One of my favorite parts of nonfiction research is pouring through collections of historical photographs. From metal plate daguerreotypes and Victorian studio pictures to 1950s brownie camera photos, I love them all. It is like holding a tiny time machine in my hand. For a fleeting moment I can see into a world that is gone.
Historical photos can add depth and dimension to your nonfiction books. Editors love it when an author can provide photo documentation of the topic, and some book publishers require a certain number of photographs for each book project.
BUT and yes, it is a big but --- photos can be expensive. Purchasing editorial rights for some famous images can cost over $150 per photograph. Some publishers provide a modest budget for photographs, but others expect the author to purchase pictures with their advance. Either way, it is important for authors to find cost effective sources for photos.
There are numerous repositories for copyright free historical photographs. Some are well known like Getty Open Content, Library of Congress, and Flickr Commons. But other treasure troves of photos are can be found in local historical societies, libraries, and family collections.
The first stop for photos about your topic should be the area where the person lived or the place the event happened. Contact the local historical society. You may uncover pictures that have never been seen by the public. The cost editorial rights are usually minimal, or they may be willing to share them simply for recognition in the book.
When looking at photographs remember the following copyright rules:
All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
Check out these sources for copyright free photos
The following sites are great sources of copyright-free images:
"But what do I write about?!"
That was the whiny lament I often heard from my fourth grade students. And sometimes it’s what I hear in my own head as I stare at my blank computer screen.
Unlike writing fiction, where you must create everything in your own head, nonfiction ideas are everywhere. You simply have to be tune your mental radar to find them.
Here are five places that NF ideas pinged my mental radar.
1. Television. Your best bet are channels devoted to documentaries like A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, The History Channel, and National Geographic. On Pacific Warriors, men and women were out fishing in the Pacific in kayaks, catching fish as big as their boats. The narrator mentioned that the swordfish is the fastest in the ocean, and that the ono is the most vicious fish pound per pound. Ping!
CBS Sunday Morning yields several pings each episode. In the most recent, I was curious to learn more about Nick Benson, the slowest writer in the world. Nick is a third-generation stone carver whose family has engraved many of the monuments and markers at famous tombs and memorials. Their shop was built in 1705—they are the second owners. You can view episodes online--be sure to have paper or keyboard ready.
2. Magazines. One I like is The Smithsonian. They have an online version. How can you resist an article about how “thousands of dead bugs became a mesmerizing work of extraordinary beauty?” In September, there was a short article about another fish that intrigued me. It's warm-blooded! The October, 2015 issue has an article about Armstrong Custer—not as hero but as horse thief. Ping!
3. Read newspapers. Read with an eye for something that makes you think, "Say what?" For example, in one of my local papers, an article mentioned there had been a German POW camp right here in my small Texas town. Ping!
4. Travel. I found the subject of a current project in a Texas museum that's smaller than my house. A recent trip to New Orleans yielded ideas garnered from a sugar plantation, a cemetery, a paddle wheeler, and a church. Your radar will be busy if you are aware and focused!
5. Wonder. Catch yourself every time you wonder--write it down. Waiting at a traffic light, I wondered how the mechanism worked that allowed longer green lights during peak traffic and skipped the turn light when no car was in the lane. Hmmmm... Yesterday I wondered how mosquitoes could find me even on a sunny day with a breeze in a wide open space. They bit me through my clothes! BONUS: If you are around children, their questions can be inspirations.
Once you get yourself attuned, the pings will become so frequent you might feel like a xylophone. You will need to use the note function on your phone, or keep a number of small notebooks stashed in your car, near the shower, in your purse or briefcase, and in the kitchen. Your pile of pings could lead to an essay, an article, a book. Or possibly, a blog post!
My husband, Kurt was thirty minutes into a three-hour bike ride when he had a stroke. And crashed. He woke up surrounded by biking friends and EMTs. The trip to the ER revealed that both his hip and clavicle were fractured, and he couldn’t move his left leg.
I was amazed as I watched the ER staff. I saw no hustle. No obvious sense of urgency. The same was true when he was moved to the ICU. Again, there was no alarm, no hustle. Not one person yelled, “STAT!” but the amount of work they accomplished was amazing.
As I watched these professionals, it occurred to me that I should try this methodical, efficient, stress-free movement from task to task to increase productivity in my writing life.
When a patient arrives in the ER, the doctors have a protocol they follow. Kurt’s fractures had been identified, but they weren’t addressed until the brain bleed was under control. The other items aren’t being ignored or forgotten, but there is no use fixing a broken hip if bleeding in the brain can’t be stopped.
The hospital staff begins each day with an assessment of the patient’s condition – something we can easily do with our writing. They then form a plan and check off each item as it is accomplished. Their mantra is to stay focused, stay calm, and reach out for help if they’re overwhelmed, all excellent writing advice.
Writers may have one, two, or even seven irons in the fire, but to move forward productively, we also need a protocol:
Ready to give it a try? Set up your own productivity protocol (STAT!) and find yourself moving methodically and efficiently through your writing tasks.
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