How to Self-Publish a Commemorative County History:

by Nancy Sajdak Manning

"[Huron County Historical] Society president, Diane Ellicott, presented the group's plans to the county board of commissioners today and indicated the Society would like others interested in the county's history to join this project. ...You do not need to be a member to participate."

—HCHS Press Release, March 11, 2008

The official Huron County sesquicentennial logo was designed by Carol Roggenbuck and contributed to the project on behalf of the Lakeshore Guardian.

Located in Michigan's "tip of the Thumb," Huron County was formally organized in 1859. Its 28 townships are surrounded on three sides by the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. U.S. Census records show about 32,236 residents (2009) live on approximately 837 square miles of land area (2000). The county's economy is primarily supported by agriculture and additionally by small industries and tourism.

The Huron County Historical Society was formed in 1968 with the purpose of preserving Huron County history. Over the years, a number of Huron County towns and villages formed their own historical societies as chapters of the Huron County Historical Society. Today, the county society meets four times a year and serves as the coordinating body for the chapter societies. The county society has no individual members. However, the 11 chapters [historical societies of Bad Axe, Bay Port, Caseville, Elkton, Pigeon, Port Austin Area, Sebewaing, Ubly Area, White Rock, and the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Society and the Harbor Beach Woman's Club] claim over 240 members throughout the area that meet on a monthly basis.

The idea to create and self-publish a history book on the 150th anniversary of the county's founding was introduced to chapter members by HCHS President Diane Ellicott at their October 2007 quarterly meeting. Members voted to approve the project, and a celebration chairperson and Book Committee and Fundraising Committee co-chairs were named.

Ellicott felt confident about proposing the self-publishing option after witnessing the recent publishing successes of Lakeshore Guardian colleagues/HCHS members Janis Stein and Julie Purdy. Additionally, HCHS members decided to use the same Michigan printer.

The idea of a sesquicentennial book had been on the minds of HCHS leadership such as Ellicott and Recording Secretary David McDonald long before the 2007 meeting. Ellicott was especially driven to see the book created because the amount Huron County history that had been published in recent years was limited.

McDonald, who became the Book Committee's co-chair, had previously worked on a photo book titled Images of America: Huron County, Michigan (Arcadia, 2001) and had wondered how to format and compile a 150-year county history book. He ruled out the photo-heavy style of Images, yet didn't want the book to be a textbook either.

The self-publishing process selected by HCHS would allow the society to work independently of an established publishing house. In this way, it would retain control over content and format, ownership of the copyright, and all profits from sales.

The society was also aware of self-publishing risks. The process would require the organization to make a financial investment up front and to assume all publishing-associated responsibilities, including writing, proofreading, manuscript file preparation, art, page design, printing, financing/accounting, marketing, and warehousing/shipping. Possible legal advice would be required and good business management skills were going to be critical.

The Book Committee

HCHS's self-publishing project, which spanned nearly two years, commenced in January 2008. From the project's onset, the Book Committee, co-chaired by McDonald and Gerry Prich, followed the printer's basic guidelines. Additional, more complex requirements would surface near the end of the process and be handled by Purdy, who managed the final layout and design.

The format ultimately chosen for the text was based on one of McDonald's favorite books, The Great Lakes Reader, edited by Walter Havighurst (MacMillan, 1966). "The format," McDonald stated, "is chronological with excerpts [short stories] from the writings of over 60 Great Lakes pioneers and historians beginning with Brule and ending in the 20th century, each speaking in their own voice. ."

By the January 2008 first meeting of the committee, McDonald had prepared a book outline that began with "The Earliest Times" chapter followed by chapters for the various towns in the order in which they grew along the eastern, western, and northern shores and the interior. The outline included subject chapters such as "Great Fires" and names of historians and known writers best suited to write about each topic. While planning, it was discovered that no detailed history had ever been written about the towns of Kinde, Ruth, Parisville, and Owendale. "It became immediately apparent that the society should reach beyond its membership to enlist the most knowledgeable individuals," said McDonald.

Several book styles were considered for size, design, and cost. McDonald planned a 300-page book as a target and recommended that each author prepare ten single-spaced pages and ten images for his/her chapter along with a brief author bio. The committee then began to meet monthly to review progress and process.

The book outline was presented to the Huron County commissioners in March 2008. Media releases that followed the presentation invited non-members interested in Huron County history to join in a countywide effort by helping to gather historical information and photos, raise funds, and volunteer on committees.

