Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Looking Forward to Doing Nothing

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.
— Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

I've been hugely fortunate in my life to do the things I've wanted to do and get paid for them.

I loved my time as an operating room technician (now called a surgical technician). I loved most of the years I practiced nursing, especially those spent in the ICU/CCU (now called the SICU and MICU) and in alcohol and drug rehab. I loved my years teaching nursing, especially my course on geriatric nursing. And I've fully enjoyed my time publishing reference and textbooks for a variety of healthcare students, from medical assisting to nursing to physician assistant students.

It's time now to switch gears and do something else I want to do. I just won't get paid for it. Bummer.

I will be retiring on September 30, 2016, and will be inactivating this blog a time thereafter.

Note: If you would like to follow my personal blog, in which I write about whatever I feel like writing about, you're certainly welcome. Visit http://dontfretnone.blogspot.com/

Thank You

I've met so many wonderful people over the years that I couldn't possibly thank them all for their many kindnesses. But here are some friends and colleagues, some living, some now gone, I'm extraordinarily grateful for having known:

  • Nancy Macaulay, friend, mentor, and nurse extraordinaire
  • Pat Schull, the best business mind I've ever known and an incredible person to boot
  • Nancy Webb, by far the best editor I've ever worked with
  • Vince Marteka, who helped refine and strengthen my writing in his warm and welcoming way
  • Rob Craven, Jr., for his generosity and for helping me find golf again
  • Nancy Dunbar, a ridiculously good nurse gone far too soon
  • Glenn Bricker, MD, who helped point me to a career in healthcare a waaay long time ago

I would like to express my gratitude as well for the honor of knowing and working with many magnificent authors, people who moved me through their friendship, professionalism, and dedication, Here are some of them, in no particular order:

  • Sharon Eagle, bravery beyond compare
  • The amazing and wonderful Carol Tamparo, and also her delightful husband Tom
  • Cindi, Cheri, and Candy, my marvelous drinkin' buddies
  • Sue Perreira, that great ball of fire
  • Mort Diamond, O! Great Man O' Words
  • Jim Cawley, Rod Hooker, and Mona Sedrak, the perfect trio of dinner guests
  • Connie Lieseke, Terri Brame, Jackie Thelian, and Nancy Gardner, who didn't benefit from their terrific books anywhere near as much as they should have
  • The remarkable Debbie Sullivan
  • Bill Tindall, Ed Weber, and Dennis Blessing
  • Arlene Muller, Scott Massey, Jack Coulehan, and Marian Block
  • The incredible Barbara Gylys and her hugely talented daughter Regina
  • Gary White, a multitalented rock star

What's Next?

So, what's next for me? Well, at this point I have three adorable grandchildren to fuss over. I have many books I want to read and many golf courses to bungle my way through. Mostly I want to write what I want to write, not what someone else wants me to write, and right now that's a biography. I haven't settled on a topic yet, but I hope to soon.

First, though, I'm going to do a whole bunch of nothing for a few weeks, which actually may be the last time I'll be able to do so for many years to come. At least one can hope.

Farewell, godspeed, and thank you.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Textbook Publishers Don't Give Answer Keys to Students

If you've ever looked through the comment section on Amazon for health care textbooks, you've probably run across comments such as this one, from "Marty," about a medical coding book she had purchased.

"This book does not contain answers to any of the in-text exercises nor to any of the end-of-chapter exercises. If your goal is to study medical coding in a self-reliant manner, forget about this text. Unless you are formally enrolled in a course in which this is a required text, I would NOT recommend this book. You would have to depend on the teacher for more than just solutions to the exercises in this book."
Let me try to explain why publishers might decide not to provide an answer key in a textbook.

Limited options

For answer keys, publishers and authors basically have three options:
  1. We can make all answers available to everyone
  2. We can make all answers available to only to instructors.
  3. We can make some answers available to everyone and the rest available only to instructors.
Before we decide on an option we need to decide whether we want the exercises in the book to be used primarily as a teaching tool or a learning tool. If we want the exercises to be used as a teaching tool, we'll leave the answer key in the hands of the instructor only, so they can used for quizzes and tests. Students won't see the answers unless the instructor decides to show them.

If we want the exercises to be used primarily as a learning tool, we'll include some or all of the answers in the textbook. That way students can evaluate their own work.

Analyzing the options

Publishers and authors struggle with those options all the time. If we make all answers freely available, most instructors don't like it because it eliminates their influence on the student's learning and also because students can go right to the answer key and not think about the exercises.

