Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Practicing MA's Advice for Patients Visiting a Physician

This post is from Linda Shaw Vitzhum, a CMA (AAMA) in Melbourne, Florida. She posted this originally on Facebook, and it is reprinted here with permission.

She offers great advice for MAs and their patients. Thanks, Linda!

"I had a friend post on things about the doctor's office that are annoying, and I thought it brought up some great points. Conversely, I would like to bring up the things that patients should do to make their experience a better one.

1. Before having labs drawn/tests performed, ask when you can expect results. Some tests take a while for the results to come in. The staff should have a general idea, hopefully of when these should be made available. If the tests are going to determine what course of treatment you will receive, the office should offer to make you a return appointment to discuss with the physician.

2. If you're like me, you will forget all of the wonderful questions you meant to ask the physician. Good medical assistants like me will never complain if you write stuff down. Write down some questions, bring in a log of what's applicable for that doctor (i.e. blood pressure for the internist, temperature logs for the infectious disease doctor) and for the love of all that is holy WRITE DOWN WHAT MEDICATIONS YOU'RE TAKING and include strength and dosing information!!!!

3. If your physician's office has a way for you to communicate electronically with them, sign up for it. The patients I can communicate with this way are generally very happy with the speed that I can get back to them.

4. Show up on time or call the office if you're going to be late. It's hard for me not to "lose" a person if he/she is very late and I've already roomed 4-5 patients that were scheduled after that person.

5. Ask what the qualifications are of the person who is rooming/discharging you. I can explain to you what a certified medical assistant is, the type of education I have, and what I do to maintain my certification. Because I'm good at what I do."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double Space After a Period? NOOOOOO!

He writes, "Can I let you in on a secret? Typing two spaces after a period is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong."

Came across a blog this morning by Farhad Manjoo at Slate about the use of two spaces after a period:

He goes on to explain the history of this practice and urges everyone to get a clue and stop using two spaces!

Farhad explains how many typographers react to double spaces:
Type professionals can get amusingly—if justifiably—overworked about spaces. "Forget about tolerating differences of opinion: typographically speaking, typing two spaces before the start of a new sentence is absolutely, unequivocally wrong," Ilene Strizver, who runs a typographic consulting firm The Type Studio, once wrote. "When I see two spaces I shake my head and I go, Aye yay yay," she told me. "I talk about 'type crimes' often, and in terms of what you can do wrong, this one deserves life imprisonment. It's a pure sign of amateur typography." "A space signals a pause," says David Jury, the author of About Face: Reviving The Rules of Typography. "If you get a really big pause—a big hole—in the middle of a line, the reader pauses. And you don't want people to pause all the time. You want the text to flow."

So please, tell your students, your friends, your neighbors, your manicurist, for cryin' out loud: STOP USING TWO SPACES!

I thank you, and I'm sure Farhad would thank you too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

F.A. Davis Changing Its Name to

Executives at the world-famous healthcare publishing company F.A. Davis announced today that the company's name will henceforth be known as

Fad, indeed.

I'm being fascetious, of course, F.A. Davis is not changing its name. Executives here are much too intelligent to do something so dumb. Unlike the poor folks at, who changed the company's name this past June to "," and who have just decided to change it back to

They haven't been the first. Other companies have tried to rebrand themselves, including Netflix, Hewlett-Packard, GMAC, the Gap, and Bank of America, and have failed miserably. Add Overstock to that pathetic list.

Stick with what works

In publishing, we take great effort to brand our books in the most effective way possible. Not all books get branded, of course, but many do.

Consider Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, our bestselling medical dictionary. I cannot imagine under any circumstances the company changing its name to, oh, I don't know, TCMD. Or, worse, T.

Here are other "book brands" currently under the F.A. Davis roof:

We would change the titles of these brands at great peril, I believe.

The lesson for you

The lesson for you, dear reader, is this: When a publisher has made a commitment to a series or suite of books, you can expect that particular set of products to stick around for quite some time.

You can further expect that most or all of the books in that set are successful, which should increase your trust in the brand overall. If you like one, chances are excellent that you'll like the others too.

And you can take that advice to Er, I mean, the bank.

'Killing Lincoln' and How Errors Can Sneak Into a Textbook

That pompous schmuck Bill O'Reilly and his co-author Martin Dugard are currently being raked over the journalistic coals for substantive errors in their bestselling book, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.
Civil War experts, including a book reviewer from the official magazine of the Civil War Society, have cited at least ten errors in the book. According to an article on, assassination author Edward Steers Jr. cites these errors and more from the book:
  • A farm where John Wilkes Booth hid after the killing was not 500 acres, as the book noted, but 217 acres.
  • The book refers to John Ford's chief carpenter as John J. Clifford. In fact, his name was Gifford.
  • Lewis Powell, the man assigned to kill secretary of state William Seward, did not speak with "an Alabama drawl," as the book notes. Powell was from Florida.

These errors to the nonhistorian might seem petty, but suppose there were similar errors in a healthcare textbook? As a healthcare expert, what would you say?

You'd probably say the same thing that Mr. Steers said about O'Reilly's book: "If all of the above sounds like nitpicking, consider this. If the authors made mistakes in names, places, and events, what else did they get wrong? How can the reader rely on anything that appears in Killing Lincoln?"

The answer is complicated.

Every book has errors

Consider this: There are errors in every book published. Every, single one.

Don't take my word for it. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read a book that didn't have at least one misspelling or punctuation error, or an odd line break where there shouldn't be one, or any other error, factual or otherwise?

I'm guessing that you've never seen such a book, and neither have I.

The same is true for textbooks. Every acquisitions editor at every healthcare publisher has published books with errors in them. From the wonderful Rhonda Dearborn at Delmar, to the fabulous Joan Gill at Pearson, to the marvelous Katey Bircher at Jones & Bartlett, we have all published books with errors.

And we all absolutely and unequivocally hate it.

Our authors hate it even more. They work so very hard to create the very best possible book, and then, after the book publishes, they find this error or that and ask, "How did that happen?"

Here's how

That Pompous Schmuck's book aside, errors can creep into a book in nearly innumerable ways, from poor copyediting to a poor author, from reviewing the same content over and over again to not looking at it enough, from technical glitches to printer error.

We publishers put into place as many safeguards as we can to prevent errors from reaching the reader, and they work nearly all the time. But then, sometimes, for inexplicable reasons, one particular book will be beset with problems and will inevitably hit the shelves with more than the usual number of errors.

I suspect that's partly what happened to That Pompous Schmuck's book. I suspect — and that's all it is, a suspicion — that part of the reason there are so many factual errors was that the fact-checking team at the publishing house (Henry Holt, a division of MacMillan) fell a bit short of its goal. It happens.

