Friday, December 31, 2010

Glad and Sad 2010 Is Leaving

The one charm of the past is that it is the past. ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The year 2010 is nearly gone as I write this, at 5:15 PM on December 31, and I'm seeing lots of Facebook posts from people delighted to see 2010 disappear.

As for me, I find myself both glad it's going and sad to see it leave.

Glad because a dear friend learned that she has inoperable cancer, and in that way  2010 represents a mind-boggling ultimatum handed to  a wonderful person who doesn't remotely deserve it.

Glad it's going because the Phillies lost the Series, dose bums.

Glad because I made far too many mistakes and broke way too many things at home because I'm such a dumbklutz.

Yes, for those reasons and I suppose a few more, I'm glad the year is heading home.

And yet I'll be sad to see it go because I found many new friends and reinvigorated my creative juices this year using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and the blog you're reading now. Very fun.

Sad because I scored my personal best playing golf, scoring 77 on a small executive course nearby. (It doesn't count, really, because the course is so short and so easy, but hey, it's a 77!)

[caption id="attachment_702" align="alignright" width="188" caption="Jack Alexander Thomas"][/caption]

And sad because 2010 will be remembered as the year my first grandchild entered the world. He's in the other room now, actually, sleeping on the couch, our dog Sadie standing post just a few feet away.

So 2010 is leaving, and 2011 is just hours away.

Here's hoping it brings new triumphs and joys, good health and much laughter, few tears and bounteous rewards.

Here's hoping it brings you at least a moment or two of pure bliss, the kind found in a baby's bubbling laugh.

Here's hoping you win more than you lose, find more than you misplace, grin more than you frown, and like yourself more with each passing day.

And so goodbye, 2010. And to 2011...


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

3 Keys to Getting Your Textbook Proposal Read for Real

You have an idea for a textbook or clinical resource. Your book could be the next best thing to squeeze-bottle ketchup. It could make you and the publisher very happy. Wonderful!

But if the editor doesn't read your proposal, your book, your baby, your crowning glory might never see the printed page.

Never fear. Here are three keys to make sure the editor reads and truly considers your proposal.
  1. Find the right editor. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn't. A publishing company might have 10, 20, even 30 or more editors signing titles in various disciplines. Figuring out which editor is right for your book might prove confusing.

    To find the right editor, go first to the publisher's website and look for an author's area. (For a list of author areas for the major healthcare textbook publishers, check my blog post at

    Look for a list of editorial contacts, and then identify the editor handling the discipline that most closely resembles the discipline you'll be writing for.

    Alternately, you can find a book similar to yours and published by the same company, and then check the masthead for the editor's name. Look for Publisher, Sponsoring, or Acquisitions in the person's title.

  2. Write a compelling proposal lead. Put your best effort into the lead of the proposal. That's where you'll keep or lose the editor's attention. In that lead, tell the editor:
  • Which markets the book is designed for. Be specific. Rather than "The book will appeal to medical assistant programs," write "The book will appeal to medical assistant programs that offer introductory courses in medical billing and reimbursement."

  • Why your approach to the content is superior. Again, be specific.

  • Why you're the right one to write the book. Toot your horn in specific ways. Rather than "I just love this topic," write "My background as a lab tech and 8 years of teaching clinical medical assisting give me an edge."
  1. Make the proposal error-free. This is must. If the editor finds one spelling error, well, okay. But two? Three? More? Forget it. You need correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization—everything. Show the editor that you're a writer.
When I see a proposal from someone who gets all three keys dead-on, oh, I'm reading that proposal.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Should the Title of Your Textbook Be?

Compared with writing an entire textbook, you would think coming up with a good title would be easy, wouldn't you?

Sometimes, yes, it is easy, but mostly it's kind of a pain. Let me give you a few tips for crafting a title that will make your editor happy.
Do your research

When trying to figure out a title for your book, research the market first. Find out which books compete directly with yours, and look for commonly used words, such as:

  • Complete

  • Comprehensive

  • Essentials

  • Fundamentals

  • Guide

  • Handbook

  • Manual

  • Mastering

  • Practical

  • Principles

  • Review

  • Understanding

Those words are common for a reason, they provide insight into the type of book it is. You may decide to use one of these, and that's fine but it's just the beginning.
Frame the right tone

Many first-time authors try for a cutesy title, like Medication Marvels for a pharmacology book, or Is That a 301.4 or 568.7? for a medical coding book. Don't make potential purchasers guess what the book might be about, let them know immediately.

Sometimes, though, a cutesy title actually works. For instance, the title of our popular How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School is kinda cutesy but for the content and the author's presentation, it works really well.

By and large, though, stick with a straightforward title.

Ditto for the subtitle, if needed.
Keep it short and sweet

Short titles are almost always best for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they're easy to design around and they stand out to purchasers because they're easy to remember. In healthcare publishing, though, we're often publishing for a specific market, so sometimes long titles can't be helped. For instance, "pharmacology" and "medical assistants" might both need to be part of a title. That's fine, because potential purchasers will look for those words to know about the book. Just don't hide them in a bunch of other words unless it's absolutely necessary.
Think "Amazon"

Make sure that your title is search-friendly. Think about the last time you looked for a certain kind of book on Let's say you're looking for a pharmacology book for allied health students, and you typed "pharmacology allied health" into the search box. You probably got back mostly titles that have those words in the title or subtitle. You might not have seen Medication Marvels in the results because it didn't have "pharmacology" in the title.

That's why we publishers often use a fairly long subtitle, so searches on Amazon and other distributor websites will include the book in their results.
The title "decider"

The good thing for textbook authors is that the final decision about a book's title doesn't belong to them anyway. It belongs primarily to the acquisitions person and ultimately to the company itself. That's because the title is a marketing and sales tool more than anything else.
One more little thing

Before I let you go, do me a favor. When you tell people what your book is called, don't say, "My book is entitled Such-and-So." It's not entitled, it's just titled.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Contributors and Co-Authors

First-time authors often feel overwhelmed with the process. They recognize that they need help but aren't sure how to get it.

If that's you, talk to your editor. You might need a contributor or co-author.


A contributor is someone who provides content on a fee-for-hire arrangement. If you want someone to write a chapter on, say, arterial blood gases, you'd ask an expert in that topic to supply a chapter in return for some remuneration, the amount of which is up to you and the contributor to agree on.

Contributors are paid when the book publishes, to avoid situations in which contributors are paid but their content is never used or the book never publishes. They're paid once and that's it.

Contributor payments come directly out of the author's advance, so the more a contributor is paid, the longer it will be before the author receives royalties on the book. Common amounts paid vary from a couple hundred dollars per chapter to a thousand or more, depending on the level of expertise of the contributor, the size of the chapter, and the anticipated amount of work required.


A co-author, on the other hand, is someone who shares in the royalty agreement with the author and publisher. Co-authors are expected to do much more than contributors, and so are compensated at a higher level.

