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.