Mostly, though, I think the errors, at least the ones I've seen, were the result of the author's lack of competent research, and that's a whole 'nuther ball game. The publisher can try as it might, but it can't overcome a bad author.

So in this case, let's blame — say it with me, now — That Pompous Schmuck!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Is Your Bloom's Taxonomy Outdated?

Health care educators have been using Bloom’s taxonomy for decades to build goals and objectives. The original levels cited by Bloom inlcude — come on, recite them with me now — knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

The trouble is, I keep hearing bright, competent, high-level educators still using those terms.


Yep, that’s right, the taxonomy being cited over and over again, on lesson plans and course syllabi, at faculty meetings and educational conferences — including one I just returned from — are woefully outdated.

Here, then, is a reasonably quick update on the “new” changes to Bloom’s original taxonomy.

Basic changes

Anderson and Krathwohl led an interdisciplinary team of experts in cognitive psychology, educational testing, and curriculum and instruction. The team worked to bring to Bloom’s innovative framework greater relevance to modern education.

The most obvious but perhaps least important changes that came out of that effort occurred in the language used for the levels of learning. The diagram below compares the levels in the original and revised versions.

Click to enlarge.

The revision team decided on using verbs instead of nouns to label the levels. It also did a bit of rearranging of levels to make the hierarchy more conceptually consistent.

The real changes, though, go much deeper than swapping nouns for gerunds.

Core change

The revised taxonomy restructures Bloom’s straightforward but one-dimensional language into a more complex, multi-layered one. The new taxonomy incorporates — intersects, if you will — different types of knowledge at each level of learning. Those types of knowledge include factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive (below).

Now, it’s beyond the scope of this post, not to mention my own rather limited knowledge in this area, to delve into every level and type of knowledge. I will, however, point you to some outstanding resources (listed at the bottom) that show far better than I could how much more robust and useful the revised taxonomy is than the original.

Here’s hoping that this info will help you revise your own syllabi and lesson plans to include the brandy-spanking new, nearly 12-year-old taxonomy from our dear, departed friend, Dr. Benjamin Samuel Bloom (1913–1999).


Lists of verbs for the revised taxonomy

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why I Write

Why I WriteThe National Writing Project (NWP) is celebrating the National Day on Writing this year  partly through the “Why I Write” project, a laudatory effort to be sure.

They’ve garnered thousands of tweets, tons of essays, and held lots of interviews with famous writers.

As a long-time fellow of the NWP I feel it my duty to put forward a response of my own. Here ya go.

I write in my work. I write to teach. I write to communicate. I write to think. I write to feel. I write, sometimes, I think, to avoid talking. Mostly I write because, hey, that’s what I do.

Those short sentences are cop-outs, and you deserve more.

I write most often to communicate.

I probably write more words in e-mails each year than I do in prose pieces, and I suspect many others are in the same boat. E-mails communicate, pure and simple.

At its essence, all writing is communicative, even if that communication is just for yourself. But what I’m talking about here is simple communication from one person to one or more others. It’s the “What do you think?” “Here’s what I think,” and “Let’s do this or that” kind of communication.


Less often I write to explain, to teach, to clarify.

Over the years I’ve written many hundreds of individual pieces—books, articles, blogs, white papers, brochures, pamphlets, all kinds of stuff. All of them, as near as I can remember, were aimed at educating readers.

One in particular, though, did more than that. It was my first published article, “Let the Family In,” published in Nursing ’83.That article was educational, yes, but it was also cathartic.

Sometimes I don't write, it writes itself.

Cathartic writing doesn’t happen that often, really. It’s an odd experience. I swear that I didn’t write that article at all, that it just came out. Poured out, really, onto an old IBM Selectric typewriter sitting placidly on a tiny college-type desk in a crowded bedroom.

I remember editing here and there, certainly, but the piece just flowed, as Linda Richman would say, “like buttah.”

Does that explain why that piece was the highest scoring piece of its kind for the journal that year, why it became for more than ten years thereafter the sample the journal editors sent to all prospective writers for that type of column? Nope, it does not.

It’s lovely to think about, I’m proud of it, but really, I didn’t do it. Something inside me did.

And that’s the most wonderful kind of writing, it seems to me, the kind that comes out whether you like it or not. I’ve had that experience a few times in my career, but nowhere near enough.

So maybe, just maybe, I write to have another of those deep cleanses, to have a piece stream from my soul like smoke from a fine cigar.

It’s not the same experience as having saved a life, but man, it’s close.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

6 Electronic Whiteboard Activities for Healthcare Educators

Electronic whiteboards are becoming more prevalent in healthcare education, and rightly so. They’re wonderful tools for engaging students and helping them learn the many intricacies of anatomy, physiology, and many other topics in the health curriculum.

Here’s a half-dozen activities you might want to consider when you use a whiteboard with healthcare students.
Activity #1: Demonstrate blood flow through heart

Project on your whiteboard a blank cutaway view of the heart. Then have students use whiteboard markers to trace blood flow along these or other routes:

  • Upper body to lungs

  • Lower body to lungs

  • Right lung to aorta

  • Left lung to aorta

  • Right ventricle to left ventricle

Activity #2: Calculate dosages

Have students use the whiteboard markers to show their calculations for whatever dosage scenario you give them. Here are a few scenarios to get you started.

  • The physician orders 30mg Celexa by mouth. The tablets you have are 20mg each. How many tablets will you administer?

  • The patient has been told to take 50mg of Amitriptyline, but the pharmacy gave her tablets of 25mg each. How many tablets should she take?

  • A pediatric patient needs 50mg of Amoxicillin syrup. The bottle indicates that there are 125mg per 5mL. How much syrup will you administer?

  • Your patient needs 50mg of Solu-Cortef intramuscularly. The drug is available in 100mg/2ml solution. How much will you administer?

Activity #3: Identify parts of a business letter

Project a box the approximate size and shape of an 8½ × 11 paper. Have students draw boxes where each of the following parts of a business letter should be placed.

  • Heading

  • Inside address

  • Salutation

  • Date

  • Body

  • Complimentary close

  • Signature

  • Superscription

Activity #4: Build medical terms

Give students the meaning of a medical term, and then have them build the term on the whiteboard. Here are a few examples.

  • Removal of the larynx (laryng/ectomy)

  • Tumor of the nervous system (neur/oma)

  • Rapid breathing (hyper/pnea)

  • Surgical opening into the tympanum (tympan/otomy)

  • Surgical creation of an opening of the jejunum through the stomach wall (jejun/ostomy)

For more examples, check your medical terminology text, which I hope is Barb Gylys's Medical Terminology Systems, or Simplified, or her newest, Express. Or perhaps Sharon Eagle's Medical Terminology in a Flash! But I digress.

