The benefits of preserving family history through a book

Preserving personal and family history is an important aspect of our lives. The stories and experiences of our ancestors and loved ones are a treasure of knowledge and inspiration that we can enjoy now and pass down to future generations. What better inheritance than the knowledge from where you came?

One of the best ways to preserve these memories is by creating a book that documents your family’s history. In a previous post, we discussed using an oral history project to gather the stories in a book. Here, we’ll explore the benefits of preserving your personal or family history.

Photo of a family history book. Publishing a family history book is a rewarding experience.

A Book Preserves Memories for Future Generations in a Tangible and Rich Format

Creating a book to preserve family history is an excellent way to ensure that memories are passed down from generation to generation. Memories are often lost as time passes, but a book is a permanent record that can be passed down through the ages. A book can preserve not only the stories of our ancestors but also the photographs, letters, and other memorabilia that help bring those stories to life.

As book publishers, we are indeed biased toward books. A book is knowledge that one can hold in their hands and then share with another person to turn pages, touch pictures, and make notes in the margins. A book of one’s family or even personal history is a tangible manifestation and testament to those people.

A Family History Book Helps Us Understand Our Ancestors

We can better understand our ancestors’ lives by researching and documenting our family’s history. We can learn about their challenges, decisions, and the events that shaped their lives. A book preserves these memories for future generations to read, appreciate, and view through the lens of their own lives. Our children and grandchildren can say, “Wow, great grandma crossed the plains in a covered wagon! And great-great-great grandpa shipwrecked on an island!” We gain a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices they made and the legacies they left behind.

At a certain in everyone’s life, they will ask, “Where do I come from? Who are my people? How did they live? What trials and tribulations did they overcome? And what adventures did they experience?” Many hunter-gatherer and indigenous societies have rich traditions of passing this information down through the generations using the spoken word. But for those of us living a western, fast-paced, and “modern” life, it is easy for these stories to get lost and forgotten between the generations.

Many clients will tell Reidhead and Company, “My story isn’t that important. Why would anyone would want to read it.” And we counter, “But it is important! Both now and in the future.” Foremost, we are talking about your and your family’s lives. That alone makes documenting them important. Further, future generations will find meaning and inspiration in those stories. They will keep the memories alive. They maintain those connections to you and their ancestors. These are essential to what it means to be a human.

A Family History Book Brings Families Closer Together

Creating a book to document our family’s history can be a collaborative effort that brings family members closer together. The required research, writing, and editing allow family members to work together and learn from one another. We’ve even seen neglected relationships begin to flower again as family members talk about the past but through the more neutral lens of a book. People can reconnect, gain perspective, and heal old wounds through these conversations.

Additionally, building a book together creates a shared sense of pride and accomplishment that can strengthen family bonds and create new memories. At Reidhead and Company, our family history book often leads to storytelling and fun conversations that four living generations connect with and bond over.

A Book Preserves Our Heritage

Finally, preserving our family’s history is also an excellent way to preserve our heritage. By documenting our family’s traditions and values, we ensure they are remembered and cherished over time.

What was great-grandma’s favorite campsite? What was her secret potato salad recipe from the old country? To the generation living these traditions, they may seem inconsequential or even taken for granted. But to future generations, these are places and foods to be honored. These simple things give meaning and add to the richness of life for the generations who inherit them.

Preserving our personal and family history through a book is a project everyone should consider. Creating a book to document our family’s history allows us to share memories with future generations, tell our family’s unique story, understand our ancestors, bring family members closer together, and preserve our heritage.

A guide to the book editing process

You just finished your manuscript. Congratulations! Maybe there are a few typos, but in your heart, you know that the writing is perfect. There is no need for a long, painful book editing process. You enlist your partner, your best friend, your mom, or your dad to “proofread” it—for free. And then it’s time to hit publish! But wait! Let this guide to the book editing process help you put the finishing touches that make a book great.

A typewriter writing the guide to the book publishing process.

Publishing a piece of long-form writing can be done this way, but it really shouldn’t. But why? Real writers don’t need editors. Editors are just gatekeepers holding writers back.

Somewhere in school, I don’t remember if it was in grade school or high school, I was taught a terrible myth. I was told that when Ernest Hemingway was ready to write a book, he walked up to his typewriter and started typing. What came out the other end was literary gold and didn’t need a single word edited—such was his prowess as an author.

This was a lie.

I have a copy of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms sitting on my shelf. At the back of the book, the publisher included several of the over sixty different endings. And guess what? Many of the alternate endings were heavily edited.

