Thursday, January 28, 2010

Will the iPad and Kindle Kill Traditional Textbooks?

TONS of news lately on the new Apple iPad and Kindle's response to it.Some people are wondering whether traditional textbooks will be dead soon.

A blog on the British Medical Journal Group Blog asks whether recent technologies will kill off medical textbooks on paper. The blogger, Harry Brown, takes the position that yes, they will indeed kill paper texts and probably in the not so distant future.

Me, I'm not so sure.

I absolutely believe that the iPad, Kindle DX, and lots of other technologies are changing the way people buy and use clinical content, and I LOVE it. These technologies offer many features that print-on-paper (POP) products simply can't.

Yet there's something about paper, something about holding a book, about writing in the margins and highlighting key passages that make traditional textbooks important learning tools. We've seen attempts at schools going all-electronic falter because the students found the devices (the Kindle DX at Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison) too cumbersome, especially for bookmarking, highlighting, and taking notes.

Certainly the technologies will improve and e-books will find a place in education. Absolutely. Bet the farm on it.

But they will not universally replace books just as television didn't universally replace radio, the internet didn't universally replace TV, and so on.

These devices present another option for the user, and for some applications in education, they'll make perfect sense. For others, they'll fall far short.

Same with POP products. They just don't make sense for certain pedagogical applications anymore, which is one of the reasons why all of us textbook publishers are scrambling to provide electronic ancillaries, to supplement the books with what they can't do very well, things like interactivity, rapid searchability, that kind of thing.

That doesn't mean technology will kill textbooks, it just means that the way we develop and present textbooks, and the way we link them with technology, will change. It HAS to change, the market is demanding it.

And we'll do it, we'll change. Actually we already are, and we'll continue to adapt to the technologies and we'll continue to sell paper textbooks because they offer things e-books can't.

More on that to come…

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Importance of Sequence in Author Names

If you're the only author of a book, your name will be the only one on the cover. But what if a book has more than one author, then what?

Names are important, and the sequence of names on a book's cover and subtitle page can make a difference. Sometimes the "lead author" is the person with a more recognizable name, so it makes good marketing sense to put that person's name first.

If recognition within the market isn't a factor, though, then generally the authors decide the sequence of names. Maybe they'll decide that the first name is the name of the person who wrote the most content.

Maybe it'll be the person who coordinated the entire project.

If the authors are all from the same school, maybe the lead author will be the one with the highest position in the organization.

Regardless of the sequence, the royalties may be split completely differently. That's right, who gets what percentage of the royalties has nothing whatsoever to do with the sequence of names on the cover.

In fact, sometimes the people listed on the cover don't receive royalties at all. Maybe they were paid on a work-for-hire arrangement, a one-time fee paid regardless of how well a book sells.

Basically, the sequence of names on a cover often mean more to the authors than to the publisher. So, what to do when the authors can't agree on a sequence?

We look for other alternatives. For instance, I had two authors who worked together for years on two different textbooks. They used one person's name first for one book and the other's name first for the other book.

I've had other author teams that list their names alphabetically.

I've known author teams who switch the lead author names each edition, though I don't advise it. After an edition or two, it becomes difficult for people to find the book.

If push comes to shove, the decision is made by the acquisitions editor because that's the person who has final responsibility for the book.

I don't particularly like doing that. I'd much rather have the authors reach consensus, but when they can't, well, gol-dang it, I pull the trigger.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Common Confusables: Nauseous & Nauseated

To many people, there is a distinct difference between nauseous and nauseated. The first, nauseous, means causing nausea in someone else, as in, "Your perfume makes me nauseous."

The latter, nauseated, means to feel or suffer from nausea, as in, "I'm feeling nauseated from your perfume."

The trouble is, language is a constantly evolving thing, for better or worse, and this is one of those evolutions.

Nowadays, in the US and UK, the terms are often used interchangably. Purists might argue about that, absolutely, but historically they aren't supported.

Author and consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary, Michael Quinion, blogging at World Wide Words (, explains.

When nauseous means "feeling physically sick", it usually appears after a verb such as feel, become, get or grow: "Doctor, I'm feeling nauseous." When it means "causing nausea", it is much more likely to be used before a noun: "To conceal the nauseous flavour of the raw spirit they added aromatic herbs and spices." Much of the older sense of nauseous, both literal and figurative, is in the process of being transferred to nauseating: "To this, with nauseating smarminess, he immediately attested", "The children looked a little green from the nauseating fairground rides." Nauseated, to judge from the citation evidence, now seems to be less common than either.

