Author: Public Record Office Victoria

We've been pleased to welcome Hazel Edwards to the Victorian Archives Centre twice over the last few months to teach us all about writing a 'non-boring' family history and memoir. Here she answers some additional questions for those of you considering publishing your life story:

Why do you feel that self-publishing is so important?

Many family stories are of extra-ordinary, so called ordinary people whose lives should be told. The advances in computers and e-publishing mean limited runs for specialised readerships are viable.  

The real issue is marketing and distribution. Are there enough readers interested in that subject, is it well written enough and can they buy the book easily? Some family histories are best givers rather than best sellers.

What does self-publishing offer compared to traditional publishing?

It depends what you mean by self publishing: whether print, e or audio book and whether you will sell via your own web site or via one of the Amazon, Apple or other commercial distribution sites. Or whether you offer extracts to be read free as a blog on your site.

Generally self-publishing means you are the publisher (and pay for all costs) as well as being the author and paying for editorial help. Don't edit your own work. You read what you think is there. But an e-book must be of comparable editing quality to a print book. Photos too.

Self publishing your family history can take a lot of time, but some really enjoy it as a retirement hobby, which involves purposeful international travel with the research.

Are there any downsides to self-publishing?

Be wary of 'vanity publishers' who offer to edit and convert your manuscript to a book at considerable cost, and then the book is not quality controlled, reviewed nor distributed. But there are reputable 'packagers' who offer these services at reasonable fees. Check with your local library who publishes local histories in the area. Always have your book properly edited. The Society of Editors will provide contacts.

My website has a link to the Australian Society of Authors who provide much information free on their website.

Quality is an issue. It can be so embarrassing if the final version has mistakes or is not well produced. Legal issues like copyright of photos and maps and letters may need checking.

Do you feel that self-publishing has special significance to writers of memoirs or family history?

Generally they have only a family audience/readership unless they broaden the appeal by a fascinating style or set in a context which is of interest to others from that industry, geographic area or is an insight into a little known period. e.g. pacifist family during wartime.

The reason many families write and publish is that they want to find out for medical reasons whose genes they are carrying, families have split or have many extra twigs and branches and it is an explanation for the newcomers, or some people discover they are not who they thought they were. i.e. their mother is not their mother etc.

Or it maybe that the writer becomes aware of being the oldest, and the only one who knows certain facts which need to be passed on.

So it is not a commercial 'costing' decision but rather an emotional or psychological decision to record the past.

But there are other issues such as 'two versions' of the one family event. Revenge is NOT a good motive.

How did you begin self-publishing and why?

Our junior chapter book was seen as a controversial subject and traditional publishers were wary. So recently I self published ‘Hijabi Girl’ which just went into a third reprint.

As a professional author of 200 books by mainstream publishers and best known for the children's picture book 'There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake' which is currently touring as ‘Hippo! Hippo! the Musical’, I have had an author website for a long time.

I'm also an Australian National Reading Ambassador and keen on encouraging families to read and write together, across generations.

Originally I wanted to e-publish some of my popular children's literacy mysteries and also some of my Antarctic writings (I was in an expedition with the Australian Antarctic Division in 2001). So I set up an online bookstore for only my own e-books and a few print books to which I had rights reverted. E-books are easy to send internationally (no postage) and since I have an international readership for these topics, and for the ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History' I knew there was a market.

My daughter is my marketing manager (which is her day job elsewhere) and she has helped me in the design of the online store and revamped website.

However, other people may wish to sell their books through the various self-publishing companies offering online, but be aware of the need to check on the quality of production and design and accountability for sales.

Often family historians want only a few copies, and e- format is easier for photographs and accessibility internationally.

Publishing can be expensive, so get quotes and check with others beforehand. Circumstances vary in different geographic areas, but wise to check with the local library who usually hold locally published histories.

Do you have anything else that you would like to say about self-publishing in general?

Suggest that you buy an e-book online and read it so you will be aware of the importance of issues like cover, title and layout.

Have a look at the articles under Interviews on my website, especially relating to e-publishing.

I write a story for each of my grandson's birthdays and this is often a great way for families to pass down their history in a format which will be read at the appropriate age.

PS I have NOT written my family history but last year I did my memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’. Available from Booktopia who list most Australian e and print titles. 

My e book of ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’ is a revised, new edition of a book which has been popular for 20 years, and used in workshops nationally. It was originally based on the 20 most common questions and answers. The new edition has extra chapters on writing for grandkids and military history tourism of visiting war-graves and writing about ancestors.

There are challenges for those wishing to publish their family histories. I run workshops on Writing Non Boring Family Histories. My major role is not as a genealogist nor publisher, but mainly in the shaping of their stories, so the content will appeal to prospective readers in their families and beyond. This is an area many tend not to consider, as they just list everything in chronological order and put in all dates. My book suggests ways of using anecdotes and themes to structure these important stories but also to consider the reader first. So if writing for children, choose examples to which they can relate e.g. contrast then and now in area such as what it was like to go to school or 'a day in the life of...'

But capture those stories. 

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples