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.