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Telling Your Story in a Book

Online Publishing Presents A New Opportunity For Businesses To Tell Their Story.

By Thomas J. Roach

Online publishing presents a new opportunity for businesses to tell their story and define themselves for their employees, customers and other external publics.

Some of what we do in business communication is considered institutional. We produce stories, books or web pages that are not part of a dialogue with employees or the community, but rather they are markers or reference points that define the organization.

Traditionally institutional communication was a collection of boring material given to new employees during orientation.

Today most companies have a few paragraphs on their website that include a mission statement and a brief history of the organization. Vulcan Materials Co. devotes a full page to its mission, values and commitment, and includes a history link that takes readers to an attractive timeline with entries stretching from 1909 to 2007.

Some companies take institutional rhetoric a step further and publish beautifully appointed photo books about their identity and history. Previously this was an expensive undertaking, but that has changed.

Online publishing companies like Blurb and Lulu make it possible to upload photographs and text into generic book pages and create books that can be both accessed digitally or printed and mailed. These digitally generated printed books are also less expensive to produce, because they can be ordered one at a time and do not require huge press runs.

Symbolically, a professional-looking book adds a degree of substance to an organization’s reputation. On the utilitarian side of the equation it can be distributed by the marketing and human resources departments for promotional and employee recognition purposes.

Online book printing companies offer their own software for designing books. More skilled customers can opt to use Adobe’s InDesign program. While the Adobe product is infinitely more versatile, it requires more effort to create an original layout. The book company programs offer preformatted layouts, and an inexperienced user can drop in photos and text, select size, paper and cover options, and hit “send.”

It is useful to collect and prepare photographs and important textual entries before designing the book. Most organizations already have what they will use before they start, and this step is mainly a matter of gathering photographs, scanning them and putting them into a file that can be accessed easily by the layout program.

Photograph quality is most important. When scanning old photographs the quality settings should be much higher than for email. Newer digital photographs should be shot at the highest JPEG settings. Large file photos can be blown up to be full pages, but low megapixel photographs will be limited to smaller sizes in the book. Therefore higher resolution photographs provide the most creative options for the editor.

Once the book is laid out and text is inserted, order a copy for proofing purposes and pass it around the office to get some feedback. Mainly one looks for typos and other production errors at this point. Discounts for quantity are not as significant as they were with the old print shops. When the book is ready, order copies as needed. This way the book becomes an ongoing project that can be edited and expanded periodically.

Books can be kept private and distributed exclusively by the owners, or they can be made available to the general public. If the book is available to the public, buyers can order and pay for the book online. When a book is offered to the public, it becomes searchable and the author determines how many preview pages are shown. One option is to allow the entire book to be previewed. This essentially makes the book available online for free.

My wife Susan and I live in a National Register house. Over the last 35 years we collected many stories and thousands of photographs. The book we created is called Calmer House, and it can be viewed in its entirety by going to this address: and clicking “View Fullscreen.”