They generally receive no money up front, unless so stated in the Author Advance clause of the contract. Co-authors, like the main author, are compensated through the sale of their book.

Choose wisely

If you choose the co-author road, make sure you choose someone you can work with for a long time. Contractually, author teams can't legally break up without the mutual consent of all parties involved. Most of the time, author teams form because each member already knows, respects, and likes the other members, and few problems ensue.

However, sometimes that's not the case and people who get together for the first edition grow to dislike each other or otherwise drift apart. Hey, that's life.

So if you bring on one or more co-authors, make sure they're people you absolutely can work with.

Just sayin'.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bulleted Lists that Make Sense

Where would healthcare textbooks be without bulleted lists?

Nowhere, that's where.

[caption id="attachment_664" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Wanna see some white space?"][/caption]

Bulleted lists are a mainstay of our industry and for good reason. They provide key information in a quick-look format. They help break up paragraphs of text. And they provide a bit of white space on the page. White space is a publishing term for, literally, the white of the page and how much of it shows around the text and images. The white space around bullets, which tend to end at varying widths, helps keep the reader's eye engaged in the page.

When you're writing a bulleted list make sure the sequence of bullets makes sense. Bullets shouldn't be just thrown onto the page willy-nilly, as you think of them, they should be as carefully constructed as everything else you write.

That said, here are four ways to sequence a bulleted list.

  • Alphabetical. This format makes sense for items that need no specific sequence, such as a list of authors or symptoms. Sometimes an alphabetical list would make it easier for the reader to find a particular item. Alphabetized lists are best used when the bullet points are short. The longer the bullets, the less useful an alpha list.

  • Importance. Anytime the items in a list vary by their clinical importance, the list itself can help make that prioritization clear. For instance, adverse reactions are commonly listed by importance, with the most important being first or last, depending on intent. Example:

  • Frequency of occurrence. Like importance, frequency of occurrence can also prove helpful when building a list. Generally this kind of list should be built from the least common to the most common. Example:

  • Length of bullets. Use this format then you have a list of bullets each of which is no longer than the width of a column and when none of the other methods makes sense. Example:

By the way, I developed the list above using the Importance format. Wheeeee!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are Key Terms in a Healthcare Textbook?

New authors often want to know how you decide which term introduced in a chapter should be listed as what we often, but not always, call a key term. I just answered this question for an author team today, so I figured it's a good time to post it too.

A key term is a term important and new enough to the chapter to be highlighted in some way, usually boldface, and defined at its point of entry. If the term has been used in previous chapters, there's usually no need to include it again. However, if it's new and you're defined it, it should appear in the list of key terms.

Abbreviations may or may not be used as key terms. For my projects, I recommend that they not be included. The whole term with the abbreviation, sure, but just the abbreviation? No.

The way I'd like to see abbreviations handled is to spell out the term at first use, using a construct like one of these.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a diagnostic test…

  • An electrocardiogram, commonly called an ECG, is a diagnostic test…

  • An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a diagnostic test…

But that's just me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

All About Fair Use

"Unfortunately, the only way to get a definitive answer on whether a particular use is a fair use is to have it resolved in federal court. Judges use four factors in resolving fair use disputes..."

So begins this Stanford University Library article that explains the concept of Fair Use better than anything I've seen. It also explains the di minimus defense and the potential benefit of disclaimers.

Check it out!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How We Choose a Book Cover

I've approved or rejected a whole bunch of book and newsmagazine covers over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me the sheer variety of opinions that can be expressed over any one cover design. Just now I brought around to several colleagues two possible covers for a book to be published next year.

The book will sell in bookstores, so the cover needs to be catchy, it needs to convey a cogent story about the content, and it needs to pass several other marketing-oriented criteria such as placement of the author's name. The color palette used on a cover is typically also used for the interior, so the cover shouldn't be too monochromatic. Otherwise we wouldn't have the flexibility we need to vary colors in headings, sidebars, and other features. So anyway, I bring these two options around to some peeps for their opinion. (I had a third option but I had already rejected it. Looked too much like tennis balls on a Scrabble board.)

Sure enough, as I knew it would come to pass, some people absolutely hated Cover 1, while others absolutely preferred it. Some hated the title font on Cover 2, some found it really interesting. Some really liked the puzzle-like image on Cover 2, some had a clear aversion to it.

That's why I love covers, there isn't any one right answer.

Design lies very much within each person's emotional center, I think. With writing, we can read a variety of authors and like them all even though their style can vary quite a bit. Sure, there are some authors we just can't stand, but on the whole we can read and enjoy a wide variety of writing styles and never give them a second thought.

But with art and design, our response is more emotional, more instinctual, more gutteral. We react to every design. We have to, there's no way around it. The trouble is, for us decision makers in publishing, we have to choose just one design. Oh, ugh.

When I show a cover around, I'm not just gathering opinions. I'm also gauging those opinions in light of the kind of person I know you to be. For instance, I showed the cover to someone who tends to think on a highly detailed level. Many of the book's intended purchasers also think that way, so I considered the opinion in light of that. Another person was more artistic, so I considered the opinion in that light. I certainly weighed the author's own choice as well.

In the end I chose the version I think will do the best job for this particular book. Will everyone be happy? Heavens, no. But we'll have a book with a great cover that fits the need for a product of this type in the market it's intended for.

Happy happy joy joy!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working with Headings

Whether you're writing a textbook or a journal or magazine article, you're going to use headings to distinguish between sections and subsections within the content. Good headings help break up the visual appearance of the page and help visually organize the content, both of which allow the reader to focus attention on each section.

Here, then, are some basic rules for crafting effective headings for textbooks (though they can also work for many other kinds of writing).

  • No “Introduction” headings. If you’re starting to write a chapter, the first block of actual body text is by definition your introduction. You needn’t label it as such, your reader will know intuitively what it is.

  • Keep headings short. Brevity becomes increasingly important the narrower the column of the final, published piece. A heading that might look fine in a Word document with 1-inch margins might take up two or three lines in a 3-column layout.

  • Make the meaning clear. An effective heading should clearly indicate the content to come. That means: No cute headings. Cute headings might work for some magazines, absolutely, but for a textbook, they’re almost always a no-no.

  • Use parallel headings, when appropriate. Parallel headings are those that possess the same characteristics; they all start with an action verb, they’re all gerunds, they’re all one word nouns, and so forth. When you have three or four headings in a row that all relate to the same concept, make sure all those headings are parallel in format. Here’s an example:

    • Preparing mentally for tests

      • Playing private detective

      • Using practice tests to prepare

  • Never put two headings in a row without content in between. Always put some kind of content under each heading. Otherwise why have a heading?

  • Use two subheadings at a minimum beneath each heading. Think of headings as bullet points or outline items; you wouldn’t have just one bullet or one item in an outline under a heading. So don’t do it with subheadings.

  • Never assume in the first line of text that the reader has read the heading. Readers don’t expect you to refer to a heading without being explicit. For instance, let’s say your heading is “Chronic Renal Failure.” Don’t start the body text with, “This is a long-term condition....” The word This is an unclear pronoun reference in this case. Start instead with, “Chronic renal failure is a long-term condition....”

