Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why Don't More Health Care Textbook Publishers Blog?

You might think that publisher-operated blogs would be an ideal portal for providing clinical updates, addressing issues that concern their customers, and fostering a greater sense of community, and you'd be right.

But that hasn't really happened yet. As a group we have failed so far to recognize the potential of publisher-operated blogs as a means of communicating with our customers.

A few health care publishers currently make use of blogs, but there aren't many. Those that do use them are so far focusing primarily on announcing new products, not on providing new clinical information or on serving their market's needs.

For instance, editors at Jones & Bartlett Learning have been busy lately hosting blogs in nursing, allied health, medicine, and other content areas, and I applaud them for doing so. But mostly the posts promote products and services, though there is an occasional post about content-based webinars.

Pearson's Higher Education group runs a blog that focuses on issues in today's higher education, but I can find nothing focused on health care specifically.

Slack operates a major health care news portal called Healio, aimed at physicians and other health care professionals. The site offers numerous blogs, most available only on registration, which is free, but the blogs focus almost exclusively on physicians.

As far as I can determine, the following comprehensive health care publishers (as opposed to specialty publishers) offer no customer-focused blogs at all. (If I'm wrong, please advise and I'll update this post accordingly.)

  • Cengage (Delmar Learning)
  • Elsevier (Mosby, Saunders, and others)
  • EMC-Paradigm
  • Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
  • Wiley

My own company, F.A. Davis, operates DrugGuide.Com and offers through it updates on new drugs, an endeavor I have nothing to do with but that I highly respect. But it's not a blog, really, but rather a collection of updated drug monographs.

And of course I write this blog for F.A. Davis, which focuses on writing, editing, and publishing in health care education. So I got that going for me, which is nice.

I believe we need to do more, much more, in the "blogosphere" to connect with our customers and serve their increasingly diverse needs.

So what say you, publishers o' health care? Let's get blogging!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Just Because E-Textbooks CAN be Kept Up-to-Date Doesn't Mean They Actually Are

I hear it all the time. "E-books are great because I know they'll always have the latest information."

Here's the thing about that "latest information" part. It's not true.

Wait, what?

Just because a product has been posted online in a digital format doesn't mean there are people at the publisher's working day and night to keep that pristine content completely up-to-date.

Say a new therapeutic procedure has shown positive results in alleviating migraines. Do you honestly think the publishers, editors, copyeditors, designers, compositors, and everyone else who helps make books suddenly jump into action to make sure the e-book versions of their procedural books contain that information?

Sorry, it just doesn't happen that way.

Those publishers, editors, copyeditors, and everyone else are already working like hungry zombies to publish other products — print, digital, interactive, whatever. Continuous publishing — the kind of publishing we're talking about here, takes an entirely different workflow than other workflows going on within any particular publishing house.

That's not to say it doesn't happen, just that it doesn't happen unless there's a strong financial incentive to make it happen.

Come again?

Every health care publisher identifies certain types of content it wants to keep up-to-date. Drug information, for example, carries with it time sensitivity from a clinical standpoint and revenue sensitivity from a business standpoint. We can charge more when we keep the customer flush with the latest drug information. As a result we develop special workflows to handle those updates and personnel to manage the process.

Dictionary terms, diagnostic tests, and certain other kinds of content fall into a similar category, but most other types of content don't. Even with those kinds of content the publishing of new information isn't so much continuous as it is more frequent; say, every three or four months.

Keep in mind that I'm talking here about textbook and reference book publishing. Journals are in a much better position to maintain time-sensitive content. Take the model of the British Medical Journal. That prestigious publication posts new information daily to its website as an incentive for subscriptions.

So you're saying my e-book may be as outdated as my print book?

Pretty much, yes. Certainly some e-books are updated fairly frequently, and we all try to keep ancillaries (PowerPoints, test banks, and such) updated. But most e-books receive only periodic updates.

There is a bright side, though. As publishers become more adept at preparing e-texts, especially e-texts that don't come originally from a print-on-paper book, we'll implement ways of more easily and quickly updating clinical content on the fly.

We're learning, and we're getting better all the time. So hang in there.

