We have had all sorts of writers in our class, writing for all different audiences. We help authors realize their dreams of publishing with one of the “Big 6” houses in New York, sure, but it’s most important to find the right home for your project. And that just might be with an academic or medical publisher. Eric Ford, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Radiation Oncology, came to our courses because he was working on a novel in his spare time (he’s quite the Renaissance Man). But he used the intel gathered during our class to pitch and publish a reference guide for medical professionals to a well-respected academic press. He talks about his path to publication, shares tips for collaboration, and discusses why a proposal is so darn important, no matter how you are publishing your book.
Can you tell us about this book and how it came about?
Practical Radiation Oncology Physics is a reference guide for medical professionals working in oncology (cancer care). It focuses on technical aspects of radiation treatments. Since about half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy, we are talking about a pretty substantial segment of healthcare. The idea for the book arose out of discussions that a colleague and I were having about four years ago. We were frustrated at not having a handy reference source for the increasingly vast amount of information for practitioners in our field. So that is what we came up with. A practical guidebook. I think the marketing copy says it best: “An indispensable guide to radiation oncology physics!” Anytime your book is an “indispensable guide” to anything that is good. Plus, I love the exclamation mark.
Can you offer up any tips for collaborating with co-authors?
I think a clear leadership plan is essential. What do you do when deadlines inevitably slip? How do you keep each other motivated? A big book project like this is a lot like running a marathon (or so I am told). It is very helpful to be running alongside others, having them push you along and vice versa.
What do you think is unique to academic and medical publishing that it would be helpful for writers to know?
The profit margins on academic texts are very thin, so when you are pitching the idea, it is really helpful to have a solid business case. Who is the audience? How big of a market are you expecting? The publisher may not do that legwork for you.
Another difference is that academicians almost never work with an agent (I do not know of anyone who has an agent). Therefore, you will be dealing directly with the publisher. There are pluses and minuses to this, but one advantage you have is that, comparatively speaking, publishers are not used to dealing with people who are familiar with the publishing world. They almost never receive a formal book proposal, and if they do, then it generally violates nearly every principles of good proposal writing. If you can write a decent proposal, it is a huge advantage in this context.
How did your Business of Books course help you in the publishing process?
Our publication deal had its origins in Hurricane Sandy. I was stuck at a conference in Boston for a week and at one point I found myself more or less randomly wandering the convention center when I bumped into someone from Elsevier (an academic publisher of scientific and medical publications). “Hey, I’ve got a book idea you might be interested in,” I told her. “Can I run it by you?” That got our foot in the door, but it was really the book proposal that got us the contract. Writing a good proposal was something I learned in the Business of Books class. Prior to that, I had essentially no idea what a book proposal was. A week after I spoke to the woman in Boston (Kate was her name), we had a proposal in to them. The publishers were very impressed and it helped Kate to advocate for it within her company. I’m convinced that we would not have gotten the contract without the proposal.
What other book projects are you working on?
I’m working on a novel. It is a “mathematical thriller” about a frustrated engineer who uses the exponential formula to save the world (or tries to anyway).