  • Don’t use a colon after a heading. Colons after a heading is redundant. Headings are typically in a larger, bolder font and thus are already set up visually as an introduction to content.

  • Avoid unnecessary articles in headings. I’m big on deleting “the” and other articles from headings. In nearly all instances they’re unnecessary, and in a heading there should be nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How to Develop Strong Textbook Features

In the world of healthcare textbook publishing, having a strong set of features can prove critical in gaining adoptions. A feature is an item in or characteristic of a book that be used on its own to sell a book.

Let's take a look at features and how to build a strong feature set.
What are features?

The term feature is used differently depending on the type of publishing being done. Features can include any of the following, presented here in alphabetical order:

  • Case studies

  • Chapter outlines

  • Chapter summaries

  • Citations of an association's standards and guidelines

  • Student exercises (typically at the end of a chapter)

  • Key terms

  • List of outcomes or objectives

  • Online resources

  • Pronunciation of key terms

  • Reading level

  • Recurring sidebars (boxed elements that may or may not fit a particular theme)

  • References or a bibliography

  • Type of organization (alphabetical, body system, and so forth)

  • Unusual or unexpected appendices

  • Use of concrete examples to explain key points

A sales representative talking with a faculty may be able to point to any of these items and say, "Look what this book gives you that others don't." We publishers try to help authors develop a compelling set of features so that faculty and other potential purchasers see the book as one they just have to buy.

Oh, and note that I didn't write "up-to-date" in any of these features. Being up-to-date is expected for any book we publish for health care. If it's expected, it's not a feature.
Building a feature set

Consider these questions when building features:

  • If you were teaching this course with this book, what features would you want? For instance, is the level of complexity within each chapter worthy of a detailed chapter outline, a simple one, or none? Would your instruction of this kind of content be enhanced through the use of case studies?

  • Would it be helpful to align your content with an association's guidelines or standards?

  • What features do your competitors have? What features could you develop that would give your book a leg up?

  • [caption id="attachment_611" align="alignright" width="300" caption="One kind of themed sidebar. Note the icon next to the heading "Reality Check.""][/caption]

    What kinds of recurring sidebars that could be repeated in all or many chapters would help make the interior design more engaging? Could the sidebars be categorized somehow so they could be given a special icon? Think of categories like legal challenges, ethical dilemmas, patient education, avoiding malpractice, and so forth. If you can develop two or three themes like this, they would serve to break up the text, give the reader something quick but important to read before the main text, provide a sense of cohesion throughout the book, and give the designers an additional element to use to create interesting pages.

If you plan your feature set well, you'll save yourself a lot of time during development and you'll sell more books too. That's a feature all authors can live with.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tips for Writing a Solid Book Proposal

Writing a book proposal can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but if approached in a planned, systematic way the process should go smoothly. I offer here some basic tips for writing a good textbook proposal.

  • If you don't have a copy of the proposal guidelines from the publishers you're targeting, get one. Nearly all publishers post detailed guidelines on their websites. Here are major healthcare publishers and their proposal pages (accurate as of this posting):

  • When discussing the market, be sure to identify your primary market and why members of this market would choose your book over currently available texts. Cite examples and significant trends whenever possible.

  • Don't tell the editor how wonderful your book will be and how it will be perfect for everyone. No book is perfect for everyone, not even the most fantastic novel ever written, whatever that may be. Every book, including yours, must be aimed at one or more particular markets, and you need to be able to explain exactly why your book will meet the needs of those markets.

  • Describe each feature in clear detail. Basically a feature is something that we can readily promote in marketing materials, such as critical-thinking activities, testing exercises, recurring sidebars, and study outlines. Features don’t include being up-to-date; that’s something that every reader expects of a newly published book. Being accurate isn’t a feature either, for the same reason.

  • Although your book is designed to be unique, it’s important for the editor to hear how you see your book being positioned among the various competitors. You should always include a brief comparison of each competitor. Be sure to list the author, title, edition number, publisher, copyright date, number of pages, and list price for each competitor.

  • Don't forget to talk about the ancillaries that will complete the learning package. Ancillaries include instructor’s guides, accompanying software, PowerPoint presentations, and other supplemental materials that enhance the marketability of the text.

As difficult as it may be to write a winning proposal, keep in mind that it ain't nuttin' compared with writing the book itself!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Authors and Production and Compositors, Oh My

Let's say you write a terrific manuscript for an exciting new textbook. Your developmental editor and acquisitions editor have provided solid guidance, and you've listened to and acted on that guidance. Now it's time for your manuscript to go through the production process.

In the production process, the words (usually formatted in Microsoft Word) are married to the interior design (usually laid out in Adobe Quark) to create the look and feel of the final, published book. Integrating manuscript into an interior design involves a number of key steps, each of which can both rectify and introduce errors into the text. Perhaps the scariest, and the one we seem to have least control over, is when the manuscript is sent to a compositor.

A compositor is responsible for pouring the author's words into the assigned page layout and then placing photos, illustrations, sidebars, and other elements onto the page. The publisher provides detailed instructions to the compositor, but when it comes to laying out a page, the handler's eye and experience play a large role in the success of that layout.

Sometimes the compositors do great work, and for that they should be applauded. But  sometimes they don't, particularly for more complicated designs. More often than not, it seems,  page layouts can return with, shall we say, less than stellar designs. The author and editors must then identify each problem and indicate where and how to fix it. Humans being humans, though, some errors inevitably make it through, and the proofing-and-correction process must continue until the pages look right.

We in publishing know that this step—composition—can prove enormously frustrating for authors who don't know all the million things that can go wrong during production. They may end up ranting at the developmental editor or acquisitions editor, demanding that something be done.

That's when I wish this whole textbook-publishing process was smoother, more consistent, and less frustrating. Alas, it isn't.

Publishing is an unwieldy behemoth, with bundles of intertwined workflows and a plethora of disparate and often widely dispersed individuals working on each book in the hopes that someday, if everyone plays their cards right, an actual book comes out at the end.

Know what? It almost always does. So hang in there and trust your Editorial and Production partners to get the job done. Eventually.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Amends to the F.A. Davis Essay Winner, 2010

Sometimes I'm an idiot.

Last night, during the Excel Awards Reception at the annual conference for the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), I inadvertantly gave short shrift to the winner of the F.A. Davis Student Award for best essay. I'd like to make amends here.

Margaret Palermo, a student at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, noted in her winning essay that she has gone on nine trips to third-world countries to help out. Most recently, she traveled to Haiti after the earthquake to help treat over 500 people in only three days. Margaret wrote, "Being a member of the AAMA and receiving certification as a CMA (AAMA) not only gives me the opportunity to be part of a highly professional organization, but enhances my continuous learning experience in the medical field."

