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.