Thursday 28 June 2007

HOW TO BE PUBLISHED IN FAMILIA

On 16 June 2007 Richard Ford, editor of FAMILIA, addressed the West Gauteng Branch of the GSSA on the matter of “How to be Published in Familia, the quarterly journal of the Genealogical Society of South Africa”.

Below follows Richard’s summary.

Background

Familia was launched 43 years ago when the Genealogical Society of SA was founded in August 1964. In all this time it has had only four editors:
  • Cor Pama served in that position for 30 years until 1994;
  • Next was Gideon de Kock of Port Elizabeth who served for two years till 1996;
  • Thys du Preez followed him and held the reins for nine years until 2005;
  • The National Executive Committee appointed me two years ago.
When I took over from Thys du Preez, I drove to Pretoria for a formal hand-over. I asked him three questions – more to show him how clever I was and that I knew what I was doing, than for advice:
  • How many articles did he have on hand after he had published the March 2005 edition? It was a record 56-pager, and he told me that he had printed every word he had received;
  • Second question: how did he generate articles? Simple, he said, one waits for people to send them in and those are published. The size of every edition, thus, depended on what one received from contributors and
  • Lastly I wanted to know how the editorial committee worked. How often did it meet? Did it give him a rough time, and was I supposed to keep the committee on? He suggested that the committee members would probably be relieved if they never heard from me.
Having gleaned all that I could I then I sat through that first March, April and May – waiting for the articles to come streaming in. And that is more or less how it has worked. Until recently, almost every edition followed the same pattern of famine and flood.

Turning to the now: what should you do to have your hard work published in Familia?

The product and readership

One must bear in mind that Familia is the official mouthpiece of the Society. It was created by Cor Pama to serve the members – to give them information to help them in their research and to provide them with the means to display their work to the genealogical community.

For many members Familia is the only visible manifestation of what the Genealogical Society is about. It can be likened to a product sold by any supplier. Customers will keep on buying this product and it will attract more customers, depending on the extent that it satisfies the customer’s expectations and needs.

For this reason the editor must do his job with the understanding that the customer, the reader is the important person, not the writer of the article. This is a judgement call. One man, with the help of his editorial committee, decides what the reader wants and what he or she will find interesting and useful.

If we were to run the Society like any company that believes the customer is king, we would use some basic marketing disciplines to determine the level of customer satisfaction. To find out what improvements to the product would result in a greater level of membership renewals and would attract new customers, we would do a remarkably simple thing. We would ask the customer.

However, in the absence of formal research, I have adopted a different approach. That is to sell the sizzle not the steak. So I focused on appearance and delivery. It seems to have worked – the journals now reach subscribers in the month of publication and this swifter delivery has spurred contributors to speed up their submissions.

Content

Until we do carry out any research, you as the potential contributor to Familia, need to know what the editor wants from you. It’s not difficult. Typically we welcome articles such as:
  • Family trees;
  • Character stories, irrespective of how well known or unknown they are;
  • Historical events and
  • Advice on doing research.
Two things we don’t want are, for example:
  • Character assassinations and
  • Blatant promotion of an interest or a product.
Language and style

In our multicultural society, the question of language is always an interesting one. As a rule we try and give equal prominence to English and Afrikaans. To put a frame around this issue:
  • I have been responsible for the publication of nine editions of the journal;
  • Those nine editions carried a total of 60 articles and
  • 33 Afrikaans and 27 English or, if you like, a split of 55:45 percent in favour of Afrikaans.
Near enough, in my opinion, to prove that this is truly a bilingual publication. For that reason English authors should not feel that they are unwelcome.

Something else that should not frighten off any author is a belief that you can’t write well. As editor, I retain the right to edit your contribution for language and style. By that I mean that I read every article with an imaginary blue pencil in hand. I scratch and delete and fix. Where I can, I check published sources for names and places. When I need the author to do some more work on an article, I send it back with a list of questions and suggestions.

In other words, it is a collaborative process.

To borrow the classic approach from the real estate industry, position, position, position – my final word of advice to you is: submit, submit, submit.

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