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Proformat News
No: 124
June 2016
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The essential elements in a family history book

A number of readers have sought more guidelines on writing family histories and in this article we will look at the essential elements that are considered to define a published book. You may like to read the earlier article first. It was in Newsletter 122. Newsletter 54 also addressed the topic.

There are a number of features that turn an essay into a book and there are further features readers expect of a family history publication. We will look at those elements that make a book.

A book is a container of ideas with an identifiable start and finish, gathered up by one of more people and written down in some logical format for dissemination to an audience. In today's age books can be found in an electronic or paper format.

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Feature article
The essential elements in a family history book


Graham Jaunay

Glandore SA 5037

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Regardless of the format we can identify some essential features that make up a book. You should be able to locate most of the following in a well presented non-fiction book and in the case of a family history the reader would expect to see all of the following:
  • Half-title page containing the full title.
  • Title page containing the full title and author/s names.
  • Rear of title page – the copyright notice, the ISBN (the International Standard Book Number), the publisher’s address and the year the book was published.
  • Table of Contents - lists of chapters and other features.
  • Preface (or author's notes) - important information about the topic, but outside of the book’s contents.
  • Appendices - other resources or information relating to the topic.
  • Glossary - an explanation of generally unfamiliar terms used. (Omitted if none used).
  • Bibliography - List of references.
  • Index.
A number of other features may be found but are considered to be optional…
  • Dedication and acknowledgement.
  • List of charts, diagrams, illustrations, maps and photographs.
  • Foreword - written by someone other than the author.
  • Preface - written by the author usually relates the book's background.
  • Footnotes or end notes - it is a matter of choice which are used but these are important to give additional information without disrupting the flow of the story.
Now we know the essential elements of a book, what else can we expect to find in a family history book?
  • Fully captioned charts, maps, diagrams, illustrations and photographs.
  • Page numbering.
  • Family trees/charts and pedigrees - illustrating relationships between people is best done with charts.
In Australia every book published is required by law to be deposited in the appropriate Legal Deposit Libraries. In South Australia this means, the SA State Library, the SA Parliamentary Library and the National Library of Australia. The publisher has to wear all costs in providing these copies. Failure to do so could prove very expensive indeed if one of the libraries elected to seek a copy! Imagine the cost if you have disposed of all your copies! You would have to undertake a new print run to produce the required three copies plus face a potential fine of $2500! While you can elect to forgo (unwisely in my opinion) securing an ISBN, such an approach does not release you from the requirements of legal deposit.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique identifier and useful copyright protection but not essential for the one-off publisher. To secure an ISBN one has to use the services of the the Australian ISBN Agency managed by Thorpe-Bowker in Melbourne. A single ISBN wil lcurrently cost $42 and can be purchased online.

Probably after the writing, the book layout is the most important feature of any book. Regardless of how well a book is written and/or how comprehensive is its coverage of the subject, a poorly presented book will not win readers. Attracting readers is the primary goal of all books. If you think otherwise then maybe you should just leave your family history research as a series of notes, photographs and material on your computer! Book layout, like clothes, is a matter of taste. Take a look at other non-fiction books designed for the general public rather than academics to get ideas on how to layout a book. As an author you could restrict yourself to just writing your story and gathering up supporting charts, maps, diagrams, illustrations and photographs. You could seek out a publisher to worry about all the above and many family historians have indeed done that approaching people like me to undertake the actual book production. Be aware that this can be expensive and you can save a great deal of money doing it yourself.

If you propose to self-publish then while MS Word can accommodate, the program will struggle and you are strongly advised to consider software specifically designed to layout books. Such programs will automatically address issues with contents tables, footnotes, indexes and so forth. I personally find it a good idea to write my story in Word and then when completed to satisfaction and edited, copy and paste the text into the previously formatted layout in a publishing program. I use a program called InDesign simply because it has all the features I want, I can understand how to use it and more importantly, it is the program used by my printer. This latter point is important because when I send the printer the material they can easily tweak it if needed!

By-the-way, I use Dropbox to send all my large files electronically. It saves a trip to the printer! Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive play a similar role.

You need to determine the layout of the book in the following order before you start refining the book format.
  1. Shape of the book - A5, A4, A4L, B5 - if you have large charts then you may need to consider larger book sizes. I favour B5 as I find A5 too small and A4 too large. A4L is A4 as landscaped format.
  2. Page margins - most amateurs err on the side of making margins too narrow. Typographers have long recognised the need for pleasing the eye when it comes to reading.
  3. Text width - most suggest 65-70 characters per line but this can cause much fragmenting if long words predominate and it is better to address this in conjunction with the proposed font style and size.
  4. Selecting the font is important. Reading is an aesthetic experience and if the font is noticed by the reader then it is probably inappropriate. Fonts should subtly invite reading. Select a font easy on the eye and this usually means one employing serifs. Check the italic version of the font. Italic words into your text should harmonise with the surrounding words. If the italic version appears to be a different size, width, or weight, it can look awkward or create a visual distraction. Most typefaces come with the standard uppercase and lowercase characters plus basic punctuation, but a proper book font includes much more. You need to select a font with a good selection of ligatures. For example, in some fonts, when you type fi, the ball at the end of the f collides with the dot on the i. Good typefaces substitute a ligature that combines the two characters. This consideration is one of the reasons I use Adobe Indesign as my publishing software. The website, FontsUp, has a multitude of free fonts to download. Before downloading, check the range available to ensure it covers all eventualities! I used to use the limited Garamond font. Check it out at FontsUp and while there check out the newer Garamond Premier Pro font and its huge range of glyphs that will cover every eventuality..

In the next issue we will concentrate on the finer points of typography to give your production a professional polish!
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