This past Saturday, I attended a workshop presented by the R. J. Taylor Jr. Foundation in Marietta. I went specifically in the hopes of being able to discuss various aspects of the publication process, from transcribing and abstracting to the finished product, with three of the ladies I knew would be attending: Vivian Price, Linda Woodward-Geiger, and Faye Stone Poss.
I was not disappointed. Each of these women took the time to answer my numerous questions with patience and grace before, during, and after the two programs (one by Linda on transcribing and abstracting, and the other by Vivian on building a manuscript). This was the second time I attended a Taylor Foundation workshop. I learned quite a bit both times, not only from the presentations but also from one-on-one discussions with Linda, Vivian, and Faye.
For those who don’t know, the Taylor Foundation provides grants to cover many of the costs of publishing transcriptions, abstracts, or indexes of Georgia records pertaining to those who lived there prior to 1851. There are limitations, but for those willing to do the work, the rewards can be fulfilling if not actually lucrative. If you’re a Georgia researcher and have easy and regular access to Georgia records, then you’re missing a wonderful opportunity by not taking advantage of a Taylor Foundation grant. Here are the rewards I hope to gain:
- A Marketable Product. For successful applicant projects, the Taylor Foundation will pay to have a certain number of books published. These are hardbound, high quality books, desperately sought after by researchers even in this age of digital production. It might take a lot of time to sell all of those books, but the very fact that you have them there to market equals a potential to earn income from them.
- A Ready Consumer. The Taylor Foundation purchases copies from the author for placement in libraries and archives around the country. The author must do all the shipping, but the very first sale can be a hefty one of about 40 books. Think about the average price of a book of this kind and then multiply it by 40. Add in the number of sales you can make within the first few months through a good marketing program. It might not be a lot of money, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at either.
- Increased Credibility. A quality transcription, abstract, or index can boost the author’s reputation and illustrate competence in a specialty. Paul K. Graham, for instance, is widely known for his expertise in Georgia land records, in part because of his excellent publications on early Georgia land lotteries. Michael Hait has established his abilities as an African-American researcher in part through publication.
- A Research Tool. Let’s face it: one of the biggest problems researchers face today, regardless of where or how research is conducted, is a lack of access to needed records. Even where records can be accessed easily, originals are often unindexed and otherwise difficult to use. I am not in any way negating the value of original records, nor am I suggesting that they should not be used; quite the contrary. But having a published transcription, abstract, or index to those records can be a huge boon. The very first copy of my upcoming book on Rabun County’s newspapers will go on my shelf for me to use. Selfish? Possibly. Practical? You betcha. I plan on using that volume a lot in future research projects. The same can be said of the volumes I hope to publish over the next few years. You can bet that I’ll be the first consumer of each and every one.
I’m leaving out the satisfaction of seeing a project through to its ending, the wonder of gaining new insights into ancestors’ lives, and the fact that publications of this nature help an awful lot of people research more effectively. All of those are valid benefits, but the more tangible gains are those listed above.
I would encourage every researcher to have at least one large-scale transcription project going. I know it’s a huge investment in time and energy (not to mention money). I put at least eighteen months into producting a copy-ready manuscript for the newspapers transcription. I have already invested about two years in the slave records I’m abstracting, and still have at least six months to go. And the marriage records of Rabun County that I hope to finish in 2013? Oh, that’s only taken me about a decade and a half to compile, give or take a year, and I know I’ll not finish them any time soon.
So, yes, compilers put a lot of effort put into their books. Is it worth it? Yes, I believe so, and I also believe that the people who use these books would agree.