What happens when you try to tell that story, with Zita Podany

What Happens when you have a Story to Tell, with Zita Podany

First step:

Zita had a story to tell. But life, as it does, kept getting in the way. Then she read the back of an Arcadia book where it said “Write for Arcadia.” She looked on the website and decided to contact them with her ideas.

How to Choose:

Arcadia wrote back and asked her to choose one idea. But how?

  • Look at the publisher: Arcadia is history focused but has several imprints. She had to choose which one fitted her ideas and she picked Images of America. Their history section would have been less image intensive, but she didn’t know then how hard images are to work with.
  • Survey the market: If there are lots of books on your topic, be sure you can explain why yours is different – or else accept the market’s flooded and try something else.
  • Start your research – so at least you have some idea if you can do it. Don’t start writing the book though – just because they’ve asked you to choose your best idea doesn’t mean you’ve got an acceptance, and there might be rules and regulations that define how you write.
  • Know how or where you’ll market the books. Arcadia (unlike many other publishers) does help – they might pay table fees, send you copies, do the advertising, suggest ideas… but you have to convince them that your book’s going to have an audience.


Next came the formal book proposal. You will be asked

  • What are your credentials – Arcadia allows interested amateurs to write history books, but you have to convince them you’re serious about what you’re doing.
  • What is your access to photos – it turned out Zita’s access wasn’t as good as she hoped, when she learned how much the historical society would charge her to use their images.
  • What’s your ability to market – at least know where will be a good market – e.g. VanPort celebrations.
  • What organizations do you belong to – helps prove you’re serious
  • Where/when might your books be sold. Van Port’s anniversary festival provided a rather strict timeline.


After the proposal comes the delay and finally, in Zita’s case, acceptance. Acceptance is accompanied with

  • Contract – you have to sign it. Read it first
  • Guide book – the specs for Images of America books are very strict – numbers of pages, wordcount per image, image quality, total wordcount…
  • An assigned editor, but also an assigned a timeline – Zita had to send the first two chapters in really quickly, plus cover photograph, plus… all via dropbox, but…
  • possibly assumptions about your access to technology. Uploading high quality images can take forever depending on your internet connection.

Procuring Images

Zita needed around 200 pictures to be placed 1, 2 or ½ per page (2-page spread) in the final book. And she had to pay for them! OHS wanted around $20,000 which was impossible. The Oregonian was also expensive. A scary process. Cheaper options turned out to be

  • City and county archives
  • National and government archives
  • Business archives
  • Personal collections

In particular, the city archive charges a fee to photocopy the image to the required quality, but no licensing fee.

In searching for more images she asked other authors what they did. Many get their images through the company they work for or organizations that they belong to.

Getting the story

Zita already had most of the story, but the final book, after all your research, might not be quite the same as you imagined. People will tell you their version of what happened, but children experience things differently from adults, word of mouth can’t always be trusted, and group gatherings might not welcome a stranger.

Local history is often the story of what’s buried beneath the surface. You need to differentiate between what people say and what everyone assumes. The real story – what really happened – is often something in between.

Organize material

With 200 pictures, multiple sources and 1 story to tell, there was a lot of organization. Zita started out organizing her images by chapter, but the text is sent in separately from the images – it got complicated. Eventually she put the images in folders, printed out thumbnails (big enough so she could see them), classified them by where they came from and kept the “attribution” information for each source where she could easily find it. As a side-note, she found the attribution counted as part of the total wordcount, which left fewer words to tell the story!


With money invested in 200 digital image files, backing up her computer was ESSENTIAL. We should all consider it essential too. You don’t want to lose your work of staggering genius. Nor do you want to retype it from scratch.

When you’re backing up images, be sure to keep multiple separate backups. Files can get corrupted, and accidents can happen when you have to resize the image to fit the publisher specs.


Proofreading isn’t just reading the text. Zita also had to keep track of total wordcount, caption wordcounts (which were different depending on how many images shared the caption, and whether the image crossed a full-page spread). She had to reduce the number of words, simplify what she was trying to say, work out what could be cut out, and more… writing to a set word limit in contests might be good practice.

And then

It took around 18 months from the final acceptance to publication. They were working to a very strict deadline. The book had to be ready by January. Two proofs needed to be edited. And then it went to press.

All this will be easier and cheaper for authors who already have their own pictures. And if you do have your own or family pictures, don’t donate them to the OHS or no one will ever have the chance to use them. Give them to the city or county archive.

Zita ended up paying around $2,000 to get her book in print – an amount that’s not so different from taking a writing course. The result is a beautiful book with a real publisher (not Createspace, which many stores reject) that does real marketing (at least for the first year), and looks after getting printed copies into stores. Zita sells by hand at various venues, but the publisher paid table fees for the first year.

So… do you have a story to tell?

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