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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pre-Ordering and Other Stupid Expressions Writers Should Ban

Pre-explaining my utter
aversion to the use of pre-pretty much anything, I should explain that I have nothing against those three letters and their accompanying itty, bitty dash. Not at all.

However, I object to their use to signify anything we've done before we actually do what we've already done.

Take "pre-packaged," for instance. If a manufacturer packages a food in, say, a bag, it is at that point packaged. How on earth did that same packaged food become pre-packaged when it hits the store, hmmm? What magic occurred en route to make it so?

Please, people of Earth, please stop using this horrifically stupid expression and others like it! To wit:

  • Pre-meeting

  • Pre-conference

  • Pre-reading

  • Pre-writing (We're writers, we can't come up with anything better than "pre-writing" to describe writing warm-up activities?)

  • Pre-order

  • Pre-book

  • Pre-purchase

  • Pre-recorded

  • Pre-drink

  • Pre-enough!

Other stupid expressions

  • Each and every (Can you have an each but not an every? I think not.)

  • Reread (Is rereread next?)

  • Personal friend (Dontcha just hate those impersonal ones? Those bums!)

  • General public (Now, Colonel Public I can understand.)

  • Regular routine (What, there's an irregular routine? Well, helloooo, FiberCon!)

  • Advance registration (Oh, now this one is just silly. It should be pre-registration!)

Do your part. Banish the stupid!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My 2010 Blog in Review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here's a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2010. That's about 6 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 56 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 71 posts. There were 90 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That's about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 361 views. The most popular post that day was Five Reasons Why Allied Health Faculty Should Use Social Media.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and WordPress Dashboard.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for andy mcphee, common confusables, metaphors in healthcare, ping pong, and use fewer words.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

Five Reasons Why Allied Health Faculty Should Use Social Media December 2009

Using Similes and Metaphors to Help Patients Learn March 2010

About Andy McPhee December 2009

Thank a “Born Teacher” Today June 2010

Will the iPad and Kindle Kill Traditional Textbooks? January 2010