Books, Craft, Dialog, General Writing, Genres, Promotion, Publishing Industry, Research, Technique

Narrative Nonfiction or “Faction” – What is it?

I had a question yesterday from a writing colleague, whom I met at last year’s annual conference for ASJA (American Society for Journalists and Authors — if you’re not a member, I encourage you to look into joining. My ASJA network alone is worth the cost of dues).

Anyway, this friend is about to embark on a book proposal about a lesser-known historical figure. There isn’t a lot written about him, and she’s having difficulty locating much reference to this figure in her research. There are no heirs to his estate that she could contact for further elucidating material, though she has  contacted some well-known archives whose staffs should be familiar with him.

Now, this author is an experienced, skilled, detailed nonfiction writer. This story she’s considering writing has plenty of Important and Exciting Plot Points. It’s mundane details of the subject’s day-to-day life that she doesn’t know about–other than the time period in which the story takes place.

Bottom line, she’s overwhelmed with the thought that, although what she’s already learned has been exciting and she’s sure there’s a salable book in it, she may not be able to find enough actual reference material to be able to fill in the gaps in her knowledge about this figure. But she really wants to treat this as nonfiction.

Her question was blunt: Do I make it up?

She’s an ethical writer and is well aware that nonfiction means FACT-based, not made up, so she was not being serious. What is serious is her desire to write a historically accurate account of this fascinating figure. She’s wondering if perhaps she should do most of it as nonfiction, but write a fictionalized version of the story to fill in the missing parts.

What my friend is struggling with is something historical writers have always come up against: How to remain true to historical fact while still painting a complete word picture of a specific time, place and subject, even when there is simply no extant material to verify the smaller details. Enter “creative” or narrative nonfiction.

This type of writing has been with us for some years now, and allows such complete storytelling to take place. Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of the format, which of course has been decried by many purists as simple fraud. Essentially, narrative nonfiction uses fictional techniques to make a story come alive. Sometimes this must include the author’s conjecture on what happened in a given situation, because the people who actually experienced the situation are either no longer with us to bear witness, or simply don’t want to talk about the traumatic situation.

Book cover, The Perfect Storm

Sebastian Junger opened that door with his book The Perfect Storm, when he gave us his idea of what it must have been like as Capt. Billy and his crew went down with the Andrea Gail. No one who was there lived to tell about it, so he HAD to make it up. But it was a very small part of the story, and he made very clear in his notes that it was only his conjecture. And readers accepted it. The publisher took a chance with this maverick move, and it paid off — not just for them and for Junger, but it opened up a whole new world of possibilities that had heretofore gone unrealized for writers of historical nonfiction.

So now it’s acceptable in this format, if you have enough fact-based stuff, to fill in a few details based on conjecture and logic, as long as the vast majority — like 99% or more — of your story is provably accurate. And you must also explain in an Author’s Note that you have done so. Otherwise you MUST list the book as fiction.

I did this in my book, “Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955.” Because so many of the story’s subjects had either perished in the flood or were no longer with us when I was writing the book 50 years later, I needed to be able to take some license if I were to write it in a readable, engaging style.

Book cover, The Perfect Storm

And so I simply let my readers know that if dialogue appeared in quotation marks, it actually came out of the subject’s mouth that way, witnessed by someone verifiable; and if the dialogue appeared in italics without quote marks, it was something I conjectured might have been said. I was clear in my note that I only took license with relatively minor passages, and based my conjecture on what would seem reasonable to most folks to have happened in the given situation.

And you know what? People LIKE this. They’ve actually said things to me about this particular practice, all positive remarks. Now, no one has ever said anything to me about other techniques I use. But they have said things like, “I really like the format. Your book reads like a thriller. I couldn’t put it down!”

When I ask specifically what they liked, they note three things:

  1. The dialogue sounds like real people talking, not stilted, perfect prose. I use sentence fragments and contractions, because people are lazy and want to get their ideas out quickly.
  2. That I did try to imagine what dialogue might have taken place when I didn’t know for sure. As long as they’re aware of which is which, no one feels duped.
  3. I use tactics of good fiction writing: varying story pace, jumping back and forth between characters and scenes to set up easy-to-follow chronological order, giving enough background info to interest readers in characters and make them care what happens to them, and ending each chapter on a cliff-hanger that makes them want to keep reading to find out what happens.

