I've been through the process of writing a local history book several times. So far, I have published three books with Arcadia Publishing, and my husband has published one with The History Press. In this article, I will walk you through the steps of realizing your own dream of writing a local history book.
First, decide what kind of book you want to write. Do you want it to be a photograph book or text heavy, or some combination? Do you want it to be hardcover or paperback? How long do you want it to be? Target a few publishers who publish books similar to the one you want to write. Arcadia Publishing is the leader in local history books, but there are other publishers such as The History Press that also publish local history. Self publishing is also an option, but there will be substantial upfront fees. Traditional publishers will not charge you a fee to publish your book.
Request an information packet from the publisher. Writing a local history book is a bit different from other kinds of publishing. For most publishers, you will have to prepare a proposal for a book first and submit it for approval, rather than completing a draft and shopping it around. The packet will include guidelines for submitting a book proposal.
Prepare your proposal. You may be asked to outline specific chapters, identify resources for photos, and locate potential marketing and retail outlets. Research the general themes you would like to cover in your local history book to be sure you have enough resource material to write each chapter. At this point, a general survey of resources will suffice.
Be sure you understand the publisher’s guidelines for writing a book. Some publishers only publish books that fall within certain themes. Some have very specific rules regarding word count, page length, and the number of illustrations. Make sure your book fits within these guidelines, or you will be wasting the publisher’s time, and yours.
If your proposal is accepted, you will be asked to sign a contract. You should have a legal professional review the contract before you sign it. It is standard in the publishing industry for the author to earn royalty fees of 10% of the wholesale cost of each book. You should also be given at least five complimentary copies of your book. Be sure the deadline you set is realistic. If you miss your deadline, your contract might be terminated.
Begin researching! Visit museums, historical societies, corporate archives, libraries, and newspapers to find information about your topic. You might want to do oral history interviews with people around town who have specific knowledge about an aspect of your book.
Decide how you will take notes. Will you create handwritten notes on index cards that you will file by topic in a box? Will you carry a laptop with you and type your notes? Use whatever method works best for you.
When your research is complete, begin writing. Pinpoint any weak areas or shorter chapters that will need more research. Identify people who can help you edit and proofread your draft. Family and friends are a great help, but you might want a more objective opinion from someone else.
Locate appropriate photos to illustrate your book. You will be responsible for any copyright fees you encounter. You might want to partner with a local museum or historical society in order to defray those costs. They can really add up!
Submit your draft to your editor BEFORE YOUR DEADLINE. If you run into a snag and think you might need more time, contact your editor immediately. They may have worked your book into a tight schedule, or they might be able to give you some extra time. Only ask for an extension if you absolutely need one.
Wait for your editor’s comments. Make the necessary corrections or additions by the agreed upon deadline. If you have extensive revisions to make, be sure you have enough time to complete them.
Send your revised final draft back to your editor and celebrate! You have now completed your book! It can take several months for your book to be printed. During this time, the publisher’s marketing department will contact you to make plans for publicizing your book.
Plan events around your book’s release. Schedule book signings at local bookstores or museums. Develop a lecture series based on your book to help promote it. Contact local church groups, garden clubs, women’s clubs, service clubs, and anyone else you can think of who might want to know about your book.
Trust me, you will never get sick of signing books for people or walking into the bookstore and seeing YOUR BOOK on the shelf. But be careful – writing books is addictive! Once you finish one, I can almost guarantee you will start thinking about a second one, and a third...
I published these books with Arcadia Publishing: