You can publish your own paperbacks, with or without photos


This is the eighth and final article in a series about creating photo (and other) books to help you, your family, and future caregivers focus on the richness and significance of your life - instead of primarily on infirmities you might develop.

You open that small dusty box from the high shelf in a closet. "Oh, right!" you think, "These are all those letters from 40 years ago. I'd love to re-read them at some point. That was such a special time in my life." You look at the pile of envelopes, smile at the postage stamps - really, it cost only 8 cents to mail a letter back then? - and close the box back up. You repeat this ritual every few years.

But suppose istead that you scan the letters - and envelopes, too, if you want - and turn them into a paperback book printed on good quality paper. You might add explanations and a few photos. If you don't have letters or other documents but simply want to write, you can do that too. It is easy to create your book's cover using a picture you have, or selecting one offered at no charge by the service that will print your book.

As an example, you can make a full-color 8-1/2"x11" book with 100 pages for under $12 - including shipping. As another example, a 6"x9" black-and-white book with 200 pages and a color cover can be created, printed and delivered to you for under $7. The per-copy cost drops a little if you order multiple copies, due to shipping economies. Some services also allow the creation of hardback books.

These costs assume that you already have a computer and basic word processing software such as Word, that you can scan documents into your computer (using the scanning feature common on many home printers), and that you use templates that the publishing service offers for free (or that you lay out the interior of the book yourself, without any template). If you want professional help with design, editing, and so forth, you can buy such services; these can add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the cost.

For more information, search online for "The Joys and Hazards of Self-Publishing on the Web," a New York Times article by Alan Finder from August 2012. While these services are designed for people who want to make their books available for sale (especially on, nothing stops you from creating such books for your personal use and for your family and friends.

One service I have used (and whose costs are reflected in the examples above) is called CreateSpace, part of Note: CreateSpace will automatically list your book on Amazon. If you don't want other people to be able to buy your book, you can choose a setting that makes the book unavailable for purchase by the public but still lets you, yourself, buy copies any time you want.

I think that the photo books discussed in the first seven articles in this series are a better choice as tools to help you, your family and any future caregivers know and honor the value and uniqueness of your life as you get older. It is far easier for most people to look through books with lots of photos than to read books that are mostly words. The pictures show the legacy you have created over your entire vibrant life with your relationships, your work, your interests and so forth - and a picture truly can be worth a thousand words.

However, if your personal history is reflected largely in documents such as letters, they are more likely to help you get better care if you can show them to people in the form of a book. The odds are small that you would take old letters out of their box and hand them around. The odds are much greater that you would pull a book off a shelf - or coffee table - and share it with others. Even if all they take away is the realization that you created a book, they are likely to view you with more respect. For this reason alone, making such a book is well worth the effort.

To tell Elizabeth your story, propose a topic or ask a question, write to Bewley's latest book, a collection of forty articles from this column, is available locally at Hastings and at Peregrine Books and online at Amazon. It is titled Not Your Grandmother's Nursing Home: Demystifying Today's Retirement Living Options.

Elizabeth L. Bewley