Basically, when you're not sure which to use, stick with nauseous.

Unless you're talking to a purist, as I was just the other day, when I used nauseous instead of nauseated and he called me on it.

But Professor, it was just casual conversation!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What is a developmental editor?

Writing might itself be a solitary act but authoring a successful textbook is a highly collaborative effort. In this post, I take a look at developmental editors and the role they play in the process.

After a project is accepted and a contract signed and executed, the author is assigned developmental editor, or DE. The DE becomes the author's day-to-day contact, workflow consultant, and the person who will review all manuscript and make sure everything is ready for subsequent publishing phases.

Where the acquisitions editor (AE) works with authors to formalize the concept for the book and plan for the features and ancillaries (instructor's guide, PowerPoints, test banks, and so forth), the DE really digs into the project. She helps authors and AEs make such decisions as where in the chapter a section on online resources will go, whether key terms will have definitions, and whether new terms will be boldfaced or italicized.

Basically, after the author and AE have formulated a solid concept for a book, the DE assumes responsibility for implementing that plan. The AE still holds responsibility for the project as a whole but now works with the DE to guide the project to fruition.

The DE works closely with the author on the art program, the part of the manuscript that tells us what kind of photos and illustrations are needed at which points in the manuscript. This can be a complicated process, but the DE can help make it much clearer and more organized for authors.

A good DE is the author's best friend and the AE's most valued collaborator. If a book doesn't have a good DE, chances are that it will fall short of its goals when—and if—it finally publishes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Common Confusables: They’re, There, & Their

They're, they're now, their all here. They're's no need to worry anymore.

Here's a set of words that we get right all the time in speech.

Every time we say any of them, we're using the right one because no one can see how those words are spelled. When we write, though, getting one of them wrong makes us look like we're a few letters short of an alphabet. So let's work to get them right, shall we?


This one is the easiest, I think, because it's a contraction. Contractions are shortened forms of two words. A few examples:

  • Don't = do not
  • Aren't = are not
  • It's = it is

Simple, right? Well, there're is just a contraction of there are. So if there are would be correct in what you're writing, then go ahead and use they're.


This form is directional, basically. It points to something. It's not over here, it's over there.


This form is possessive, meaning somebody owns somethin', and it probably ain't me. So if it ain't mine, and it ain't yours, it must be theirs. Am I right, people? Of course I am!

Oh, and by the way. The word "ain't" is perfectly acceptable grammatically. Sure, some people frown on its use, but it's a colloquial term, meaning its use in formal settings should be avoided.

But this blog is rather informal, don't you think, and so using a colloquialism would be acceptable. Besides which, it's my blog and I happen to like the word.

So there.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Common Confusables: Gone & Went

This common confusable is more often spoken incorrectly than written but it drives me nuts nonetheless.

"I should have went to the bar last night."

Oh, come on. Seriously?

You know, of all the verbs you could get wrong, "go" shouldn't be one of them. It's one of the simplest we have.

Most people do pretty well with the present tense:

"I want to go to the store."

"He keeps going on and on about Twitter."

"He goes, like, 'Duh.' And I go, 'Uh…yuh!'"

So yes, we do pretty well with go. But that's it. That whole gone versus went part seems to elude us. Want to remember which to use? Here's how:

No other word goes with went.

"He went to the park."

"She went to the grocery story."

"They went, and then I went, to the bar and got toasted."

It's not should have went or could have went. No.

No, no, no, no, NO!

When you feel the urge to add other words (as in the past perfect tense), use gone.

"I should have gone to the park."

"I might have gone to the grocery store if I knew she was going to be there."

"I could have gone to that job interview but I slept in."

And by the way, it's should HAVE and could HAVE, not should OF and could OF.


Monday, January 4, 2010

The Four Types of Content and Who Owns What

In publishing there are four main types of content—clinical, editorial, graphical, and administrative. If you're thinking about writing or authoring, you should make yourself familiar with them, because they all need to work together to make the finished product successful. Let's take them one at a time.


I call this content clinical because I work in healthcare publishing, but it exists in all areas of publishing. Clinical content is the meaning you want the reader to take away from a word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph. In a pharmacology textbook, for instance, you might want the reader to understand that nausea and vomiting are typical side effects of a particular drug. In a how-to manual about kitchen remodeling you might want the reader to understand the importance of a proper foundation for obtaining a perfect seal between slabs of granite. In a magazine article about avoiding the January doldrums you might want the reader to understand the role of sunlight in sleep disturbances. Clinical content (or technical content or whatever else you'd like to call it) is the meat and meaning of what is written.

