Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Writing Family History

Saturday I attended an all day workshop on writing your family history. The St. Louis Genealogical Society offered the class, and the woman who taught it expressed surprise when I arrived. "What are you doing here?" She is aware that I have authored other books, but as I said to her I have never written a family history. Unlike a memoir where you can draw upon your own experiences, memories and stories, writing about people you have never met presents a challenge for me. How do you take the mundane statistics of birth, marriage, death, etc. and turn it into something people will want to read? Because if no one wants to read it, then what is the point?

Unfortunately that wasn't covered on Saturday. It was mostly about the physical structure of your family history book in terms of how it will look. I learned a bit about formatting, printing, building an audience, etc., so I am glad that I attended the workshop. But I need to know more about the actual writing process so that the book will be an enjoyable read. Most of the people at the meeting were only concerned about getting a book put together with all of their collected data so that they can share it with family members. I know how much work goes into getting a book into print, so I would like to make mine something more than so and so begat so and so. I think looking at examples of some family histories will be of benefit to me, so that is my next step.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I learned Publishing My First Book

authors Tim Hill, Kim Wolterman & Warren Martin
Last night I participated in a panel discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly of publishing your own book at the monthly meeting of the St. Louis Publishers Association. I was joined by children's book author Tim Hill and fiction writer Warren Martin. Since I write non-fiction we had the most common genres covered. It was a lively discussion! There were many new faces in the audience, and they had a lot of questions. It is so fascinating to me to hear people talk about the topic of their books. So many stories...

We each discussed our experiences with the actual writing process of the book, editing, design, printing options and distribution channels we have used. All of us agreed that it is best to use a professional for the editing and design functions, and not do these things yourself or with the help of amatuers. Too much is riding on how your book will be viewed and accepted. Warren found out the hard way when he hired a cut-rate editor for his book, and negative reviews began appearing on Amazon due to grammatical errors. The blessing of using Amazon is that he was able to quickly take the book down, have it re-edited, and upload the revision. He didn't have 1,000 books sitting in his garage that he would not be able to sell.

The three of us have very different ways of getting our books sold. As a children's author, Tim spends a lot of time in schools and sells his books directly to his target audience. Warren finds that most of his book sales come from Internet sales, whether through Amazon or his own website. While I do sell some books online and through presentations, the majority of my sales come through specialty shops.

I still think the best advice I ever received was to write a book proposal. I know most writers balk at this, especially if they are going to go the independent publishing route. But creating a proposal forces you to really look at why you are writing the book in the first place. Who is your audience? What other books are your competition, and what makes your book different from the others in the market? Where will you find your audience? How will you sell to them? For more on why you should write a book proposal, check out my slide presentation on the topic.