I encourage family-only writing. Many “everyday” people have interesting life stories worth saving—for the history and culture of the times, for their perseverance to overcome, for their travel adventures, and so many more reasons! With the great interest these days in genealogy and family history, capturing all that in a book is a great way to easily share and pass down information – no need for others to have an online subscription to anything.
For family-only books, you do not need to be a good writer. No worries about exposing private details to strangers or having to get written (and costly) permissions to quote text or song lyrics. Just start researching, listening to stories, and writing. Family members can help. Try to get names, dates, historical events, and cultural details correct. Look at books you own and create “front matter” similar to what they have (inside title page(s), copyright page, dedication, maybe a table of contents). When you think you are through writing, consider hiring an editor but at least find someone not so close to the stories (less-involved family or a friend) to read and point out any grammar or spelling errors and parts that are confusing, awkwardly written, or that could use more detail.
Once you have a final draft, now what? Choose the size book you’d like and how professional you want your book to look. Here are options:
1) Take the document file (.pdf version) to a local copy shop to produce simply bound copies (stapled down the middle “spine” or spiral bound) with a plain-colored or white cardstock front and back. Create a separate document of text set up to use as the front cardstock cover. You can ask for transparent protective front and back sheets
2) Send the MS Word file to a publishing business specializing in creating family history/memoirs and they will take over from there, giving you some options in style and binding (most offer leather-bound). An online search will bring up these businesses. Most have editors on staff. You will likely need to make a minimum order of books, such as 25. Be sure to get a quote on cost.
3) Hire a professional to design a cover and do the interior manuscript formatting, then take the files on a flash drive to a company that does book printing (or email the files as attachments). You may find a local print shop that does book binding and can even create a simple cover for you. Alphagraphics has locations around the US and can ship books to you if necessary. Some companies can create a book from a Word document formatted to the book size desired but most require a .pdf made from special publishing software (you need to hire a book designer). You will likely be required to order a certain minimum number of books.
4) Open an account with Lulu.com to upload a professionally-designed cover and interior files, choosing NOT to sell to the public. With Lulu you can order one or many books and have them ship to whatever address you choose, nice if you have faraway relatives. (See my article about working with Lulu.)
Do not be afraid to charge your family for books, to help cover production costs and shipping. They should be grateful you did all this work!
If you need to mail books to relatives, ask USPS about shipping by Media Mail, a special discount rate only for printed materials. Books will arrive in about a week or so, versus quicker delivery by First Class.