Writing a Local History Book (Part 2)

How a handful of locals came to earn contracts with Arcadia Publishing Co. to produce local history books on Redwood City, Woodside and La Honda continues.

Read Part One of this story here.

Learning the Layout 

Though I had worked on two other books, Caltrain and the Peninsula Commute Service was my first on my own.

When I merged my introductory and caption texts for the first time into a single document, I was astonished how "overweight" my book was. I began throwing words overboard like crazy. Then came round after round of jettisoning beloved phrases and bon mots to slim down to Arcadia size.

“You’ve got to tell the story of that photo in a very short caption. I think that was the hardest part for me,” Betty Veronico, author of the Arcadia history book on San Carlos, as well as others, said. "I can go on and on. But you just can’t."

Betty learned much from her husband, Nick Veronico, who has training and experience both as a journalist and a historian, about how to do research, such as seeking out original sources like the U.S. Coast Guard and official libraries for images and information.

Bob Dougherty and Thalia Lubin, authors of the Arcadia history book on Woodside, said that when they found a discrepancy regarding a date, if they found the date of an event was in a newspaper, they figured that was more likely to be correct. 

Although old-timers can be very helpful in providing reminiscences, "memories are tough to rely on," Dougherty said. "You just use the best information you have. We found photographs where the date may have been written on the backs years after the fact."

The Reward for Writing a Book

Researching a book, gathering photographs and writing can take a year or more. 

Writers receive an 8 percent royalty on net book sales, although they can generate additional revenue by selling their own books, such as at book-signing events. 

Nick Veronico says his book on Moffett Field has continued to sell well because it is available at the gift shop there. Profits for the Woodside book go to support the Woodside Community Museum (pictured above).

Authors have various motivations for taking on an Arcadia Publishing Co. project.

Betty Veronico, who is a real estate manager by profession, had been "looking at the back of Nick’s head" for years as he pecked away at his computer, so she decided to join him, first as a co-writer on the San Carlos book.  

Writing Arcadia books turned out to be a good "couples project," Nick said, noting that he visited lighthouses with Betty for Lighthouses of the Bay Area and helped her select the iconic cover photograph.

My motivation for working on the two Redwood City books was a desire to see my husband’s photographs, most of them taken decades ago, appreciated anew.

When editor  John Poltney asked me to write the Caltrain book, I hesitated to go it alone. But, having worked in communications for the rail agency for 18 years, I cared about the subject and decided to give it my best effort.

The reward? There’s no mistaking the thrill of seeing your name on a book, or watching a Barnes and Noble customer thumbing through it.

Take that thrill up a notch when you do a talk and face a knowledgeable audience dying to ask "the expert" a question. Or, when you take a gingerly peek at your first on-line book review - and it’s a rave.

Most people are like the railroad employee I talked to, who had just received a copy of my Caltrain book. He and many of his family members had worked for the railroad, he said, and seeing its history in pictures gave him a sudden realization that they’d been building something lasting and important.

The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically helped the Veronicos launch the book in 2006 with a book-signing, and the San Mateo County Historical Association has helped us promote our books.  

Lubin said a lot of Woodside realtors give copies of the book to new residents, and people buy them as Christmas presents.

8,000 and Counting

Despite having published more than 8,000 titles, from Arcadia’s standpoint, the nostalgia territory remains a wide-open field - and anyone with an idea for a book is encouraged to apply.

"There are nearly 300 cities with populations of 5,000 or more in California alone that we have not done books about in our Images of America series,” Arcadia publisher Jeff Ruetsche pointed out, let alone the subjects of some of Arcadia Publishing Co.’s eight other series, such as Legendary Locals, Corporate History and Campus History.

For more information on any of Arcadia Publishing Co.'s local history series, or to see if there is a book available about any particular town, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

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