The Book Committee, in part: (L to R) Front Row: Diane Ellicott,
Marilyn Schneider, Janet Sharpsteen, Janis Stein.
Middle Row: Shelia Eddy, Betty Guenther, Ethel Rupprecht.
Back Row: Ed Bumhoffer, Ralph Iden, Gerry Prich,
Dick Gingrich, David McDonald.
Photo Courtesy of Janis Stein.

The countywide response in the forthcoming months was remarkable as recorded in Janis Stein's January 2009 Lakeshore Guardian announcement: "The spirit of volunteerism rose to new levels as numerous individuals stepped forward to research several facets of the county's 150-year history. [David McDonald said,] 'We now have over 30 Huron County authors covering the history of current towns and villages as well as other subjects that range from local Native American history and our history as part of France and England to our maritime heritage and our agricultural industry of today. A bonus from having so many individuals involved is previously unpublished pictures have been submitted, adding yet another new dimension to the book.'"

A self-publishing team formed by the society included members and recruited volunteers with a broad array of helpful expertise. In the end, 41 authors of all levels contributed to the book, about 24 people worked on the Book Committee, and seven editors were led by Leila Korotounova of the Ubly Area Historical Society. Project involvement was fluid; members often assisted where needed. "[For example,] some writers had more experience than others," said Ellicott. "The more experienced helped the less."

As the writing drafts came in, McDonald reformatted them for visual consistency and keyed in any handwritten chapters. McDonald and co-chair Prich also created chapters and vignettes for the book. Prich also helped McDonald stay on target and assisted with rewriting and editing.

Once most chapters were ready, selected editors from the committee began the arduous task of editing. Stein prepared a style guide, and editors were given editing ring binders, each with several chapters, to review and mark with individual ink colors and then rotate among themselves.

McDonald incorporated the changes into the drafts and re-sent edited copies to the authors for their approval. "As the changes were made, the process was repeated," said McDonald. "For the final month of the project, I spent at least eight hours a day transmitting chapters to the authors for review and making final changes to the book-it became a full-time job."

When the chapters were in place, decisions had to be made about the preface, credit pages, dust jacket design, and book name. Stein's recent self-publishing experiences with the same Michigan printer helped guide the group through this.

The Lakeshore Guardian donated the services of its ad designer, Carol Roggenbuck, who worked with the committee to develop a sesquicentennial logo that would also be embossed into the front cover of the book. Additionally, a mini contest was held to name the book; "Celebrating 150 Years: Huron County, Michigan 1859-2009" was the winner.

When all editing was completed, McDonald transmitted each chapter's text, captions, and image files via e-mail to Purdy to prepare final formatting for transmission to the printer. Purdy returned completed PDF files to McDonald one final time for the authors' and committee's review and approval.

Finally, Purdy transmitted the completed text to the printer. But the Book Committee's work was not yet finished. The printer then returned a printed draft for their final approval-which meant more proofreading. McDonald explains: "Janis did a 'marathon read' at that point, while the rest of us did our best to struggle our way through chapter by chapter. Then it was time to hold our collective breath and give the green light for production."

The book had taken longer to create than expected, and the Book Committee had rescheduled its spring 2009 target/announced sales date to Thanksgiving. The final text was submitted to the printer in October, and the books arrived, as promised, in time for after-Thanksgiving shopping.

This 1,000-piece puzzle depicting an 1890
map of Huron County was a major
fundraising item for the book project.
Photo Courtesy of Janis Stein.

The Fundraising Committee

The Fundraising Committee was co-chaired by Diane Ellicott, Carolyn Curtis, and Mimi Herrington. Herrington, also the HCHS treasurer, handled all funds raised for the book and celebration.

As the writers began creating their chapters, Ellicott and Curtis, who also were creating chapters, set about to raise funds-fast. Ultimately, whatever funds they raised would determine how many books could be purchased. By ordering time, their Committee had gathered about $20,000 (including some prior funds) which would translate into 2,800 books.

Valuable news coverage on the radio and in newspapers had followed Ellicott's speaking to the commissioners. "We also invited the newspapers to cover some stories as we moved along," said Ellicott, "and again it was free advertising. With the news getting out about the book, people started looking for old pictures and information to be included."

"Excitement for this book really started in the community after the initial press release," said Prich. "People began asking how to order before we even had an ordering form. Word of mouth following the printing and, when the initial orders went out, it surely helped sell a lot more books."

