Monday, April 23, 2012

Should I Write My Health Care Textbook Before Sending It to a Publisher?


Do NOT write the whole book before you talk to a publisher!


(Loud panting.)

Sorry, I got a little carried away, there.

Every now and then an aspiring author tells me that the book they're working on is nearly finished, and would I consider publishing it. I try to control my emotions and explain slowly and clearly why that's not a good idea.

No publisher, no guidance

Authors generally write their entire first novel before finding a publisher, and that's fine. It works in trade publishing. But in educational publishing, it won't fly.

Successfully authoring a textbook or clinical reference without a publisher is rather like trying to drive cross-country alone, without a map, and expecting never to get lost. It could happen, but the odds are amassed against it.

In textbook publishing the publisher is the author's best friend. The publisher and her team (or, in my case, his team) help the author by:
  • fine-tuning the author's vision for the book
  • delineating the specific market
  • analyzing and enhancing the features of the book, including such tasks as:
    • identifying and formatting themed sidebars
    • reviewing the table of contents with an eye to the book's marketability, not just its clinical and pedagogical organization
    • providing expert feedback about specific chapter content, paying particular attention to pedagogy, clarity, organization, tone, and consistency in presentation
  • serving as champion for the author's clinical and creative vision when dealing with the publishing company's decision-making body
  • providing essential feedback early in the process to avoid problems later

Let experience be your guide

Experienced authors know well the benefits that a trusted publisher can bring to a project. I don't think any of my experienced authors would ever attempt to author a new textbook without getting a publisher first.

They've learned firsthand the value of having fresh insight into their vision. They know just how incredibly important a developmental editor's work is. They understand unequivocally how  important it is to marry the vision for the book with the markets best suited for it.

So take a lesson, you first-timers. Talk to a publisher before writing your entire manuscript. You'll be glad you did.

[Large, contented sigh of relief.]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Healthcare, Health-Care, and Health Care

  • Are you a healthcare professional, a health-care professional, or a health care professional?
  • Are you interested in health care, health-care, or healthcare?
  • Are you a toh-MAY-toh, a toh-MAH-toh, or TOH-muh-toh?

I hope this post will answer all of those questions. Except the last one.

Noun or adjective?

The first item to consider is whether "health care" is being used as a noun or an adjective. When the words are used as a noun — as in "The clinic provides excellent health care" — the words should remain two words, not hyphenated.

But when "health care" is being used as an adjective, things get a bit trickier. (Yes, it's trickier, not more tricky.)

The Chicago Manual of Style and other sources generally apply a simple rule to constructs in which the words "health" and "care" are adjectives describing a third noun. If the phrase without hyphens can be easily misunderstood, then hyphens should be used.

For instance, is that 1996 Fiat a little-used car or a little used car?

Otherwise, the rule goes, leave hyphens out of it.

Pretty good rule.

From (top to bottom) CBS News,
American Healthcare, and
The Washington Post

So, why so many variations?

Why is it, then, that if a pretty good rule exists there isn't more consistency when it comes to health care?

I think it's because people are unsure what to use, and I include myself in that list.

In the past I've been inclined to use "healthcare" when the words are used as adjectives, because I haven't wanted to cause confusion. But lately I've been reconsidering.

I think leaving health care as separate words, regardless of the use, is the better way to go.

The words are seen so frequently together that the reader now sees them as a unit, like ballot box and child care. So I think I'm officially in the separate-words camp.

For now.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

3 Tips for Your First Conversation with a Publisher

First impressions count. They're not always correct, of course, but they count nonetheless.

When you're planning to be an author, your first conversation with a potential publisher counts just as much.

To help you make the best first impression you can, follow these tips.

#1 Be honest.

The publisher will most likely ask you lots of questions about your book idea. Answer as honestly as you can. If you don't know the answer, say so.

Sometimes we ask about the market you think your book will be written for. You don't have be exact or even correct, because chances are that the market you first envision will change as you discuss the book in more detail.

If you're unsure about the market, say so. But don't get ahead of yourself and say that the book is for everyone. No book is for everyone, not a single one ever written including the Bible. (For more on writing for a specific market, see "Picture the Person You're Writing For."

#2 Be humble.

I've had potential authors actually argue with me about how and to whom their book should be written and marketed.

Don't do that.

When it comes to publishing, the publisher is the expert, not you. So listen to the publisher. If you think you disagree with something, that's fine, but don't take the publisher on from the point of your being an expert. Take him on from the perspective of wanting to learn.

#3 Be professional.

Sounds like a no-brainer but really, it isn't. We want our authors to feel comfortable with us, to feel open and talk with us as colleagues.

Sometimes, though, that familiarity breeds conduct a bit too, shall we say, loose.

Your publisher is still, when comes to authoring, your supervisor, in a way, so act accordingly.

Don't drink too much at dinner. Don't disparage colleagues. Don't invite friends or family members to a publisher's event without asking the publisher first.

The best tip, though, is to just be your very best you. That will be more than enough.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Social Media and Health Care Publishing

A lot of educational publishers aren't quite sure yet what to do with social media. They know they have to use it but they're struggling with the hows and whys of it.

They're working through questions like:
  • Should social media be the responsibility of Marketing, Editorial, or Sales?
  • Who should coordinate platforms and posts?
  • What should be our core message when we deal with so many different market segments?
  • How do we take advantage of each platform's strengths while maintaining our core message?
And perhaps most important, how will we know if we succeed?

Answering those questions

Each of us publishers is answering those questions, and many others, in their own way. There's no one size fits all answer, nor should there be.

The critical component of our efforts should be to explore the many options this constantly changing tool offers and to use each one as best we can to reach and influence the people we serve. I'll give you an example, using myself as the case.

I've been using social media strictly for my role at F.A. Davis for a couple of years now and have developed a kind of brand, which I call, surprisingly enough, Andy McPhee. I've been able to gather about 650 Twitter followers, more than 900 Facebook friends and fans, more than 1,000 Google Plussers, and assorted folks following me on my blog and YouTube and Pinterest channels.

Not awful for a simple acquisitions editor at a small health care publisher in downtown Philadelphia, but not exactly Justin Timberlake either.

I try to provide news and information I think my followers would be interested in and rarely present promotional information. I don't hit hard on promotion because, for me, gaining trust is more important than pushing individual titles.

Essentially my social media goals follow my company's overall philosophy of treating each customer with respect. With all those efforts, though, I reach a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of students, teachers, and practitioners in the markets I serve — medical assisting, medical billing and coding, health information technology, and physician assistant.

Yet I persist, and here's why.

The payoff

Publishers like me can use social media to help fulfill several key goals:
  • Attract potential authors and reviewers
  • Build a community we can tap for market knowledge and key trends
  • Identify thought leaders in that community and work with them to further publishing goals
  • Enhance our moral standing among the customers we serve
  • Detect trends and concerns of our customers and act on them accordingly
  • Strengthen brand identity
Meeting those goals takes work and persistence, but the payoffs are worth it.

Fer sure.