Publishing Your Private Memoir or Family History Book

22 Sep 2020


You have a story to tell, and you are confident that it’s worth telling. It has characters, drama, and is filled with emotion. The best part is, it’s all true!

Now you want to preserve that story for those you love and generations to come. 

So, what do you do once you’ve finished putting words on the page? You want to publish your story in a tangible book form, but you aren’t looking to sell it for money. This book is for friends and family only. 

How do you choose a publisher for a private memoir or family history book if you only need a few copies?

We spoke with Nancy Barnes, author of Stories To Tell: an easy guide to self-publishing family history books & memoirs and founder of Stories To Tell: Self-Publishing for Independent Authors. She helped us discover the essentials you need to know to find the right publisher for your book.

Private Memoir vs. Family History

Step one to finding the right publisher is to understand what kind of book you are writing. Is it a private memoir, or is it a family history book? Here’s the difference:

Private Memoir – A private memoir is written from your point of view and may only include specific periods of time from your life. It can be anecdotal and may have a unifying theme throughout. 

Family History – A family history book is just that. It’s a report of family history that includes as much detail as possible, including a family tree, photos, documents, letters, and other ephemera. It might even include stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Understanding what kind of book you are writing can help you grasp what support you will need from a publisher and how much you want to do on your own.

A family history book with a lot of documents can be very time consuming and may warrant paying a little extra to have professional help to put it all together. A memoir, on the other hand, might be something that you can tackle mostly on your own.

Publisher vs. Self-Publishing vs. Independent Publisher

The next thing you need to know, before you open up Google and start searching, is that “publisher” isn’t exactly the right term for what you need. What you want to search for is an “independent” or “hybrid” publisher. But, what’s the difference? It breaks down like this:

Traditional Publishing

Getting your book published by a traditional publisher involves querying publishers, or more likely, agents who will try to get your book picked up by a publisher. This leads to a long period of waiting and rejections. But books do get picked up by publishers, so it can be worth the wait if you’re looking to sell your book rather than creating a keepsake for family.

When a publisher purchases the rights to your book, you will get an advance and a percentage of all sales. The publisher takes over the publishing, marketing, distribution, and pricing.

The intent is to sell a lot of books and make a big profit, and the publisher is willing to pay you for the opportunity to do it.

There’s nothing wrong with that, if selling your book is your goal. But it’s not what you should be looking for if you’re just hoping to have a few copies to give as gifts to your family.

“Unfortunately, family histories and memoirs are not big sellers, so publishers won’t even look at them. If you’ve written a family history or if you’ve written a memoir, you’re looking at a self-publishing company, which is a different thing. And then, amongst them, there are different models as well,” says Barnes.


Self-publishing is the act of publishing a book without the help of a publishing company. In other words, you are doing it all by yourself.

This process can generally be done completely online, through a self-publishing platform such as Amazon KDP or Barnes and Noble Press.

The upside to this route is that you don’t have to wait to find a publisher that wants your book. You simply pay to play. The downside is that you’re on your own. It’s up to you to make sure that your book is error-free and professional-looking.

Independent Publishing Company/Hybrid Publisher

Simply put, an independent publisher or hybrid publisher is a publishing company that is not affiliated with any large conglomerate or cooperation. These publishers, who are sometimes also referred to as “author service companies,” focus more on the services they provide to you than on selling the finished product.

Acting as a cross between a traditional publisher and a self-publishing platform, these publishing companies allow the author to pay for only the help that they need.

Since there’s no reason to expect to sell a lot of copies of your private memoir or family history book, there’s no need to pay a publisher for services, such as marketing, that you won’t need. With independent self-publishing, you simply pay for what you need to create your book. 

According to Barnes, “It can all be done without a publisher. That’s what self-publishing is. But the term that we use is independent self-publishing, which means you keep all the rights, and nobody is making a profit off your book other than you.”

4 Steps to Publishing Your Book 

Okay, so you’ve finished your book and are ready for an independent publisher to help you get it into print. Congratulations! Now what?

Before your book is ready for that final printing stage, there are four essential steps you need to go through:

Step 1: Editing

Even Stephen King and J.K. Rowling’s books go through editing. Why? Because authors are human. No matter how good a writer you are, you will make a few typing mistakes or leave out information that your readers want. And, when you edit your own work, you’ll tend to read what you think you wrote, not what’s actually on the page.

Put on your thick skin and be open to suggestions. In the end, editing makes your book better.

There are three phases to the editing process:

  1. Peer Edit – Find a friend or relative who has a good grasp of the English language to give your manuscript a once-over. Ask them to look for anything that comes across as confusing or vague. Take all of their suggestions to heart, though you should only make changes that make sense to you. This phase will likely discover some basic typos and grammatical errors, too.
  2. Professional Editing – Now it’s time to bring in a pro. A professional editor will look over your manuscript to analyze the flow of the story. Does it make sense? Are there gaps and unanswered questions? This phase helps to make your book the best it can be.
  3. Proofreading – This is what most people think of when it comes to editing. Proofreading is a final line-by-line, word-by-word reading that will weed out any remaining typos, grammatical errors, or other basic mistakes. It’s the polish on your finished work.

