LOVE school history books - Tips for pulling together an historical book

August 29, 2014

Recently, the Mutchilba State School, in Far North Queensland, celebrated its 75th Anniversary. I was lucky enough to be chosen by the committee to design their history book and provide guidance to their lead person (Lyne) on the project—having been there and done that myself! As a result, she was a dream to work with and organised, which minimised stress for both of us. School history books are an awesome idea and something for future generations to cherish.

 

Anyone who has ever attempted to pull together a book of any description knows how much work is involved and how long it actually takes—generally longer than anyone expects! I've done a few now, so I thought I'd share some tips on where to start.

 

  1. Start preparing at least 12-18 months in advance
    Why so long? Because that's how long it really takes to form a team, assign roles, secure a designer, begin researching and collecting information, photos etc. Not to mention someone to scan all photos/images that you want to use, then the actual book design and production.
     

  2. Start at the end!
    Yes that sounds odd, but from a designer's perspective it's the most important. 
    What is your critical date? In other words when do you need to have the book available ready for purchase - this will generally be your big celebration date...then choose the date that is at least 2 weeks earlier to build some fat into the timeline and prepare for any printing or delivery delays (because they can happen!).
     

  3. Find a designer and meet with them
    It is critical that you do this as soon as you have an idea of what you want to produce. A designer has lots of experience in meeting deadlines and will be one of your most valuable resources. They also have experience in dealing with printers and can assist you in getting a quote. Remember to ask them for a quote to do the artwork for the book - the charge will normally be per page. A professional printer is not likely to accept a dodgy 'home-made' document from you, so do it right and get a professional to do it. Yes it will have to be paid for, but the result and reduction in stress levels will be well worth the investment. Remember you will be selling this book so you will be able to cover the cost of the book and make a profit. Your designer can help you work out your timeline and they generally won't want any documents from you until you've completed your editing stage. They will also want to liaise with the printer you agree to use, so they can set up the artwork correctly from the start.
     

  4. Research your book
    Start researching the content of your book and collecting photos and images. Remember to keep a comprehensive record of who you receive items from and be sure to credit them in your book. For photos this is generally done in the captions e.g. Photo courtesy Mary Brown. This will not only help for this project, but for the next generation who will be doing the next project in 25-50 years!
     

  5. Catalogue and name all of your photos clearly 
    This is super important, especially for the designer, who needs to be able to locate all images quickly and easily. Use electronic 'folders' for each decade so images can be easily found. Your file names need to be meaningful, contain a date/year and a number. I suggest you start a spreadsheet with the following column titles:
    • Decade • File Name • Photo Number • Photo Content Names etc • Source of Photo
    Suggest your file name should be along these lines: 1930s_1_1936 original school building
    This will allow you to keep track of all your images - as people from all over will more than likely be sending you their images to use...so you need to be organised.
    Old photos (or any that are not electronic) need to be scanned at a high resolution of 300dpi for a professional printer - anything less will result in poor image quality and pixelation.
     

  6. Plan your book and its order
    As you start to accumulate your research, images, documents etc then you will then start to get an idea of how much information you are dealing with and what is worthwhile and what's not. Generally speaking, some photos can be really poor quality, BUT don't discard them, because they still tell a story and they are history!
    Draw a bit of a mind map to work out the different sections of your book e.g. acknowledgements, contents, history (by decade works well), roll call, former student stories, sports days, fancy dress balls, carnivals, sponsors etc. Try and put your book in chronological order so the reader can follow it easily.
     

  7. Start writing the words
    Once you have your 'sections' mapped out, you should find that it helps to categorise the book in your head thus making it easier to commence writing. Start a Word document and replicate your sections via 'headings' in your document...and start writing. This way you can do a bit of a brain dump of stories/information and put them under the appropriate section heading. Then once all the info has been 'dumped' you can then work on sorting it, fluffing it up, rewriting so it flows well...and whatever else you need to do to get it to a state where someone can read it. Try to also make a note or indicate where a particular image needs to be inserted e.g. provide the photo name/number from your spreadsheet, so that the designer knows that image "1950s_1957 Class 3" needs to go with that section of information.
     

  8. Edit, edit, edit
    Try and get another 2-3 people to edit your book for you—preferably someone with good spelling and grammar! Having said that, some things will always be missed! It's life! They should also give you feedback on whether it's easy to read/follow or whether the order needs to be changed. Once this has been done, you should be ready to hand over your copy and images to your designer.
     

  9. Enter...your designer
    Another meeting with your designer at this stage is a really good idea. You can provide them with your copy, photos, documents, requirements etc. Talk to them about what sort of look you want for the book, or they can make suggestions. They can then provide you with a mock up of a few pages and get your feedback on the look. Then proceed with the remainder of the layout. Once they've done the draft layout, they will send you a proof to do a final edit—to catch any last minute changes or errors—then they will finalise ready for the printer.
    Note: There may be a couple of editing rounds, but the more edits the more you will be charged. So that's why it's important to make sure the copy you give your designer the first time is basically correct and good to go, before you hand it over to the designer.
     

  10. Print and deliver!
    Printing and delivery times will vary depending on the printer, but this would have already been built in to your timeline.
     

  11. Package your files
    Package up all of your resources for this project in one place and back up any electronic files so that the next generation who does the next iteration of your book—in 25-50 years—will not be starting from scratch as far as research goes. Make sure everything is clearly labelled.
     

  12. Enjoy your celebration
    It's a HUGE job and you will be very proud of the end result - celebrate with a wine! Everyone will appreciate your efforts and it's a great thing to do and records the history of your school

 

 

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