This post last updated on ... oh, never mind.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

10 Qualities of a Successful Textbook Author-Publisher Relationship

I've written before about what makes for a successful textbook author, and wanted now to talk about what makes for a successful textbook author-publisher relationship.

In my view, successful author-publisher relationships are those in which both sides:

  1. Are deeply devoted to producing the best possible product for the market, not necessarily the highest moneymaker possible.
  2. Stay focused on the people they're invested in —  the student.
  3. Work together to develop a clear vision of how they can make a better book.
  4. Communicate with each other openly, honestly, and professionally.
  5. And regularly. Not haphazardly, but according to a mutually agreeable schedule.
  6. Are always thinking of ways to improve and promote the book.
  7. Bring their most reasoned and compromising self to the table.
  8. Help keep each other on task.
  9. Make each other a priority in their daily schedule.
  10. Share a laugh and a good, stiff drink once in a while.
But that's just me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

5 Reasons Author Teams Should Jump All Over Google Docs

I am not now, nor have I ever been, an employee of or contractor for Google, Inc.

(Though wouldn't that be cool?}

However, I am a huge fan of several of their products including their document apps, known collectively as Google Docs:
  • Document (similar to Word)
  • Presentation (similar to PowerPoint)
  • Spreadsheet (similar to Excel)
  • Form (survey app)
  • Drawing (simple illustration app)
Granted, not the coolest names ever, but they get the point across. More important are the distinct advantages of using the apps when authoring a textbook.

To wit, my favorite five.

#1 Keeping it simple

The Google apps are simple to use and much more flexible than you might expect.

The clarity of the interface is a great thing for authors because it can help authors focus on content and not as much on making it all look pretty. I've had too many authors spend time making their manuscript look pretty, and then seeing all that lovely, truly magnificent formatting pretty much stripped out in preparation for the production process.

Take Google Document, for instance. This app has all the most commonly used functions of your typical Word user. Its toolbars look and feel familiar:

The app can handle tables, bulleted and numbered lists, image insertions, styles, and a bunch of other commonly used functions.

Does a textbook author need more? Not bleedin' likely!

#2 Always handy

When you create a Google document, you'll always have access to it, no matter where you are. I mean, as long as you have internet access.

Are you home? Go to your Google Drive and work on the document there.

At work? Do the same.

Driving in your car? What are you, nuts? Keep your eyes on the road!

#3 Saves automatically

Google will automatically save your work every few seconds.

Yes, seconds.

No more Oh, No, I Must Have Forgotten To Save All That Work!

No more, Remember To Hit Control-S!

Just keep on working.

#4 Sharing working files with co-authors and editors

When a document is saved on your or a co-author's Google Drive as a Google Docs file, you both can work on it at the same time.

Yes, at the same time.

And not just two people but how many ever you've got.

Add a chat or phone call through Google Hangouts and you've got yourself a writing extravaganza between, say, Seattle, St. Petersburg, and beautiful downtown Saganaw, Michigan.

#5 An even better "Track Changes"

People who tried Google Document last year will say that the app is great, but that it's no good for authors because it doesn't track changes," like Microsoft Word.

It does now.

Yes, Document, the Google version of Word, not only saves a file's revision history but it also remembers who made what changes to a document. Any changes made by anyone with edit rights to a file (extremely easy to set up) can be shown at any time. Like so:

Take that, all you Track Changes stalwarts!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

3 Tips for Googling Like a Guru

Do you ever have trouble finding the right search terms when looking for specific pieces of information?

Here are four quick tips that could help you narrow down your search to exactly what you're looking for.

#1 Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore'

Quotation marks (not The Raven, I'm afraid) can be a huge help in narrowing search results. Putting quotation marks before and after two or more words will return results containing that exact phrase.

For instance, putting quotation marks around quoth the raven will return results with those exact words in that exact order.

#2 Take away the minus

If you're looking for, say, information on diabetes, the kind with Type I and Type II, and you keep getting hits with "insipidous" in them, use the dash.

A dash before a word will eliminate pages with that word. So your search would be "diabetes-insipidous."

So use a dash. It's like word-math!

#3 The dots have it

So, you need the number of skin infections between 1920 and 1940. Use the ol' double-dot trick.