Everyone needs an editor, even Hemingway.

First, some realities

To kick off this guide to the book editing process, the author must acknowledge a few fundamental truths:

  1. Writing is easy, editing is hard.
  2. There is no room for ego while editing.
  3. The author still owns the car, but someone else is driving.
  4. Not all editors can edit all writing.

Editing can be really easy. Or it can be absolutely brutal. This depends on the type of writing and the author’s goals.

When I start a project, I strive to ask tough questions, for example:

  1. What is the goal of the writing?
  2. Who is the writing for, the author or the audience?
  3. Why should readers care?
  4. Does the market really need another book on [fill in the blank]? And what is unique about this book?
  5. If non-fiction, where is the data/science to back up claims in the book?
  6. Is the author avoiding an uncomfortable or unflattering series of facts?
  7. Is the author actually open to being edited? (Remember that bit about editing being hard? Not all authors are into that).

The answers to these questions guide how the editing process should unfold.

Sometimes the goal of the writing is the personal enjoyment or questing of the author. For example, a family legacy book. In this case, the goal is typically to collect, archive, and pass on an eloquent piece of family history. Editing a book like this is easier than say a revolutionary idea aimed at mass audiences. And editing scholarly work involves opening up an entirely different tool chest.

The Process

Running a book through the complete book editing process is rigorous and time-consuming. However, it is worth the labor, every single time. Authors pour an incredible amount of physical and emotional energy into writing a book or article or even a poem. So it makes sense to run the book through the finishing touches to get a high-quality workpiece.

Developmental/ Conceptual Editing (1-2 editors plus the author)

The first stage of editing is the Developmental or Conceptual stage. (I prefer Developmental Edit). Here, we focus on the big picture: the story and the style. We do not worry about grammar or typos at this point (if we see something, we’ll fix it, but we’re not implementing the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook at this point.

These are a few of the things we focus on in Developmental Editing:

  • The author’s style and voice
    • Is there a distinct writing style and is it consistent?
    • Is the narrator’s voice clear, distinct, and consistent?
  • What is the plot? The focus of the story?
    • Does the story wander too much or stay on point?
    • Does the plot raise questions that go unanswered?
    • Is there sufficient background information to understand the plot?
  • The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter. And then the first paragraph of every chapter thereafter. And finally the last chapter, the last paragraph, the last sentence.
    • Do they hook the reader?
    • Do they carry the story forward? And at the end resolve something?
    • Are they the essence of the author’s style and the narrator’s voice?
  • Broadly, highlight what works and what doesn’t.
  • What is the Story Arc?
    • To answer this, I create a Story Map on a spreadsheet.
  • Does the story flow?
    • Where are the speed bumps? Are they good or bad?
    • Where are the straightaways that allow the story to go fast?
    • Are the chapters in the best order?
    • How are the chapter transitions?
    • Should some chapters be combined, split, deleted, or added?
  • How is the readability?
    • Are some sentences, paragraphs, or chapters cumbersome, awkward, or difficult to read?
  • Is the verb tense consistent?
  • Is subject-verb agreement correct?
  • What, if any, additional material does the book need?
    • Prologue, Preface, or Introduction?
    • Epilogue, Appendices, Bibliography, Glossary, or Index?
    • Images and Illustrations? Maps and graphs?
    • Footnotes and Endnotes?

Copyediting (1-2 editors plus the author)

Next comes copyediting. I love copyediting. Copyediting focuses on clarity, coherence, consistency, and correctness. It is very much a process that focuses on the nuts and bolts of good communication. Here is where I direct my energies during copyediting:

  • Mechanical Editing and Grammar
    • This is all about consistency and often involves the use of a style guide. The guide can be the Chicago Manual of Style (for non-fiction books especially), the AP Stylebook (primarily articles), or an in-house style guide (the Chicago Manual of Style started out as the in-house guide for the University of Chicago Press).
    • Punctuation
    • Spelling
    • Capitalization
    • Numbers and numerals
    • Hyphenation
    • Quotations
    • The list goes on and on…
    • Wrong word usage
    • Pronouns
    • Verb tense
    • Sentence fragments
    • Adverbs and prepositions
    • Parallelism
    • Passive voice
    • Jargon
    • Run on sentences
    • Restrictive vs nonrestrictive clauses and commas
    • Scare quotes
    • Apostrophes
  • Fact-checking
  • Permissions (Acquiring permission to use long, copyrighted quotes or copyrighted images)

Proofreading (Minimum 10 readers plus the author)

And finally comes proofreading. This is the last step in the book editing process before moving to publication. Remember that proofreading is not editing, rather it is a detailed reading that looks for errors. While some folks will proofread unformatted manuscripts, I suggest sending the book or publication to the designer after the copyedit but before the proofreading. Why? This way the proofreaders are checking the final typeset workpiece and can catch errors in the design.

