Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing on a Stormy Day

So I'm sitting here at the computer during Hurricane Sandy, listening to the wind hum, and thinking, hey, I should do a blog.

Do I have a life or what?

Nevertheless, here I am, and I'm just writing. I don't have a topic, just a desire.

That's what I do, it seems; I write.

I'm an editor at work, a salesman, really, but I write all the time. I write e-mails, letters, proposal documents, all sorts of items that every other publisher-type writes everyday.

Sometimes I'm on the phone, and sometimes I'm in meetings, but mostly, it seems, I'm writing.

And I love it.

So on this windy, rainy, waiting-for-the-power-to-go-out kind of day, I'm sitting here writing. And I thought of you, dear reader, and I thought of me and what I do, and I decided to write.

And I'm glad.

Friday, October 26, 2012

5 Tips for Reviewing Manuscript for a Health Care Textbook

People who can review drafts of a manuscript and provide cogent, reasoned, and intelligent feeback are considered gold by us publisher types. Gold, I tell ya.

If you're a subject matter expert and have been asked to review someone's manuscript, here are some tips and guidelines for turning yourself into gold.

#1 Be fierce.

Publishers don't want their manuscript reviewers to tell them what they want to hear. They want reviewers to tell them the truth.

If a chapter's organization doesn't work, say so. If a description doesn't make sense, say so. If an illustration is inaccurate, say so.

And don't sugarcoat it. Don't dance around it. Come right out and say it.

#2 Be vigilant.

Look at everything. Simple definitions can look simple but be wrong.

Here's an example. The manuscript defines diabetes as "a disease in which there's too much sugar in the blood." Simple, yes, but wrong.

Diabetes is a disorder, not a disease, and it's not sugar that's too high, it's glucose. "Sugar" implies sucrose, a compound consisting of glucose and fructose. I can understand using "sugar" when writing for children, but certainly not when writing a textbook for students in a health care program.

#3 Be flexible.

Know that the content you're reviewing hasn't been edited by a copyeditor, so you will almost certainly come across misspellings, punctuation errors, and grammatical faux pas. Resist all editing urges and pay them no mind.


Don't waste your time pointing out errors we'll catch in a later phase of the project. Overlook those issues and focus on the content itself.

If you subsequently review page proofs, then point out all errors you find, because that content will have already gone through the copyedit stage. If you find an error then, let us know.

#4 Be professional.

Maintain the same level of professionalism in your comments as you would in any other endeavor. Harsh comments about the writing style or knowledge of the author don't help anyone.

If the author has stated something inaccurately, just say that. Don't say, "This author doesn't know what she's talking about."

Just, you know, be nice. Truthful, but nice.

#5 Be prompt.

When you agreed to review manuscript for a project, the editor most likely set a deadline for when the review should be finished. Do everything you can to meet that deadline.

If you can't meet it, let the editor know so she can find someone else. It's not the end of the world if you can't finish a manuscript review in the time allotted, so don't fret none, but you gotta let us know.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to Write a Foreword for a Health Care Textbook

Not to be confused with forward — and why would you, really — a foreword can be valuable for health care textbooks and reference books.

A foreword is a kind of Good Housekeeping seal of approval for a book. Typically written by a well-known person in the field, a foreword tells potential buyers why they should buy the book, why they must buy the book, why they would have to be sophomoric kumquats not to buy the book.

Perhaps that's being a bit harsh.

The point is, forewords should put a high-gloss shine on the concept and execution of the book. Foreword authors should meet a few basic goals:

  • Promote yourself. Readers should understand right away that you what you're talking about. If you've published in the field or won awards for pertinent work you've done, say so. Don't be modest.
  • Say great things about the book's author. If you know the author, or at least one of them, say so. Give some insight into why you respect the author and trust him (or, you know, her) to create the best book possible on the subject.
  • Say great things about the book. This is where you need to actually have a copy of either final manuscript or page proofs. Page proofs are printed or PDF documents that show exactly what the final product will look like, including images, page numbers, and so forth. Take a close look, overlook any typos, and try to paint for the reader a portrait of all the great content they'll find in the book.
  • Finish with a prediction of success. Surely potential buyers who purchase the book and study it will learn in a new way, succeed beyond expectations, win the envy of their peers, and save the entire planet from almost certain destruction. Or something like that. 
The main goal here is that you, a leading expert in the field, a someone in the area the authors are writing about, are saying how wonderful the book is, how great the authors' approach is, and how perfect the book is for whomever it's being written for.
Apologies to Good Housekeeping!
In short, when you're a foreword author, YOU are the book's seal of approval.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Write a Preface for a Health Care Textbook

For a health care textbook author the preface serves a critical function, to introduce the reader to all the wonderful features of the book.

Most first-time authors struggle with this, as do some experienced authors. So here's a rundown on how to put a preface together for a health care textbook.

What is a preface?

A preface is a clear, compelling, almost promotional description of the book and its features, including and especially its ancillaries, such as an instructor's resource, PowerPoints, test banks, and so forth. It's your time to talk directly to the reader about what your book is and why it's the best thing since Cinnabon came up with those sticks. Are you kidding me? OMG, soooo good.

But I digress.

Who Is the Reader?

For a textbook, one that gets adopted (meaning required for students to purchase), the reader might be the student or, in many cases, the instructor.

That's a rather odd thing for a textbook author to get hold of. On the one hand, you have to write the preface for the student, because that's who's going to read your book. On the other hand, you have to address the instructor who's considering adopting the book, because if you can't sell her (yes, her this time) on the book, the students will never see the preface in the first place.

So write to the student but for the instructor.

What Should Be Included?

Start by looking at the preface in textbooks similar to yours. What do they include? How are they structured? What is the tone like?

Then write your version of what you've seen.

An author-friend of mine, Marilyn "Winkie" Fordney, who writes for another publishing company — a fact which I don't against her (ain't I nice?) — wrote a great preface for the 12th edition of her book, Insurance Handbook for the Medical Office. It's clear, well-structured, and covers all the main features.of her book.

She starts with a Welcome, which shows a bit of her wonderful personality. Then she describes the purpose of the book with these subheads:

  • Why Is This Book Important to the Profession?
  • Who Will Benefit From This Book?
Then she gets into the content, outlining the general features, special icons and sidebars, how the book is organized, and what ancillaries are available — what they are, where they are, and who they're for. Then she summarizes everything that can help a student succeed with her book.

That's a nice approach.

Why the Preface Is a Marketing Tool

The preface to a health care textbook is more than a description of the book, it's one of the key tools a sales representative will use to sell the book. They'll open the book with a potential adopter and go through the feature set.

Visuals are important, here, so make sure you indicate in the manuscript for your preface which illustrations or photos make sense to include. Icons especially are important.

If your book follows an association's standards or guidelines, or if the content conforms to an accrediting body's standards, make sure you describe how in detail. Potential adopters will want to know.

Overall, take your time with the preface and enjoy it. I think you'll find it one of the more enjoyable items you'll ever have to write.