If you’re interested in learning how to write using the narrative nonfiction format, I highly recommend Junger’s book and mine. I can also recommend three others that just happen to also be weather-related, because that’s what I read, as excellent examples of this type of format:

As to whether you should or shouldn’t engage in narrative nonfiction writing, I really do think it’s a matter of how much you’re comfortable fictionalizing. If you’re a purist, don’t even try — it’s not worth the internal struggle you’ll continue to have with yourself. But if you’re open to new approaches, here’s an online link that should help you learn more:

The Reading Experience – Forget Fiction (July 26, 2010)

And here are some books on the subject, both by Peter Rubie.

The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write and Sell the Novel of True Events

Telling the Story: How to Write and Sell Narrative Nonfiction

I hope you learn something that will pique your interest in tackling this flexible approach to historical nonfiction.

Books, Craft, General Writing, Inspiration, Plot, Technique

How Do You Develop Your Plot?

I just read a most interesting post over at The Creative Penn blog about mind-mapping your novel scene by scene. I encourage you to visit this well-written and idea-filled blog, regardless your writing experience. None of us has ever been at it long enough that we can’t learn something of value from someone else.

The Creative Penn blog logo

You really need to check out this awesome writing blog.

For those of you not familiar with mind-mapping, it’s a cool idea. Not entirely sure where it originated, but I’m guessing it was a business thing. At any rate, mind maps are visual or graphic representations of concepts associated in one’s mind with a particular project or idea. By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, mind maps encourage a brainstorming approach to planning and organizational tasks. Here’s a more comprehensive definition from Wikipedia.

I suppose I’ve done “mind mapping” for my current novel, Lonely Cottage Road, though it was more linear than lateral. This format sprang not from a desire to prioritize scenes, but because I was struggling with development of timelines that all fit together logically and rationally. I’m writing a historical drama in which my fictional characters and their lives intertwine with actual historical events, and there are a few parts where the two meld — kind of starting with reality, then making up stuff to advance the plotline. I’ve read novels like this and I love it when I can barely tell the difference between what actually happened and what might have but who knows?

This linear map I made was actually a spontaneous thing. I wrote in v-e-r-y small letters with a purple pen on a long, narrow strip of left-over drawing paper that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away even though it was too odd-shaped to do much with, because it cost $8 a sheet. So the timeline runs in two layers on both sides of the sheet. It was not just a good exercise in scene clarification, it was a sensual pleasure because that paper was so soft and thick, it was just awesome to write on. Anyone who knows about me and my paper and pen obsession will understand this.

And here’s something I learned that may be helpful to other writers: Purple ink is NOT permanent. Though the pigments are beautiful, they are fugitive and will fade over time, even when not exposed to light. Trust me on this. Thank God I looked at them when I did, because over a few years, they’d already faded so badly that I had to go over them again so I wouldn’t lose all that info…this time in black ink!

So, have you ever done this kind of graphical interpretation of your plotline, or any other elements of your story? Has it worked for you? why or why not?

Share!

Books, Craft, Genres, Promotion

Rebirth of a Nonfiction Success – The Revised Edition

Well, after a month-and-a-half of Book Production Hell, I finally sent the final files to the printer yesterday for the revised second edition of my book, Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955. And all I can say is, “WHEW!”

Book cover, Devastation on the Delaware, Revised Second Edition
Book cover, Devastation on the Delaware, Revised Second Edition


Compared to the initial 3 years of research, interviewing and writing for the first edition, this was nothing. Yet 45 days with no break — no days off, no weekends — is an endurance slog no matter how you look at it. This was a rather small update — I added 40 pages of new material including new stories, maps and photos — to an existing 456-page book. That brings this puppy in at just under 500 pages now, a hefty tome you wouldn’t want to drop on your head from a high shelf, for sure. Not to mention the additional shipping weight and larger mailers it will require.

Still, I opted to keep the retail price at $19.95 — that magic number for all TV product offers, for those who pay attention to such things. But my reasons are that in this day of a contracting print book market and shrinking leisure time in which to read them, I wanted to keep my book attractively priced. That, and I’m aware that most of my primary readership — people who live in the Delaware River Valley — are just like me: middle-class Americans struggling to maintain a decent quality of life on shrinking incomes in a crappy economy. Yet another reason not to raise the price.

But that’s really a publishing issue, not so much that of an author. What I want to talk about here are the concerns any author might have when considering updating a nonfiction work. What do you think about when you want to update an existing book, and how do you decide when it’s the right time to do an updated edition?

For me, and this work in particular, it was kind of a no-brainer. Devastation is a documentary treatment of an historic weather disaster. I first published it in 2005, on the 50th anniversary of the event. The entire first printing of 2,500 copies sold out in 42 days — probably a reflection of the fact that it came out just a month after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast of the US, and hurricane-caused flooding was on everyone’s mind. That was a serendipitous stroke of timing I couldn’t have planned, and as tragic as it was for the Gulf, it was absolutely awesome for this book’s sales.

It went on to sell another 2,500 copies over the next five years, giving it a sales average of 1,000 copies a year. Given that most small press books sell less than 1,000 copies total, I am of course pleased and flattered that so many people find my work interesting enough to fork over $20 for. Initially, the book was supposed to have been published by another publisher, and the estimate was to sell that many in the first year. Had that happened, it would have officially qualified as a bestseller in small, independent press parlance.

However, short of having taken off work for that entire year (after having already taken so much time off to write it) to do nothing but promote it, I’m not sure I could have done anything more than I did to make that happen. I spent nearly every evening and almost all my weekends either sending out promo messages or making appearances on behalf of the book for the first year, about 75% of that effort the second year, and leveled off at about 50% of that effort in the remaining few years until now, mostly because I had another new book of my own and a couple of our other authors’ works to promote, as well (The danger of being both author and publisher).

During that time, as the book sold and awareness of it grew, I was contacted by more and morepeople with their own stories and pictures of the flood to share. Always, my first reaction would be (to myself, of course), “Where the heck were you when I was desperately seeking information about this in the first place?” But that kind of attitude is unhelpful, so I simply listened and followed up with gratitude for these people who felt that what I was doing with the book was of value, and who wanted to add to that value.

As I reached the four-year mark after the original publication, I realized it was time for an update. Enough folks had written in to correct me — usually gently, but sometimes not so much — on errors I had made in the original manuscript. Nothing hideous, mostly embarrassing things like geographical errors due to my less-than-stellar ability to read maps or names that were close but not exact. But it was enough all together to make the responsible historian in me wish to correct the errors in the interest of making the book as accurate an historical document as possible. Plus, there were some clarifications and enhancements of existing stories, and a few new stories whose addition I felt would add to the narrative.

As for timing, I realized that August 18 of this year would be the 55th anniversary of the ’55 flood — in essence, a Golden Anniversary. What better PR hook to hang all our promotion on? So I set that as our pub date, and backtracked the production schedule off of it.

So, for the past year I have been gathering all the new material, clarifying stories, getting photo permissions and doing a few new phone interviews. And in mid-June, as I returned from a ten-day road trip that served to both give me some time away from this office and to allow me the relaxation necessary to face the endurance race ahead of me, I started in on the actual work of updating the manuscript. We also launched a cover contest to allow the public to vote on three possible designs, which was a fun and very informative exercise that — happily — ended up confirming our own choice by an overwhelming margin.

Devastation on the Delaware 2nd Edition Cover
This is the cover for the new edition.
By mid-July, we were ready to start into production on the new layout. My poor designer had to endure many changes, as her layout process ended up coinciding with my last-minute writing changes because our production timeline had been inadvertently telescoped by other work I had to do in order to keep paying the bills. But she was a real trouper and got ‘er done. Between the two of us, and a VERY professional and excellent indexer who produced incredible work and delivered EARLY, we managed to pull it off on time.

Of course, if I had only been the author and not the publisher as well, this schedule would have been very different. Automatically add at least 6 months to a year to the whole process. Just another reason to be glad to be an indy publisher/author. And this time, we’re going the POD (print on demand) route. After all, I’ve already saturated my primary market of local and regional readers with the first edition. Few of them will pop for the second edition, too, so I’ll have to seek new readers. It took me five years to empty our warehouse of the original edition’s 5,000 copies, so it stands to reason I don’t want to be sitting on that much inventory again. The higher per-unit price will even out in my not having to pay to warehouse, ship and inventory that large run, not to mention carrying the large debt for its printing.

So now, with writing and production behind me, it’s on to the third and most critical step of the publishing process: promotion. Thanks to a fast, talented and affordable web developer — Caryn Newton of Lantern Glow Design — I’ve been able to streamline this process to include both traditional and online elements, and I get better at its implementation with every new book we do.

