Writing a family history book can be a long and arduous task. However, I encourage you to not wait until your book is complete, before considering how you are going to edit your book. In fact, I encourage you to have a plan in place before you even put one word down on paper.
As a genealogist, someone who deals in facts, it was hard for me to accept that there may be mistakes in my own family history book. A date recorded wrong, a name misspelled, the possibilities are endless as to how you can easily take the enormous amount of facts you have inserted into your family history book, display them in an interesting and readable format, and not come out the other end without an error or two.
Since we are recording our history as a legacy to future generations, we want our information to be accurate. In creating my own family history book, I have learned a great deal about the editing process of a book. Some of these lessons were learned through my own growing pains. I am a writer and not an editor. And despite what you may think, they are two very different creatures. I would like to share seven key lessons I learned in the process of editing a family book. Some I followed, some I learned the hard way. I share them with you in the hopes you can be ahead of my learning curve.
Tip 1 – Never attempt to be writer and editor. It does not work. You cannot write your book and edit it. You will have looked at it so many times you will never see your errors. Plan to have an individual or better yet an editing team to do the dirty work. This can be friends or family members or if the budget allows you can hire a professional editor.
Tip 2– There are two types of editing, content editing and copy editing. Content editing will deal with the story itself, how does it flow, does it make sense while a copy editor will look at grammar and punctuation. Consider hiring both if you really want to be a professional writer. If you only plan on your family and friends seeing this book then by all means use only family and friends to help you with this process and avoid the added costs.
Tip 3- Prepare from day one for the editing process. The first day you decide to write your family history book, you need to set up a binder titled Primary Sources. In this binder, you will have a section for every person in your family history book with copies of all their primary sources. Whether that is a birth certificate, a marriage licence, a page from a bible or diary, or a family group sheet, a living family a member has completed. This book will later be your editors go to source to ensure all information has been transposed accurately from their primary source.
Tip 4 – Use Beta Readers – these can be friends and family or peers. However, I would consider fellow family historians who read family history narratives. Provide them with a copy for giving honest feedback.
Tip 5– Do not take corrections personally. The entire idea is to have another set of eyes objectively read your book. If a page layout is confusing to them, if a story doesn’t flow, a sentence structure is awkward; it is not a personal attack but an opportunity for growth. You want your family to enjoy and get the most out of your hard work and the editing process will bring your work to the next level.
Tip 6– Regardless of whether you are self-publishing, or using a printer, don’t shy away from paying for a proof or purchasing an advance copy. This allows you to see it as the final product, check facts again, colours, spacing, quality of pictures etc. It is well worth the investment.
Tip 7 – Resist the temptation for your book to be “a surprise for the family.” Allow the current family to preview the book, and correct any possible errors prior to going to print, particularly if contains personal information of living relatives.
Tip 8– If you are taking the DIY route, there will be mistakes despite all your best efforts, be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. It is in evitable, based on the sheer volume of information alone the odds are against you. If you keep your book small you’re most likely to have fewer opportunities to make mistakes. However, if you have one shot at a grand book then the volume of information you are handling leaves more room for error. If you’re looking at a commercial book then hiring professionals will help minimize any mistakes.
Tip 9 – Family members are very understanding of the work that goes into writing a family history book and our very generous with their praise, and less worried about mistakes. Send out a corrections page that family members can slip into the book, so future generations will not be mislead.
Tip 10 – Don’t rush to print, take your time during the editing and revision process. By the time you get to this stage you may be just plain sick of this whole project. Step back put some room between you and the project then re-approach the revision and editing process with fresh eyes. If want professional book then a professional not rushed approach will ensure the best possible outcome.