Activity #5: Break down medical terms

Give students a medical term to write on the whiteboard. Then have them break the word down into its component parts. Here are a few terms to get you started. (Answers in parentheses.)

  • Gangliectomy (gangliectomy/ectomy)

  • Intrathecal (intra/thec/al)

  • Laryngoscope (laryng/o/scope)

  • Dermatologist (dermat/o/logist)

  • Osteochondroma (osteo/chondr/oma)

Activity #6: Sequence steps in a procedure

Set up a drag-and-drop activity, if your whiteboard software offers one, and write the steps to a procedure out of order. Then have students put the steps into the correct order. Don’t be afraid to leave out steps. You’ll want the students to be able to place whatever steps are offered into the proper sequence to make sure that they fully understand the concepts involved.

>>> Do you have other activities you’d like to share? Use the Comment box to help other faculty using electronic whiteboards.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5 Mandates for Preparing a Manuscript

Got yourself a book deal, eh? Excellent! Here are a few tips you'll need to keep in mind as you prepare your work for an editor. Well, I call them tips, but really, they're mandates.

Do 'em.

Mandate #1 No underlining!

You know that little underline icon  on your toolbar? (Alternately, you know that Control/Command-U keystroke?)

Ignore it. Don't click it. Don't touch it. Make like it never even existed.

That's right, the underline doesn't exist. If you want to underline a heading, book title, or pretty much anything else in your manuscript, use that little italics icon  instead. (Alternately, that Control/Command-I keystroke.)

The underline was used a long time ago, back in ye olde typewriter days, to indicate italics. Nowadays we've actually GOT italics, so use them.

Mandate #2 Stop making things look pretty on the page!

Your job as author is to present clinical content. Our job is to make that content look pretty on the page.

So don't be mucking things up with tabs in the middle of sentences and multiple spaces after a bullet so the text lines up on your screen. The reader won't be seeing your screen, number one, and number two, your editor will have to strip all of that extraneous garbage out of the manuscript. So don't put it in to begin with.

Mandate #3 No All-Cap Headings!

Please don't make your chapter title or any headings all capital letters. I know that all-cap headings are common but they're not universal.

Far better to use title case, which we can always and easily make into all caps if needed. But it's a huge pain to go the other way, from all caps, typed in on a keyboard, to title case.

So do everyone a favor: Use title case for all headings.

Mandate #4 Pay attention to heading levels!

If all of your headings are Times New Roman 12pt Bold, how will your editor be able to tell which headings are main headings and which are lower level headings?

There are several different ways of formatting head levels but I recommend the following:
Bold and Centered for the Chapter Title

Bold and flush-left for first-level headings

Italics and flush-left for second-level headings

Roman (not bold, not italics) for third-level headings

NOTE: Always check your publisher's author guidelines, though, for specific instructions.

Mandate #5 No more double spaces after a sentence!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Stop using two spaces between sentences.

Doing so is a leftover of the typewriter. It's archaic and insanely annoying. Plus, someone later has to delete them all anyway, so why put them in?

I'll bet you've got some mandates of your own. Let's hear 'em!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011 AAMA Conference Documents

Thanks very much for attending one or both of my seminars at the 2011 AAMA national conference in Indianapolis. Here are links to both presentations, one in PowerPoint and one on


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three Interesting Trends in Facebook Postings

Over the last, I would say, two years I've noted a marked change in the kinds of individual postings I typically see on my Facebook page and profile. I'm not talking posts from businesses, well-known bloggers, or celebrities; I'm talking purely about posts from everyday people.

My follower list is quite varied but consists primarily of entry-level through graduate-level healthcare faculty, students, and practitioners. It's not a universal sampling, for sure, but the consistency of the changes and the many other Facebook profiles I visit everyday lead me to think the changes are probably more widespread than just on my twiddly little accounts.

I used to see many more posts about news-related events, but now I'm seeing posts that fall into one of three categories. Let's take them one at a time.

Trend #1: More fractional updates

Mostly I see what I'm going to call fractional updates, little details about what someone is doing or thinking about at that moment. I'm talking about these kinds of posts (actual posts taken from my profile):

  • "I feel so blah"

  • "well we have moved on from THAT movie to the Wiggles..Idk which is worse! gonna go scrub the carpets, that 'grounds guy' got some great stuff and it got out some mystery stains...but it smells really bad"

  • "I got this at an estate sale this past weekend. It's a French Provincial Chiffarobe. Love it!"

Fractional updates were once Twitter's domain, not Facebook's. But I'm seeing a reversal of that trend, where Facebook has become the preferred means of distributing information about the details of everyday life.

Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of post, they serve a distinct purpose for the poster and, sometimes, I think, for the postee. (I'm not sure those are actual terms, but I think you get the idea.)

QUERY: Is Facebook the best place for fractional updates? Are there too many of these tidbits showing up on your wall?

Trend #2: More spiritual declarations

I'm seeing many more wall posts lately from people declaring their love of God, asking for prayers for friends or loved ones, or reciting psalms or other religious quotations. Examples include:

  • "I thank god everyday for all the wonderful people that I have In my life ! God is good"

  • "fear not my child I'm with you always I feel every pain and every tear I see I know how to care for what belongs to me ~ God"

  • "I personally believe in Jesus Christ. One Facebooker has challenged all believers to put this on their wall. The bible says, if you deny Me in front of your peers, I will deny you in front of My Father. This is a simple test. If you are not afraid to show it, re-post this. I'm proud I did."

Not a thing wrong with these kinds of posts either, but it seems more and more people are declaring their spiritual inclincations [sic] more outwardly than ever. I'm not entirely sure Facebook is the best medium for them, but it's being used that way nonetheless.

QUERY: What do you think about using Facebook for spiritual declarations?

Trend #3: More private messages

More and more I see Facebook posts, open to the world, that really should be messages. I find this trend rather alarming. People have become so comfortable posting to Facebook from wherever they are that they seem to have forgotten that everyone sees wall posts, not just a single, targeted person.

Here are some actual posts from my wall that fall into the Private Message category:

  • "NAME, you have been in my thoughts all week, but most especially this hardest of days for you. For whatever small measure of comfort this can bring you, please know that we love you, and treasure you as a member of our family."

