Self-Publish Family Memories
Save Family Stories in Print
I've self-published two books of family stories and history using a print-on-demand publisher like Blurb.com. Maybe you've thought of putting your own life stories into a book or of publishing a family history book to honor your parents and grandparents. I'll share with you the steps for gathering, organizing, illustrating, writing and self-publishing your own family stories.
This goes a step beyond the popular hobby of scrapbooking and makes the family memories available to a wider audience. Everyone in the family can get a copy to treasure and you might find there is more of a readership for it than just the immediate family members.
My father's life turned into this 160 page book with parts written by my mother, my sister and myself. Since he worked in the Kansas oilfields, it has an audience beyond just my family. The book, Clyde Owen Martin, is stocked in the bookstore at the Kansas Oil Museum in El Dorado.
Saving your family stories in a self-published book is a project that your children, grandchildren and future generations will treasure.
Decide What You Want to Include in Your Family Memory Book
Will it be the story of your own life or will it focus on one of your parents or a grandparent's life? Maybe you want a complete family history going back many generations.
In some cases you may have enough material to focus on just one aspect of a person's life. For my mother's book, we limited it to her childhood during the Depression of the 1930s, though it did expand to include some of her family's pioneer background.
If you have a collection of letter exchanged by your parents, the book could focus on just your parents' courtship and wedding. Memorabilia and letters from World War II or the Vietnam War could be another book topic.
Make an Action Plan - Break It Down Into Specific Actions
- Note down the topics that you personally can write about. Set aside time to start writing.
- Note what material you have to supplement your writing. Do you have photos, letters, family videos or tapes? Can you find these items? Set aside time to search for these.
- List people and resources where you can get additional information. Do you need to interview Aunt Mary about your father's childhood experiences? Can you find old yearbooks at his college library? Do you need to send for his military record?
Help for Your Writing (Writing Prompts)
There are books with writing prompts to trigger your writing. These topics and questions are good for getting your writing started. You can also finds sites online that provide writing prompts or even send them directly to you in a daily e-mail.
Finding Writing Prompts Online
Writing prompts are questions or phrases to trigger your writing on a specific topic. The ones I've included here are geared towards writing about your life or family memories.
- Memory Writers Network
This blog contains essays, book reviews, interviews, tips, techniques, and writing prompts for anyone interested in reading and writing memoirs. I base the material on the workshops I teach, my reviews of commercially and self-published memoirs, inte
- Cherry Blossom Memories
Family site devoted to lifewriting, memories and making memories
- Writing Your Memories
Everyone would love to find a journal or diary of their ancestors. Some of you have, but…..Where's yours? Many people neglect recording their own history and that of their immediate family. Many do not have the time to start or know where to begin. W
- Writing Prompts | Your Write Life
The site gives publishing news and tips for writing, publishing and marketing your writing projects now.
- Memoir Newsletter Subscription
Subscribe to Memoir Musings, a monthly memoir newsletter brimming with ideas, inspiration, writing prompts and help for creating memoirs of all types.
Choose a Print-on-Demand Publisher or Other Self-Publisher
I've used Blurb.com, and feel very positive about their process and the quality of their books. My aunt used lulu.com, but later switched to blurb.
Here are some self-publishing sites to decide for yourself.
- Make your own photo book with Blurb
Photo Book from weddings to cookbooks to photography books in our Bookshop - get a print on demand photo book from Blurb.com
- Self Publishing - Lulu.com
Lulu.com lets you publish and sell print-on-demand books and e-books, online music and images, custom calendars and books. Free self-publishing.
- CreateSpace: Self-Publish and Distribute Your Books, Video and Music On-Demand
CreateSpace provides free tools to help you self-publish and distribute your books, DVDs, CDs, video downloads and MP3s on-demand on Amazon.com and other channels
- Self-Publishing with Blurb
What is Blurb? It's a wonderful discovery for an aspiring author. If a writer chooses to self-publish their content, there are a number of Print-On-Demand...
