How can I help with a personal history?

My father and I have different talents when it comes to researching and recording family history:  he does genealogy;  I do personal history and family history.  In other words, in my mind, at least, he does the bones (or the branches and limbs of the family tree, to say it as he might prefer) and I do the meat and flesh (or the leaves and blooms)—I like to dig out and research and add in the stories.

Both parts are necessary steps and both parts are difficult. But here are the ways I can help with your personal history, your family history, or your business history:

I can assist you with

  • categorizing family notes and genealogical research;
  • organizing information into a logical flow and deciding what sidebars and types and pieces of artwork are appropriate;
  • planning and discussing objectives with appropriate parties;
  • applying consistent use of colloquialisms, regional speech patterns and vocabulary terms, and era-appropriate slang;
  • researching partial memories and questionable “stories” (as well as fact-checking where needed); and . . .

of course, getting your information into some sort of printable format, whether you decide to end up with a collection of stories on paper, a story that has more of a continuous run to it, or a script you can use later to create a video program or audio presentation.

Once we have your personal story or family story to this point, the difficult work is done!  And the options are many. At this point, for instance, you can decide to photocopy your manuscript, to seek out a small press or self-publisher, or to post your creation online.

If you decide to actually print the manuscript that we create, I can help you work with your print shop or publisher by

  • proofing for text alignment, word division, line breaks and page breaks, page citations, header and footer formatting, and general page appearance and
  • creating acknowledgments, tables of contents, indexes, and reference lists.

If you decide to go online, I can help you with that, as well—through posts to a private blog site or creation of a public website. 

You and your family decide, and I will help guide you through the variety of possiblilties . . .  Just think about what you might like and ask!


e-mail: editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
text: 832-233-0041

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The art of the rag

I don’t know if that raised your eyebrows or not, but unless you are an instructional designer you may not have known what “the rag” is. In simple terms, in publishing, the rag is the uneven, or ragged, edge of a block of text. What that means is that this paragraph, which is aligned so that text butts up against the left margin, has a right rag; text that is aligned against the right margin (such as the signature line, below) has a left rag; and text that is center-aligned has both a left and a right rag. Justified text (text that runs from margin to margin) does not technically have a rag; old-timers, though, may say it has a straight, or even, rag—regardless, it has no ragged text edges to worry about.

Justified text is also the most difficult text for beginning, poor, or borderline readers to focus on, follow, and comprehend. So, as a rule, publishers want ragged text. But they need it to be visually appealing and aesthetic so it works for the reader, so it can help lead readers to the next line of text.

The truth is, a good paragraph rag can help lower the reading level of a piece of text. Unfortunately, the rags of today’s electronic text cannot be controlled; however, if you are publishing on paper, or some other fixed medium, or if you are publishing to a PDF file, you do have control and you should take advantage of it.

Instructional design and the rag

One of my current clients is having issues with the rag on her left-aligned display text. To help her understand, I’ve pulled some guidelines from my instructional design background and listed them below. While designing a pleasing rag is a talent that takes training and practice, here are some of the basics I’ve presented to start her out:

  • Do not allow obvious “hangovers”—a line of text in which several characters hang farther out than lines above or below.
  • When possible, do not allow the rag to run in a straight line down the page, especially not for more than two or three lines.
  • Do not allow “stacking”—ending consecutive lines with the same word.
  • Avoid widows, orphans, and singles:
    • a widow is a single line of text that ends up alone at the top of a following column or page;
    • an orphan is a single line of text that has been stranded in a previous column or on a previous page, separate from the paragraph it starts;
    • a single is a single word (or the end of a hyphenated word, or two or three short words) that winds up as the bottom line of a paragraph; some people still errantly call these widows or orphans.

Fixing a rag

Three options exist for improving the look of a rag in professional publishing. A good rag wanders in and out from line to line to line in small, wavy increments that do not call attention to the ends of the lines or the white space they create. Good instructional designers always pay attention to the shapes created by the rag and make adjustments to decrease distractions.

The first option for fixing ragged text is simply to delete text or reword a paragraph. Of course, the author would have to be consulted before taking this action!

If recasting text is not possible, the second option is to adjust the kerning (the space between letters of a word) and tracking (the blank spaces between words) of text in a line. Adjusting kerning and tracking is easily accomplished with modern desktop publishing programs, and an adjustment of six or seven points in either direction is basically imperceptable to readers. This option is generally the most professional option and results in text that is easy for readers to follow.

If only one line needs adjusting, select the entire line at once and kern or track until the line length is where you want it. To adjust longer segments of text, select as much text as possible in the paragraph, starting with the first line that is not aligned as you want it. If the rag is still not right after kerning and tracking, “undo” and try a different segment.

The third option for manipulating a rag is hyphenation. Here are some guidelines to follow when hyphenating text:

  • when necessary, do not break proper names;
  • do not allow hyphens in two consecutive lines;
  • do not allow more than two hyphens in one paragraph;
  • do not leave only two letters of a hyphenated word on a line by themselves;
  • try not to hyphenate a word that is already typically hyphenated; and
  • do not create a widow, an orphan, or a single.

And remember: hyphenating words should be used as a last resort because doing so does make reading more difficult and can increase the reading level of text.


e-mail: editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
text: 832-233-0041

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Fast lives, small screens, short fiction

In eras gone by, writing short-form fiction (novellas and novelettes, short stories, and flash fiction pieces) was a common stepping stone for authors who needed to prove themselves and find audiences. Assisting in their goals, plenty of digests and magazines, and even some newspapers, provided numerous outlets for building recognition and earning income from quick sales of short pieces. This path to success helped many famous writers work toward justifying larger rewards and contracts—and, thereby, time for writing larger works.

But then came the 1980s, the 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s, which saw the elimination of most of these literary outlets. Without these avenues for getting short-form fiction to audiences, many in the publishing industry thought the genres were doomed.

However, today’s students and workers with tight modern schedules, electronic readers that allow reading on the go, and those debatable shorter attention spans seem to be reviving the basic short-form genres.

Some insights into this welcome trend appear in a recent New York Times article, “Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories” (posted online on February 15, 2013). The article, of course, mentions omnipresent Amazon, which publishes original short fiction (and nonfiction, for that matter) with its own Kindle Singles program. But, several online publishers, like EveryDay Fiction and Free Stories Center and Fifty-Two Stories are also springing into the picture.

So, get back to those tight, little drafts that you’ve been stashing away. You might have some new outlets for proving yourself to your audiences.

editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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