Two periods, placed between two numbers, tell the search engine to use the numbers as a range, like this:

          skin infections 1920..1940

Now, all that said, please know that today's search engines are just terrific at presenting what you're looking for. Sure, Google is probably most accurate, but Bing and Yahoo! aren't far behind.

Now...Seach away!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

5 Techniques for Connecting One Paragraph to Another

So you're going along, writing your textbook chapter or essay or, I dunno, bestselling novel, when you come to end of a complete section of content. You've said all you want to say about it.

Now what?

How do you get from the end of that section to a new section of content smoothly, so the reader isn't jarred out of her seat with an annoying non sequitur?

Here are five techniques to build a bridge from one paragraph to another, a bridge as strong as the Rialto in beautiful, downtown Venice.

[Note: We'll use the terms last paragraph and new paragraph to describe the two ends of the content bridge.]

#1 Define a word

If you introduced a term at the end of the last paragraph, define it in the next one. This technique is among the easiest and smoothest to use, but it works only if you need to introduce a new term.

#2 Repeat a word

Read the last paragraph or two and see if there is a word or short phrase that seems to carry the weight of the concepts you're trying to get across. Then use those same words in the new paragraph to relate the previous concept to the new one.

#3 Use a heading

Headings can be a great way to bridge that gap between concepts or chunks of content. Textbooks actually require headings to break up the text and help the reader perceive the hierarchy of content.

Headings are also useful and common in magazine, journal, and even academic essays. (For more on crafting a heading, see "Working with Headings.)

#4 Pull a switcheroo

When you need to change directions quickly, pull the ol' switcheroo. (That's really not the name, but I like it better.)

The switcheroo involves the mention of the concept covered in the last paragraph and switching to an opposite or otherwise contradictory concept in the new paragraph. Here are a few examples:
  • For all the advantages of using EMR software in the medical office, there exist disadvantages too.
  • As much as physicians might want to use social media, sometimes they just can't.
  • While many institutions are moving forward, others are moving backward or standing still.
  • Although too little bone calcium can cause fractures, too much bone calcium is a problem as well.

#5 Use "bridge" words

Many words and phrases, typically prepositional, can work as a key to bridging one paragraph to the next. Here's a list some of the more common bridge words:
  • along those lines
  • although
  • another (medication, test, approach, or whatever)
  • because of that
  • beyond that
  • by the way
  • even so
  • even with all that
  • except
  • however
  • in addition to
  • in contrast to
  • in spite of
  • instead of
  • it was around that time
  • rather than
  • since then
  • that's not all
  • while (this was happening, that) was also happening

If all else fails and you just can't figure out a way to bridge the last paragraph with the new one, put the whole work aside. Leave it alone for a few hours. Take a nap, ride your bike, go shopping, whatever.

When you return, I'll wager that the bridge appears before you, like magic!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Five Kinds of Illustrated Graphics for Health Care Textbooks

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Realists and dreamers.

Wait, wait.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Generalists and specialists.


There are only two kinds of people in this world: Givers and takers.

Oh, this is ridiculous. There are way more than two kinds of people in this world, but from my perspective, there are five (maybe six) key kinds of illustrations that can be used in a health care textbook:
  1. Statistical (charts/graphs, tables) 
  2. Clinical (anatomy, physiology, pathology, comparative)
  3. Schematic (how something works)
  4. Storyline (recreates an event, page “decorations”)
  5. Icons
Let's take a look at each one.

#1 Statistical

Statistical graphics convey quantifiable data. Mostly. There are a wide variety of statistical graphics commonly used in health care textbooks. This list, in fact, is enormous, but here are some of them:
  • Maps
  • Bar graphs
  • Line graphs
  • Histograms
  • Area charts
  • Pie charts
  • Timelines
  • Flow charts or algorithms
  • Infographics
The more complex the data being presented, generally, the more complex the graphic.

#2 Clinical

Clinical graphics commonly take the form of one of four types:
  • Anatomical
  • Physiological
  • Pathophysiological
  • Comparative
Comparative graphics, such as the one at right, can be extremely helpful in clarifying pathology or surgical interventions.

