Friday 8 September 2023

Writing for Publication

 Last week I was part of a short online presentation organized by Pro-Am Genies, a group of individuals whose common background includes having taken a Pharos Tutors course about becoming a professional genealogist. I took the course in 2010, along with several others in the pursuit of a certificate in Family History Skills and Strategies (Intermediate), which I earned in 2012.

Members of Pro-Am Genies are mostly involved in some manner in consulting work with family historians. The meet regularly to compare notes. The latest online meeting was to look at what may be involved in writing for publications.

Following are comments I made as one of the presenters. They are focused on writing about genealogical subjects, but they could be applied to almost any topic.

They come from my own writing experience as well as to my previous roles as a family history society journal editor. I have had 50 articles published in various family history society journals, newsletters and commercial magazines since 2010, some of which I have mentioned on this blogsite. I have also given nearly 40 talks to various groups about a variety of genealogical-related subjects. And I have published two books.

Using this background, I tried to give a short summary to the group about how to go about getting ideas and stories into print for other family historians to read.

1.      Write about things that interest you and that you enjoy talking about.

·         That seems self-evident but tackling a broad subject might feel more like a dreaded school assignment rather than a trip to a playground.

·         Writing is always easier if you have fun with it.

·         Stories about family or personal experiences are good places to start.

·         As you write these stories you probably will also be inspired to look for more information about an event to really flesh it out.

2.      Write about things that you know about.

·         If you have some knowledge or expertise about a subject, it will be useful to let others know.

·         That might be in specific types of research, areas you have studied, time periods, individual characteristics like occupations or military service.

·         Sometimes articles come from presentations you might have given.

·         I have developed a niche regarding the impact of natural phenomena, or Mother Nature, on the lives and livelihoods of our ancestors which is serving me well.

·         The view that I like to promote is that humankind has always had to adapt to the ever-changing physical environments in which they lived and that family histories are not complete until such events are incorporated.

3.      Start a blog.

·         This is a great way to practice writing as it allows you to focus on single subjects with each post.

·         I started mine over 10 years ago and have posted more than 360 times.

·         Blogs are a good way to communicate with friends and family about common ancestors, events or ideas they may know nothing about.

·         Over time you may find many individual blog posts can be connected into a larger article that will be of interest to a journal or magazine with a broader audience.

4.      In terms of publishing, start with local society journals and newsletters.

·         Every society that has a newsletter or journal, no matter what its level of sophistication, is looking for contributions to fill their pages.

·         You don’t have to be a member to submit an article, but you might wish to join.

·         These may be just short blurbs with information you have found about an ancestor.

5.      Contribute short stories at first.

·         Many commercial publications as well as society newsletters welcome short stories of just a few hundred words.

·         You can make them about family members or ancestors.

·         These are popular with readers and editors.

6.      Get a friend to proofread.

·         If you lack confidence in writing, initially, get someone to proofread your attempts to begin with, especially someone who has writing experience.

7.      Research your subject.

·         Whether you are writing about a particular study or family member, be sure to research all aspects.

·         Confirm names, dates and places of events and any side stories or facts.

·         And, of course, cite your sources.

8.      (Re)learn the rules of good writing.

·         Harken back to your schooldays when you were taught about basic grammar and spelling.

·         It’s most important that whatever you write is clearly expressed.

·         Edit your work strenuously to prevent repetition and to clarify ideas.

·         You may go through several drafts. Set them aside for a few days and then come back. You’ll find you have new thoughts or ideas on how to improve the piece.

·         As you progress, and especially when writing for professional publications, learn about the formal styles that different publications may demand.

Good writing comes with practice. Even experienced writers always endeavour to improve on what they produce.

Everyone has a story. Don’t be shy about telling yours.

By the way, if you are interested in extending your education in genealogy, have a look at the courses offered by Pharos Tutors.