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!