Revise and Edit the Book
When you have the book written and arranged in a satisfactory order, then go over it again looking for typos, and spelling and grammar errors.
Print out a draft copy and get someone else to read it. Pay attention to the questions they ask or any suggestions. Don't get defensive, you may have a blind-spot from working so closely with the material. Consider their suggestions and decide if you want to make the changes or not.
Include Letters and Memorabilia in the Book
Collect old documents like letters and diaries and memorabilia that you have relating to the life or lives covered in the memoir. Ask family members if they have any letters or items that belonged to the person. You might turn up some really special items that help visualize the era and the person's life. It could be hand-written recipes, a draft letter from the government, or a ration booklet from World War II.
Scan these into the computer. If the item is hard-to-read, include a transcript of the letter in the text. Put the original in as a picture. This worked well for my great-great grandfather's diary from the Civil War. Information from the diary was included in the essay about his life. Then I showed two pages from the diary with his original handwriting. I overlapped slightly a photo showing the outside of the worn pocket diary.
Possible items to include in a memoir: a business card, grade cards, a funeral card, handwritten recipe, baby announcement, graduation announcement, letter of commendation, a will, a bill of sale, military records,
Clean Up the Family Photos before Putting Them in a Book - Book available from Amazon
How to Fill Photo Gaps in the Memoir
If you don't have original photos from the period to illustrate a memoir, there are several ways to add illustrations. For my mother's memoir of the 1930s, I took photos at the Wichita Historical Museum. The museum contained period room settings and displays of vintage items like children's toys and clothing. Compose the photo carefully to exclude museum signs and people. The photos filled the need for a school room scene and for a treadle sewing machine picture. Since the book was in black and white, the newer photos fit right in with the originals which were all black and white.
Search the Internet for photos, but you must get permission to use any that you find. For my dad's memoir, I needed a photo of a 1917 Overland car and it needed to be a specific model. I found the perfect photo online in the website for a Canadian auto museum. I e-mailed the museum with my request and they e-mailed back approval for me to use the picture in the book. The photo caption in the book credits the museum for the picture. Save any approval letters you get in case there is any later dispute over your right to use the picture.
Example of a Photo Taken in a Museum to Use in a Memoir
This photo taken at the Wichita Historical Musem filled the need for a 1930s school room. It is included in my mother's memoir. In the book, the photo is black and white so it looks like a vintage photo of that era. I've put the same photo on a mousepad to promote my mother's book.
Collecting Oral History - books on the topic from Amazon
Talk to family members about topics for the book. Get them started telling stories. Take notes.
Copying Family Photos and Documents for Your Memoir
The best way to get photos from a relative, who just hasn't gotten around to sending them, is to visit them. Set up the visit in advance so they will have time to rummage out family memorabilia, old photo albums, etc. Take along a digital camera and a portable scanner like the one shown below.
Capture all the material they have and make notes (possibly with a recorder or on video or with hand notes). Take more than one photo of items you can't scan. You may not get a second chance to see the material. Don't count on a single photograph. You'll want to have a choice of angles. You can't really tell how crisp the photo is by just looking in the small screen of the camera. Take several shots of each thing.
You'll Want to Scan Photos Like This One
Choose a Recorder to Collect Family Memories
Record the Memories of the Older Generation
Even More Resources for Memoir Writers
- National Association of Memoir Writers
The National Association of Memoir Writers (NAMW) invites memoir writers from all over the world to connect, learn, and get inspired. The goal of our organization is to help memoir writers feel empowered with purpose and energy to begin and develop t
- Capturing Memories
Tips for Creating Lists for Memoir Writing, Remembering Home, Create a Time Capsule on Paper, Turn Your Writing into Great Gifts, Write the Stories Behind Your Photos, Starting a Memoir Writing Group is Easy, and Timelines—Plain and Fancy