The author is the sole arbiter of clinical content. If you're a cardiologist writing about coronary artery disease (CAD), you're held responsible for making sure your description of CAD is fully accurate. Your editors certainly aren't going to know whether it's accurate, and even if they do, they're not going to take responsibility for the final description. That's your job.


Editorial content is largely embedded within clinical content. It's punctuation, grammar, and spelling. It's consistency in the treatment of numbers, dates, names, and places. It's the making sure that clinical content is prepared for the reader in the clearest and most meaningful way.

It is here in editorial content that differences arise among publishers. Does a book follow the Chicago Manual of Style or the AMA Style Guide? Are numbers over ten spelled out (eleven) or written as numerals (11)? Is the first letter of a bulleted list uppercased or lowercased? These and other specifics vary widely from publisher to publisher, and in most cases, authors have little or no say in their execution, and rightly so. Those kinds of decisions are best made by the experts in that field: the editors, a term I use here in the widest possible meaning and including publishers, acquisition editors, content editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, and the like.


Graphical content refers to everything involved in presenting the content on the page to the reader. It's photographs, icons, and illustrations. It's the choice of font, font size, leading (basically the vertical space between lines), and kerning (horizontal spacing between letters and words on a line). It's the color of headings, the width of a rule around the box, the size of a bullet in a list. These and other elements can vary widely from book to book or article to article, depending on the intent of the work, and in most cases, authors have little or no say here either.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that the cardiologist author doesn't have any say in how the heart illustrations in her book look. Not at all. But she will "own" only the clinical aspect of an illustration, not the editorial or design elements. For instance, the author must determine whether the leaflets of the mitral valve are shaped properly in a drawing. She does not, however, have a say over what shade of beige, say, is used, unless that particular color is clinically important.

A clearer example: An author prepares a graph of data. An illustrator draws the graph using colors that fit the overall design of the book. The author has control and decision-making authority, certainly, over any data point or label on the graph, but none whatsoever on which color, say, is used for which column. The designers know best about colors, shapes, and how graphical items work visually together. We authors and editors ought to stay out of it as much as possible.


Administrative content refers to all the other non-clinical, non-editorial, and non-graphical content necessary for to make book (or blog, article, or newsletter). It's the folio, running heads, and sequence of elements in the front of the book (front matter). It's the copyright page, the table of contents, the indices. Easy, peasy.

The most successful books, I believe, are published by houses that grant wide latitude to authors in developing clinical content, editors in helping authors prepare effective manuscripts, and designers in presenting visually appealing manuscript to the reader. Publishing should be, and usually is, a team effort in which no single person holds decision-making power over all four types of content. Rather, each member of the team manages their own type of content and works with other team members to create the final product.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Common Confusables: Effect & Affect

Lots of intelligent folks sometimes get affect confused with effect in their writing, so don't fret none if you struggle with differentiating the two. I should say three, actually, because those of us in health care deal with patients and their emotional presentation, or affect. So let's see if we can straighten out the confusion.


Let's take this one on first. By and large, an effect (pronounced eh-FEKT) is a noun. It is something that results from something. "The drug had the desired effect." "The intervention caused no effect on his behavior."

This form is also used to describe one's belongings. "We stored the patient's personal effects in a bag."

Scientists use effect to describe a law of some kind such as the photovoltaic effect. There are other meanings as well but nearly all of them are used as nouns.

Sometimes effect is used a verb, but not often, at least not in health care. "The Director of Nursing is trying to effect a change in the way adverse reactions are reported." Clinically, though, effect isn't used much as a verb.


By and large, the word affect (pronounced uh-FEKT) is used as a verb. It is something that happens. "Rheumatic fever can affect the heart and cause lasting damage to the myocardium." "Those two Code Blues have affected the staff's ability to deal with other patients."

But another meaning of the word, one used as a noun, is highly pertinent to healthcare professionals: affect (pronounced AH-fekt). This noun refers a patient's mien, countenance, or emotional presentation. "The mother exhibited a flat affect as she explained how her son was burned." "Expect to see a flat or blunted affect when dealing with a patient with schizophrenia."

So, aside from describing a person's demeanor, figure using effect when you need a noun and affect when you need a verb. Hope that helps.