An independent publisher can help you find the editor or editors you need, or you can do this on your own. Just remember, at some point, you will want to hire a professional editing team to make your book amazing and error-free. It’s money well-spent.

Step 2: Design

Design encompasses everything from the layout of the text and photos to creating a cover for your book.

While you may have a photo or image in mind for your cover, you still want to have a professional do your design.

Your independent publishing company should have several designers from which you can choose. 

Step 3: Printing

Your book is ready to hit the presses!

Some independent publishing companies have a specific printing company that they work with and will include the printing in your costs.

Others may shop around to find the best price for the quality printing you want, and let you pay the printer directly.

Either way, your independent publishing company should help you determine exactly what you want your final product to look like, and what kind of printing you need to get it there.

“Many people want beautiful books for their families. So, a lot of them will do two versions of the book. One of them is the beautiful, heirloom book that will last for years, the hardcover. And sometimes, because of money, a softcover version that they can buy and distribute. Or they can put it up on Amazon for family and friends to buy for themselves,” says Barnes.

Step 4: Distribution 

Distribution for a private memoir or family history book is minimal.

That being said, your independent publishing company should handle it for you once you know all of your options. 

“Distribution can be Amazon, or it can be having it with the printer and then drop-shipping it to friends or relatives,” says Barnes. “But it still needs to be figured out. Most people at the very beginning think ‘I only need 20 copies,’ and they haven’t thought that through because you usually have another 20 people waiting behind those 20,” says Barnes.

Finding a Good Independent Book Publisher

As you search for an independent/hybrid book publisher that can be your partner in making your book become a reality, there are some basic things you should keep in mind.

First of all, they should be able and willing to help you through the four steps listed above. In addition, there are some other things to keep in mind:

Own that ISBN.

This is essential. You should have your ISBN in your own name.

If your publisher assigns it to you or offers it for free, it usually means that they have ownership of your title and you’re trapped with that company. And once a book is registered to a specific publisher (and not to you), you can never move it to a different publisher.

An independent publishing company should be able to help you purchase an ISBN in your name.

Don’t pay a markup for printing.  

An independent publishing company should help you get your book ready for publication and help you find a good printer, but it should not make money on the printing itself or any sales thereafter.

Don’t pay for what you don’t need.

“Beware all-in-one packaging,” says Barnes, “because they often are just charging more for services which you will never utilize. Buying a la carte is smart.”

You want to know what each step should cost so you can understand what you are paying for as you go.

Ask how you can save money.

Are you able to photoshop your own pictures? Do you have a friend who is an editor?

A good independent publisher shouldn’t be afraid to help you save money on the process if you ask. The goal is a great finished product, and a happy author, not a big sale.

How Much Will I Pay to Publish My Book?

According to Barnes, you should expect to pay between $1,500 – $3,000 to an independent publishing company. That does not include the printing itself or copies of your book.

A larger book, a book with many pictures or documents, or multiple rounds of editing can raise the price. Otherwise, if you’re paying more than this, you’re probably paying for something you don’t need.

The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to understand how much each step should cost so you know that you’re not overpaying. Ask for itemized estimates for anything you’re expected to pay for during the process.

When it comes to printing, consider how many copies you will need and what quality you want. Then, try to match that with a price point with which you can live. Your independent publishing company can help you find printing options that will fit your project and your budget.

A Good Independent Publisher Should Be a Trusted Partner

The good news is that independent and hybrid publishers are abundant. There’s a good chance that you can find one that will take on your project and help you make your book a printed, polished reality.

The best ones will work with you every step of the way and make sure that your book is coming out just how you want it to be.

As Barnes says, “It’s a deeply personal sharing with the people they love. Memoirs are more reflective, and they’re thinking ahead to the future. It’s a really strong act of gifting the next generation. Family history can be an even bigger gift. These books are a reflection of a tremendous amount of information gathering. They can be very valuable even to two generations down the road when they may not have access to the sources that the author will have.” 

Your book is a gift for generations to come. It pays to find the right independent publishing company to help you make it amazing.

Tyler Omoth 
Tyler grew up knowing he wanted to be a writer. In 2005 he landed his first professional writing role as a radio advertising copywriter. Since then he has penned over 70 books for children as well as blog posts, white papers, press releases, greeting cards and articles. He's even managed to get a few short stories and poems published. He's written for just about every kind of business out there and loves the challenge of finding the right voice to fit each client, even if it means matching their existing voice. He believes that the best writing strikes an emotional chord, even if it's just a 30-second advertisement. He is Hubspot certified for content marketing and knows how to create content that is SEO friendly. A Minnesota transplant living in Tampa, FL, when he's not writing Tyler is probably watching baseball or embracing the chaos of life with his wife, Mary, and twin toddlers, Gavin and Rachel.

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