As I revise Interpersonal Messages (because the changes were so extensive we’re renaming the book) and Essentials of Human Communication, 6th edition, I thought some of you might be interested in just what is involved in revising a textbook. It’s actually a lot more complicated than most people think. Though each publisher works differently, each author does things differently, and each book is treated differently—largely depending on its sales history but also on the potential seen for the new edition—the main steps in the general process (as I experience it) go something like this. Three qualifications: (1) The steps often overlap; since there are lots of people working on one book, many of the steps are being worked on simultaneously. My chronology is, in some cases, a guess. (2) I leave out a lot of what happens behind the scenes, for example, at the printers or with marketing and sales. These are areas that many authors know very little about (at least, I know little about). (3) I also omit the research that goes into creating the revised manuscript; it’s not unlike writing/revising a research study, a convention paper, or a lecture.
I invite other authors or publishing people to comment, correct, and otherwise improve this lengthy (but abridged) presentation of what I see as the process of revising a textbook.
1. As soon as a book comes out, I label it “review copy” and begin to make notes on what I like and don’t like and what I would change directly on the page. This, btw, is the only copy I look at—it ensures that I record all my thoughts and ideas in one place.
2. If a book does well, say it meets or exceeds its sales estimate, the Acquisition Editor (AE), representing the publisher, and I agree to do a revised edition. Actually, when you sign the original contract, you agree to do revisions at the publisher’s “request.” This oral agreement is confirmed and made legal by a written amendment to the original contract identifying the date the completed manuscript is due, the agreed upon page length (almost always the same length as the previous edition), the number of photos, and any other changes.
3. At some early point, a budget is created for the book, largely based on the estimated sales. This budget will influence a variety of decisions—the number of photos, the ancillaries offered with the book, and probably lots of other things. Again, this is an area that the author generally knows little about and that’s probably a good thing (at least in many cases).
4. If the book is to go through “development”—as most introductory four-color texts in communication do—a Developmental Editor (DE) is appointed to work on the book’s revision. Sometimes this person works freelance (my current DE works from Georgia and 99% of our communications are via e-mail) and sometimes an “in-house” developmental editor will be assigned to the book.
5. The DE then undertakes a review of the previous edition and constructs a questionnaire on the book—often with the author’s, AE’s, and the market manager’s input. Often this is done by the AE’s Editorial Assistant (EA) since at this time, the DE may not have been selected. Users and nonusers of the text are then contacted and asked to review the book (for a fee). Generally, both users and nonusers are asked to review the book (often 3 users of the text to be revised and 3 users of the major competitors). Different questions are used for users and nonusers. These reviews come to me anonymously, though the first question in the questionnaire usually asks the reviewer to explain his or her specific school and course. And from this I get a sense of the type of school the reviewer teaches at and the kinds of students the reviewer teaches and by implication the kind of textbook needed. Among the questions asked of users are (and I’m lifting these questions from the actual questionnaire used for EHC): General Impression. Please comment on the major strengths and weaknesses in the pedagogical approach and content of the 5th edition? In general, how has your experience been teaching with the text. Did EHC work well in meeting your course goals? Why or why not? Table of Contents. Please evaluate the table of contents of the 5th edition. What topics, if any, does EHC fail to cover? What topics, if any, does EHC cover in too much depth? Should any chapters be deleted or condensed? Should any chapters be added? Pedagogical Features. What sorts of pedagogical features do you find useful (e.g., a glossary, chapter discussion questions, chapter objectives, bulleted lists, exercises, etc.) in a text for this course? Please comment on the pedagogical features in the 5th edition. Are there pedagogical feature you would recommend be added to the text? [This question is then followed by a complete list of all the pedagogical features in the 5th edition and asking if they see the feature as useful and if they would assign it for students.] Chapter Reviews. Which chapters do you feel are the strongest or weakest in the 5th edition? For each chapter, what top two or three revisions would you suggest for the next edition? For example, any concepts, theories, skills, principles or new research that needs to be covered? What topics need to be expanded, abbreviated, or deleted? Is the scholarship up to date? Have you identified any errors of fact or interpretation? Users of other texts get essentially the same questions but are also asked about the text they’re currently using—its strengths and weaknesses and its pedagogy, for example, as compared to EHC.
6. The DE meanwhile, analyzes the competing texts. Depending on the DE and his or her charge, this may be an informal analysis or an item-by-item analysis drawn in elaborate charts. This analysis is fairly objective and focuses on the physical book (for example, size, number of pages, number of photos and cartoons), the topics covered, its major features/advantages, and the print and electronic supplements that are available with the text.
7. When the reviews come in, they go to the AE, DE, author, and (I suspect) to the marketing manager (but I’m not sure). For EHC 6/e, these reviews totaled 51 single spaced pages. The DE summarizes them and identifies common threads—in the case of EHC 6/e, this came to 15 single spaced pages. From these reviews and the analysis of the competing texts, the DE offers suggestions for revising the text.
8. From these reviews, from the DE’s summary of the reviews, from the comparison with the competition, and from the suggestions for revision, all of which I read and reread throughout the revision process, I get a view of how users found the book and how non-users feel my book compares to another text.