Congratulations, Margaret, and best wishes for a long and properous career as a CMA (AAMA)!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Strunk and White’s Principles Still Apply

Anyone interesting in writing better absolutely must have a copy of The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, close by their side. This little book houses some of the best advice you'll ever read about writing well.

Here's a selection of core writing principles we all should apply to our own writing. My favorite is the fourth on this list, "Omit needless words." Could it be said anymore clearly or succinctly? Nope.

  • Use the active voice.

  • Put statements in positive form.

  • Use definite, specific, concrete language.

  • Omit needless words.

  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

  • Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

  • Keep related words together.

  • In summaries, keep to one tense.

  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

And while we're on the subject of keeping things simple, here's the other bible: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction, by William Zinsser. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar he held at the University of Hartford several years ago, and he speaks like he writes—simply, clearly, and to the point. Good advice.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Difference between blogs, wikis, and Google Docs

If you've ever wondered how a blog differs from a wiki, or what the heck are Google Docs anyway, here's a quick-scan view of the differences:

Thanks, Google!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Random Writing Tips for Organizing and Keepin’-a-goin’

  • Never stop writing for the day at the end of a section or even a sentence. Always end midway through a sentence, so you know basically what you were thinking about when you left. Chances are you'll change it anyway, but it will give you a solid starting place.

  • Use footnotes or Word's note feature to make yourself little notes about where a particular piece of information came from or something you'll need to check later in the writing. Do it here and now, so you don't forget later.

  • Always save a separate copy of your footnoted file before you send it to the editor, which probably won't have footnotes. Give it a unique and clearly identifiable filename for easy reference later.

  • Do some writing everyday. It doesn't have to be actual writing, it can be just research or line editing already written work, but do something on the project everyday. The longer you're away from a piece, the harder it is to get back into it.

  • Back up your work at least every week, if not everyday, to a separate drive. And I don't mean a thumb drive either, I mean a real, honest-to-goodness external backup drive. They're cheap enough, get one and use it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What a Sales Conference Means to Your Book

So I'm sitting here at our annual sales conference, this year at the Ace Club outside Philadelphia, and I'm listening to one of my wonderful colleagues presenting a soon-to-be published nursing book to our sales reps.

It occurred to me that most authors and potential authors probably don't have a clue about the importance of this conference to the sale of their book, so I thought I'd explain.
Excitement starts here

Sales conferences involve editors describing, showing, promoting, and cheerleading just-published or soon-to-be published books to all the sales reps. The reps will then go out and sell the book, talking to faculty about the benefits of the books in hopes they'll adopt t for their classes.

This presentation is our last best chance to educate the reps about the book and, more important, get them excited about selling it. That excitement fuels the reps when they head out to campuses in the fall, and it's critical to the success of books out of the gate.

Short of parades and confetti, we'll do whatever we can to push books to the forefront of each rep's mind. When they really understand a book and have solid strategies for selling it, they feel more confident that when they talk with an instructor they'll be able to answer any question and resolve any concerns.
Camaraderie builds confidence

Underneath all those presentations lies a hugely important goal, to enhance the relationship among the reps, editors, and electronic development folks, and nobody does that better than F.A. Davis.

I've worked for a number of publishing companies and have attended and presented at a couple dozen sales conferences, and I can say without equivocation that this company does it right.

[caption id="attachment_500" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Some of our editors and sales reps at a recent sales conference"][/caption]

These meetings build, enhance, and cement relationships between the people who make books and the people who sell the books. The closer that relationship, the more effective both groups become at their jobs.

I've never worked with a sales force that knows their products better than our people. They pay attention to everything you say, focus on the main points you're trying to make, and then coalesce that information into clear strategies for managing their sales calls.

That ability gives them power to sell more books, and that's good news for every author.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Before You Author, Ask the Right Questions

Every healthcare textbook publisher asks a single question of major importance before publishing a book: Is this the right author writing the right book at the right time for the right market?

Every potential author should ask the same kinds of questions:

  • Am I the right person to write this book?

  • Does my book really make sense?

  • How is my timing?

  • Does the book meet a clear market need?

Let's take them one at a time.
Are you the right person?

You're the right person if you feel passionately about the topic; you have solid, quantifiable experience in the topic and consider yourself an expert; your credentials indicate that you have a reasonable background to write expertly about the topic; and, for a textbook, you have substantive experience teaching the topic to learners.

Take this example. Betty is a CMA (AAMA) with a BS degree in, say, biology. She is also an RN and has been MA Program Director at a community college for 6 years. She wants to write a book about clinical skills for MAs. Does she have what it takes (superficially, at least) to author that kind of book? I'd say yes, absolutely, she seems to have a good skill set for that.

What if Betty wanted to write a book instead about teaching skills for new allied health faculty? Does she have what it takes? I'd say no. She might be a great teacher but her educational credentials don't support her being an expert on the topic. For a book like that, she should probably have an Master's in Education and have a substantially broader experience than solely in medical assisting.
Does the book make sense?

By "does the book make sense," I mean is the topic is broad enough and pertinent enough to sell a significant number of copies? Some topics are just too small for a book but would make a great journal article. They're so niche-oriented that it wouldn't make sense for most publishers to invest in a book that won't sell enough copies to turn a profit.

If your book would fit a course you know is offered by all or most programs, then you've got yourself a solid idea. If it would fit some programs but not others, or if the book covers a section of content within one or more courses, you'll have a more difficult time "selling" it to a publisher, but go for it anyway.
How is my timing?

For courses that already exist, such as med term, A&P, pathology, and the like, timing isn't critical. There are already books out there and the course already exists.

But for topics that seem "cutting edge," topics that are on the cusp of becoming standard but aren't there yet, you're in a tough spot. Some publishers certainly will risk taking on your book, but because education in general—and healthcare education in particular—move so slowly, most publishers will have second thoughts about publishing it. Which leads well into the last question…
Does the book meet a clear market need?

If the topic is too new and untested, then deciding whether your book on it would meet a clear market need becomes much more difficult. The safest book for a publisher, the one with least risk, is one built to compete with at least one other similar product. In that case, it's a let's-do-ours-better kind of approach, which is a nice approach to have. Build a better mousetrap, eh?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Preparations for Proposing a New Book

When a potential author prepares a proposal for a new textbook, my work begins. Here's an admittedly incomplete list of the main tasks acquisitions folks like me need to complete before we can bring a formal book proposal to a decision making body.

