Category: publishing

Five things we learned publishing our first book

“Someday I’m going to write a book!” How often have you said that, or heard a friend or relative make a similar statement? You probably didn’t hold your breath until it appeared.  So it comes as a surprise to the nine members of Genealogy Ensemble, the family history writing group of which I am a member, that we are actually doing it. In November, we will launch Beads in a Necklace, a book of collected short stories based on our family research. 

These real-life stories include a young Scot who immigrated to Canada and became a famous gospel singer, memories of queuing up for food rations in post-war England, and a young girl who was kidnapped from her home in southern Maine by the Abenaki Indians in 1692 and spent the rest of her life in Quebec. I have included stories about the Bagg, Mulholland and Smith families.

Now that it’s about to be published, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the lessons we learned that might help potential authors.

Grow Organically

The genesis of Beads in a Necklace goes back to 2012 or so when we decided to write about our families and share our stories. Since then, we have met once a month to critique each other’s work, improve our story-telling skills and gain confidence. 

After a while, our stories were so good, we wanted to share them more widely. We began taking turns posting them on our blog, Genealogy Ensemble. The book authors among us kept talking about the possibility of publishing something, but the idea always seemed far away.

Last year, we got serious about the idea. With 2017 being the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, where we all live, and Canada’s 150th birthday, we decided it was time to publish a collection our stories: a 250-page book, with a proper binding and a beautiful cover, that we will be able to give to friends and relatives for Christmas. 

Start with Structure

We started discussing the project last September. The first step was to each choose our five favourite stories. Each article had to be about 500 words long and include endnotes citing the sources of our facts. Apart from that, there were no rules.  After considerable debate, we agreed on the title Beads in a Necklace, and we came up with a logical way of organizing the stories into sections. 


We all pitched in to help at various stages of the process, depending on our areas of expertise. I did most of the editing, with help from Tracey. I had worked as a journalist, and Tracey and Dorothy are also professional writers. That helped a lot: we know how to tighten a long-winded sentence, spot a good first paragraph and structure a story so it flows smoothly.

Several members of our group have natural writing talent that they never knew they had, but they are still learning the skills that come from writing on a daily basis. And sometimes writers have to let go of their egos and allow changes. Of course, everyone could say yes or no to editing suggestions, and we always managed to find compromise solutions.

Sandra, who has experience preparing annual reports in the corporate world, did most of the layout, with Claire’s assistance. Claire also knows her way around digital photography and she cleaned up the often scratched or faded photos we wanted to use. 

Ask for Help

We even got friends involved: one friend who is a proof reader is making sure there are no typos or missing punctuation marks, while another friend who is a graphic designer has agreed to do the cover.

There have been many details to consider. The people responsible for the layout had to decide on the size of the book and the fonts to use and get quotes from a local printer. Someone has to look after making a digital version available, and we have to crank up our marketing strategy. Last but not least, we had to find a place that is big enough but not too expensive for our celebratory book launch. We found a church hall that is perfect!

Persevere through glitches

Most of the glitches we have encountered have been computer-related. For example, we tried both Google Drive and Dropbox so we could upload files that everyone could edit. Both did the job, but we found Google Drive to be a bit unstable, while for a reason I still don’t understand, I can’t see many of the changes that Sandra and Claire have made to the layout in Dropbox.  

This has been a long process. We were editing in January and the book will be launched in November. But we are all thrilled about it. Furthermore, I hope to apply the lessons I have learned from this experience when I write a book about my own family’s history. Just don’t hold your breath until it appears.

This article is also posted on

Henry Smithers, Writer

The terraced houses of The Adelphi overlooked the Thames and a busy coal wharf.

 It is one thing to find a birth or marriage record of an ancestor, better yet a photo. To find an ancestor’s thoughts in a letter or diary is even more exciting, so I was thrilled when I discovered that my four-times great-grandfather had written several books. Finding digitized copies of those books online was like hearing a voice that had spoken 200 years ago. 