#3 Schematic

Schematic illustrations are useful for showing how something works. Some schematics use some kind of anatomical illustration as the underpinning (below, left). Some are more architectural in structure, as in the example below, right.

#4 Storyline

Storyline graphics recreate an event of some kind, such as an office patient speaking with a receptionist, a physician taking a patient's blood pressure, or a nurse holding a newborn. Sometimes these kinds of images serve a real purpose, but often they're just page decorations and carry no content weight.

#5 Icons

Icons are used frequently in health care textbooks. They're generally quite small and tend to identify particular types of content, such as alerts, communication-related content, patient education, and so forth.

~ #6 Maybe one more — Infographics

We haven't used infographics much so far, but I think you'll begin seeing more used as time goes by. Infographics provide a mix of data types in, typically, a vertical format and are heavily illustrated.

So, there you go. Five kinds of illustrated graphics for health care textbooks.

Wait, maybe six.

Oh, bother.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

3 Keys for Crafting a Solid Table of Contents

What kind of face do you want your health care textbook to present, this one?

How about  this one?

Correct, neither of those. You want to present one that looks like this:

The face you put on your book is all summed up in the table of contents, or TOC. The TOC provides an at-a-glance overview of the book, its structure and organization. It needs some thought behind it for the book to be successful.

Here are three keys for crafting an effective TOC.

#1  Never call your introductory chapter "Introduction."

Your first chapter should just jump right into the content. Yes, it's introductory content, almost certainly, but don't call it that. That would be as bad as calling the last chapter "Conclusion."

Try not to call that first paragraph "Basics of...," "Essentials of...," or, I don't know, "Prolemogena of..." 

Instead, identify the core point you're trying to get across in that first chapter, the main concept. The bulk of the chapter will, most likely, address that issue.

Title your chapter after that content.

#2  It's the sequence, silly.

Pay attention to the sequence of units and chapters. The sequence should make sense, meaning that a reader should be able examine the sequence and be able to determine with some confidence the author's intent in leading the reader through the book.

For instance, in a book organized by body system, you might choose to organize chapters by a head-to-toe sequence, one that starts with the neurological system, say, then special senses, then integumentary, digestive, respiratory, and so forth.

Or maybe you want a critical-to-less-important organization that starts with the respiratory system, then cardiovascular, neurological, endocrine, and so forth.

For books that don't cover organs, maybe you want to build from simple to complex. Or grand concepts to more minor concepts.

Whatever the organization, make sure you really think about it. Don't just throw down chapters as they enter your head.

#3  Make the titles parallel.

Your TOC should present a consistent, parallel tone and style, just like your writing. If you've got a body systems book, maybe you want "System" at the end of each title, as in:
  1. Integumentary System
  2. Respiratory System
  3. Cardiovascular System
  4. Gastrointestinal System
If so, then stick with that construct. Don't mix them up, as in:
  1. Skin
  2. Respiratory System
  3. Cardiovascular System
  4. Digestion
If you want to use, say, gerund titles (verbs with –ing), fine, just be consistent. Similar chapters should have similarly constructed titles.

Pay attention to your TOC, and you'll be better able to put your best face forward.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why Educators Should Never Use True-False Questions

Of all the types of test questions, which we in the trade call "test items," none is more insidious and ineffective as the true-false item.

Here, then, are the Top Ten reasons why true-false questions should be banished forever.

#10  Unless great care is taken, true-false questions are just too ambiguous. Like Tilda Swinson's gender.

#9  They can test only specific, typically unimportant details. Yes, the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. Who cares?

#8  It's too easy for any clueless nabob to guess and be correct at least half of the time. Right, Lindsey?

#7  They deal in too many absolutes, and nothing in health care is absolute. Well, not many things, anyway.

#6  They can't discriminate between someone who knows and someone who doesn't. And as Mel Gibson might say ... Discrimation? Bad.

#5  The written T looks too much like the written F. It's that one little line that'll getcha.

#4.  It's too easy to write a bad one.

#3  Measures only the lowest learning levels. I'm talking lower than Amanda Bynes' self-esteem.

#2  Students generally think they're unfair. And they would be right.