If we make answers available only to instructors who have adopted the book for their course, students don't like it because they can't readily check their work, they have to go back to the instructors.

It's a Catch-22 situation, really, and we just make the best decision we can for each particular book in each particular market.

One more note...

Now, for those readers like Marty, who wanted to learn medical coding but who aren't enrolled in that program, quityerbitchin'. You're purchasing a textbook, not a novel. Textbooks are designed to be used in educational institutions. They're not designed to be used by the lay public. So don't slam the publisher or author for those instances in which answer keys aren't included in the book.

And if you call the publisher to get a copy of the answer key and the publisher says no, that answer keys are for instructors who adopt the book, then maybe you should consider enrolling in an actual health care program. Maybe you shouldn't be trying to learn, say, medical coding on your own, eh?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Top Five Favorite Biographies

If you're in publishing you've pretty much gotta love books, amiright? Well, I certainly do, and my favorite books to read are biographies.

Herewith are my five favorite biographies.

1 Anything by David McCullough

I will read any book this amazing biographer publishes, he's that good. My favorite David McCullough book is Truman, but 1776 and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge are also wonderful. I found The Path Between the Seas a compelling story of the building of the Panama Canal, an endeavor that took decades to complete and was as much a war of politics as of engineering.

2 Einstein: His Life and Universe

The esteemed Walter Isaacson has given us a treasured, measured, and comprehensive account of the life and times of one of the most iconic geniuses of all time. Isaacson writes with intelligence and understanding, making the book a great read.

3 The Hemingses of Monticello

This account, by attorney and history professor Annette Gordon-Reed, focuses on the slave family that supported President Thomas Jefferson for years and years at his homestead in Virginia. Little is known about the Hemingses, even the most famous of them, Sally, but Gordon-Reed still managed to craft an enormously important book about the most intimate relationships of a most perplexing president.

4 The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

Okay, this one is might not seem to fit this list, but it's a must-read for anyone in health care, education, or child care. The Reason I Jump is a collection of stories, sort of, about what it's like living with autism, and it's written by a boy with autism. I can't describe this book any better than Whoopi Goldberg, who called it “Amazing times a million."

5 Tie: The Children and Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

These two engaging, well-written accounts focus on the civil rights movement of the 60s. The first, The Children, is a deeply researched book by Pulitzer prize winning author David Halberstam  and ells the story of many of the pioneers of the civil rights movement, from the pivotal Rev. James Lawson to the stalwart John Lewis to the hard-driving Diane Nash. Halberstam actually covered many of the key events at that time. While Martin Luther King was unquestionably the face of the movement, the Lawsons, Lewises, and Nashes served equally critical and dangerous roles. Their stories are completely worth knowing.

The second book, Walking with the Wind, is a personal account by one of those founders, the distinguished Rep. John Lewis. Lewis gives us a firsthand account of King, Lawson, Diane Nash; of being arrested over and over and being beaten and nearly killed; of leading the march over the bridge into Selma. Through Lewis's plain, compelling prose you can almost feel the terror the marchers must have felt as they began to cross over the bridge.  You can see, on the other side of the bridge, scores of stern-faced police, growling police dogs, and hundreds of racist townspeople who wanted nothing more than to see the marchers beaten to a blood pulp.

Taken together The Children and Walking with the Wind form an immensely enjoyable and socially relevant view into a seminal period in our nation's history.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

3 Key Factors for Successfully Self-Publishing a Health Care Textbook

I came across an interesting article on self-publishing the other day, and it got me thinking about the future of self-publishing in health care education.

The article mentions the huge success of E.L. James' book, Fifty Shades of Grey. The book was self-published and then "picked up by Random House and became the fastest-selling paperback of all time, propelling James to the top of the Forbes list of highest-earning authors in 2013."

We see very few successful self-published health care texts or references. One of the most successful of those ventures has been the Clinical Practitioners Pocket Guide to Respiratory Care, by Dana Oakes. He worked extremely hard for that success and continues to do so today.

So it's possible to succeed, but the odds are stacked heavily against it.

I think that going forward there will be three key factors for success for a self-published author of a health care textbook or reference book.

  1. Keep it Niche. Topics designed for markets underserved by medium- and large-size publishers will have a leg up for authors looking to self-publish.
  2. Promote heavily on social media. The successful self-publisher will make effective use many of the various social media outlets available today, including Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Authors who use Amazon's self-publishing app will also be able to sell the book on the site.
  3. Spend the money for a good copyeditor. Errors will kill any self-published book before it ever has a chance to grab the market. Hire an experienced copyeditor to go over your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and then again with a bristle brush. You'll be glad you did.
One last piece of advice, if I may.
Don't self-publish.

