In this article:
Ready to transform years of family research into a published book? With print-on-demand technology, it’s now easier—and more affordable—than ever. Read our Q&A to learn how the process works and decide whether it’s the right route for you.
- What is print-on-demand?
Print-on-demand (POD) publishing allows authors to create books electronically, then order small quantities of “hardcopy” books—or even single copies. This may sound like no big deal, but traditional publishers often require orders of 1000 copies or more—far more than most family historians would need.
- What does POD offer family history writers?
Family historians may be the experts on their ancestries, but they’re often not professional writers, graphic designers or computer whizzes. POD providers address genealogists’ diverse needs with a range of offerings.
Automated services such as Lulu allow computer-savvy customers to upload electronic manuscripts, returning inexpensive, professionally bound books within weeks. Such services offer no editorial review, so what you submit is what you get. It can take several tries to get a product with no typos, so budget time and money for multiple proofs before committing to bulk orders.
Those who need help with layout, design, image scanning, or even typing need a more comprehensive POD service, such as that provided by Ron Engstrom of The Genealogy Printing Co. in Seattle. “We take the book in, look it over, and give it what it needs. We can take almost any project and make it look great.” About 10 percent of his clients don’t even use computers; they send cut-and-paste hard copy originals and he takes it from there.
Be prepared to pay for help. Full-service companies either charge separately for manuscript preparation or build the cost into their book charges. Professional help will definitely give novices a better result, though, so if you want to create a family heirloom, it may be worth the cost.
- How do I prepare my manuscript?
More preparation yields better and less-expensive POD experiences. Type your manuscript, electronically if possible. Scan images and pedigree charts (or have them scanned) at a resolution of 300 dpi or greater.
Next? “Look at other people’s books and figure out what you want in yours,” advises Ann Hughes of Gateway Press in Baltimore, who’s been helping genealogists self-publish family histories since 1975. “Do you want just data? Do you want pictures?”
Then decide how much manuscript preparation you can handle. Most people with computer experience and determination can do much of the work themselves. Both Engstrom and Hughes even offer written guides to help clients through their projects. Topics include what software to use, how to handle graphics, and even chapter layouts.
On software, Engstrom advises, “I would suggest certainly using a program that you can handle. [Many people use] Microsoft Word because it’s out there the most. We’d rather they use InDesign or PageMaker. But choose the one you use best.”
The publishing process will vary between POD providers, but should include reviewing a hard copy before ordering a batch. Though some providers offer extras such as copyright and ISBN registration, they’re not really necessary for a project you’ll just share with family. (You still keep rights to your work without filing a formal copyright registration.)
- How do costs compare?
Most POD providers allow you to purchase small print runs and order extra copies later, but cost per book goes down as quantity goes up. If you need 50 copies, order them together. Color printing costs more—about 10 times the price of black and white. Your binding type, paper, size, and cover material also affect your bottom line. No-frills POD services run as little as $6 to $30 per copy, with minimal setup fees.
Some genealogists hope to save money by printing their own documents—but you might not realize just how expensive it is to print a book on your home printer. Inkjet printers can cost more than $1 per color page to print or 20 cents per black-andd-white page. A local copy center may charge about half that, but POD can produce a more professional product for around 15 cents per color page or two cents per black-and-white, plus a few dollars per book for a paperback binding. (Prices will vary.)
With the many advantages POD offers, and after all the effort you’ve put into writing your family history, it makes sense to investigate whether this is the route for you. It just may make the difference between a ho-hum book that gets shelved by relatives and a coffee-table attraction that will entertain the grandkids for years to come.