Curtis, manager of the Pointe aux Barques Lighthouse Society's gift shop, provided purchasing contacts for fundraising/sponsorship items such as Christmas ornaments, caps, coloring books, and puzzles. She and her husband, Bill Bonner, president of the lighthouse society, designed a 1,000-piece puzzle of a colored 1890 plat map with some local historical societies providing pictures from their communities. With the help of eight sponsors, the popular bestsellers were sold at $15 each.

Ellicott's suggestion to sell sponsorships of the book's chapters to businesses and individuals (subtly named in chapter headings) along with the pre-sale orders was very successful. The HCHS website describes two packages-$300 and $200-related to book chapter sponsorship and two packages for sponsoring a children's coloring book or helping with the celebration party.

To honor the county's early pioneers and the sesquicentennial, Walsh Gun and Tackle in Caseville offered 50 limited editions of laser-engraved Henry Golden Boy Huron County Sesquicentennial .22 rifles-priced at $895-and gave the Society $25 from each sale.

Marketing Efforts

Excellent marketing efforts are essential for a self-published book to be successful. Ellicott and HCHS members were well aware of this and began to distribute the new shrink-wrapped history books to sellers immediately following delivery to the Bad Axe Fire Department, which provided storage space. "The books arrived two days before Thanksgiving," stated Ellicott. "All 11 chapters met at the fire department and, within two hours, books were heading to all corners of the county to be on store shelves the day after Thanksgiving for the start of the Christmas buying season."

Celebrating 150 Years: Huron County, Michigan 1859-2009 was placed at about 50 county-wide merchants in Bad Axe, Bay Port, Caseville, Elkton, Grindstone City, Harbor Beach, Kinde, Minden City, Pigeon, Port Austin, Port Hope, Ruth, Sebewaing, and Ubly. Additionally, copies were made available directly through the Huron County Historical Society and its 11 associated chapters.

Nine months after printing, two-thirds of the 375-page hardcover book-priced at $40 each-had already been sold. And the profits have been supplementing the operating expenses of the society the chapters ever since.

The Huron County Historical Society
arranged to have flags flown over the
U.S. and Michigan Capitol Buildings on the day
Huron County turned 150 years old.
Here they are ready for display in the County Building.

In looking back over the project, HSHC President Ellicott and Book Committee Co-chairs McDonald and Prich agreed that it was a lot of hard work but that self-publishing was the way to go to control profits, content, and appearance of the final product.

McDonald additionally recommended setting an early target date to build in slippage time, and to have a clear understanding of the final printing process and requirements.

The project leaders emphasized the importance of selecting the right people for each part of the process. Ellicott explained: "You may want to consider hiring some parts of the job out if you are uncomfortable with the level of expertise required. This could especially be true with the final layout and design process."

The group repeatedly remarked on the value of working with a person with layout and design expertise, such as Purdy, who crafted their book's impressive appearance. Purdy's expertise also helped in final communications with the printer. "When I talked to the printer," explained Ellicott, "we discussed deadlines, delivery needs, price quotes on the number of pages, number of books to be printed, paper color, and weight-but when he asked about e-mailing the pages and the settings he needed, I had him talk directly to Julie. It was like a foreign language to me."

Ellicott also suggested including as many names and photographs as possible in each chapter to help sell books. "I've sold many books because great-grandpa's picture or Aunt Helen's name was listed."

A colorized version of
the J. H. Cave Courthouse Image.
Coloring by David McDonald.

The success of Huron County Historical Society's venture in self-publishing their county history book is evidenced in many ways. A countywide sense of ownership and pride in the publication has evolved. Local awareness of Huron County history has also increased. And, with about 1,800 copies already sold, McDonald stated, "This is turning out to be the best money-making fundraiser our chapters have ever participated in. It's simply up to each chapter to sell as many books as they can."

Ellicott added, "Most of our chapters individually could not pull off a project like this by themselves, but working together made it possible." HCHS has already appropriated part of the sales profits for a future reprinting.

The author wishes to thank all who shared their time and information to help make this article possible, especially Diane Ellicott, David McDonald, Gerry Prich, and Janis Stein.

Nancy Sajdak Manning is a journalist, historian, and editor who lives in Bay City. Her articles have appeared in regional magazines including Great Lakes Bay Regional Lifestyle, Huron Shores Lakeside Lifestyle, (Tri Chambers) Great Lakes Bay Region, Michigan History, and Michigan Out-of-Doors.

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