And the #1 reason true-false questions should be banished forever:

Ain't nuttin' better for students who cheat.

Monday, May 6, 2013

5 Tips for Writing Great Textbook Captions

Open any book and go to an illustration or photograph.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

I'll bet you read the caption before you really looked at the graphic. Am I right?

Of course I am. Duh.

Captions  — or legends, as we call them in textbook publishing — are small but extremely important bits of information. They're not terribly difficult to write if you keep just a few tips in mind.

#1  Decide on the style.

Decide on the legend style you and your publisher prefer. For textbooks, we tend to use a quite brief style, with just a few words explaining the image. However, some books require more comprehensive legends.

Here are two images, one with a brief legend and one with a more comprehensive one.
Normal chest X ray
This X ray shows the heart and lungs in a patient
without lung or cardiac conditions.
If you use a brief style, make sure to avoid articles, such as the, a, and an, and conjunctions, such as and, but, or, or nor.

#2  Maintain a consistent style.

Whichever style is used, make sure every legend is consistent in format and tone. Try not to flippity-floppity from one style to another.

The exception is for multi-part images, such as the one below. Most legends in this particular book are brief, but a number of them add comprehensive descriptions of selected parts of the image.

#3  Explain all callouts and labels.

From Practical Radiology: A Symptom-Based Approach
Make sure your legend explains all callouts and labels. A callout is a brief bit of text connected by a line (usually an arrow) pointing to a piece of an illustration, a photograph, or another kind of graphic.

In the image at right, the callouts are "Fractured rib" and "Hemothorax".

The text "Right lung" is a label. Labels are used to identify large sections of a graphic or to distinguish one part from another part.

If your image has callouts, make sure to explain them in the caption. (I would have been happier if the image at the right had mentioned the fractured rib, which the running text did but not the legend. Oh, well.)

#4  Make references to items in image clear and uniform.

When you have more than one item you're highlighting in an image, make sure the references to those items in the legend follow a clear, logical progression. Here's an example:

Notice how the legend takes on an A-B-C sequence. Do the same thing for callouts in, say, an illustration of the femur. If the callouts start at the top and work their way down, do the same with any reference to the callouts.

#5  Double-check all legends on page proofs.

Always — ALWAYS — double-check legends when you have final art. You would be amazed at the number of ways such a little item can get all bunged up.

Legends may be little, but they're key elements of a solid textbook.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pet Peeve: Colons in Headings

No, not THAT kind of colon.
Are you one of those people who puts a colon at the end of a heading?

(Listen up, friends and colleagues at F.A. Davis!)

You know the type I mean. They're the people who bold and underline an all-cap heading, and then stick a colon at the end, like so:


You know the type? Of course you do.


No, I mean it, stop it. Right now. Don't ever do it again.

Using a colon in such cases is utterly redundant. You've already set up the words as a heading, what with all that bold and capitals, so what's the colon for?

Stop the madness, and just say NO.

And don't even get me started about that whole underlining thing. What, you don't know Control-I?

Okay, that's my rant on colons after headings.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Key to Introducing a New Section of Content

Textbooks are essentially a collection of discrete sections of content.Take a chapter on, say, medical records in a doctor's office.

First comes an introductory section that provides an overview of the topic. From there will come a series of headings, each announcing what's to come in that section.

The key to writing that little introductory section is to write it first and last.

Here's what I mean.

Write It First

Take a stab at what you'll be covering in the section to come. Then pay it no mind.

Write the rest of the section. Put in all your subheadings, bulleted lists, and whatever else is required to cover the content.

Then go back to the intro.

Write It Last

Now rewrite your intro, listing or otherwise addressing each major subsection in order of appearance. That's important; it helps the reader focus on what's to come.

My guess is that your original sequence wasn't terribly close to the final sequence.

So by just throwing down an intro, planning all along to return to it, you'll free yourself to write the really good stuff. And after finishing the content section and revising the intro, you'll have the perfect setup for the reader.

So go forth! And then back again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When There's Too Much to Do to Write

My to-do list right now is absurd. I mean, really? All this in that short amount of time? And I'm supposed to write a blog too?


