Memoir and Family History: Part 6—Publishing and Distribution

Some memoirs and family histories will appeal to a wider audience and be appropriate for traditional publishing. If your story falls into that category, this installment won’t apply to you. Since the percentage of personal and family stories that are published by conventional publishers is small, I will focus on self-publishing and subsidy publishing in this section.

If you self-publish, you handle all the aspects of publishing yourself, negotiating and contracting with providers for work you cannot do yourself. If you use a subsidy publisher, you pay a publishing company to publish the book for you, an option if you are publishing a trade paperback or hardcover book. Learn more in the Self-Publishing Primer.

The first step is publishing your manuscript is to choose your format. Your choice will depend upon the size of your audience, your financial resources, and your method of distribution.

Your options include:

  • Loose-leaf binder—If you are distributing copies only to immediate family members, you can print the pages on your computer printer or at a print shop, then insert them into three-ringer binders. This is inexpensive and easy; it also allows for additions if you write piecemeal as my mother did. You can print on high-quality paper and choose a binder with a clear plastic cover that allows you to insert a page as a book cover. If you’re printing only a few copies, you can include color photos in your book; color printing is too expensive in most other formats.
  • Spiral bound—If you’re printing dozens or a few hundred copies, you can take a computer file with a camera-ready manuscript in a word processing program to a copy shop. The copy shop can print the pages (which can be either 8.5” x 11” or 5.5 x 11”) and bind the books with spiral or comb binding.
  • E-book—You can convert your word processing file to a PDF file for electronic distribution. Adobe will convert up to five files for you at no cost, and there are several other free online servers to convert Word or other files to PDF. When you have your book in a PDF file, you can send it as an e-mail attachment or create a Web site where the file can be downloaded. An e-book is the most cost-effective way to deliver your book, but most people also want a physical copy of the book. You might consider offering the e-book for free and charging for a print edition.
  • Trade paperback or hardcover—Trade paperbacks are larger and higher quality than mass-market paperbacks. They can be printed in small print runs (usually most cost-effective for at least 500 copies) and can also be printed digitally as print on demand (POD). Hardcover books are the most durable; however, they are also the most expensive and generally require a fairly large print run.

After your books are printed, you are ready to distribute them. This can be done in several ways:

  • Gifts—If you publish loose-leaf binders for family members, you will probably give the books away because the cause is minimal. The cost is even less for e-books, so they can be freely given away as well.
  • Sales—If you publish larger quantities or more expensive formats, you will probably need to be compensated for the books. Determine all your costs for writing and publishing the book and divide that number by the number of copies being distributed to determine the unit cost. You can sell the books at cost or increase the price to make a profit. Taking advance orders can help generate money to pay printing costs as well as help you determine how many books to print. Since most people tend to procrastinate, it helps to offer a discount for prepaid orders received before the specified deadline, which should be before you place the printing order. Even if you base your print run on the number of pre-orders you receive, be sure to order extra, both for late orders and for your future children and grandchildren.
  • Combination—You may decide to give away books to immediate family but sell to extended family and others. Or, as mentioned earlier, you may give away the e-book and sell the print book. You might sell the book to everyone, but charge family members only the actual costs and charge other people a higher price. The choice is yours, based on your resources and desires.

No matter what format you choose or how you distribute your memoir or family history, you have created a legacy that will last—not only for your children and your grandchildren, but also for generations to come.

I hope you have found this series on writing memoirs and family histories helpful and wish you joy and success in your personal and family story writing.

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