For me, proofreading includes checking the following:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Consistent formatting and design

Sometimes a proofreader may offer unsolicited developmental edits. But that is not their job. At this point in the process, we do not want to be rewriting the book. Proofreading is all about finding each and every typo or mechanical hangup and resolving them. There is nothing worse than a book with lots of typos!

Concluding Thoughts

If you read this entire post, you have realized that editing is a process that requires effort. And it is worth the effort! We create polished and professional writing by following this guide to the book editing process.

Thanks for reading!

Quality Control for Books and Content Management

Creating quality control protocols is just as important for the book publisher as it is for the factory. At the end of the day, book publishers are producing a product that will be mass manufactured on an assembly line and, hopefully, consumed by many people. The implication here is that we need to take great care in producing the books we publish, from design and editing to marketing and distribution.

Learn from my mistakes

At one point I blindly expanded my catalog at lightning speed. I assumed that the workflow I had developed would maintain the high standard of design and editing to which I had become accustomed. However, as the number of projects that I was working on piled up, so too did the number of mistakes in the books that I was releasing.

I brought in more people to help manage the workload. But I still encountered the same problems because I had no system in place for tracking what work was getting done and what remained.

Cover descriptions were not getting updated before I sent the file to the printer. Prices were getting mixed between books. Annotations were missing or finding their way into the wrong place. And Table of Contents weren’t getting proofed.

This cost me time, money, and reputation.

To make the problem worse, because the catalog was growing, I was spending increasing amounts of time searching a disorganized array of files for information on specific titles.

One of the small, but common snags occurred when a wholesale customer would call and want prices on specific titles. Because I did not have all of this info in one place, I often had to visit the imprint’s website to find the retail price. And if the customer asked for the price in pounds sterling, then I had to search even harder.

What I needed was one place where I could track books for their entire life and deposit all the metadata that selling books requires.

The solution

A database.

When I think of databases, I think of expensive and cumbersome software bundles that create just as many headaches as they solve.

I tried to use FileMaker to create a custom database that could manage everything, from images to metadata, book descriptions to customers, invoices to royalties.

After a weak of stumbling around within FileMaker, I abandoned that path. It was too complicated and had too many bugs.

I knew that I needed something simple. Super simple. iPhone app simple.

So I searched the App Store and found exactly what I needed.

Tap Forms is $34.99 and has the simplicity of a well-designed iPhone app. It is available for Mac computers and phones. I use only the desktop version, but I can think of scenarios where the mobile version could come in handy.

It worked intuitively from the start and within a day I had hundreds of cross-linked entries.

What to do with the database?

Databases, even ones as simple as Tap Forms, can do tons of things. They can create and manage checklists, like an operating room checklist for a patient. They can be customer management tools that document each interaction with a customer. They can create and manage orders. They can track expenses. And they can hold an infinite number of lists.

They can also link all of this information together.

At the beginning, when building the database, the publisher must ask what the database needs to do.

Here is what I wanted my database to do:

  • Contain all the metadata for each book. This includes prices across different currencies, descriptions, ISBNs for each version, links to websites that sell the book, display the cover image, etc.
  • Link each book to a series of quality control checklists.
  • Contain detailed quality control checklists that will help find more errors in books and prevent new errors from being introduced during the editing, design, printing, and marketing phases of each book.
  • Contain ranked and detailed lists of books that I am considering for acquisition.
  • Tell who distributes each book.
  • Give the status of each book in every possible state of existence.
  • Manage bulk mailing lists.
  • Manage annotations across several languages.
  • Manage the production of guidebooks and similar books.

I am happy to say that the database that I built using Tap Forms does all of this.

Do the quality control checklists really work?

Yes. They work really, really well.

I find that quality control actually speeds up the book creation process. Yes, there are more boxes to check, more forms to fill out. But these serve a clear and quantifiable purpose, to track what gets done, when, and by whom. Work no longer gets duplicated. Did we check for orphans and widows? Yes. Great, on to the next thing. Did we do our secondary check that the index page numbers go to the right place? Nope. Gotta do that.

