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Publishing a history book is a common way for companies or individuals to celebrate a milestone or preserve their story for future generations. Figuring out how to go about it, though, can be daunting if you’re new to the publishing process.
WCEA partners have researched, written, edited, indexed, and proofread many such books over the years, and we’ve been the project manager on a few from start to finish, too.
While your specific book needs a detailed project plan tailored for its circumstances, these 12 steps will help you achieve a successful end product:
The smoothest history book projects are guided by a clear vision of the finished book. Will it be text-heavy or photo-forward? Will it be a series of interview quotes or an extensively researched story? How long do you want it to be?
It’s also important to identify your intended audience during this step. The targeted readers are central to decisions about content, design, and production.
The number of interviews can have a big impact on the project cost and timeline, so this is an important element to scope correctly.
A personal history book might involve only a couple of interviews with the main storyteller, while a complex corporate history might draw on dozens of interviews with company founders, employees, customers, and business partners.
3. Archival research
Think about the information sources you could draw on for your story. Corporate or personal archival material like letters, emails, calendars, minute books, news clippings, and other memorabilia can help verify facts and provide other details that imperfect memories cannot. For some books, material in online and physical archives can add depth to the story.
The desired length and style of your book are two of the biggest factors in the overall cost of the project. If we’re writing the book, we would seek your approval of the table of contents and a sample chapter to make sure we agree on structure, tone, voice, and pace before writing the whole manuscript.
Depending on the project, this step might need to start with structural editing. A structural editor focuses on big-picture issues in the manuscript, such as organization, flow, language and tone, logic, and completeness, and the project may need to return to the writing step to address the issues identified.
Next, the manuscript should pass through a copyediting phase to identify and correct issues with grammar, spelling, usage, punctuation, and other mechanics of style.
6. Text review and approval
This step is crucial to achieving an on-time and on-budget history book project. It is most efficient (and cost-effective) for you to review and approve the text before it enters the design process. Text changes during the design phase are much more time-consuming and expensive to make than changes to a Word file.
7. Image research, scanning, matching, and captioning
This step starts with image research. This involves gathering images you already have and possibly sourcing archival images to fill gaps or add visual interest.
By “image,” we mean more than photographs. Some of the most compelling history books blend photos with ephemera like letters, envelopes, postcards, ticket stubs, passport pages, news clippings—anything, really!
This step also includes obtaining photo permissions when required, scanning any images that need to be digitized, touching up or otherwise correcting the scanned images, matching each image to the text to help the designer with the layout process, and writing image captions.
A book designer will lay out the text and images into book pages using a graphic design program. This step usually starts by developing and reviewing design concepts with you so you can give input on the look and feel of the book and approve a final design sample before full layout proceeds.
9. Design review and approval
After the designer has completed the layout, it commonly needs some adjustments. Maybe an image you love isn’t as large as you would like it to be, or you want to add a few more images to ensure someone or something isn’t left out.
It’s important to take care with this review step, as it’s the last chance to make substantive adjustments to the designed pages of text, images, and captions before the book proceeds to proofreading and production.
A professional proofreader should closely examine the textual and visual elements of the laid-out book, and several rounds of corrections may be required to ensure that nothing makes it into print that should not. Proofreading is the last chance to identify and correct issues of any sort.
Not all corporate or personal history books include this step, but an index helps readers find personal and corporate names, places, events, and major concepts in the story.
12. Making it real: production
The final step in the process is production. This can include the printing of physical books or the production of a digital version, like a PDF or flip book that can be read on a screen.
At long last, readers will get to enjoy the story you want to tell!
As you can see, producing a corporate or personal history book involves many streams of activity and potentially many people. It might sound like a lot to take on, but the time and financial investment in a book like this can yield rich returns.
Whether for a single step or from concept to completion, we’re here to help.