The task of writing a family history is a daunting one. It's easy enough to share family photos on a CD and family news items in a newsletter. But if you want all of your years of research to be saved for posterity there's no getting around conventional publishing. If your intention is only to share your family history with current living family members, you can consider less expensive publishing options. But if you envision eventually seeing all your hard work in a beautifully bound hardcover book on the shelf of a public or university library or the Library of Congress, you will need to spend some money to make that happen. How much is your genealogy worth to you?
A few years ago, book publishers use to give "ballpark" quotes for publishing a book on their websites. There are not too many who will do that anymore because competition in the printing industry has become quite fierce. There are publishers like CafePress.com and Lulu.com that have calculators to determine the cost of short run publishing. Lulu.com even offers hardcover books with saddle stitch binding. But their options are limited. For instance, an 8 1/2 by 11 saddle stitched hardcover book cannot exceed 88 pages in length. That's a deal breaker for me right there. After having written two NaNoWriMo novels I can't imagine writing a family history including photographs, charts, maps, and timelines in a mere 88 pages. If I could, the cost would run less than $50.00 per book at Lulu.com.
If you pick up a copy of Writer's Digest magazine you can find a slew of ads for companies offering package deals for self publishing that go beyond just printing books to include manuscript evaluation, ebook format, dust jackets, indexing, ISBN number assignment, promotional kits, and U.S. copyright registration. These packages are generally in the $500 - $1000 range. But that's for a paperback book. There would be additional fees for hardcover, saddle stitch binding. Virtually all the publishing web sites I looked at offer free quotes, so that would be the best place to start. Obviously there is a wide range of prices among printers depending on the number of pages, number of photos, color or black and white, type of binding, cover style, number of books to publish, and the amount of additional services one might desire.
Beyond the traditional printed family history book there are other options for sharing one's family history. You may want to collect family recipes and publish a cookbook, create a coffee table book of photos, make a scrapbook, or even write a historical novel with your family members as the main characters (I did this!). Your only limits are your time, your talents, and yes… money. If you're lucky, you may be able to get family members to chip in and share the cost of publishing the family history. If you're like me you won't get any help there and it will all fall on you to finance the publishing of the family history.
Ebook publishing is an idea to consider too. You can publish your entire family history including text, photos, charts, timelines, etc. in PDF format. PDFs can be uploaded to a commercial printer, emailed to family members for printing on their home printers, and in a lower resolution they can be uploaded to a web site or even downloaded to a PDA. This is a very versatile and inexpensive option.
Web publishing is an option too. There are online companies such as WebBiographies.com that allow you to create your family history and publish it on their website. You can write it up page by page, chapter by chapter, on a blog or a wiki. You can create videos and upload them to YouTube. You can illustrate your family history in pictures with captions at flickr, Picasa Web Albums, photobucket, and the like. Or you can create your own web site just for your family history. Some of these options have a great deal of flexibility and you can include oral histories with them.
If you want to share your family history with current living relatives, have it available online and searchable for relatives you don't even know yet, and have it available in book form at libraries for generations to come, you better get busy 'cause that's a lot of work. And you better start saving your pennies because you can't do it all for free.
In the last of this series of articles I will sum up what we've covered so far and include some personal reflections about what my genealogy is worth to me.
Here is the series of articles I've written on this subject:
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DNA Testing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DIY)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Recording)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Sharing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Reflections)