Henry Smithers (1762-1828) made his living as a London coal merchant, and he wrote his first book, Affection; with Other Poems, in his spare time. For Henry, writing was a labour of love, and the theme of this book was affection. These were not the poems of the passionate young man who had married his sweetheart at age 20; rather, they were the words of a mature adult who loved his family, God, and England. The poems looked at affection from many viewpoints: the loyalty of a dog to its master, patriotism, the love of a mother for her children, the love between husband and wife. The second half of the book explored religious themes, notably “affection traced to its source, the benevolence of God,” and there are extensive notes at the back of the book.1

Affection; with Other Poems, by Henry Smithers of the Adelphi, London was published in 1807 when Henry’s success in business was also at its peak. The Adelphi refers to the terraced row of houses overlooking the Thames River in central London where he lived at the time. It was a unique building and no doubt an expensive address. 

I do not know whether Henry made any money from his books, or whether he was well known as an author. A contemporary of famous poets such as William Wordsworth, he was far less talented. Affection was reviewed in several literary publications, where it received some negative comments, others positive. One scathing review was six pages long, which seems like a lot of space to devote to the work of an unknown author.2

Henry then turned to non-fiction. In his book In the Cultivation of the Arts and Sciences, he got in over his head without an editorial life preserver when he took on French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1742 essay “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.” Rousseau had argued that the arts and sciences had corrupted human morality because they stemmed from pride and vanity. Henry countered that “the cultivation of the Arts and Sciences are Favourable to virtue and to happiness.”3

Henry attributed the success of Rousseau’s essay to the author’s eloquence, and he admitted that “to contend with him, I am well aware, is to attack a giant in his stronghold, but truth is mighty and must prevail.” Unfortunately, while I tend to agree with my ancestor’s premise, his written arguments lacked focus.

That book was published in 1818 in Brussels, where Henry may have been living at the time. After the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, he travelled to Europe and wrote a series of letters to his family in England in which he described his observations about the Netherlands, Bruges, and other places on the continent. Those letters formed the basis of his next book.4

His last major project was even more ambitious. He appears to have relocated to Liverpool, where his son John Hampden Smithers lived. Henry took the city as his subject, and his 460-page Liverpool, Its Commerce, Statistics, and Institutions: With a History of the Cotton Trade covered the city’s early history, its churches, the linen and cotton industries, the slave trade, the whaling industry, agriculture in the region and a description of the city’s philanthropic societies.5

With these last two books, Henry finally seems to have hit his stride as a writer. I suspect that, if Henry Smithers had been born in the 20th century rather than the 18th, he might have studied history or literature at university, then gone on to be a teacher or a journalist. He might even have been a blogger. 

photo credit: Museum of London


  1. Smithers, Henry.  “Affection; with Other Poems, by Henry Smithers of the Adelphi, London:London: Printed for the Author by T. Bensley and Sold by W. Miller, 1807.
  2. The Eclectic Review. Vol. 3, 1807. p. 904-908. The following reviewer was more complimentary:  Matthews and Leigh. The Cabinet: or Monthly Report on Polite Literature, Volume 2. p. 42.
  3. Smithers, Henry; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. In the Cultivation of the Arts and Sciences to which is added a translation of the celebrated prize essay of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, wherein he advances an opposite sentiment.  Brussels: Printed at the British Press, 1818.
  4. Smithers, Henry. Observations made during a tour in 1816 and 1817, through that part of the Netherlands, which comprises Ostend, Bruges [&c.]. To which is added, several original anecdotes relative to the battle of Waterloo. In a series of letters. Brussels. This book appears in several editions with slightly different names, but I don’t think the content differs much
  5. Smithers, Henry. Liverpool, Its Commerce, Statistics, and Institutions: With a History of the Cotton Trade.
    Liverpool: T. Kaye, 1825.

To learn more about The Adelphi, see

This is the last in a series of articles about the Smithers family of London, at least for now. I will  write another article about Henry Keene Smithers’ wife’s roots on the sugar plantations of Antigua and one about the Papps family of Salisbury. I have already done several stories about Henry’s great-granddaughter Clara Smithers, including her childhood in Brooklyn and marriage in Montreal. Eventually, I’ll get back to her father, banker Charles Francis Smithers.