From shows on the DIY Network to crafty pins on Pinterest, the do-it-yourself culture is thriving. With a little inspiration, determination and instruction, you can DIY a garden walkway, a feature wall out of old wooden pallets or a no-sew shopping tote from an old t-shirt. But what I really want to DIY, we can hear you thinking, is my family history book. Well, guess what? You can DIY that, too.
You may have thought an actual print book in which your relatives can read your familys story and see photos would be out of reach. But with modern printers, desktop publishing software, online book services and entire self-publishing companies, the dream many family historians shareto see their genealogy work in printis achievable.
And just like a home improvement project, you can DIY it all, or you can focus on the parts of family history publishing you feel comfortable with (say, the writing) and outsource the rest. Whether your needs and budget call for a simple bound collection of written family memories, a narrated photo book or an heirloom-quality hardback, this DIY guide will see you through.
The technological advances that let you find digitized records and track your family tree online have opened up new options for self-publishing your familys story. The processes and end products vary for each of the following options and, as you might expect, so does the cost:
Using a word processing program, you can pull together a narrative family history, drop in images and a family tree generated from your genealogy software, and add footnotes or end notes. Print it on your color printer, staple it or put it into a presentation binder, and call it a day. If you want multiple copies, email the file to your local copy shop or take it in on a flash drive, which will result in better images than photocopying your printouts. A copy shop also can provide cardstock for a cover and even bind your book with saddle stitching (pages are stapled down the middle and folded), a spiral (like a notebook) or a perfect binding (resembles a paperback book) with a printed spine.
The more you spend on binding, the more durable your book will be. Wire spirals damage the pages each time someone turns them. A relatively short-lived booklet might be fine for your purposes, but be prepared to spend more on a sturdier binding if you want the book to last for a while. Going to a copy shop is simple and quick, but it may not be the most cost-effective option. Black and white copies generally start around 10 cents each, but the charges quickly add up for color printing, better-quality paper, two-sided pages and binding. Youll usually get discounts for multiple copies of the same booklet. Get quotes from several shopsprices can vary greatly.
Do you want to recount your family history in something more like a traditional book? A photo-book service offers a customizable layout, high-quality paper, attractive templates in a range of colors and themes, and a gorgeous cover. You start by picking a template, which comes with a selection of backgrounds and page layouts; then upload photos as JPG files; and add narrative (its a good idea to finalize the text in a word processing document before starting your book).
Because text boxes may be limited in size, this option is ideal when you want to let photos and document images tell the story, helped along with explanatory captions. Prices depend on the service and the size of book you choose. For example, on Shutterfly, hardcover books range from 8×8 to 11×14 inches. Prices are based on the first 20 pages, with a per-page cost for a longer book. The expense is a downside to this option, though frequent sales (especially around holidays) help mitigate the cost. These services save your book once you create it, so you can purchase a copy and let family members order their own. Another downside is the lack of templates for genealogy-friendly design elements such as timelines and family tree charts. You could use your software to generate a tree, convert it to a JPG file and add it to the book as you would a photo.
Never before have so many aspiring authors in all fields of study published their work. POD self-publishing sites like Lulu and Blurb let you create a book on your computer and upload it as a PDF file for printing. You set the sale price and order copies as needed, or send a link to cousins so they can purchase their own copies. The POD printer gets a percentage of your sales. You even can sell your book commercially (see page 51). In that case, the book will be available through Amazon, which also gets a cut: A $14.95 Lulu book purchased on Amazon nets the author $1.58, but the same book purchased straight from Lulu nets the author close to $8.
Youll need to format your book in a document according to the POD sites specifications for file type, image resolution, margin size, etc., and create a cover. Most sites provide helpful instructions and templates, and some will do this work for you for a fee. You may be able to add on services such as obtaining an ISBN, necessary if you want to sell your book commercially. Blurb offers online software you can use to create your book, though it has a steep learning curve, says Nancy Barnes, owner of author services company Stories to Tell Books.
She recommends this option for skilled computer users. The cost of actually printing the book varies based on size, style, cover type, bindings and paper. You also may be able to choose an e-book. Your sale price should account for the sites percentage and any profit you want. Find Lulus pricing calculator and Blurbs pricing calculator. POD costs more than working directly with a printer (our next option) that offers volume discounts, but POD means you dont have to buy a lot of books up front that may end up collecting dust in your attic.
When you work directly with a book printer, whether online or in your local area, theres no continuing arrangement between you and the printer, as with POD. Instead, you supply the files for your book, order a minimum number of copies, and the print service prints them. Ask about volume discounts, though you may need to buy 100 or more books for a significant price break. If you have a large family and everyone wants a copy, working with a printer may be your most cost-effective option. Printers require you to submit fully prepared files, usually PDFs, that meet their specifications. You may need to submit image files separately as well as embedded into your PDFs.
Most publishers offer more personalized guidance and add-on services than a POD site would. Self-publishers such as Genealogy House can help with writing, editing, graphic design and other aspects of the publishing processgreat if you have a long, complex book combining text and images. These are best laid out with graphic design software such as Adobe InDesign. Especially if you plan to sell your book, you should seriously consider professional editing and design services.
Digital books are increasingly popular choices for self-publishing. A wide range of file formats are proprietary to different e-reader devices, such as Kindle and Nook, but if you stick to a simple PDF, people can read your book on a desktop computer or on any device that will open a PDF. And its easy to create your book in a Word document and save it as PDF. Try to see how your book looks on popular devices. You may need to tweak the layout to make sure page breaks and pictures fall in the right places. The big benefit to an e-book is avoiding the costs and decision-making of printing, but remember that not all of your intended audience uses e-readers. Many wont place the same value on a PDF file as on a printed book. The longevity of e-book files will likely change as technology develops, but that printed book on your shelf will be able to be held by your descendants generations from now. If youre trying to produce a family history that stands the test of time, print your book. Or offer the best of both: If you use Lulu or Blurb, relatives can choose to order a print book or an e-book.
Weigh the pros and cons
Getting it all together
- Whats your budget for this endeavor? Will family members be interested enough to purchase copies?
- What type of end product do you want? A hardback, full-color, high-end book? A paperback novel? Or will black-and-white photocopies do?
- How much time can you spend on it?
- How comfortable are you with word processing and desktop publishing software?
- Whos your intended audience?
- How long will your book be?
- Do you have a lot of photos and/or record images you want to include?
- How many copies of the book will you need?
- Do you intend to sell the book for profit, give copies as gifts, or make it available for purchase only to relatives?
Once you have a clear vision for your family history book project, think about these important elements: