A distant relative has seen a book I am putting together for my family and has asked me to do something similar for his ancestry. While this person is related I do not know them very well, and am inclined to treat the project as a freelance gig.

What issues should I consider before accepting this project? For example, I am thinking about charging more than the printing cost of book as compensation.

4 Answers 4


I recommend breaking the project into three parts, developing a separate agreement for each to be executed at the time the work on that phase is to commence.

Without knowing more about the book you are putting together, I suggest the three parts be separated, as below, with a payment arrangement on each part being 1/2 upfront (in theory, should at least cover all your cost*), 1/2 upon delivery.

  1. Conceptual
  2. Draft
  3. Final

A primary consideration should be whether you will engage in the work of the content editor. At least in my experience, there is no such thing as "middle ground" in an editor's world. You either have the final say, or you don't. If you don't, then think twice before you take on the project.

*The notion is that as you move from phase to phase, you are never "underwater" on the whole project. If the costs are high in any one part, you can also require he/she be billed separately for some part of the cost.

P.S. Will he/she be selling the end product?

  • 2
    Thanks for your comments. The book will probably be a highly customized version of what you might be able to self-create from sites like Ancestry.com. For the book I'm making currently I'll be using blurb.com for the printing. One of the nice services Blurb provides is the ability to sell your book right from their site, so I was thinking one of the things I could do for compensation would be to have the client buy copies of the book through that service, and I would get a percentage of units purchased.
    – fbrereto
    Feb 20, 2013 at 23:23
  • 2
    A word to the I'm sure already wise ... don't depend on the contingencies to provide for your base "compensation."
    – GeneJ
    Feb 20, 2013 at 23:50

Adding to the above answers you need to manage your clients expectations and have a clear brief from them as to what they expect.

These are some initial thoughts

  • How long the research will take
  • How far back in time you will research
  • How far horizontally you will research (3rd 4th 5th cousins)
  • Which countries you will research in
  • Can all the research be performed on-line or will site visits be necessary

Depending on the responses from the client you will then be able to formulate a deliverable for them and cost it appropriately. Don't forget good research takes time, decide how long it will take you to do what is required and then add 50% to it as it is human nature to believe you can perform research faster than you actually can.


You might want to consider making it clear what the expectations are for your role. Are you responsible for any fact-checking or editing? Are you going to double-check the research? What if this 'distant relative' has information that conflicts with what you've discovered about your family?


You need to be very clear what role you are fulfilling. Are you...

  • Publishing his research (accepting it as correct) — i.e. the focus is on producing an attractive presentation of unverified work.
  • Checking and/or amplifying his research before publishing it — i.e. the focus is on the quality of the content as well as the quality of the presentation.

One agreement that needs to be made up-front, as it will impact what you are expected to do (and what you expect to do) is how the authorship of the work is documented. Will he be the author with an acknowledgement of your role in producing the book (i.e. will all errors and deficiencies of content be firmly attributed to him)? If it isn't to be made clear that all the research is his, then you will want to do more fact-checking of material that could affect your reputation as a genealogist. Also, to have considered in advance how you will deal with conflicts when interpreting the available evidence!

Having established how the content will be attributed and checked if necessary, you then need to understand how much say your 'customer' has in the presentation of the material. You do not want to be nickeled-and-dimed to death by debates about font choice, layout, grammar, indexing, etc... If he has seen a sample of your work and understands that he will be getting a similar 'look', then that's a good start, but he must understand that he can't 'tinker around the edges' the way he might if he was doing the work himself.

In short: the essential component is clarity — what is expected of you and what is expected of him. Including what he is expected to pay and when; and what (very limited) grounds might exist for him not to pay what's expected (total non-delivery on your part for example, not his dislike for a font choice you made or unhappiness that you discovered that Great-great-uncle Joe was an embezzler not the upright citizen he was once thought to be).

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