Just thought a window into one author’s updated edition process might be enlightening.

Books, Craft, General Writing, Genres, Inspiration, Motivation, Promotion, Publishing Industry, Research

Birth of a Novel

As a published author, I often am asked the same or similar questions, and many of those were recently rounded up in an interview I did with Sandra Carey Cody at her blog, “Birth of a Novel.” Thought it made sense to share it with you here.

Novel

Speaking of which, are you working on a novel? What’s it about? Struggling with anything? Share here, or over on our discussion forum. We’d love to talk with you about it.

Books, Craft, Promotion

Your Public Face: The function of voice in your website copy

Typewriter keys

This morning I received a post from an old friend and colleague who lives in a rural area and is just starting out as a freelancer. She’s building her website and wanted to know whether I thought she should use first person or third person voice in her web copy.

It’s a great question, and one I hope you’re paying attention to, as well. Doesn’t matter whether you’re selling products (including books) or services (especially writing, and lots of authors make part of their living as freelance writers), you need to consciously decide the tone your Web copy needs to have. Here’s what I told Lisa:

It depends what I’m trying to do with the site. I use first person when I want to be more informal, friendly, approachable and personal. I use third person when it’s all business. I think it makes the business sound maybe bigger than just this little one-person shop. Which is true, because I do use subcontractors if a team approach is necessary, so often the effort behind any given project is a group one, not a just that of a single person.

I’d say that since you’re starting now, go with first person. The Net is getting way more personal in every way, and since at this point of the global economy we’re all something of a commodity, the only way we CAN stand out is to differentiate the personal experience. This includes customer service, of course, but in the beginning, it’s all about sounding approachable, talented and easy to work with.

There are all kinds of blogs and stuff that deal with this issue.

WebmasterWorld.com

BrainTraffic.com

WebDesignLedger.com

I tell my clients: If you’re on Facebook, your presence can be personal or business or both, so write your profile copy and posts accordingly. I use FB for both. But my websites (I have quite a few now) each take a different approach based on the audience I’m trying to reach, which is how EVERY piece of marketing/promo in your kit should be. The key is to remain consistent in voice for each separate piece, i.e., don’t flip-flop back and forth between first and third person or present and past tense, etc.

The other thing is that, unlike past years, you should revisit your web copy at least once a year to make sure it’s still current and maybe freshen it up a bit. Net Years are fast and short, and things change quickly. Updates also boost your search engine rankings.

She also asked, in typically straightforward and humorous fashion, “And how much person do I really need? Not sure everyone needs to know I own a farmette and am a chicken freak!?” Here’s my reply:

I say: Include what’s germane to whatever it is you’re trying to promote and leave the rest out. Your Web copy has but ONE job: Get the prospect to call. So you have to get right down to business, because these are busy people and they don’t have time to indulge your personal stuff.

However, once you have them on the phone, if you pay attention when you’re talking with a new prospect, you can sometimes pick up on clues that they may be interested in some of the same things you’re passionate about. Grab those and run with them!

If you hear someone mention they’re interested in or enjoy farming or livestock, jump right in and tell them, “Oh, me too!” And enthuse a little bit about your chickens or whatever, then wait to see if they take that bait and chew it awhile about their own stuff.

THIS is exactly the kind of small but important thing you can bond over with a potential client, and — given that your skill set is what it needs to be to get the actual work done — can be the deciding factor in you being the person they choose to work with. After all, all else being equal, who wouldn’t choose to work with someone they enjoy outside the actual work, rather than just some old someone?

The caveat to this advice is that the bonding needs to happen over something real. Don’t be insincere and make stuff up just trying to find some common ground — that’s the oldest trick in the book in the Smarmy Salesman’s Guide. (No, it’s not a real book, but I’ll bet you’ve met someone who subscribes to its rules!) People can sense when they’re being lied to or jerked around. Besides, it’s bad karma, so just don’t do it. Find that bonding agent where you can and hope that your knowledge, skills and experience can dazzle them where you can’t find common ground outside the work.

Craft, General Writing, Inspiration, Motivation

Everyone Needs Some Inspiration

Just got done viewing the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea” for the second time. Apparently, I forgot to delete it from my TiVo schedule, and now it’s in re-runs. I’m glad.

