Friday, February 9, 2018

Self-Publishing—A Way to Preserve Those Family Stories

by Marcia Moston @MarciaMoston

For many of us, it’s not until after our parents, grandparents or elderly friends have died and taken their stories with them that we think of all the things we wished we’d asked about. 

Although some of us have inherited journals, genealogy records, or photo albums with little triangular corners securing black and white pictures of ancestral strangers, apart from family gatherings where the table talk centers around remember when . . . we have no way to pass on this history.

After teaching memoir and life writing to dozens of adults at the OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Center) at Furman, I realized it was one thing to capture the family stories but it was another to present them in a reader-friendly fashion. 

This was the case with my father’s account of his experience as an infantry scout in the Battle of the Bulge.

Years before he died, my father typed out his manuscript and stapled the pages together between card-stock. Although it was far more orderly than crumpled pages of scrawled script, the covers eventually tore and the pages escaped the staples. Because the loose form of a manuscript didn’t stand up on my bookshelves, this powerful piece of history ended up facedown in a pile of folders where it remained unseen and unread for years. So when I decided to tackle self-publishing for one of my OLLI classes I used my father’s manuscript as the sample book.

In this case I already had all the information and didn’t need to research. (Although my history-buff brother later told me the WWII helmet I used on the cover was actually a German one. Sorry Dad.) I did do a simple edit, but since I was planning to give this to my siblings and not make it available to the public, I left most of my father’s style and expression.

I wanted a hardcover with dust jacket. That eliminated the easiest choice—CreateSpace—because they didn’t provide a hardcover option. Since I wasn’t including photos, I chose a simple hardcover, straight-text option: Lulu. 

Although there was a learning curve, which actually involved using some Word features I’d never considered, I was more than satisfied with the final product.

Some of the participants in the OLLI class were writing their own stories; others were collecting family histories. One man, who was writing about his Irish ancestors and wanted to include photos, opted to use DiggyPOD. Another was publishing a mix of text and photo using Blurb’s click and drag boxes format. 

Collectively, the class used Lulu to publish a compilation of their individual submissions.

The excitement and pride participants felt when they held a real book with their name in it rivaled that of any first time published author. Although not all felt ready to self publish, they saw possibilities of fashioning their stories in a way that could be easily passed down.

First, of course, whether the stories are your own or those of someone you know, it is important to get them down. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta documented the power that a child’s knowledge of his or her family’s narrative had on their emotional well-being. The study concluded that children who knew about their family history—the good the bad and the ugly—were able to face adversity better than those who didn’t.

Once you’ve given form to those stories, don’t let them die as scraps on a shelf. Explore the many self-publishing options. In choosing a service consider if you want hardcover or soft? Straight text or photos? Black and white or color? Also check submission requirements. Some programs accept Word documents, others require PDFs. And if you like the idea of self-publishing the family saga, but don’t want to tackle the learning curve to do so, there are numerous for hire services that can help with any or all of the process.

P.S. German helmet aside—my siblings (whose own stapled copies were lying facedown on a shelf somewhere) loved what I did with my father’s manuscript and several ordered copies for their children, giving yet another generation the opportunity to learn not only about a great grand, but also about an important part of history.

So go get those stories!


Marcia Moston—author of the award-winning Call of a Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-class Housewife—has written columns and features for several magazines and newspapers. She has served on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and currently teaches her true love—memoir and creative nonfiction—at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Furman campus in South Carolina.


  1. Great idea, Marcia. I had never thought of that before. My dad is really into geneology and this would be a great way to put down in writing what he has found. I also wrote a memoir of my own and took the book to a writing conference which basically said that getting it published through a publishing house was next to impossible. After reading your post, self-publishing seems to be a great option. Who knows, maybe there would be others who would find it interesting besides my family. Thanks again for a new reason to self-publish.

  2. Hi Sheryl, I think self-publishing is a great way for preserving family stories. I like that you have the option to publish for yourself or to make it available to the public. And yes--that is the common opinion about memoir. I found my entry via contests. Best with it all.

  3. Great advice, Marcia.
    My husband wrote his memoir for our daughter because he traveled so much while she was growing up. He felt she didn't know him.
    His story is full of history at the end of WWII from a child's perspective. The family had lost contact with his father for six years because he, his sister and mother had to escape from the Russians back into Germany.

    With this self published process our grandsons have a book that shows how Helmut and his family made it to America. They will know where to go in Ellis island to see where their grandfather carved his name on the wall.

    Not only has our family enjoyed we had published so has friends. We have only one copy left with people still asking Helmut for copies, Therefore, I appreciate your suggestion of looking into Lulu. Thanks for today’s post.

  4. Oh Carolyn, That is such a great example of how self-publishing can preserve a family story and piece of history in reader-friendly form. Now you :)