company within the Amazon family, met my criteria perfectly. There are other fine companies out there, but this is the only one with which I have personal experience. Createspace is a popular site for Indie authors who choose to publish their work independently. This book is a product of CreateSpace, and each copy is printed on demand.
CreateSpace is an easy-to-use independent publishing tool and is free to use. You are the author, editor, and manager of your book. Copyright is assigned, and the book can be published and available in just a few days through Amazon.com. You set the price and receive royalties.
In the past, writers either had to go through a traditional book publisher or a vanity press that required the author to fund the entire publication process. A vanity press was the only option for the family historian years ago, and the costs were prohibitive for most people. Many former customers now have cases of their books in the basement.
I find CreateSpace very appealing for most of the type of writing I do. It is perfect for family histories and travel journals. I debated about submitting this book to a publishing company but decided it was more important to get it out quickly because some of the information will be out of date in five years. The traditional publication route can take a few years from agent to seeing a book in print. With CreateSpace, I can update my information and produce a new edition whenever I choose, because I maintain complete control.
Published on CreateSpace and available on Amazon
Traditional publishing is not for the faint of heart as it is tough to attract an agent or publishing company and a family history book has limited appeal. Both you and the company know your family history book is not destined to be a best-seller.
As I am writing this text, I have a historical novel that is under contract with the imprint of a major publishing house, and it should be released early in 2018. Because it is an important literary endeavor, I was thrilled that it was enthusiastically received in the big world of publishing. I hope that my novel will be sitting on library shelves and in bookstores in the near future. A historical novel that takes years to research, write, edit, and revise is a better candidate for traditional publishing.
How to Start Your Family Story
You can find books and articles on how to go about writing a family history at the library or online bookstore. But, if you can travel to Europe, your story will be so much more and will take you as the author in a different direction. You will have photos, stories, old documents, and lots and lots of history to include. Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece. If you are looking for perfection, your book may never become a reality. Read the books and articles on how to write your family history, but here is a summary of how to get that book ready for publication.
There are two types of writers: those that use outlines and like to plan and those writers that just jump right in. The beauty of word processing is that you can just start writing, and then edit and revise as you go. My writing for family history is chronological, and I add historical information to make it an interesting story rather than just a detailing of facts and names.
I often use scripture passages at the beginning of the story to give meaning to my ancestors’ lives. Think about the person’s greatest challenges and admirable character attributes. At the end of the story, I try to show how the scripture verse represented the essence of their lives. My immigrant ancestors came from humble stock, and I believe they would feel surprised and honored if they read their own stories.
Set your font and text size before you begin. Use a conventional font such as Times New Roman or Garamond and a text size of 12. You may want to use a grammar checker such as Grammarly. Please remember that as you use Grammarly or spell check, your judgment is superior to anything recommended by a computer. Some of their word choice suggestions are just plain old wrong and not appropriate, but these helpers are beneficial if you aren’t confident in your writing.
Insert the photos and text documents and learn to text wrap as much as makes sense to reduce the amount of blank space. Remember that short paragraphs are your friends. A reader’s eyes tire if the paragraphs are too long. Use writing helpers that are built into Word such as synonyms (found by highlighting a word and right-clicking.)
I do an immense amount of historical and cultural research and include it when appropriate. You may not know many facts about their lives, particularly in Europe, but this research will help you as the author make your ancestors’ lives understandable and more interesting. Of course, be careful about not plagiarizing other authors as you research.
The site will ask what size book is desired (My family history and travel books are 8½ x 11). Also, divide your work into chapters to make writing and revision easier.
When your text is finally fully edited and revised, save it as a PDF. Sign up on CreateSpace, receive the free ISBN number and upload your PDF to their site. You will be asked to design a cover using their templates and can use any photos in your possession. I like to use photos of the ancestral homelands in Europe, but CreateSpace offers stock photos for your use.
CreateSpace will let you know if any major problems need to be resolved, and then you ready the text for publication. You also need to set the price once you find out how much each copy will cost to produce. For family history stories, I make almost no profit as this is a gift for my family. The company then takes a few days to review and proof your book. They send you an email when it is approved.
At this point, you are allowed to purchase a proof copy of your work. This allows you to check for any errors. You can skip this step if you want to publish it right away. Once you are satisfied, you can release your book to Amazon.com. You are now a published author on Amazon! Congratulations.
You may enjoy the world of self-publishing and be inspired to write your own fiction or non-fiction book. You can use Create-Space for print, Kindle Direct Publishing, or Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).