  • "Ok, so wanna meet up this week? Or next weekend? Let me know what days are good for you. I can either visit you or you can visit me :D"

  • "NAME, I have a doctor's appointment in the hospital tonight at 8. Is it okay to stop by for a couple minutes? I have some books for you. :)"
This is the most interesting trend, and to me it's a bit disturbing. First, I'm guessing that many people don't know that if they post something on someone else's wall, that any mutual friends can also see the posting. Second, it strikes me that people have (unknowingly?) expanded their comfort zone to include a medium open to, essentially, the world, and I'm not at all sure that's a good thing.

QUERY: Have people become so comfortable with Facebook that they don't even notice that they're posting such messages on their wall for everyone to see? Or do they not care?

I would truly love your thoughts on these observations and queries, so comment away!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the High Cost of Textbooks

Man, are textbook publishers getting a bad rap nowadays, or what?

There's even something now called the Textbook Rebellion Cross-Country Tour, and no, I'm not giving you the link to the tour, you'll have to find it yourself. The "tour" features two so-called mascots: "Mr. $200 Textbook and Textbook Rebel," according to a Flat World Knowledge press release, "in spectacular larger-than-life costumes, who will help local volunteers distribute cost-saving tips and collect petition signatures."

Seriously? I mean, look at this:

A SpongeBob wannabe being chased around campus by a snarky smoker in a bad suit? And the snark is supposed to be a publisher? Grrrr.

Yes, I'm a little peeved at the moment.

The main issue, of course, is the rising cost of college textbooks. I understand that, I really do, and yes, some publishers are jacking up their prices unnecessarily. I wish they wouldn't, but they do.

The rest of us, though, are getting a bum rap, and here are three reasons why.

Reason #1: The "Just Gotta Have It" syndrome

Years ago, before e-mail, the internet, and iMacs, before Amazon, e-books, and even Angry Birds Halloween, there was a time when textbooks came with nothing for faculty but an instructor's guide. In it you got some lecture notes, quizzes, tests, and maybe even a few classroom activities.

Today, if a publisher even thinks about offering just a measly instructor's guide with a textbook, nothing else, we would get run out of Dodge on a hardcover rail. Today faculty just gotta have at least:

  • Full set of lecture notes in PowerPoint format, one or more PowerPoints for each chapter

  • Instructor's guide, yes, but with dozens of classroom activities; various syllabi for an 8-week, 10-week, 12-week, 15-week, 18-week, heck, even a 23.7-week course; even more test items, and don't you dare repeat the test items in the electronic test bank, they all have to be different; images for coloring, step-by-step guidance for teaching every piece of information in every chapter; indexes that coordinate every piece of information with every other piece of information in all the various ancillaries

  • Electronic test bank with a lot of test items, a real lot, hundreds—no, make that thousands of 'em, more than any instructor could ever dream of using, because, after all, it's about the numbers

  • Interactive software—not that students ever actually use the software, it just needs to be available, is all

  • More, more, and more, stuff we don't even know about yet—yes, we want that too.

Some publishers have started to charge for some of those ancillaries, but most of us still give them away as an incentive for faculty to adopt our books. And because we've always given them away (I'm smacking my head with my hand, now, can you see?), faculty expect they'll always be free. And know what? They probably always will be.

Reason #2: Increasing costs

With faculty demanding more and more content, publishers have to find ways to get that content in a cost-efficient manner. Authors at one time had to write all of their own ancillaries—test banks, PowerPoints, and so forth.

More and more, though, publishers are finding that they can't burden their authors that way, that they need more content than can reasonably be expected from the authors (who have already written an entire textbook, by the way) in the time frame they need it in. So we turn to outside vendors.

Fees for writing, say, 750 test items can run in the $15,000–$25,000 range. Do you know how many books we would have to sell to make that money back? A boatload.

A big boatload.

A big, honking, lumbering barge of a boatload.

And software? We're talking $50,000 and up to develop some fairly straightforward activities.

Video? Everybody wants video, how cool. We're at, what, somewhere in the $1,000–$1,500 range for finished video per minute, sometimes even more.

Whether we charge for these items doesn't matter, the costs have to be borne somewhere, and in the end, that somewhere is the student.

Reason #3: It's health care, after all

Don't get me wrong, I get as steamed as the next guy about, say, college history books costing exponentially more each new edition when history hasn't changed all that much since, well, since it was made.

So for publishers who play that game, just slapping a new cover on an old book and then charging $30 more per unit for the "revised" version, I say let 'em have it. SpongeBob yourself senseless.

But in health care the content changes all the time. New procedures, new drugs, new philosophies, even. All of that new stuff needs to find its way into our books.

So when we revise a book, our authors have to make sure all their content is fully up-to-date. That takes time and effort, and I think authors and publishers ought to be compensated accordingly. We do that in part through price increases. Not big ones, but increases nonetheless.

So if you happen to see a publisher-type with a ginormous head and a cigarette hanging out of his sneering mouth, chasing around a lumpy sponge with a bullhorn and an ugly belt, tell them I said to go home. Some of us publishers don't need no stinkin' rebellion.

Friday, July 22, 2011

5 Key Qualities I Look for in Potential Authors

Acquisitions editors like me are always on the lookout for potential authors. We're constantly vigilant for individuals we meet who seem to possess those particular qualities we each see as requisite in someone who can get a good book written.

The qualities I look for might be different than those other editors look for, certainly, but I'll bet we're all looking for pretty much the same core qualities. Here's my list.

1. Ability to articulate thoughts verbally

Sounds like a no-brainer but it's really not. I've met many enormously dedicated, highly talented educators who struggle to articulate verbally their thoughts in conversation. They can whip up a mini-lecture on coronary blood flow in neonates, something they might have discussed many times before, but ask them to describe their teaching philosophy and they grapple for the right words.

Successful authors, before they've ever put word to published paper, seem to me somehow more able to articulate their thoughts than people who really want to be successful authors but who can't quite get there.

That said, I've worked with a few authors who don't articulate terribly well at first but as they move through the process, they become better at articulating thoughts verbally. But I haven't worked with many.

Tip: When talking with an editor or publisher, take just a moment to collect your thoughts before you speak. There's no rush. We're in this thing for the long haul.

2. Local knowledge, global understanding

To write a textbook that meets the needs of a national (and sometimes international) market, a potential author must possess at least some understanding of what's going on in their field nationally, not just what's going on in their own school or state.

I'm looking for people who can tell me about the trends, rules, and regulations in their own state and also about similar trends, rules, and regulations in other states. If someone doesn't care enough to pay attention to their own profession, if they don't follow news of their profession, if they play no role in their national organizations, then they probably won't be able to translate their knowledge adequately for a national audience.

