#021 | 5 Reasons Why You’re Struggling to Create a Family History Book

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PRUDENCE: Have you tried to create a family history book, but it didn’t turn out as you hoped? Maybe you didn’t complete the project, it was a lot harder than you thought it would be, or your family didn’t seem interested in the final product?

The good news is that you aren’t alone, and there are five common reasons this happens when creating family history books. In this video, I’ll share those reasons and let you know what to try instead to make your next heritage keepsake project a winner.

INTRO: If we haven’t met before, Hi, I’m Prudence, The Creative Family Historian. I help genealogists bring their family history to life by converting research into stories and beautiful heritage keepsakes.

On this channel, I provide tips on family history productivity, organisation, writing and design, as well as sharing my current journey as I undertake a genealogy reset.

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PRUDENCE: Now, let’s talk about your family history book projects.

The reality is that creating a book is a big project, an intimidating one. It’s made even more so when you are the only person researching, writing, producing and compiling all the content. Actually, I’m a little exhausted just thinking about it.

So it’s tempting to look for shortcuts to make the process easier. I call these “long cuts” because they never actually save you time. In fact, they cost time because you have to start over and do the work you were trying to avoid.

I’ve been there. I had a ridiculous deadline when I created Mum’s “this is your life” book back in 2014. One I set myself, and it seemed reasonable and doable at the time. Then I realised that I had no idea how to approach all the work I had to do. Scanning, writing, editing, organising, and the list goes on. My plan was to have the printed book in my hands by Mum’s birthday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change the date, so I had to work it out.

Luckily, I’m a graphic designer with experience working on book and magazine projects. That experience and knowledge saved me at the end of the day but didn’t stop me from making #allthemistakes first.

Starting with the most common mistake of all.

Not thoroughly planning your project

It’s a doozy, but it happens all the time. After all, it’s 100% possible to achieve goals without first planning out how to do it. However, that path will always be longer and harder when you tackle something for the first time.

It’s so easy to do. You dive in thinking that the book will basically build itself as you add your stories and pictures. But, unfortunately, that rarely happens. So instead, you end up with an unwieldy, time consuming and stressful project. No one wants that.

So next time, invest a couple of hours in planning out the process.

  • Create a to-do list of tasks (e.g. scanning specific photos, sourcing additional images such as maps and streetscapes, writing stories and captions etc.). That way, you’ll know what you need to do. No more interrupting yourself to find a pic to fill a gap or finish writing a story that wasn’t quite ready. And you can also batch similar tasks together to save time.
  • Develop a family history book blueprint or plan to guide you on the creative journey. Get intentional about the story you’re telling, commit to a specific structure and organise your content.

I dive deep into how to do this in my Family History Book Blueprint masterclass—your step-by-step guide to structuring your content into engaging and shareable family history books and binders. This training will teach you the I.D.E.A. framework for family history books.

By the end of the lessons, you’ll be able to organise your content to create the best experience for your reader. To find out more and join the waitlist for the next session, follow the link in the description below.

The next mistake that trips people up is they expect it to be a once and done process.

I see this one all the time. You think creating a family history book will be easy. After all, you have everything you need, so it’s just a matter of adding content to pages and hitting print, right?

Not quite. That is an option, but one you’ll likely regret. But I get it; you’ve already spent years (or decades) researching your ancestors. So, naturally, you’re keen to get their stories in a shareable format to wow your relatives. However, getting the content into a book template is only one step. Once that’s done, it’s time to review and revise. This is even more essential if you skip the planning step as well.

You need to check the content flow and try to see the book through your reader’s eyes. They don’t have your knowledge of your shared ancestors, so you want to be clear and concise.

  • Does the book make sense?
  • Do all your photos have captions?
  • Are your ancestors in the correct order?
  • Have you supported the stories with infographics (e.g. family trees, timelines, ancestor profiles etc.) and images?

Be prepared to review your completed book several times before publishing it. Check it both on-screen and a printed version because you’ll pick up errors in the hard copy that you never saw in the digital one. Also, ask someone else to check it, such as a family member or a hired proofreader.

Moving onto the third typical mistake and that’s trying to work on multiple steps at once

In the vein of “once and done”, another common mistake is to try to do two or three steps simultaneously, such as writing the stories, designing the book and formatting the content.

Multi-tasking is a myth. It doesn’t save you time or work unless you do two tasks that don’t require your full attention, such as folding laundry and watching television. Unfortunately, writing, designing and formatting a family history book are focus tasks.

To improve your productivity, reduce mistakes and the time you need to spend on the project, give each stage your full attention. Complete each step before you move on to the next one.

This next mistake is one that I mentioned earlier when talking about the book I created for Mum.

And it’s that you either set a ridiculous deadline or don’t set one at all.

Deadlines can be stressful. They are little time bombs ticking away to remind us of all we need to do. Ugh. Who needs that?

They have a job to do, though, and it’s important. The purpose of deadlines is to keep us accountable and motivated. Sure, they can be stressful at times, but mostly they do their job and ensure that we chip away at a project over time.

When you team up deadlines and to-do lists, you can work out what you need to action every day to get everything done in time. It’s a great way to see if the deadline is unreasonable and keep you on track with what has to be done.

And even if you don’t have a specific date that you need things done by, it’s better for your productivity if you give yourself one.

Number five on the list is not being clear on what to include.

The easiest path to abandoning your family history book project before you make any progress is to start it without getting clear on what you will include—either ancestors or content.

It’s tempting to take the kitchen sink approach and add everything about every ancestor you discovered. It won’t make for great reading, though. Too much content becomes overwhelming, and too little fails to engage the reader. And content without a connection between the stories breaks the flow and confuses your audience.

  • When preparing for your next project, keep the reader in mind as you decide what goes in the book.
  • Which ancestors will they find interesting?
  • What stories will keep them turning the pages?
  • What other type of content will they find intrigues and entices them to want to know more?

Thanks for joining me today to chat about the five big reasons you’re struggling to create family history books. Which one resonated the most with you?

  1. Not thoroughly planning your project
  2. Expecting it to be a once and done process
  3. Trying to work on multiple steps at once
  4. Setting a ridiculous deadline, or not setting one at all
  5. Have no idea who or who to include in your book?

Let me know in the comments below which ones apply to you or if there is something else that trips you up every time you try to make family history books.

And don’t forget to check out the Family History Book Blueprint masterclass. That link is in the description below.

If you’d also like a written copy of this video, you’ll find a transcript of it over on the blog. Look for the link in the description below.

That’s it from me, so I’ll see you in the next video. Until then, happy storytelling!

5 Reasons Why You’re Struggling to Create a Family History Book