That's where I am right now. Luckily I know how to get out of this utter mess with minimal stress. Here's what I do; maybe it will help you too.

#1 I clean my desk.

Seems simple but really, it works. I've got six books on my desk now that I've analyzing for competitive information. Off they go, into a pile on a table in my office. Yes, they're still in a pile, but they're off my desk, and for now, that's what counts.

I've got a bunch of papers all over the desk, papers I'll use to complete a task, so they're important. But they're not prioritized in any way. So...

#2 I prioritize.

I'll collect all the papers and put them in a pile. Then I'll go through them with an eye toward prioritization.

After I've prioritized the papers, I'll plunk them in a stack next to my computer. I've got higher priority items to complete before I hit this pile, but at least now I can see how big the pile is and can attack it the moment I finish those other critical tasks.

#3 I relax.

That's pretty much all you can do when you've got too much to do and write what you know you need to write.

Hey, wait a minute. I've just written a blog, my desk is reasonably clear, and I've got a clear idea of what to do next.

It worked!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

3 Quick Grammar Tips for Textbook Authors

Sometimes you just have to vent. This is one of those times.

Health care textbook authors, listen up, I've got a few grammar and usage tips for you.

#1  Enough with the reminders, already

Stop writing, "as mentioned previously," "as we'll discuss in chapter X," and other such reminders. If you mention something previously there's no need to call attention to it again. Just go on with what you're talking about, it will be okay.

And if you're going to talk about something later, don't tell the reader about it now. What good does that do? Just say what you're going to say, and let the reader find the new material later. It will be more fun that way!

#2  i.e. and e.g.

Hate these little, archaic abbreviations. Hate them like poison. Why?

Because they represent lazy writing. What, you can't write out that is? You have to write i.e.? Is for example or for instance (e.g.) so difficult?

Don't make the reader think back and ask, Wait, what does "i.e." mean again?

YOU know what it means, so just write it!

#3  Punctuation outside quotation marks

If you're writing for a U.S. audience, put the hang-danged quotation marks OUTSIDE the punctuation!

Yes, yes, I know, the marks go inside a colon or semi-colon most of the time, but that's the exception. It's  much better to get the exception wrong sometimes and the "rule" right most of the time, don't you think?

Thanks for listening.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How Publishers Pay Health Care Textbook Authors

"Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the 'gotta have it' scale." —Zig Ziglar

New authors often wonder how they'll get "oxygen" for the book they write. In health care educational publishing, two options are by far the most common, royalties and .work made for hire payments. Let's take a look at each one.


The majority of health care textbook authors make money through royalties, an amount of money based on a percentage of sales of the book. The percentage typically used is called a net royalty, meaning that the actual payment will be based on what the publisher actually receives for each book sold.

The list price of a book might be $75.95, but because of discounts to distributors and chain bookstores, the publisher might average just $50.47 for an actual sale. The net royalty is calculated on that amount.

Royalties are often paid twice yearly, once in the spring and once in the fall, though some publishers distribute quarterly. Check with your publisher for their royalty payment schedule.

Work made for hire

Sometimes a health care publisher will form an agreement with one or more individuals to develop a book on a "work made for hire" basis, often abbreviated "work for hire" or WFH. In such cases the author is paid a certain amount to create certain content.

At that point the relationship usually ends. The publisher is typically free to do with that content whatever it wishes, and the author is free to write for another publisher, even on the same topic.

Payment in such cases, as a rule, is based on whether the author has supplied "acceptable" content. If the publisher deems the content acceptable, the payment is generated.

So, which is best?

There is no "best" answer to that question. With a royalty arrangement, the better the book sells the more the author makes. And then twice a year (or more, depending on the publisher), a check arrives without you having to lift a finger.

Royalty arrangements, though, mean that you won't receive any payment until well after the book is finished, bound, and plunked on a bookstore shelf. So the entire time you're writing the book, you're working without payment, something few of us are accustomed too.

For WFH arrangements, payment comes soon after you finish writing, no strings attached (generally). But then the payments are finished, no checks showing up in your mailbox every now and again. And if the book sells well, you won't share in that success; you'll have already made your money.

Either way you make money; often it's more a matter of when.