14 Best Practice Tips for Association Book Publishing
I have loved books ever since I was a kid. It’s more than simply the act of reading—I enjoy the tangible feel of books, the cover design. I have way too many books at home, and it’s kind of a problem.
However, that love for books has translated into a passion for the act of publishing books. As a managing editor on AMC’s Creative Media Services (CMS) team, I have helped manage the publication of six healthcare-related books, and I’m currently managing two other book projects.
These projects have many moving parts, but I find them very rewarding. Being able to take a massive project from the early stages to a final product that I can hold in my hands and flip through is very satisfying, all the while knowing that the book I was working to publish would be helping so many people in their roles as a healthcare professional.
Overall, my role on these projects is to work with the association’s volunteer editor (or editors), authors, and reviewers, as well as internal production staff such as copyeditors, designers, and indexers, to take a book from its conceptual beginnings to a professionally published product. Serving in this role involves many hats: volunteer support, project management, many types of editing, production management, and quality assurance, just to name a few.
Here are 14 best practices for association book publishing that I have learned over the years.
Invest Time Upfront
1. Preplan extensively. Before jumping into a major book project, it’s important to invest time in the planning stage. This involves working with the volunteer editor (or editors) to establish clarity around what they envision for the book—what are the goals and objectives of the book or revision. If the project will be a new edition of an existing title, the editors should outline what changes and enhancements they wish to see in the revision (e.g., content updates and revisions, length considerations, graphic and illustrative materials to support the material, usability, and format considerations). For a new title, support the editors in developing an outline that is aligned with the goals, objectives, and audience for the book. These steps are vital to ensure your authors have clear direction in their research, writing, and revision.
2. Be mindful when selecting authors. Collaborate with the editors to determine the best fit for each chapter and author. Have your paperwork in order, so that once you have your authors selected, they can sign a letter of agreement (LOA) that includes a copyright transfer and disclose any conflicts of interest, especially if any element of your project will include continuing education. Include a detailed list of roles, responsibilities, and expectations as part of the LOA to ensure all stakeholders are informed about what you are asking of them.
3. Create a detailed content development process and production schedule to keep the project on track. Discuss with the editors about the reasonable duration of certain steps. For example, how long should you give the authors to complete their first drafts? Editors may want to include extra review steps; it’s best to lay this all out before production begins.
Not doing this work upfront can cause confusion and frustration down the line and will likely drive up costs and time spent in manuscript development and production.
Provide Proactive Support and Communication
4. Develop a partnership with your volunteers—it’s crucial when working on projects of this scope. This enables you to maintain a positive relationship with your volunteers, who are vital to helping your association develop content. Ensuring they have a good experience during the heavy lifting of developing a book will increase the likelihood they’ll welcome future opportunities to contribute.
Two ways to help build this partnership? Provide as much support as possible and have free and open lines of communication.
5. Host a kick-off meeting—live, if possible, or via conference call—with all volunteers and production staff when you are ready to officially begin the project. During this meeting, provide a project overview, review important deadlines, and invite the contributors to ask any questions they may have. Kick-off meetings ensure all contributors are on the same page about the direction and needs for the text and improves engagement among authors throughout the book’s lifecycle.
6. Be reasonable with your expectations for contributors, and be available to field questions throughout the process. Provide follow-ups and deadline reminders. Let the volunteers know you appreciate their hard work and acknowledge that they are taking time out of their busy schedules to contribute their expertise.
7. Recognize that volunteer contributors have professional and personal lives and are volunteering their time and expertise to bring your book to fruition. In just about every book project I have managed, at least one volunteer has had something come up that prevented them from completing a task on time. Occasionally, volunteers will need to drop out of the project. We file this under "Life Happens." Sometimes an illness or unexpected job responsibility will cause impactful delays for volunteers. Usually, another volunteer is waiting their turn to complete their work on the manuscript, either as a reviewer, editor, or production staff member, and any delay can create a disruptive domino effect that can quickly push a book off track.
8. Define a process early on for keeping the project moving in the event a volunteer must resign or be released in the midst of the project, communicate this process from the earliest stages, and be as supportive as possible. During our kick-off meetings, we let volunteers know upfront that our first priority is to be flexible when life happens. We encourage them to let us know as early as possible if there will be a potential delay. The sooner you know about it, the better positioned you are to make alternative plans and find a solution.
9. Negotiate deadline extensions with volunteers, when possible—hopefully you can work on other tasks while waiting for the delayed step to be completed. However, if the delay will ultimately throw the project’s timeline off the rails, it may be best to offer an overwhelmed volunteer an understanding “out” or thank them for their contributions and then find a different solution to complete the work.
10. Finalize manuscript content as much as possible before layout. During the predesign phase of the book, when the manuscript is reviewed by volunteer experts, authors incorporate feedback from the reviews, and the editors give their final approval, try for the most complete and final manuscript possible. Things will inevitably come up later in the production process; for example, an author may want to add or heavily revise content based on research that wasn’t available when the chapter was first written. But extensive revisions after a book has been typeset can require additional, unexpected reviews and approvals and ultimately risk the budget and release date of the book.
11. Ensure open and frequent communication between the association staff and production team. Establish roles and responsibilities among the team. Determine a meeting schedule for status checks—biweekly works well. This helps the day-to-day project managers keep other stakeholders up to date on how the book is progressing. Any hiccups, successes, or questions can be addressed in these check-in meetings, and they are vital to quickly solve problems that inevitably arise with these types of complex projects. Most importantly, they ensure association leadership can be made aware of any potential impacts on a project’s cost or release date and prevent difficult conversations caused by poor communication.
Follow Production Best Practices
12. Give authors and editors an opportunity to review and make corrections to typeset pages, concurrent with proofreading by your professional production staff. I recommend authors conduct an initial review of the typeset pages, and then editors complete a final review after the authors’ corrections have been incorporated into the book. The editors, in collaboration with the association staff and production team, should have the final say of when a book is press-ready. Make sure to keep good records of your correspondence and double-check that all changes have been made. These reviews will be the final chance for the authors and editors to see content before the book is printed, so attention to detail is key. You will need to ensure you don’t miss any of the authors’ and editors’ final revisions and there are no surprises when they see the printed and bound book.
13. Resolve technical questions identified during copyediting and proofreading as early as possible with the experts. An edit from an author isn’t quite making sense to you? Follow up to make sure you understand. You want to tweak a sentence but aren’t sure about whether the change will introduce a technical error? Ask the author or editor to make sure you have it right.
14. Do not neglect the front and back matter until the eleventh hour. Creating a plan early on for front and back matter content, including foreword, preface, and acknowledgements, will help ensure you’re engaging the right people to put the final professional polish on your book. Keep in mind that the development and production of larger texts take many months, when your volunteers change jobs, earn new degrees and credentials, and potentially change names. The acknowledgments, especially if they include a listing of current and previous contributors to the text, should be sent to each person listed to confirm their biographical information is accurate and consistent throughout the text. It’s better not to risk sending this out on the eve of printing only to discover a volunteer is on vacation and unable to confirm their biographical information.
Depending on the size of the book, these projects can take up to a couple years. It’s amazing to think about it taking that long, but in the end, it’s worth all of the hard work. I’m very grateful for all of the help I receive from the association volunteers and AMC teammates. It enables me to do what I love: Work with books.
Hopefully you will be able to take some of these best practices and incorporate them into your publishing processes.
Bryan O’Donnell is a managing editor on the Creative Media Services team at AMC.
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