Case Study of a Life Story: Part 3 – Turning a Story into a Book

As I said in the previous post, the Hansens and I were excited to have a completed story, but it existed on my hard drive and on computer printouts. Borge and Brigitte wanted the story in a book to share with loved ones.

Knowing that they would want fewer than 100 copies, I explained that their best option for printing was print on demand (POD). Typically my clients print 1000 to 5000 copies through offset printing, but that generally isn’t feasible for a family history or memoir. The unit price per book is higher with print on demand than offset printing. However, the author doesn’t have to tie up a lot of cash printing an inventory of books, and there are no costs or hassles associated with storage. Books are ordered only when needed, and if readers order from the print-on-demand company, the POD company handles order processing, shipping, and customer service.

We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the various POD companies and decided on’s CreateSpace. Like most POD companies, CreateSpace offers templates to create the interior and cover of the book. Borge wanted to include a lot of photos, so I laid out the interior of the book in InDesign, just as I do for clients who use offset printing. When possible, I incorporated photos in the text in the appropriate place. Borge and Brigitte’s wedding photo is placed alongside the story of their wedding, and a picture of their son Jeff and a cousin eating (or more accurately playing with) the birthday cake is next to the description of his first birthday party. More photos and certificates are grouped on the pages at the end of the book.

I was a little concerned about the quality of the images. Some were quite old and of poor resolution. There were even a couple of Polaroid shots taken 40 or more years ago. I manipulated the images—changing to grayscale, cropping or resizing as needed, and adjusting the resolution within the limitations of the original pictures. Even though I pointed out the quality issue, Borge and Brigitte wanted to include the photos.

Borge also wanted a map to show all the places he had traveled in his lifetime. He drew a world map by hand and drew two lines showing his travels. A solid line marked his travels as a seaman, and a dashed line marked his travels as a soldier. I scanned the map, converted it to grayscale, cut it into two halves, and inserted the two images into facing pages at the front of the book. I formatted the rest of the pages and exported to PDF to create the file to print.


The Hansens didn’t want to use a fill-in-the-blank template for the cover, so Borge took a photograph of a globe, an American flag, and a picture of Borge at age 12. Yes, that means the cover image is a photo of a photo along with a couple of other items. I downloaded the cover template for a custom design to ensure I got the size and technical requirements right. I created the cover in InDesign, using Borge’s photo as the cover art, and created a PDF document for printing.

Note that the image isn’t very good here, but the print quality is outstanding.

After the text and cover were finished, my apprentice, Beverly Ellison, proofread the final document. As usual, she found a few minor errors even at this stage of production. I made the corrections and uploaded the text and cover files to the POD printer’s Web site.

Although CreateSpace allows authors to use their own ISBN numbers, we chose to have CreateSpace assign the ISBN. Borge does not intend to publish any more books and has no need to purchase his own block of numbers. 

CreateSpace approved the files but suggested that some of the photos would print better if they were a higher resolution. Although we recognized that, we could not improve the quality of old photos. We ordered a proof copy to be sure the photos were acceptable before Borge ordered copies for family and friends.

As soon as they received the proof copy, Borge and Brigitte brought it to me. All of us were very pleased with the quality. The book was gorgeous! Even the old, low-resolution photos turned out well. They obviously don’t look like high-resolution pictures in good condition, but they fit perfectly with the story.

The project was finished. We approved the proof and ordered 50 copies for Borge and Brigitte to distribute to friends and family.

In the final installment of the series, we’ll hear Borge’s reaction to the finished product and share some recommendations for others who want to write their own life story.

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