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.