Tip: Pay attention to your national organization. Join. Get involved. Attend conferences.

3. Drive and ambition

Authoring is hard work and demands a substantial commitment of time and resources. I look for people who give me a sense of themselves and how driven they are to succeed. If I have to talk someone into authoring, I'll never get a book out of them.

Tip: Be realistic about your own time and resources. Can you say without equivocation that you're willing to make a book a high enough priority in your life that the book actually gets written? Or do you see authoring as something you sort of work into your existing schedule somehow?

4. Follow-through

If you and an editor agree that you'll send a vision statement by such-and-such a date, then dag-nabbit, send it by such-and-such a date. The more delays there are in the earliest stages of creating a book, the less likely that the editor will sign you to a contract.

Tip: Follow through on commitments. It speaks volumes about your potential.

5. Sense of humor

I gravitate toward people who can laugh at themselves. I find that they accept editorial guidance more readily, are better able to navigate the sometimes tortuous paths of the publishing world, and are overall more sensitive to the remarkably diverse needs of the markets they're writing for.

Tip: So laugh, giggle, smile. Don't assume we editors are all so serious you have to put on airs to make an impact, you don't. Be yourself.

My next blog: 5 Key Qualities to Look for in a Potential Publisher.

Monday, July 11, 2011

2 Key Things Writers Need to Know About the Oxford Comma

The vaunted Oxford comma has been in the news lately. To wit:

Never heard of the Oxford comma, you say? What's all this fuss about the Oxford comma?

The Oxford comma is the comma that follows the last item in a series, just before the "and," "or," or some other conjunction. You might know it by its more popular name, the serial comma. (See below.)

Writers and English teachers know all about the Oxford comma. The rest of us, not so much.

Keys 1, and 2

To my mind, writers and authors need to know just two things about the Oxford comma, and two things only.

  1. The Oxford comma is helpful in managing lists. Most of the time we craft reasonably simple lists in which each item is independent and not tied conceptually to another item. Here are some examples:
  • The patient c/o nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • He grimaced, flexed his right leg, and pointed to his right lower quadrant

  • The drug is contraindicated in anaphylaxis, severe combined immunodeficiency, coma, reduced level of consciousness, or pregnancy.
But suppose one of the items needs to be clearly tied to another item? That's when the Oxford comma really shines. Notice the difference in meaning between these two lists:
  • The patient was visited by his wife, a co-worker and a friend.

  • The patient was visited by his wife, a co-worker, and a friend.
In the first, the wife was apparently the only visitor. In the second three people showed up.
  1. Conform to the publisher's style. Maybe you're a firm believer in the Oxford comma. Or maybe you would just as soon see it disappear forever. Whatever you think actually makes no difference when you're writing for publication. You need to know whether the publisher uses it, and if so, then you use it too.

    To find out what a particular publisher prefers, check a few of their books, journals, or magazines. Do you consistently see the Oxford comma? Then use it.

    If you don't see the comma used consistently, then assume you can either use it or ditch it, as you see fit.

My recommendation

Use it always. Makes life so much easier.

Now go forth and write, create, formulate, scribe, scribble, and publish!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

3 Steps to Help You Write Better Learning Objectives

Writing clear, concise, and effective learning objectives or outcomes can be a tricky business. Each objective should begin with an action verb that fits the level of learning being tested. Here's a step-by-step approach to writing them.

#1  Base them on Bloom's

Start by basing the objectives on Bloom's Taxonomy, listed here in ascending order of complexity, from the simplest level to the most complex:

  • Remembering: Recalling information
  • Understanding: Explaining a new concept
  • Applying: Using information in a new way
  • Analyzing: Differentiating between different parts
  • Evaluating: Supporting a stand or decision
  • Creating: Devising a new product or point of view
Click to enlarge.

#2  Write a stem

The stem sets up each objective and outlines the task and timetable. Here are a few examples:
  • After completing the lesson, the student will be able to:
  • By completing the assigned activities, the student will demonstrate the ability to:
  • At the conclusion of the course/unit/study, the student will:

#3 Action!

Using an action verb, list the actual product, process, or outcome. Like so:
  • identify key structures of the cardiovascular system
  • discuss the roles of the heart, arteries and veins as a part of the cardiovascular system
  • list common infectious diseases
  • identify the links in the chain of infection
  • differentiate between the stages of disease
  • describe the body's defense mechanisms
  • demonstrate the performance of hand washing with soap and water
  • demonstrate the performance of hand sanitization with an alcohol-based hand rub

Helpful verbs

Here's a handy guide to help you come up with just the write verb to start off your objective.

Adapted from

Thursday, May 19, 2011

5 Reasons We Have Chapters Reviewed by Experts

So, you're written a few chapters in your textbook and they've been fine-tuned by a developmental editor. Now what?

Now come the chapter reviews.

We'll send your manuscript to a number of experts for their feedback, and we'll pay close attention to what they say. That's because a manuscript review serves different purposes than a proposal review. Here are five of those purposes.

1. Check for clinical accuracy

The most important reason to obtain manuscript reviews from subject matter experts is to make sure that all the clinical content is fully accurate. Yes, you're authoring a book, and yes, you're an expert too, don't worry, no one can take that away from you.

Here's the thing. Whatever you write in the book, when it's finally published, will be the Word. And the Word will be yours. And so will the lion's share of the responsibility for errors in those Words.

We do our part, certainly, and we want to help do your part too. So we show your Words to people who can best point out where they might be confusing, incomplete, or inaccurate.

Even if they misread some Words and think you've made an error but actually you haven't, that's good too. It tells us where there are slight hiccups in the writing, so we can smooth them over.

All praise the Reviewers!

2. Double-check features and flow

You know all those wonderful features you planned to include in the book—key terms, themed sidebars, case studies, whatever? Well, we want to see if they actually work and do what we intend them to do.

If the reviewers confirm what we thought, yay for us. If not, we can fix the issues and move ahead.

3. Verify the vision

When you set out to write your book, you and your acquisitions editor formed a clear idea of what the book would be, who it was for, and what would make it stand out above the crowd. Now it's time to make sure we stuck to that vision or, if we didn't, to make sure our deviations made sense.

4. Procure promotional points of view

The reviewers love your book, don't they? Of course they do. We use manuscript reviews to obtain quotes we can use in promotional materials and give to our sales reps, so they better understand the key sales points about the book and how best to sell it.

When you have a reviewer write something like, "This is an extremely well-written text, and I can't wait to adopt it"—that's gold.

5. Seed the market

Manuscript reviews also help potential adopters become invested in the product. If they think their feedback is helping, if they think we really listen to it and make adjustments accordingly—and believe me, we do—a kind of emotional bond can begin to form between the book and the reviewer.

