A Twelve-Step Plan for Producing a Corporate or Personal History Book You’ll Be Proud Of: Part 1 of 2

Prospective clients occasionally ask me about the process to produce a corporate or personal history book. Although the ideal plan depends on the goals and vision for a particular book, the ingredients for a successful end product are similar from project to project:

    1. Visioning and goal setting
    2. Interviews
    3. Archival research
    4. Writing
    5. Editing
    6. Text review and approval
    7. Image selection, scanning, and matching
    8. Design
    9. Design review and approval
    10. Proofreading
    11. Indexing
    12. Production and distribution

1. Visioning and goal setting

The most successful history book projects begin with a clear vision of the desired end result. A corporate or personal history book can take many forms, from a tribute book comprising interview quotes that, together, tell a story, through to a full narrative that weaves together a corporate or personal story with historic elements that contextualize the story within a particular time and place. It’s also important to identify the intended audience for the book during this step. Is it a small, close-knit group of people? An entire company? Customers and business partners? The media? Potential investors? The general public? The intended readers must be kept front of mind throughout any successful book project. 

2. Interviews

I’ve written some personal history books based on a couple of interviews with the main storyteller, through to complex corporate histories based on more than four or five dozen interviews with company founders, employees, customers, suppliers, you name it. Some interviews are essential to be conducted in person, while others can be done by phone or via email. The number and format of interviews can have a big impact on the project cost, so this is an important element to scope correctly.

3. Archival research

Even for very personal memoir books, I’ve found it enormously beneficial to the story to have access to personal or corporate archival material. Letters, emails, diaries, calendars, address books, passports, news clippings, contracts, and other memorabilia can give proof of dates and other details that imperfect memories cannot. For some books, I’ve also done research at museum archives and libraries to fact-check and add veracity to the main story.

4. Writing

The desired length and form (i.e., a string of edited quotes vs. a full narrative; see step 1) of the book are two of the biggest determinants of the overall cost of a history book project. I typically get client approval of an overall table of contents and a sample chapter before continuing any further. This helps ensure we have a shared vision for the tone, voice, pace, and structure of the story before too much time has been spent on the writing.

5. Editing

Depending on the project, the editing stage may need to be broken down into structural and copy editing phases. A structural editor focuses on big-picture issues related to organization, flow, language and tone, logic, and completeness, and the project may need to return to the writing phase to address the issues identified. Once all substantive revisions are made, the manuscript should pass through a copy editing phase in which an editor identifies and corrects issues with grammar, spelling, usage, punctuation, and other mechanics of style.  

6. Text review and approval

It is most efficient (and cost-effective) for the text to be reviewed and approved as final before it enters the design process—that is, the phase in which the text and images are laid out in page spreads with a program like InDesign. Text changes during the design phase are much more time-consuming, and therefore expensive, to make than changes to a simple Word file. This step, therefore, is crucial to achieving an on-time and on-budget history book project.

I’ll conclude with Steps 7 through 12 in my next post.