  • Work with author to refine proposal, table of contents, sample chapters, and such

  • Create survey to gain feedback on project

  • Find and assign reviewers to complete the survey

  • Compile survey feedback and review with author

  • Request production estimate, which lists the various costs of each component of the book. To do that, I need to provide these estimates and other data:

    • Title and subtitle

    • Trim size

    • Number of book pages

    • Type of cover and binding

    • Number of colors for cover and interior (black-and-white interior is 1-color, black; black and, say, magenta interior is 2-color; what you call full color is 4-color to us, the colors being cyan [blue], magenta, yellow, and black)

    • Number of photos and how they will be supplied (film, hard copy, or electronic)

    • Number and approximate complexity of illustrations (for instance, 100 illustrations: 60% complex, 20% moderately complex, 20% simple)

    • Anticipated manuscript submission date

    • Anticipated publication date

    • Price and other business model considerations

    • Anticipated total fees for developmental editor

    • Ancillaries to be offered, such as:

      • PowerPoints, including number of slides and images to be inserted

      • Test bank including number of test items

      • Instructor's guide, including number of pages and images to be inserted

      • Interactive software

      • Online resources

      • Image bank including number of images

      • Flash cards, including format (print, electronic on CD-ROM, electronic online), total number, and number of illustrations, if any

      • Accompanying workbook (which actually gets its own proposal and financials)

    • Estimated cost of building ancillaries

  • Complete what we call here a gross profit estimate, or GPE, for which I need to supply the following:

    • Expected unit sales over life of title (LOT) for each market (MA, PA, NP, etc)

    • Expected unit sales for first year

    • Average discount for distributors and retailers

    • Number of complimentary copies needed to properly market the book

  • Prepare formal proposal document, including:

    • Overview of the product and ancillaries

    • Why the proposed author is the right person to write the right book at the right time for the right market

    • Summary of reviewer feedback

    • Royalty rate, amount of author grant, and other author-related financial information

    • Full competitive summary, including:

      • Title, author, edition number, publisher, copyright year, ISBN, page count, price, and so forth

      • Ancillaries available

      • Strengths

      • Weaknesses

    • Market analysis

    • Any other information we believe will help the decision making body, in my case the Editorial Board, determine whether to publish a book

Whew, no wonder I'm always behind!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Planning Your Own Succession

One of my authors, a wonderful person  I consider a friend, was recently diagnosed with a cancer for which there is no cure and for which the best available treatment might give him 2 or 3 more years of life. He writes a successful book for us, and we had thought, obviously, that he would be writing new editions well into the future.

The diagnosis and prognosis are awful, horrible, despicable. As a friend, I will provide as much support as I possibly can. Of course I will, just as he would do for me.

But from a professional point of view, the news takes on different meaning. It's sad to even have to think about having a professional point of view about this, but there it is and there it must be.

We talked recently about what a succession plan, a kind of Plan B so that we know what to do in the event of his death. It's a difficult conversation under normal circumstances, never mind when death has become more than an abstract concept, more than letters on a page, when it has become, in all its frightening detail, real.

The discussion about succession brought home the fragility of life, certainly, but also the worth of the partnership that exists between a publisher and an author. Publishers sign authors because they believe in each author's vision, ability, and dedication. We publishers want to maintain a lasting, mutually fulfilling relationship as long as possible, and we don't like it when a good author leaves us, especially under these circumstances.

Leave us they do, however, and for that we all need to prepare.

If you're a textbook author, do you have your own succession plan? Where will your future royalties go? Into a trust, for example, or into probate?

Who would you want to continue writing your textbook? Do you have someone specific in mind? If not, what are the qualities you want us to look for in a successor? What degrees, experience, and abilities should they possess before we consider them?

These are the questions publishers face when an author dies, and they're questions we might want to answer now, before the reality of our own demise becomes all too real.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thank a “Born Teacher” Today

I was privileged enough a few days ago to witness what has become a familiar experience, my incredible wife being surrounded by her adoring students and their equally adoring parents, each singing her praises as a teacher and a human being.

[caption id="attachment_467" align="alignright" width="181" caption="A Born Teacher"][/caption]

My wife is a fifth-grade teacher and was unequivocally born to teach. I know I can't be fully objective, but I've heard it so many times that I know it is accurate.

If only you could have seen the faces of the students, their heads swiveled upward to her face, their eyes glazed in admiration and love, their feet carrying them to whatever corner of whichever room she went into.

If only you could have heard the testimonies of the parents and the number of times they told her, "I can't tell you how much you've meant to my son," or "I don't have words to describe what a difference you've made to my daughter."

They simply cannot articulate the depth of their veneration for her.

My wife is one of those quite rare individuals whose teaching style is so relaxed and so very fluid that she must certainly possess inbred characteristics that make her so.

Most of us other mortals who teach/have taught are learned teachers. We enjoy passing on our knowledge in a way that makes sense to learners. We've gained insight and expertise over the years and are competent and perhaps even gifted teachers. But we weren't born to teach.

Born teachers have something special. They exude an aura of purity, of timelessness, of art. The rest of us work at our craft, while these truly amazing individuals paint educational portraits the rest of us can only stare at and ponder.

You might have — might have — run into a born teacher at some point during your education. Or perhaps you work with one. It's even possible that you are one yourself, though you probably don't consider yourself that way. Which is another attribute of born teachers, their humility.

If you know a born teacher, do yourself a favor. Reach out to them today.

Let them know how much you appreciated their vision, humor, professionalism, artistry.

Let them know how much you learned from them, what life lessons they gave you that only they could have.

Let them know how your life changed because they were in it.

Let them ponder those things all summer long and feel, yourself, grateful for having known and been taught by a born teacher.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

How Publishers Decide What to Publish

I received an e-mail from a potential author yesterday — let's call him Alan — about a book he would like to write for a market we don't publish for. I sent a polite rejection, explaining that we weren't publishing books in that market and wished him well in finding a more suitable publisher.

He wrote back with thanks and asked, "What criteria goes into making a decision?"

Great question. I'll limit my responses to professional and educational healthcare publishing.

First, know that every publisher is different and covers different markets in different ways. We all have markets we're heavily invested in, markets we're marginally invested in, and markets we don't invest in whatsoever.

For instance, here at F.A. Davis we publish heavily in nursing, physical therapy, medical assisting, medical terminology, and others. We publish less heavily in medicine and the dental auxiliaries.

Often the decisions about which markets to publish in are based on the number of individuals that comprise that market. We tend to publish less for small markets and more for large markets.

For us and many other publishers, the return on investment doesn't make sense when you consider the costs of publishing for a small market. Some publishers, though, specialize in niche markets and can make a solid profit in doing so.

That's not the only reason we have for publishing for a particular market, but it's an important one.

So if you're looking to write a book for a small market, look first at niche publishers rather than the larger ones. You'll probably find a better response there.

Hope that helps, Alan.

(His name wasn't Alan, by the way, and he might even have been a she. Tee-hee! I fooled you!)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Working a Booth at a Convention

When you're in publishing, working healthcare conventions is part of the deal. There is an art to working a booth at a convention, I think, and also a science.

I don't profess to be competent at either, but I've worked enough booths over the years that I've picked up some techniques that, if you ever wind up at a booth, might help you get through the experience successfully.

  • Dress for the image you want to present. I always try to look professional but I'm a rather casual guy, so I often wear a nice polo shirt with dress pants. For some shows, particularly for an opening night reception, I wear a dress shirt and tie, but I never wear a suit. To me a suit projects a bit too much formality, which is not me at all. But it may be you, and if so, wear it proudly. But always dress professionally, everything clean and neat.