It takes time, but it pays off. When the book publishes, those reviewers will be more likely to adopt the book and recommend it to their colleagues at other schools.

And you can take those Words to the bank.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to Print Using Microsoft XPS Document Writer

Ever wanted to create a PDF document from, say, a Word or Excel document but don't have a PDF editor?

Fear not, PC users. Microsoft builds a PDF-like printer into Windows so you can do just that. It's not called PDF, though, it's called XPS and it prints through a program called XPS Document Writer. But it works the same way.

Here are instructions direct from Microsoft that explain how to use this nifty little program.

What are XPS documents?

The XPS Document Writer allows you to create .xps files using any program that you run on Windows. XPS documents look the same in print as they do on the screen. They are portable, like any other file that you can e–mail or transfer using a CD, DVD, universal serial bus (USB) drive, or network connection. They are also easy to share because you can view them on any computer where an XPS viewer is installed, even if the computer does not have the same programs that you used to create the original documents.

When to use XPS

Print to the XPS Document Writer when you want to create, send, and share or publish documents that you do not want other people to modify, or when you want to print a document or display it online exactly as it appears on your screen. It's also a good idea to create an XPS document for files that contain graphics or illustrations that might otherwise display differently in print than online or on computers with different monitors.

How to print to the XPS Document Writer

  • Open the document or file that you want to print to .xps format, and then click Print. In most programs, the print option is available from the File menu.
Here's a screenshot from the print dialog within Amazing Charts.
  • In the Print dialog box, select Microsoft XPS Document Writer.
  • To view the document using the XPS viewer after you print it, click Preferences, click the XPS Documents tab, and then make sure that the Automatically open XPS documents using the XPS viewer check box is selected.
  • Print the document or file.
  • When prompted, enter a file name and browse to the location where you want to save the .xps file. Windows will save .xps files in your Documents folder by default.
After printing to the .xps file format, you can view an XPS document by browsing to it and opening it. You can print a paper copy, share the XPS document, or send it to a commercial printer or other people in any way that you prefer.

For Vista users, check out this YouTube video about XPS:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

F.A. Davis Author James Cawley to Receive Prestigious Award

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that one of our authors, the inimitable and brilliant James F. (Jim) Cawley, MPH, PA-C, will receive the 2011 Eugene A. Stead Jr. Award of Achievement from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) at its annual conference in June.

Jim is being recognized for the "groundbreaking research he has done on PAs, which has advanced the PA profession and helped increase access to primary care through the use of PAs." Named after the late Gene Stead, founder of the PA profession, the Stead Award is given to an individual for "lifetime work that has a broad and significant impact on the PA profession as a whole."

Co-author of our book Physician Assistant: Policy and Practice, Jim has published extensively on primary care and health workforce policy. His early, and timely, papers about the budding profession helped policy makers recognize PAs as potential contributors to effective and efficient healthcare delivery. He has played a pivotal role in moving the PA profession forward through his work as a certified practitioner, educator, scholar, and leader. He is founder and director of The George Washington University's joint Physician Assistant-MPH program, the first of its type in the nation. The program trains individuals for careers that bridge clinical practice and prevention.

He is a Distinguished Fellow of the AAPA and a former president of the PA Foundation and the Physician Assistant Education Association. He served for five years on the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, including on its Executive Committee. He is past member and vice chair of the federal Advisory Committee for Training in Primary Care Medicine and Dentistry, and a member of AAPA's Professional Education and Development Council and its Research Steering Committee.

Currently, Jim is Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Prevention and Community Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. He is also a professor in the Department of Health Care Sciences in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

A PA for 35 years, Jim is a 1974 graduate of the Touro College PA program and holds an MPH degree in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

On behalf of all of us at F.A. Davis, I extend to Jim our heartiest congratulations on this signal honor so much deserved.

(And no, Jim, you can't add 200 pages to the next edition!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

E-Books and retrofitting content

E-book sales have skyrocketed recently, with Amazon reporting that Kindle sales now out-sell not only hard cover books but paperbacks as well and Barnes & Noble citing record profits from its e-books for the Nook.

For us educational publishers, that's great but what have e-books done for us lately?

The answer is, not much. E-books and e-readers have pretty much bombed on college campuses across the nation. For instance, the Kindle DX was supposed to revolutionize the way college students study. Not even close.

Daniel Turner, Associate Dean, Masters Programs, at the University of Washington, explained it best, telling Businessweek last year, "It's an amazing device for recreational reading, but it's not quite ready for prime time in higher education."

E-texts haven't taken off yet for one reason, and one reason only: We publishers have been attacking the issue all wrong, and until we change, the outlook will remain the same.

Retrofitting content

What we've all been doing, pretty much, is taking our existing content and retrofitting it for an electronic medium. We publish a book as print on paper (POP). We convert the book to PDF, XML, or some other electronic format. We put the book on the market and wonder why the sales don't explode.

The problem isn't with the conversion, you see, but with the content itself. We cannot take a product that was conceptualized and then built word by word by carefully chosen word—with a POP product in mind—and then retrofit it to an interactive medium. The writing itself must start out that way.

When we write a textbook, we generally start out with a set of objectives or outcomes, cover key terms, introduce the chapter, and then build the content in a sequence and format that makes sense for the content. It's a great method for a book. Perfect, really. But it falls short for an interactive product.

Forward-fitting the content

To develop a successful e-text we need to build it the way an e-student (the human reading an e-text) would use it. That means we would begin, basically, with a summary.

Yes, a summary. We would start with the core concepts the students need to learn and embed in those concepts links or other functionality that allows the reader to explore the content in the order they’re most interested in. We would need to allow for a sequential flow of content for linear learners while also building “content clouds” that would allow flexibility in learning sequence. And of course we need to add in all the functionality that has been developed to allow the e-student to highlight, take and share notes, download content updates, look up words, phrases, and references quickly, and other similar e-reader functions.

I firmly believe that only after we publishers start to develop products with e-students in mind will the e-text market live up to its potential.

Monday, February 28, 2011

What Is an Acquisitions Editor?

If you're at all interested in authoring a book of any kind, whether it's a textbook, collection of short stories, or the greatest novel ever written, you'll end up working with an acquisitions editor, sometimes called a sponsoring editor. Here's a quick rundown on what acquisitions editors (AEs) in healthcare publishing do.

Find 'n' sign

AEs essentially "find and sign" authors. They try to find the right author for the right book at the right time for the right market and in the right format (the 5 Rights in publishing).

