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Blog to Book: Choosing Pictures and Documents

What's In and What's Out? 

Family historians faced with the task of writing a family history are often conflicted by the difficult decision of what to include and what to edit out of their family history book. Faced with mountains of documents and pictures many family historians get trapped into the believe that everything should be in the book. Often I've heard comments from family historians who feel a family history book is out of the question, “it would be 500 pages and exorbitant in price to print.”

I’m here to tell you not every single document and picture needs to make it into your book. I hear the gasps now. I know it's so hard to leave one document behind. You want to share every document and picture you've spent years tracking down. But there are choices to be made. You can still tell a great story, create a beautiful and complete family history book that doesn't include every photo and document. In fact, by being selective about what’s in and what’s out of your book is likely to create a better book.

How do you make the difficult choices in determining which pictures and documents should be in and which should be out. Below I've given you a few guidelines to consider when choosing the pictures and documents that should be in your blog to book project.

First let’s address the blog vs. the book

Since initially you are writing your stories for a family history blog and turning it into a book later you do have a little bit of room to maneuver. In a blog you definitely have the option of including more pictures. Adding pictures to a blog will not add any additional costs as they could in a book. Pictures in a blog are also a very valuable tool. Pictures can help set the tone and setting very quickly in a blog post, where keeping word counts to a minimum is the name of the game.  A  blog post also does not require a high quality picture unlike printing a book. 

In a book, space is very limited, each additional page adds to the size of the book and the cost, space equals money and therefore every page is prime real estate. In a book we need to be much more selective about the our choice of pictures and documents.

So while your family history blog is a great space to share a lot of treasured pictures and documents, when it comes to the book you’re going to have to be very selective about which documents and pictures will carry forward.

How to determine which pictures and documents should be in your blog to book project.

Think like a reader not like a family historian when choosing pictures and documents for your book.  (Tweet this)

1. Consider the quality of your picture or document.

Is the picture or document print quality? Print requires pictures to be scanned at 300 dpi (dots per square inch). If the picture is poorly scanned you’ll end up with a blurred, grainy photo. Choose from your best quality pictures and scan them at 300 dpi.  There is nothing worse than a document or picture occupying valuable page space that can’t be read or is blurry. Just because it looks great on the blog doesn't mean it will look the same in the book. Web pages can get away with lower quality pictures. Don’t include a document or picture that won’t print well, it devalues your book and frustrates your reader.

While you may have only 1 picture of your 4th great-grandfather and it’s not good, we can overlook that, after all it’s the only one you got. But if you have several, get selective, choose quality not quantity when it comes to pictures and documents.

2 .Does the picture or document reveal or support a claim in your story?

Does the picture help demonstrate an ancestor’s character. Sometimes one great picture can be far more impactful then a dozen mediocre pictures. Make each one count. Does the document reveal a valuable piece of information? Support a claim? Does the document or picture support a new found piece of information, demonstrate a pivotal point in your ancestor’s life or debunk a previous story or myth, then by all means use it. Decide which documents and pictures bring valuable information to the book while eliminating other documents that could be summed up in a line or two in the narrative.

3. Does the document or picture engage the reader?

Will the addition of the document or picture add value to the reader’s overall experience? Or does it add clutter?  A great picture or document should entice the reader to move beyond the picture and read the narrative.

Pictures are used in print to capture attention, and aid in the telling of a story. It appeals to the visual-side of a reader. When you open a family history book your family will immediately be drawn to the pictures. Those pictures should entice them to read the narrative. Don’t tell your whole story through the pictures and documents. Make sure they engage the reader just enough to leave them wanting more…the story!
Ask yourself is the addition of this picture or document worth the added cost? Space is precious, don’t waste it on pictures and documents that don’t add value to story.  Less may be more!

A Note About Pedigree Charts

Nothing annoys me more than a family history book with a massive family pedigree chart inside the front cover. You've seen the one with every single family line on one chart, the names are so small you need a magnifying glass to read it, assuming your even slightly intrigued to take it on and figure it out.
Pedigree charts should be an aid to the reader. They should help the reader to keep all the players in your family history story straight. Pedigree charts needn't be overwhelming. Assume the reader has never seen a pedigree chart, keep it simple and readable. Do several if need be, but don’t try to impress the reader with massive pedigree charts.

Determining what’s in and what’s out of your family history blog to book can be a painful process for a family historian. Consider using your family history blog as a place to share those extra photos and documents but the book is the place to be more selective. Keep your audience in mind at all times and think like the reader your more likely to produce a beautiful book with just the right amount of pictures and documents.