  • Keep that cup o' Joe hidden or discretely out of the way. Exhibitors have to eat too, and attendees understand that. But do everyone a favor and keep food and drinks as much out of sight as possible.

  • Use your body language to silently "invite attendees into the booth. I try never to stand in front of the booth and cross my arms. That posture can seem off-putting to some people, and the idea is to seem inviting and open.

  • Never block the opening to the booth. This is critical when the booth is small, not so important when it's gigantic. Either way, try not to block something important that you want attendees to see. Even when I'm talking with authors or potential authors, I try to inhabit only a portion of the booth entrance, when in fact there is an entrance.

  • Don't force contact. For people passing by the booth, smile, perhaps say hello, but don't force contact. I've seen vendors in a booth literally chasing after attendees to get them into the booth. Sad. Say professional. Be nice, be open, be inviting, but don't push. The attendees don't owe us a visit to the booth. We owe it to them to be there, to listen to them, and try to meet their needs, that's just good business sense. But they owe us nothing. It's good to keep that in mind, I think.

  • Honesty is a good thing. At least some of your competitors will also have a booth in the exhibit hall. Scout out their locations as soon as you can so you can send attendees who don't find what they need at your booth over to your competitor's. Yes, that's what I said. If someone visits your booth and you don't have what they're looking for, send them to someone who might. That attendee will remember your graciousness later, believe me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writer’s Checklist

Before you send off that article, manuscript, or other chunk of your writing to someone else to read, do yourself a favor and run down this checklist.

  • Replace two spaces with one between all end-of-sentence punctuation. Don't use double spaces between sentences, it's a practice that is leftover from typewriters. All word processing and page layout software adds an appropriate amount of space after a period; adding two spaces just messes things up.

  • Run your spell-check program one more time, and double-check each questionable word with a widely accepted dictionary. This is especially important for documents using medical terms.

  • Check commonly mishyphenated prefixes and suffixes, such as pro, pre, post, anti, and non. Use The Chicago Manual of Style as your guide. Some healthcare publications may ask you to use the APA Style Guide.

  • Check that all numbers dates, times, and numbers have been handled according to The Chicago Manual of Style or similar guide.

  • Make sure you've noted sources for all clearly identifiable facts.

  • Check the spelling of names and proper nouns with a widely accepted resource. provides content from more than 100 encyclopedias and dictionaries, including the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

When Is a Work Copyrighted?

These words, the moment I key them into the computer and they appear onscreen, so they can be read by someone else, from that moment, the words are copyrighted.

Yep, that’s right. Copyright happens the moment a person’s original words are put into a format that can be read by others. They might never be read by others, not ever not never, but they’re protected by copyright law just the same.

The U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

If your words are published, however, copyright takes on new meaning.

Most publishers obtain copyright immediately on submission of your work. For instance, if you send a letter to the editor of a newspaper, the newspaper gains copyright immediately on receipt of your work. Your submission indicates that you agree to grant the newspaper your copyright in exchange for publishing your words. Fair enough.

Book publishers gain copyright through the book publishing contract. This contract grants the publisher the right to market, sell, and distribute the book.

But aren’t there advantages to the author in holding the copyright? I can hear some of you asking.

Not really. If you want your book to sell, you want your publisher to do everything possible to promote it. If your book doesn’t sell, the publisher in the vast majority of cases will be only too happy to give you back the copyright.

Think of the copyright as protection for the author and, should your work become published, protection for the publisher as well.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Few Words About Fair Use

Authors often ask how much text from another author's book they can use without having to obtain permission.

For an answer we need to look to what's often called the Doctrine of Fair Use, part of the copyright regulations that deal with the use of another's content without permission.

The U.S. Copyright Office lists a number of purposes for with use of another's content may be considered "fair," including criticism, editorial comment, reporting, teaching, and research. More important, though, are the four factors that determine whether a piece of content can be considered fair use.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

  2. The nature of the copyrighted work

  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

When you look at these factors, copied directly from the Copyright Office, you can see how seemingly vague fair use is.

For instance, is there a certain number of words or paragraphs that can be used freely?


No? Not a limit of some kind?


So you can use as much as you want?

Absolutely not.

But you can use some.


Well, does it matter whether the content you want to use comes from a textbook or, say, a research book?

Um, it may matter. Or it may not.

That's not terribly helpful, Mr. Smartypants.

Maybe not but here's the key. Assuming you have a conscience, you should feel free to pick up and use a "little bit" of someone else's content. But the moment you begin to question yourself, gee, is this too much? Yes, it probably is.

Monday, May 10, 2010

List of Allied Health Markets

Here's a list of a few of what most publishers consider allied health professions.

  • Athletic Trainer

  • Blood Bank Technologist

  • Cardiopulmonary Technician

  • Dental Assistant

  • Dental Hygienist

  • Dental Laboratory Technician

  • Electrocardiography Technician

  • Emergency Medical Technician

  • Health Information Technologist

  • Hemodialysis Technician

  • Massage Therapist

  • Medical Assistant

  • Medical Coder

  • Medical Laboratory Assistant

  • Medical Laboratory Technologist

  • Medical Secretary

  • Medical Technologist

  • Medical Transcriptionist

  • Occupational Therapist

  • Pharmacology Technician

  • Phlebotomist

  • Physical Therapist

  • Radiology Technologist

  • Respiratory Therapist

  • Surgical Technician

How Much Will I Make from Authoring a Textbook for Allied Health?

Occasionally a potential author will ask about compensation before they have even written a book proposal. These educators (typically) have often asked a loved one for advice and then come back to me and say, "My husband/wife/friend/relative says I shouldn't write a book unless it makes sense financially. Can you tell me how much I can expect to make?"

I understand the concern, I really do, but until I have a proposal in hand, until I can really "see" what the book will be and where in the market it will best fit, I can't really talk about compensation.

These folks still deserve an answer, of course, and in a nutshell, this is what I tell them. (Keep in mind that I'm referring to authors of textbook publishers for allied health. Nursing textbook authors often make considerably more because there are so many more nursing students than those in any single discipline in allied health.)

You're thinking about writing a book for, say, medical assistants. The MA market is pretty solid, well over 150,000 students a year, but unless you're planning to author a book for a core course that all MA programs offer, you're looking at only a slice of that MA pie.

Even then, books for a core course are competing against a host of other textbooks, so take that slice and then divide it again.

If you're planning to write a book for a less ubiquitous course, or perhaps a book that supplements other books, your slice of the pie will be really small.

So know going into this that your book will most likely not make you rich, it just won't. You won't be able to send your kids through college on the royalties, but twice a year, in April and October, a nice little paycheck will arrive in your bank account.

If you're lucky, you could purchase some nice patio furniture with it or a lovely new rug for the dining room.

If you're really lucky, if your book sells really well, you could put a hefty down payment on a new car or install a new deck off your back door.