Beyond the 5 Rights of publishing, AEs are also responsible for guiding the overall vision for a book and making sure that once the vision is clear and mutually agreed to by the author, the vision is followed throughout the entire publishing process.

AEs are responsible for knowing all about their assigned markets, including what they are, how they work, what kinds of products they need, and how they'll respond to the products we create. AEs build the company's publishing plan for each market. A publishing plan explains explain in detail what the market is and how the company should address it for optimal results.

Most AEs I know visit schools and attend conferences throughout the year in their disciplines, meeting people and learning about trends, curricula, books in use, and many other matters. They base decisions about which publishing projects to pursue and which to let go partly on that knowledge.

The AE is, in effect, the captain of a ship. Authors supply the cargo for that ship, and the captain guides the ship through the many possible hazards at "sea."

Essential duties

  • Develop with the author an overarching vision for the product

  • Oversee the author's creation of a proposal, table of contents, and sample chapters

  • Manage the proposal review process

  • Guide the author in revising the proposal to most effectively meet market needs

  • Champion the author's proposal to the decision-making body

  • Work through contractual issues between the company and author

  • Guide the development of the book from the time the proposal is approved until the book publishes

  • Support the marketing department to prepare relevant promotional materials

  • Support the sales department in their efforts to gain sales

  • Plan revisions of existing books
Oh, and just so you know…You needn't say, "Aye-aye," to the captain.

"Your Royal Highness" will do just fine.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Here's to You, Marti

Born today, February 18, and died May 2, 2009, our dear friend Marcia "Marti" A. Lewis, an F.A. Davis author for nearly 30 years, a wonderful author, a mentor, a teacher, a friend.

Rest in peace, Marti.

[caption id="attachment_818" align="alignnone" width="129" caption="Marti Lewis"][/caption]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

15 Most Misspelled Words

Last night my wife, a fifth-grade teacher at a local elementary school, was telling me about a little memory aid she had developed to help her students learn to spell a lot correctly. "They always spell it as one word," she said.

As I recall, that's when she grrrr-d.

Take heart, my love, your students are not alone in their misspelling of a lot. recently published their list of the 15 Most Misspelled Words in the U.S., and guess which word came in second?

Right, alot.

(Perhaps the whole nation needs that little memory aid.)

Here, then, the full list from

Misspellers, beware.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tidbittles from an Editorial Mind

Odd bits and pieces of editorial wisdom. (Or stupidity, depending on how you look at it.)

  • Don't use colons after a heading. I mean, it's a heading, it's already separated from the body text. Why add a colon? It's redundant.

  • While we're at it, stop using underline in headings too. Also redundant. And annoying.

  • We ought to stop using "upon" when "on" works just as well and doesn't sound quite so pretentious.

  • A reminder: Quotation marks go OUTSIDE the punctuation in nearly all instances. Outside. Outside. Outside.

  • Stop using "and/or." That's just plain lazy. Writers should know the difference between the two. And if you think I'm the only person who fights against and/or, check this out:

  • Hopefully, no one will use "hopefully" to mean "I hope." It means "full of hope." If you hope something will happen, say that. Don't say "Hopefully something will happen." Oh, ugh.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

3 Tips for Citing Sources in Non-Academic Writing

According to a recent study from the American Society of Know Everything Writers (ASKEW, for short), footnotes belong to academic and professional journal writing, not popular writing.

Nah, just kiddin'. ASKEW doesn't actually exist, but you knew that already, didn't you.

For college students, citing sources is a big deal. They want to know how each professor wants the citations formatted. Should they use APA style? ASA? MLA? Chicago? Oh, goodness gracious, what should they use?

Trouble is, when these students graduate and start writing in the "real world," they'll hardly ever use footnotes. However, anyone who wants to write for a non-academic publication needs to understand how to make it clear to the reader where a particular statistic or quotation came from.

In a footnote, all the information about a particular source is described in one piece of tightly structured content. To integrate a source into, say, a news article, we need to separate that content piece into essential chunks, omitting nonessential parts.

Here are the three chunks that really need to be included and how to present them.
1. Who/what said it
Arguably the most imp0rtant chunk, the who/what piece of the source gives the reader a critical context for the information presented. You don't need to go into detail straightaway, you can give the main researcher's name first, and then the affiliation later.

  • Cardiologist Michael Smith headed a study that...

  • A recent study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine indicates that...

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control...

2. When it was said

Timing of the study also plays a key role in in-text citations. For most purposes the exact date a study was released isn't terribly important, but the month and certainly the year are.

Readers need to understand how recently a study was done if only to satisfy their curiosity. This is especially true for newspapers, news-related blogs, and other outlets that feed news to the public.

Understand, though, that the reader may need more than a simple date. In health care the importance of the date a study was completed depends on whether it was the most recent study of that topic.

For example, let's say a study on the effects of hawthorn, an herbal agent, was conducted in 2005 and that the agent hasn't been studied since. Should you provide the year?

For most publications the answer would be yes, list the year, but also provide the reader with some kind of framework to enhance understanding. You might say something like, "According to a 2005 study hawthorn, an infrequently studied herbal agent, seems to act..."

3. Where it was said

In-text citations are all about providing some perspective for the reader. Citing the publication in which a study appears gives the reader a sense of source integrity.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and Britain’s Lancet, for instance, are widely considered impeccable sources. Publications from companies that might have a vested interest in a study’s outcome, well, not so much.

If you know something about the integrity of the publication, let the reader in on it too.¹

¹ July 12, 1896 study by ASKEW. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Look at an Editorial Board Meeting

I talk with authors a lot about what we at F.A. Davis call the Editorial Board, or Ed Board for short. All healthcare textbook publishers have a similar group of individuals responsible for approving, tabling for further adjustments, or rejecting product proposals.

I thought I'd take this opportunity, snowbound at home as I am, to provide a bit of insight into what goes on at a typical Ed Board meeting. Because that's where your project will first gain its wings.

Let's take a look.

About the Board

Our Ed Board, like others, generally meets once a month. We acquisitions editors (or sponsoring editors, publishers, or whatever) present new projects for discussion. We also present updates of projects passing through the editorial/development/production pipeline. Other business takes place there too, but let's focus on the presentation of new projects, whether they're new or being revised.

We present projects to a selected group of people, including members of the Sales, Marketing, Finance, Production, and Administrative departments, as well as assorted other individuals. At F.A. Davis our president, Rob Craven, attends. That's important because it allows us to have the final decision-maker present, giving us flexibility to move quickly on "hot" projects.

Everyone sits around a large table, and when everyone is seated, the meeting begins. Let's say I'm the first one on the agenda and I'm presenting a new book called, oh, I don't know, Essentials of Snow Shoveling for Health Professionals. Quite a good title, don't you think?