John Muir
John Muir, from the Library of Congress collection

This time, instead of being preoccupied with the lush cinematography and engaging storyline, I paid more attention to the voice-over itself, as a communication device. And even in the first introductory minutes of this piece, I was reminded of what an incredible storyteller Burns is.

Part of his secret is that he’s so confident in his own abilities, he’s not averse to turning the spotlight on the talents of others within his works, and letting their ideas shine through. And what a gift that is for all of us who view his work.

In this instance, there were several adeptly chosen quotes spoken over the top of said breathtaking scenery footage that revealed the particular genius of the National Park idea. One in particular, though, struck a chord in my writer’s soul.

The lengthy excerpt from John Muir’s writings used to set the tone for Burns’ entire series is, itself, breathtaking. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice to say that Muir’s writings here reveal the source of his singularity of focus and clarity of vision for what the Parks could become as the federal system was being formed.

Anyone who’s ever worked even on the periphery of government or any other mammoth bureaucracy can appreciate what kind of power it takes to move such organizations even a little in a cohesive direction. To understand the influence of Muir’s words (and, of course, his actions) on this immense, circuitous and unprecedented governmental undertaking is to truly embrace the power of the pen.

I strongly encourage you to view this series twice: Once for the initial awe-inspiring story, and then again to see example after example of the power of words and ideas to move nations. Then I encourage you to ask yourself: What have I written lately in service to the ideals I embrace?

We are all creative beings. We all have ideas worth exploring. But they can’t be explored until they’re expressed. Who have you inspired today?

Awards, Books, Craft, Publishing Industry

Good news for “cozy” mystery fans!

This legacy post first appeared on my old blog September 12, 2009:

According to the Southern Review of Books:
Two previously unpublished Hercule Poirot stories by Agatha Christie have been discovered among her family papers. The works were unearthed from the crates of letters, drafts and notebooks stored by Christie at Greenway, her holiday home set in a seaside garden in Devon, “The Guardian” reported. The new stories will be included in “Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making,” which will be published by HarperCollins this month.

Mission Murder book cover

And speaking of cozies, “Mission: Murder,” the first in the Hattie Farwell Mystery Series published by Enspirio House, an imprint of Word Forge Books, is celebrating its first-year anniversary. Some of you may be aware that I am the founder and publisher of Word Forge Books, so I am especially proud to announce that this anniversary is extra-special.

In May, Betty’s book was awarded a Silver Medal in the prestigious 2009 Independent Publisher Best Book Awards.

Author Betty Orlemann displays her Silver IPPY award medal

“Mission: Murder” garnered the silver for Best Regional Fiction, beating out 54 other titles in the category. Not bad for an 80-year-old author, huh? You can read more about Betty at her website.

Craft, General Writing, Motivation, Writing process

Writer’s Block: Um…no.

This legacy blog post first appeared on August 28, 2009:

Writer's block

I’ve long believed that “writer’s block” is a fallacy; nothing more than yet another excuse not to write. And today I found one of most lucid arguments for this point of view over at Publietariat.

So I’m sharing it here with you, because it’s one of those things I believe can derail a promising young writing career.

So, read and enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Books, Craft, General Writing, Genres, Promotion, Research, Writing process

Researching Historical Nonfiction, Part III: Finding Sources and Archival Photos

This is another legacy blog post from April, 2009:

Researching in a library

As promised, here are some tips on starting out with historical research:
Local Media Sources – It seems a no-brainer that you’d start your research with media outlets that exist today, especially if they were around during the event you’ve decided to chronicle in your book. That’s certainly what I believed. I looked forward, too, to talking with other professional writers and journalists at our regional newspapers and other outlets.

Sadly, I discovered that certain of our regional newspapers — the Easton Express-Times being the most egregious — were unwilling to let me use their photos, even though I offered payment for that right. The EE-T re-publishes their own photo essay on the flood of ‘55 every 25 years on the anniversary, and somehow felt that allowing me to use those shots would lessen their sales, I guess.

Stupid, because that original booklet, published about a week after the flood, was what started my whole interest in the subject. I would have GLADLY included a page in my book promoting their booklet as a great addition to anyone’s flood collection, because obviously I couldn’t include all those photos in my book. Not only was this very short-sighted and promotionally retarded on their part, but I also think it was a real evasion of their responsibilities as a keeper of important historical public records.