Only a precious few authors, though, make six-figure incomes for any single edition of their book.

Textbook authors by and large write because they have something to say, because they want to make an impact on their profession, because they want to earn the praise and respect of their peers, or for any number of other wonderful and fulfilling reasons, but the seldom do it for the money.

If someone's main reason for writing a textbook is to make money, they'll probably be disappointed. I'm not saying they won't make money, because they probably will. I mean, why would I sign a book that I believe isn't going to make us or the author money?

So a bit of advice if you're considering authoring a textbook. Don't do it purely for the money; you won't succeed. Do it for your profession and know that in April and October you'll receive a lovely little gift, which will make you glad you decided to write.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Authoring Textbooks for Your Heart

Occasionally a potential author, someone thinking seriously about authoring a textbook, will ask, "What kind of book do you need right now?"

I don't answer that. Instead I turn it around and ask, "What's your passion? What classes do you teach that you really enjoy?"

[caption id="attachment_416" align="alignright" width="286" caption="Now, THIS is passion!"][/caption]

Even for professional authors, writing a book is hard work. Authors must be dedicated to the cause, so to speak, and the cause must be close to the person's heart in some way. Every single time I've worked with an author who was writing for me instead of herself (or, you know, himself—whatever) has been an abject failure. It just doesn't work.

It doesn't work because the person never becomes fully vested in the topic, never fully binds emotionally with her own need to write.

That doesn't bode well for those long hours at the computer, books and papers splayed hither and yon around the room.

No, you need to write about topics you feel something for. Do you love to teach about arrhythmias? ICD-10 codes? Professionalism?

Those will be the topics you can focus on. Those will be the topics you can really dig into and enjoy it.

For me, that's the key, finding authors who really care about what they're writing about and who are passionate about it.

If you ain't got the passion, you ain't got the motivation, and if you ain't got the passion or the motivation…I gotta tell ya, we ain't gonna have a book.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unquote and the Great Dick Cavett

[caption id="attachment_406" align="alignright" width="211" caption="Edgar and said Raven "][/caption]

"Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'"


For years and years if I quoted someone, I would finish with the word "unquote."

It never made sense to me, really. I mean, unquote? It was a quote but now it's an unquote?

But I didn't think much about it either. That's what other people said, so I figured it must be the correct word.

Then, many years later, I read a piece by the amazingly brilliant Dick Cavett, author and talk show host extraordinaire.

He said no, it's not unquote, it's end quote.

Now that made sense. You start the quote with "quote," say the quote, and then end it with "end quote."

[caption id="attachment_407" align="alignright" width="116" caption="Dick Cavett"][/caption]

And so, dear reader, the next time you quote someone, say "End quote," not "Unquote," and think of the great Dick Cavett when you do.

I couldn't possibly end this blog without a Cavett quote, so here it is:

"As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it."

Perhaps not the best quote for this particular piece. Nonetheless, end quote.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Need a Little Push to Get Started Writing?

As an acquisitions editor I often find myself trying to get an author moving on a project, trying to get them motivated to write, to find time, to sit down and dammit get it done.

I'm a huge procrastinator, so I know what they're going through. I've often faced the computer with an assignment due and then let myself drift away into Internetville or Emailand. Not fun.

So how do you make yourself write when you don't really want to?

I find two elements are key.

First you have to make sure that you are facing a reasonably long block of time that you could be writing, if you really wanted to. If you're crunched for time, it's way harder to get started and you probably won't. If you've got 45 minutes or an hour, though, or preferably more you can do it.

Second you have to find a key that unlock that part of your brain that engages when you're writing. It's hard to describe that place but you know it when you get there.

Your brain sort of takes over your fingers. It begins to concentrate on the task at hand and doesn't concern itself with Facebook, dinner, or laundry. You can't really will yourself to that spot either, I find. You've got to find a key.

For me that key typically takes one of three forms.

  1. I read over what I've already written and edit it on paper. That's critical for me, to edit on paper, though I'm not sure why. After I start editing on paper I can move to the computer, and once that happens I'm usually in. My brain gets to that place and I can write freely.

  2. If I haven't written anything yet, I'll gather some of my research and go to a different room. That's also critical for me, going to another room, and again I have no idea why. I get away from my writing area and then try to immerse myself in the research, particularly reading over an interview transcripts I might have. That always helps.

  3. When I'm really and truly stuck, and I just don't want to write, that's all there is to it, but I know I have to write, I'll just settle for writing a sidebar, something I know needs to be only a couple hundred words long and something I can bang out quickly. I think, Well, I just can't get into the main piece, I just can't, but I can at least do this little rinky-dink sidebar, right? Of course. I'll just do this one thing and then call it a night.Next thing I know I've finished the sidebar and am ready to move onto the main piece. I literally fool myself into writing.

I don't know if these tips will work for you but who knows, maybe they're just the push you need.

Monday, April 5, 2010

All About Back Matter

In my last posting, I covered front matter. I'll cover back matter in this one.

Try to hold your applause until the end.

Back matter consists of content that appears after the last page of the core manuscript. The number and type of sections that follow the final chapter vary by the type of book. Technical publications generally have more end-of-the-book components than trade books.

Material that doesn't fit within the body of the book is often included as appendices. In a software manual, a table of shortcuts might appear in an appendix. A craft book might have an appendix listing names, addresses, and other contact information for craft supplies and other resources mentioned in the book. A technical manual might include lengthy warranty information in an appendix.

Often found in scholarly publications, the bibliography is a list of resources related to the subject of the book. The bibliography may list other books, magazines or specific articles, and Web sites.

Similar to a bibliography, a references appendix typically lists resources the reader can check for more information.

When footnotes (see Text Block elements) are consolidated at the end of a chapter or at the end of the book, they are called endnotes.

The glossary lists acronyms, words, and phrases relevant to the subject of the book along with a brief definition. The format may vary but two typical glossary formats are:

  • 1-column: The glossary term in bold followed by the definition.

  • 2-column: The glossary term in one column with the definition across from it in the second column. This kind of glossary takes up more space on the page, which may be a good thing if the book is running short or a bad thing if the book is running long.


Arranged alphabetically and by subject with page numbers, the index breaks the book down into all the many sub-topics and ideas covered in the body of the book. Desktop publishing software can often handle the creation of simple index pages. More complex indexing is often accomplished with third-party software and the services of a professional indexer.
Reader-Response Form

Could be an actual page bound into the book or it may be a separate page or postcard slipped into the book that asks the reader to respond with comments or questions about the book.
Teasers / Excerpts

Fiction books in particular may have pages that look like advertisements that describe other books by the same author or the same publisher, sometimes with ordering information. Excerpts or the first chapter from the author's next book or the next book in a series may appear at the end of the book.

All About Front Matter

Let's learn all about front matter, won't that be fun?

By front matter I don't mean brain matter in the frontal lobe, no, I mean the stuff at the front of a book. Each piece of the front matter has a specific function, and if you're planning on writing a book, you had better learn about each one.