What happens

In presenting this sure-to-be bestselling book, I may discuss these or other topics:
  • Overall vision of the book

  • Overview of author or author team

  • Reviewer comments about proposal

  • Specific markets book will target

  • Approximate size of intended markets

  • Specific courses or curricular content book will fit

  • Estimate of sales for each year of product's life of title (number of years until new edition is published, often 4 or 5 years)

  • Other pertinent financials
People around the table may ask questions, add market information, comment about the book's sales potential or feature set, explore the plan for electronic assets, or anything else about the project to help the decision-makers, and ultimately Rob, better understand the product and whether we should publish it.

I may field questions about specific slices of a particular market, such as, "What percentage, do you think, of snow shovelers are health professionals?" or "Are there regional differences in how health professionals shovel snow?" or "Will all snow shovelers be interested or only those with bad backs?"

I then answer each question in turn: "About 15 percent," "There are many more snow shovelers in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest than other areas," and "Of course everyone will be interested, but bad backers probably represent about ¾ of the market."

Pretty good answers, huh?

Possible outcomes

After all the preparations, discussions, comments, and questions there are basically three possible outcomes. The project may be:
  1. Approved (or approved to go to a higher decision-maker, depending on the company).

  2. Tabled until more information is gathered or the proposal is otherwise adjusted and then brought back before the Board.

  3. Rejected.
Best-case scenario, and what we all work hard for, is outcome #1, an approval. We certainly accept tabling a proposal because at least the project isn't dead. We just have to rework this or that, and then eventually — probably — we'll get an approval.

We generally hate rejections, but we know that hey, it's a business, sometimes that's just the way it goes.

After the meeting I'll call the author and explain what happened and what the next steps are. If it's an approval, it's away we go!

So when your acquisitions person is preparing for Ed Board, or whatever the decision-making body at that publisher is called, be kind. He (or, you know, she) is working hard on your behalf. We put ourselves and our reputation on the line for every book we bring before the Board. We want to succeed, just as we want your book to succeed.

So let us go forth from this day forward, within an Ed Board and without, to shovel the bejeebers out of this snow!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest Blog: What is an Acquisitions Editor?

This is a terrific post about what an acquisitions editor (sometimes called sponsoring editor), written by a trade non-fiction acquisitions editor, Terry Whalin at Intermedia Publishing Group.

Terry Whalin
What's an acquisitions editor?

Some of it doesn't apply to healthcare textbook publishing, but most absolutely does.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

5 Tips for Writing a Vision Statement

I often ask authors to develop a vision statement for their proposed book. It helps me get a fix on the author's grasp of the project and also establishes common ground from which to guide the project.

Let's take a closer look at a vision statement and how to write one.

What is it?

A vision statement is a declaration of the effect you want your book to have on the individual reader and on the community of readers that make up your profession. The best vision statements communicate the author's rationale and philosophy, and declare a promise of benefits to the reader.

An educator or student should read a vision statement and think, "Using this book is going to help me succeed."

Equally important, the vision statement serves as an editorial compass for your book throughout its development. As work progresses, those working on your book can refer to the vision statement and ask, "Are we still on track? Are we furthering the goals of this book?"

5 Tips for writing a vision statement

  1. Use action verbs rather than passive ones.

  2. Explain in everyday language what you're trying to accomplish.

  3. Focus on the big picture. Don't discuss the "how" of the concept but the "why" and the "what."

  4. Provide a brief history of the title, if appropriate.

  5. Imagine you're trying to explain your book to a fellow faculty member. Write what you would say.

5 Tips for Writing a Great Lead for a Textbook Proposal

The lead for a proposal should whack the editor upside the head with how great the book will be.

That's right, I said, "whack."

Too often I see proposal leads that sit there like a plain burger on a bun, when really, I should be seeing a burger congested with condiments.

Follow these five tips for making your proposal look yummy. (Hmm, I must be hungry.)

1. Make the first sentence shine

That first sentence is important. It tells the editor right away whether you know what you're doing. Be clear. Be focused. Get to the point.

Here are a few examples of solid lead sentences:

  • This book is meant to build on the quality and reputation of the current series of Notes books, as it applies to the medical student and junior resident interested in Dermatology. [Tells me immediately what the book is and where it fits.]

  • On a daily basis, medical office personnel at all levels in the health-care profession may come in contact with some form of medication. [Tells me why the content is important.]

  • The purpose of the proposed book is to serve as a clinical tool for medical assisting students through their clinical courses as well as their externship and employment in the medical setting. [Gives me a sense of the breadth of the market.]
I'd rather see more active verbs used in these example, but each one gets to the point quickly and helps draw me in. Speaking of active verbs…

2. Use active verbs

I can't say this enough. Active verbs pull the reader into the content and keep him going. Use them!

Instead of "This book will be used by medical assistant students to…," write "Medical assistants need this book to…"

Instead of "The goal of this text is to…," write "This book will provide…"

Instead of "The foundations of practice will be covered in the first chapter," write "The first chapter covers the foundations of practice."

See the difference?

3. Indicate the market

Describe in that first paragraph the specific markets the book will aim for. Don't say, "All healthcare professionals—doctors, nurses, even medical assistants!—will want to buy this book."

Not even Stephen King's books sell to everyone. His book sell to people who enjoy reading scary novels. People who enjoy biographies, say, might not find his books particularly compelling.

Your book will be the same way. It won't meet everyone's needs. It can't.

Ask yourself, If I could describe the perfect reader of my book, what would he or she look like? If the person would be a physician assistant, that's your main market.

4. Point out the academic level you're planning to reach

Many textbooks aim to reach entry-level students. The titles of these books typically include such indicator words as basic, fundamental, essentials, or some such. Same with texts geared for more advanced markets.

You may not include one of those indicator words in your proposed book title, but you should point out in the lead which level your book will hit or at what point in the academic cycle it will be used in.

5. Explain how your approach differs from others'

You may be thinking about writing a textbook because you believe that what's out there already doesn't meet your needs. You have something to say, a unique or interesting approach to teaching the content.

Explain that approach in tight, concise terms.

It's harder than it seems. That's why I ask potential authors to provide a vision statement for their book.

I explain vision statements as a modified version of what you would tell someone about your book if you were on an elevator and had only 5 or 6 floors to explain. The best vision statements communicate the author's rationale and philosophy and declare a promise of benefits to the reader.

You may want to craft a vision statement first and then put into the lead the "meat" of that statement.

OMG, I said "meat."'

I must be starving! Time for lunch.