Work hard to find the right publisher for your particular product, and then, only if you've exhausted all available options, should you consider self-publishing.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Who Makes Better Writers, Men or Women?

Grammarly, a wonderful little company with a terrific blog on writing, recently released a cool infographic that tries to answer the question posed in the title of this post.

As far as trade publishing goes — you know, novels and such for the lay public — it seems that women beat men at descriptions, characters, and plot development.

From my end, having dealt with male and female authors in health care educational publishing, I would have to agree with the Grammarly results.

Granted, I deal with more female than male authors, but still, for health care education, for people who want to become engaged in a caring, giving profession, well, you just can't beat the ladies.*

Look these data over and let me know, who do you think makes the best writers for health care education or for any health-related publication, for that matter?

Click to enlarge

* Attention, Ray Rice: You can't beat ladies, okay? Or women. Or females of any age. Period.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Clear and Focused

I see many beginning writers struggle to find a writing style that doesn’t sound too academic (read: stilted, boring, and needlessly obtuse). Here are five tips to help keep your writing clean and focused.

1. Avoid long sentences

It’s hard to write a long sentence that works, to get the verbs, punctuation, timing, and cadence right so the reader doesn’t get lost.

So don’t write them. Focus on writing plain, straightforward sentences.

One of the best writing tips I ever received came from a former boss, the wonderful Nancy Webb, who served as an executive editor at Weekly Reader for many years. I had been trying to write a compelling article lead but kept get mired down in my own prose.

“There’s nothing more powerful,” she told me, “than a simple declarative sentence.”

She was right. Take a look at your own writing, and look at how many simple declarative sentences you tend to use. If you don’t spot many, start slicing those long sentences into sentences that would make Nancy proud.

2. Avoid long paragraphs

There’s nothing inherently wrong with long paragraphs. In fact they can prove enormously helpful in fully describing a complex idea. However, for much non-fiction writing, and certainly for health-related textbook writing, long paragraphs should show up only when necessary.

Click to enlarge.
Part of the reason for that is to provide some white space (also called negative space) on the page, though that’s more a benefit than a reason. (See image, right.) Avoid long paragraphs mainly to maintain reader interest.

Purists might argue that a paragraph should be as long as it needs to be and that if the writing is good enough, the reader will come along for the ride.

For fiction and other more literary pursuits, that rule works. But for today’s student, for better or worse, faces time pressures many of us didn’t face when we were in school. To succeed in reaching today’s reader, then, writers need to take that pressure into account.

Vary the length of your paragraphs, absolutely, but try to stay away from paragraphs longer than a couple inches deep when printed on the published page.

Note how the size of the column on the left in the above image, with just a tad over one paragraph, makes the column dense, with little white space. The column on the right, with five shorter paragraphs of varied lengths provides more white space and so proves more engaging to the eye.

3. Use active verbs

Nothing moves prose along faster than active verbs. Learn them. Keep them handy. Use them often.

Banish to the extent possible those mangy passive verbs: is, am, are, was, were, to be, have, had, and the rest. Smash them. Splatter them. Lay waste to them like the Huns ravaged those pesky rascals of Western Europe.

‘Nuff said.

4. Change directions up front

When you need to present the "flip side," the "other side of the coin," or the proverbial and also trite "on the other hand," do so straight away. Don't make the reader guess the direction you're heading in.

Use words like these to signal a shift in direction:

  • However
  • Although
  • Yet
  • But (By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a sentence with "But." Just do so sparingly, because it gets tiresome quickly.)
  • Whereas
  • Even though
  • If only
  • Until
  • Unless

Once you've changed directions, continue apace!

5. Say what you mean

Too many people write as if to prove they’re intelligent instead of writing to make their meaning clear. They use jargon like mayo on a BLT and adjectives and nouns strung together like misshapen pearls on a too-long necklace.

For example…

To minimize the possibility of these mismatches proving problematic for intensive clinical interpersonal relationship-building, clear communication among active participants is essential. Any inherently vague instances of teacher-learner connectedness must be evaluated in light of ongoing information dissemination challenges.

Writing like that deserves one gargantuan Huh?

So don’t write that way. If you’re having trouble putting into words what you’re trying to say, speak it. Tell it to someone or into the nearest recording device.

Our “speaking mind” works differently than our “writing mind.” When we speak, our mind helps simplify and clarify our thoughts. Use it to help simplify and clarify your writing too.

Now, go forth and speak your mind in writing!