The front matter consists of all material that appears at the front of the book, before the reader reaches the actual body content. Front matter may be as simple as a title page and table of contents or multiple title pages, a detailed table of contents, and several pages for the preface and foreword.
Title Page(s)

As a minimum the title page would normally have the title of the book and the name of the author and illustrator. Other information may depend on the type of publication. Technical or software manuals may include more information on the specific products covered, safety notices, and warranties, while a book of poetry may have only copyright and publisher information.

  • Publisher Name and Address

  • Copyright information

  • ISBN

  • Library of Congress number

  • Edition Notice

  • Date of publication

  • Number of printings

  • Disclaimers

  • Warranties

  • Safety Notices

Table of Contents

A table of contents may be as simple as listing all the main chapter titles and the page they start on or be multi-level with sub-chapters and descriptions.
List of Figures / Illustrations

Some books have a separate table of contents for the illustrations, photos, charts, and graphs that might give the name or source of the illustration (if there are multiple contributors / sources), a title or description of the illustration, and the page number.

The preface gets the reader to read the book by briefly describing the contents, purpose of the book, and explaining who the book targets. For example, a software manual may be aimed at beginners or power users. The preface might describe the terminology or special conventions used in the book, such as symbols used for warnings, tips, and trivia.

Often written by an acknowledged expert in the field or genre covered by the book, the foreword is something of a testimonial for the author or the book itself.

A dedication section is a separate page that briefly names one or more persons of special significance to the author, often a loved one or someone else the author holds in high esteem.

An acknowledgment page is where the author acknowledges the contributions of organizations and individuals who he or she feels helped with the book.

The errata is a list of corrections that describes the error, where it occurs, and what the correct text or illustration should be. Generally added as a separate slip of paper somewhere in the front matter, it might be bound into the book.

Also called a frontis, this is an illustration typically found opposite the title page or elsewhere in the front of the book. These are rarely seen nowadays.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fun Word Site: Wordle.Net

What a fun site Wordle is! Paste in a bunch of text and create your own word cloud. For this sample, I used words in my tag cloud. Have fun!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let Designers Design

I try very hard to let authors author and designers design.

Seems rather simple, doesn't it?
But you would be surprised how many times in textbook publishing authors or even editors try to become designers, and it just doesn't work.

Years ago editors at my company actually designed the interior of books, and I must tell you, those designs were almost universally horrendous. Editors and the vast majority of authors are word people. They're linear, they think in words, phrases, and sentences. They tend to be not very good at colors, shapes, white space, and the like. Those elements belong more rightly with designers, those glorious, right-brained picture people.

I believe publishers like me should let authors and designers do what they do best.

For instance, I never tell an author what the dosage of a particular drug should be or which ICD-9-CM code should be used for a particular disease. They're the authors, they're supposed to know that clinical stuff. The only time I step in is when I know a piece of information is wrong, and even then I typically ask the author to check it and make sure I'm correct in a suggested edit.

I never tell a designer which colors to use for a cover or an interior design unless I want to make sure we don't select a color palette that's too close to the palette of a competing text.

I never tell designers what font to use for a heading or how big to make it unless the color or size impinges on the reader's ability to discern content hierarchy. Subheads should look subservient to main heads, and if they don't, there's a problem. Even then I don't specify what to do, I just tell them that, say, head 2s need to be more pronounced visually than head 3s.

I steer the overall vision for the book and the basic design to make sure they're meeting market needs but I try never to get into things so deeply that I become an author or a designer. Believe me, no one wants that.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Confusing Commas

On the list of most common grammatical errors, misused commas rank right up there with misspellings and Mrs. Batchelder's rank perfume and hissing s.

(Sorry about that, I got a bit carried away. Every time I think about an English class I flash back to crazy old Mrs. Batchelder's high school English classroom. Then I throw up.)

So let's tackle commas in a way I hope will make sense.
First up: Serial commas

I prefer serial commas because they help reduce confusion. Serial commas are commas used after the next to last item in a list. Here's an example:

The patient complained of nausea, vomiting, and headache.

The comma after "vomiting" is a serial comma. You don't have to use one, but I do think they can be helpful in certain situations. So when in doubt, use it.
Next: Introductory phrases

Commas after an introductory phrase are rapidly losing their grip on us, and thank goodness. These are examples of introductory phrases:

  • After awhile

  • On the other hand

  • After the patient had gone to the bathroom

These phrases set up the rest of the sentence. Your English teacher probably smacked you upside the head if you didn't use a comma after an introductory phrase, but he had better not do that now unless you're writing for beginning readers. If you're writing for adults with a reading level over, say, the 10th grade, you needn't worry about sticking a comma after a beginning-of-the-sentence phrase. Use them only if leaving them out makes the sentence confusing, as in:

You know it seems odd that the window was left open like that.

The writer probably meant the sentence this way:

You know, it seems odd that the window was left open like that.

That kind of situation demands a comma.
Separating "sentences"

This is probably the toughest one for people to remember: When do you use a comma when you have what we call a complex sentence?

Generally if you have two complete sentences on either side of an and, but, or, nor, or any other what you wanna call yer conjunctions, use a comma. For instance, if we put these two sentences together…

Mr. Robinson knocked over the lamp.


I ran into the room to find out what happened…

We would use a comma, as in:

Mr. Robinson knocked over the lamp, and I ran into the room to find out what happened.

Here, though, you would NOT use a comma:

Mr. Robinson knocked over the lamp and yelled for help.

Why no comma? Because "yelled for help" isn't a complete sentence.

Okay, class, that's enough for today.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Commonly Misused Phrases

Let's have some fun today. Here's a list of commonly misused phrases and what the correct phrase should be.

If you've used the phrase on the left, uh-oh, better get it right next time!

Uh-OhYes, Please
It's a pigment of your imaginationIt's a figment (imagined story) of your imagination.
It's a mute point.It's a moot (of little practical value) point. (Of course, if you're Joey Tribbiani, the point is moo.)
That's a bold-faced lie.Nope, sorry, it's a bald-faced lie. (For the history of this phrase, see
We need collaborating evidence.You more likely need corroborating (confirming) evidence.
It's a doggy-dog world out there.I don't know where you live, but where I live it's a dog-eat-dog world.
She's just a font of wisdom.If she's that smart, she's a fount (fountain or spring) of wisdom. Leave the fonts (typefaces) to us publishers.
Let's hone in on the problem.I'd much rather home (to navigate) in on it, thank you very much.
He must be lack toast and tolerant.Are you kidding me? If you've said this, just go home now.
Don't let your jealousy reel its ugly head.Hey, now, jealousies don't reel, they rear.
She scarred the heck out of me!If she burned you or cut you up with a razor, then surely she did scar (cause lasting tissue damage) the heck out of you. But I'll bet she just scared (afraid) the heck out of you.
He tripped over a wheel barrel.Aaaaaaaaaaargh! NO! He tripped over a wheelbarrow. People, people, do you never go to a Home Depot?

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