Self-publishing for archives and family history, or, Kate makes a Christmas present

Earlier this year I decided I would give my family a book for Christmas, which meant I would have to create it myself. My friends on Facebook have had updates on this saga, but I thought I’d write a summary here as I think the process has potential for use in the archival world.

What I had was an existing typed memoir illustrated with photocopies of original letters and photographs. Before beginning the project I made an effort to collect as much of the original material as I could, although I was not successful in locating all of it. I then selected CreateSpace as my publishing platform. I did not research other platforms. My mother has self published a few books using CreateSpace and since I have served as her unofficial tech support I was somewhat familiar with the process and the system.

What I needed to do was simple, although time consuming: create a Microsoft Word document that contained my book’s content. So I transcribed, scanned, and formatted the material. The process went more smoothly than it would have if I were actually writing much of the text (although I did add front matter and a conclusion). Getting the page numbers to start where I wanted them to was the hardest part of the process. You also need to select a size for your book before you begin. I selected a somewhat larger size, (8″ x 10″), and also decided to publish in color rather than black and white. These two factors make the final product more expensive, of course.

When I had a first draft I converted it to a PDF and uploaded it to CreateSpace. When the system scanned the document it reported that my images were not at a high enough resolution for their standards. They want them at 300 dpi and even though they were scanned at that resolution, if you resize them in Word (which I did) it lowers the resolution (apparently). As my images were small and relatively fuzzy anyway I decided to let it go and see how they looked. With the book content set, I then used their system to create a cover using one of their templates. For this you really do need to have your image meet their specifications or you cannot proceed (unlike the internal book images). The selection of templates seemed adequate to me and if you prefer you can create your own cover and upload it as a PDF. Other than needing to go visit a computer that had Photoshop on it in order to get my image to meet their specifications, this was a very easy process.

I ordered a hardcopy proof. Although you can skip this step, I wouldn’t recommend it. In the hardcopy I could see that the images looked fine, and it also made it easier for me and my copy editor (ahem, spouse) to proofread.  You also can verify if the book’s size is really what you want. I was kind of shocked at how thick my book was, even though I knew of course how many pages it had. I thought the overall quality of the printing was acceptable. It seems just like a “real” book to me.

After making the necessary changes to the Word document, I then re-PDFed and uploaded again. You can go through this process endless times without any penalty, including trying different cover designs, and note I haven’t paid any money yet for the services, although I did pay for the printing and shipping of the proof (~$30, I think). So for an organization, at this point you can have hard copies to distribute for review to anyone who needs to be involved in the process. Although technically I suppose you could just bail out at this point and keep the proofs as your final product, they are marked as proofs, so you might as well keep going and actually publish it.

Before your book can be published you have to review your metadata and select your distribution channels. CreateSpace can automtically assign your ISBN and you can have your book available on Amazon or via the CreateSpace store only. For a small fee, you can also select to have it available through “expanded distribution,” which makes it available to libraries through Baker & Taylor. I didn’t go with this option, but it might be useful if your book will have a wider appeal. You also have to assign a price for your book, which essentially means deciding how much of a profit you want to make. The system tells you what your minimum price can be and you take it from there. (If you want more detailed information about this part of the process, let me know, or check the site.) You also have to set up how you want to receive royalties and give them your information for tax purposes. Note that you can add distribution channels (including making your book available on the Kindle) and change the price at any time. You can also update the interior content if you need to. It’s a very flexible system.

Once all this is set, you can publish. Every time you order a proof or hit “publish” CreateSpace conducts a short review to make sure your book meets their technical specifications, so there’s a one or two day wait for that. I should also say that the customer service is fairly responsive. Not lightning quick, but within a day or so, and they have been incredibly helpful and patient with my 80+ year-old mother as she has struggled with several books. If they can get my mother through this process with minimal calls to me, anyone can do it.

So, here’s my finished product:  Memoirs of India, 1920-1926: A Missionary Family in Nagpur and Elsewhere, by Margaret Prentice, edited by Helen Prentice Theimer and Kate Theimer. I can order author’s copies at a considerable discount (not sure if there’s a limit to how many I can order), and that’s what I did to wrap and send to my family. So it’s available to the world, if anyone who is interested in missionary life wants a copy and to other members of my family who may want to buy one. A very simple and easy process. If you want to pursue a publishing project for your organization (or yourself), I’d recommend considering this as an option. I’m happy to answer questions about my experience, either in the comments or by email.

Now let’s hope my family members aren’t disappointed with their gifts! Happy holidays, dear readers, and best wishes for the new year.


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3 thoughts on “Self-publishing for archives and family history, or, Kate makes a Christmas present”

  1. Might I suggest my book The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, published early in 2012 by Information Today, Inc? I go through the process of doing what you’re doing (although focusing primarily on text–I think I do give a hint of where to turn off Word’s autocompression of photos: as with almost everything else, it’s in the advanced menus from the Print/File page), and how libraries can/could help. I use Lulu for the process because Lulu also does hardcover books; otherwise, Lulu and CreateSpace are very similar. (No, there’s no limit to how many author’s copies you can buy at production costs.) I think encouraging this sort of family publication and the like is something public libraries can and should do (with no investment other than my book).

    By the way, making it available on the Kindle isn’t quite a one-step process–if you go direct from PDF to Kindle (as CreateSpace offers), the results are pretty awful. Going from Word to Filtered HTML to Kindle works much better; I’ll have a post in a week or so describing the process. (Photos are, once again, a difficulty.) When I wrote the book, it was clumsy enough not to include; now, it’s much easier.

  2. Thank you for this information. I’ve been working on a personal history (from birth to age 19) for a couple years now that I intend to give to my children. I’d love to turn it into a book for them instead of a stack of printed paper… Thank you!

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