Does this mean the books are error free? Most of the time, yes. But sometimes an error slips through all the layers of redundancy. After all, humans are creating this content, and we are prone to errors. But, the error occurrence rate becomes much smaller when I use these controls.

If you are not already using a database to manage content and content creation, please use one. Using a database takes a publishing company to the next level of professionalism and adds value to the business.

Book Submissions and Acquisitions

Here is how it is going to happen.

  1. The new publisher establishes an imprint with one or more books that will sell.
  2. A website is built for the imprint. This includes a book submissions page with information on how to submit book proposals.
  3. The initial books are successful and penetrate the market, the publisher gains new contacts in the industry, and the imprint becomes known.
  4. Authors and others learn of the imprint and the submissions roll in.
  5. An undisciplined, new publisher sees these submissions and gets excited. This enthusiasm leads to taking on projects that the publisher doesn’t know how to market.
  6. Alternatively, the disciplined publisher browses the submissions, finds no leads and thus rejects all submissions, and then continues with the original business plan.

Discipline and hard choices

What does it take to be disciplined?

I do a lot of high risk sports, like mountain climbing and rock climbing without ropes. I’ve also worked in high risk industries, like logging and tree trimming. Participating in these activities demands discipline. If I climb into an area beyond my abilities, the probability of injury or death increases, substantially. More often than not my ego and passion want to push deeper into the danger zone, past where my abilities end. Strong discipline reins in my ego and passion, keeping me in the realm of possibility. Discipline reminds me to stick to the plan.

Don’t mistake discipline for being risk averse. Discipline is a methodical way of dealing with risk. Discipline says, I can’t do this today, but with strategic training and experience I can do this in the near future.

Following the plan that I laid out in the chapter on pricing will help you to stay disciplined while making the hard choices that all publishers must eventually make—rejecting good books because the publisher doesn’t know how to sell them.

Here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Stick with what you know.
  • Stick with what you can sell.
  • If you don’t know it and you don’t know how to sell it, don’t publish it.

Reviewing submissions—separating the wheat from the chaff

When reviewing submissions, there are a few basic questions that must be answered.

Many publishers ask that inquiring authors answer these questions in their submissions—this is a good, time-saving technique. It forces the author to think about who is going to buy the book. And it helps the publisher to see how savvy the author is and how well the author understands the audience.

Here are some questions to ask when reviewing submissions:

  1. Who is going to buy this book?
  2. Why are they going to buy it?
  3. Do they already want to buy it, but it is not available?
  4. What does the competition look like?
  5. Is there a good reason no one else is publishing this or similar content?

Let’s assume that every question about the audience is answered. The publisher then needs to ask a second round of questions to decide if the book is right for the publisher.

  1. Is this a quality book or a bargain book?
  2. Does this book have to be printed using a specific method?
  3. How much editing is this going to take?
  4. How long will it take to design the cover and interior?
  5. How much marketing must be done to reach the audience?
  6. What is the overall labor investment?
  7. Finally, and once again, does the book make financial sense based on the publisher’s pricing and volume strategy?

Notice that most of the second round questions have to do with the publishing process. Each publisher will have a unique publishing process, or workflow, and books will need to fit into this to be published. Just as each artisan has a process for sculpting, painting, sewing, or carving, the publisher must have a process for publishing books. The office is the publisher’s workshop. The computer, pen, and paper are the tools. The publisher needs to develop a successful, profitable process and stick with it. The publisher can modify the process, but slowly and incrementally.

Be wary of publishing books that deviate too far from the proven formula.

Learn from my mistake

The first unsolicited submission that I received truly piqued my interest. The gears started turning in the creative part of my brain as I read the proposal. I saw how the book could expand my business into a parallel niche market—newer and larger than the market where I operated. I saw huge potential for the book—bigger than any book I had published.

However, I knew nothing about the new niche market. I had no contacts (aside from the author) within it. And I didn’t know how to sell the book to the audience. I didn’t even know who the exact audience was. Sure, I had a broad idea for who the audience could be. But that was it. I did not know how to reach them. And that is not enough to market a book.

In my enthusiasm for both my first unsolicited submission and the theoretical potential of the book, I went forward and published it. Yet throughout the publishing process, when any of the above questions arose or I looked at pricing and volume options, logic told me to abandon the project. But I never listened.

The book was a complete flop. Dead on arrival. I lost lots of time and money on the project.

My problem: I did not have the discipline to say no even though all the evidence pointed to that conclusion.

It is always nice to get submissions. Submissions validate the publisher’s existence almost as much as sales. But the publisher must avoid hubris when facing reality.