On a more positive note, several other papers, such as the Pocono Observer-Record, was fantastic and very helpful. More than one staffer there went out of their way to help me make this the best book it could be. I’m grateful for their interest, help and dedication to their craft.

Regional Sources – Running into that roadblock, I had to depend on other sources for the images I’d use in my book. So, I got creative. I put out a call for people along the river to let me know they had private photos. It was a huge task, with many related efforts:

  • I put out several press releases to newspapers from Trenton to Port Jervis on both sides of the river.
  • I posted requests on some websites including those for historical societies and any private historical groups located in those areas (Craigslist would be a good one.)
  • I wrote to some historical societies in the affected regions with my requests, and that was productive. Many referrals to members and then those members referred me to friends and acquaintances they knew had photos and old newspapers, etc.
  • I also put up posters in as many communities as I could get to in the affected areas.
  • One element I will add next time I’m doing this kind of research is a website about the project. I’ll make sure it has lots of relevant keywords and phrases that people might search on for that subject. Then I’ll post my requests on there.
  • I’ll also blog regularly there on the progress of my project. This creates activity on your site and that excites the search engine crawlers to pay attention to you and rank you much higher than a static site.

A nice by-product of this kind of blog is that it makes people aware of what you’re doing and creates automatic customers of your regular blog visitors when your book comes out. They will have followed you from the beginning and have a sense of personal investment in the success of your project.

This is called “platform building,” and any publisher you talk with will want to know what kind of promotional platform you have before they commit to your project.

With any historic nonfiction project, don’t overlook any group where older folks congregate: civic organizations (Kiwanis, Lions, Knights of Columbus, etc.), church groups, senior centers, book clubs and reading groups in retirement villages, etc. Call them and send a request letter to be published on their website and in their newsletter.

Not only will you find many people to interview in these places, you’ll also find they’re enthusiastic about what you’re doing. They’ll be excited that someone cares about something they personally remember, and will lead you to all kinds of other interview subjects and people with archival letters, diaries, photos, etc.

Books, Craft, General Writing, Genres, Promotion, Research, Writing process

Researching Historical Nonfiction, Part II: Finding old maps

This post originally appeared on my legacy blog on April 11, 2009:

1838 Philadelphia map

Revisiting Amanda G.’s discussion forum post, she asked:
 How do I get maps of old towns that no longer exist?

That could probably be a little tricky. Depending on how old the towns were at the time they disappeared, there are a number of places you might look for maps. Here are a few ideas:

Historical societies are often the best place to start. Find the “keepers of the collections” and you’ve likely identified the people who not only know best what the collections include, but also about other resources you can consult, like other people and their personal archives. The trick is to really let them know you value and respect their vast knowledge.
Municipal or county clerks or recorders of deeds — depends on the town. They have official records of any properties that ever existed in their area of authority.

Public Libraries – They usually have a local history collection, and I have made some of my most interesting and surprising primary source finds in these. Make sure you as for the reference librarian, not just a page or front desk worker. You want someone who knows that collection up and down.

University and college libraries – They often have collections donated by alumni and other individuals in their immediate communities. East Stroudsburg University has lots of info on the flood of ‘55. The public library there has an awesome local history collection, and I’m thinking this would be your best bet.

Government Agencies – If you’re researching an area now encompassed by a national park, recreation area or other official preservation designation, the National Park Service will be a primary resource for you. They always have vast historical archives, usually have designated park historians (who are almost always obsessive about their subject). They’ll likely have lots of maps, photos and other visuals available. They’ll also want to stock your book in their visitor center gift shop when it comes out!

Secondary sources – Though this isn’t always the case, often if you’re looking for a map to an old place that no longer exists, you’re not the only one looking. It’s likely others before you have wondered the same thing, and sometimes were persistent enough to find what they were looking for. This helps you, because they’ve already done the work. So don’t pooh-pooh secondary sources as legitimate places to do some research. No use reinventing the wheel if it’s not necessary – remember, work smart, and you won’t have to work so hard. Think of other people who may have need of the same map you’re seeking, and try them first, before launching off on your own search. Lots of people need or want locator maps for now-extinct municipalities: land surveyors, real estate developers, fossil fuel energy companies, metal detectorists. See if maybe they haven’t already done the work for you!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of sources for research, but it’s a good starting point. Good luck to everyone taking on such a project. It’s a worthwhile effort, but a challenging one.