In 1990 my mother, my brother, and I compiled, edited, and published several of my maternal grandmother’s essays. Most were autobiographical — “My Childhood,” “My Marriage and Family,” and the like — but two were about others. One was “Our Other Grandma,” a tribute to her husband’s mother, whom she refused to call her mother-in-law, because she didn’t like all the critical jokes about mothers-in-law. The other essay she entitled, “Sheepherders I Have Known.”
The resulting short volume (about three dozen letter-size pages) was not a sterling example of the publisher’s art. I printed 15 or 20 copies on my dot matrix printer, then had them bound at a local copy center. There were no illustrations or photographs, not even a sample image or two of the handwritten originals. But it was an instant and enduring hit among its small audience.
This summer I decided to reissue the collection. My mother passed away several years ago, and my brother was busy getting married, so I did it myself. It occupied two or three evenings plus a full, long, 20-hour day off work, but it was ready in time for our annual reunion in early August.
I couldn’t find the old word processor file, so I used my scanner and the OCR software which came with it. The output text didn’t need much cleanup. I added some old photos, a name index, and a place index. I improved the front cover and the formatting generally. Then I printed about a dozen copies on my laser printer and hauled them to the nearest “big box” office supply store and copy center.
I wanted a Velo binding, as we’d used before. It looks better and is far more durable than . . . anything they actually do at that copy center, as it turned out. They sent me to the local Kinko’s (officially, FedEx Office store), telling me it was the only place in town that could do that kind of binding for me. So I went; it was only about 200 yards away.
Aha! They could do it. But alas! They’d have to send it offsite, because they don’t actually do it here in American Fork. Where? I asked. To Orem, they said. So I thanked them and took it to Orem myself, since it’s on my way to work. By the end of the day, the job was done, and I was pleased with the results: a good-looking binding and a durable, frosted plastic cover, front and back. Between the binding costs and my printing costs, each book cost me about $9.00.
Making money was never our object with this publication; we have just wanted to put it into the hands of lots of family members, in the hope that they will read it.
As I was planning the second edition, I realized that I now have at my disposal three relatively new ways to distribute a document inexpensively. I decided to use them all.
A PDF file of the entire document is about half a megabyte, so it is easily e-mailed. Almost anyone with a personal computer or smart phone can read a PDF file, and the original appearance is faithfully preserved. So I announced to the family that I’ll send the PDF file free of charge, upon request.
THREE AND FOUR
That might have been enough, but I made bigger plans. I published the book electronically at Amazon.com for Kindle and the various free Kindle apps, and at BarnesAndNoble.com for Nook and the free Nook apps. I wasn’t happy with the automatic conversions, especially from HTML, but the conversions from Microsoft Word produced a tolerably good reading experience. One of these first months I’ll have to figure out their raw format, so I can exert more control over the appearance and positioning of images (photos), among other things. In the meantime, it will do.
I set a minimal price for the book at both sites: $0.99. That’s a lot cheaper than printing hard copies, and within the budget of any family member who can afford a Kindle, Nook, or smart phone, I think.
It’s an experiment. I don’t expect the e-books to catch on like wildfire (a painful simile this summer in the American West), but I’m curious to see how they do in the long term. So far, there have been four purchases in all, and one was mine. Twenty sales in the next year or two would delight but not surprise me.
If there’s enough interest among the family, I’ll be happy to publish some other good documents in future years. I haven’t heard of anyone else publishing for small family audiences on Kindle and Nook, and I don’t see very many genealogical works that are available as e-books. But if it catches on among my family, it will be an economical means of getting ancestors’ histories into their descendants’ hands and, one may hope, into their minds and hearts.
In case you’re curious about such things, I pledged to pass on the minimal royalties to the annual reunion fund.
FIVE (An Unadvertised Bonus)
My more knowledgeable colleague at MyHeritage, Mark Olsen, learned of my efforts and pointed out another local opportunity. It may exist in some form local to you, too.
At nearby Brigham Young University, the campus bookstore has a custom publishing service which can turn out relatively affordable soft-bound books very quickly, and pricier hardbacks less quickly. They estimated the cost of producing additional soft-bound copies of my grandmother’s essays about about $7.50 per volume. That’s roughly the same amount I paid elsewhere, but in this case for something that looks a lot like a real book.
Sometime soon I’ll give them a try. All they need is a pair of PDF files: one with the cover, and the other with the rest of the book.
Meanwhile, I’d be interested in hearing how readers are publishing family history documents these days.
As I’ve said before, as important as the names, dates, and places are, the history is by far my favorite part of family history.