9. I then combine this with my own reading of the literature (I receive just about every journal in communication and use the Internet databases in a variety of fields), with the trends I see reflected in the journals and at conventions, for example. My own view is that a textbook’s foundation must be based on the theory and research of the field. That is the primary purpose of a textbook.
10. A third source of information needed for revision is an understanding of what is going on in the world—on micro and macro levels. Without this infusion of real world people and events a textbook becomes irrelevant to the students. This is really a great principle; it enables me to watch Desperate Housewives and Jerry Springer—for one kind of reality—without guilt.
11. On occasion I have asked for “expert” reviews where experts in narrow areas comment on just a small portion of the text. I ask for this when I feel that researchers on the cutting edge of a particular area can offer different perspectives and provide some fresh insights. Over the years I’ve benefited from the expert reviews of my material on perception, critical thinking, listening, media, interviewing, and small group communication.
12. With these reviews, the DEs suggestions, my own notes on the theory and research over the last few years, and my real world experiences, I begin revising the book. Of course, I’ve already been recording ideas and often have several new sections written by this time. But, here the revision process begins formally. In my case, I construct what I call a “beta” manuscript that contains the basal text, all the boxed and marginal materials, and is just about as complete as possible.
13. I then send this beta manuscript off to the DE who reviews the manuscript, making comments on just about every page. With EHC 6/e each thoroughly edited chapter was also accompanied by 2, 3, and 4 page summaries of suggested changes to be made for the chapter. Sometimes the comments are stylistic (use a more direct style, change this word or phrase, or use an active sentence—not unlike the things we tell our students), sometimes structural (rearrange these 3 paragraphs, bullet these principles, make this heading a subhead, or add a paragraph previewing the points you’ll discuss), and sometimes content-oriented (you didn’t discuss . . . , this needs a clearer explanation, or give 1 or 2 examples).
14. Meanwhile the publisher sends me a CD of the electronic files from the previous edition. Some publishers prefer author’s to work with tearsheets while others prefer author’s to work with all new manuscript (created from the compositor’s files of the previous edition). I use the tearsheets on which I can indicate changes without obscuring what’s on the page. For new material and for sections that are revised extensively, I create new text files. The resulting manuscript is a combination of edited tearsheets and new manuscript pages.
15. Once all the elements are in place, a sample chapter is created for design. This chapter must contain all the elements that are in the book. I also submit an extensive design memo in which I identify all the elements and give my opinions as to what I think the design should reflect. The design memo for EHC 6/e that I created was a four-page 2 x 16 table. This design memo is then edited by the DE and AE and it, along with the sample chapter, is turned over to the designer who uses these as guides for the design of the new edition.
16. Meanwhile, I submit a list of photo specs. Usually, a revised edition is allowed about 35 percent new photos; the rest have to be reused from the last edition. So, for the new ones, I submit specs, for example, “a female speaker around 20 years old addressing a multicultural audience in a college type setting” or “a husband and wife arguing while children are watching them.” Along with these specific specs for each new photo, I include general specs such as suggestions to make the photos multicultural, to have people with disabilities represented, to include same-sex as well as opposite-sex pairings, to make sure that women are portrayed in power positions, and so on. These specs then go to the photo editor who searches the archives and submits 2, 3, 4, 5, and sometimes more photos for each spec. I then make the final selections and write the captions and indicate where in the manuscript each photo should go. In the current editions of Interpersonal Messages and Essentials of Human Communication, we’re trying something new. Here the DE wrote the specs, selected the photos to be picked up from the previous edition, and paired each photo with a quotation from a list that I supplied for each chapter. I had two goals in mind here. First, I wanted someone with a totally new perspective on photos to make the selections; sometimes you can get into a rut and simply select the same types of photos over and over again. Second, since I have the “What do you say?” marginal items and questions for discussion at the ends of the chapters, the photo ViewPoints were no longer distinctive.
17. Sometime around this time, an ancillary program is developed--the videos, DVDs, booklets, software, and Internet resources that can accompany the textbook. About this I know very little.
18. Also, I guess around this time, a marketing plan is created. A sales marketing page, identifying the features of the text and especially what is new to this edition, is created and sent to sales representatives. I also see the preliminary version of this page and comment on it. This marketing plan, I’m assuming, is discussed at the semi-annual sales meetings. I’ve never attended one so I don’t really know what goes on at these meetings but I assume the new books are discussed to help the sales representatives learn about the new books.
19. If the book is to have cartoons (as both Interpersonal Messages and Essentials of Human Communication do), they, like the photos, have to be about 65% pickups and 35% new. In this case, the DE selected the cartoons from a large group that I selected and submitted.
20. At around this time the cover is designed. Usually several covers are designed around a set of specs that the author, DE, and AE provide. Everyone gets involved in the cover, including the marketing manager.
21. I then construct a revised manuscript (let’s say the Alpha manuscript). The text manuscript contains: the title page, the brief toc, the detailed toc, the specialized toc, the preface, the chapters, the glossary, the bibliography. In this manuscript each box, photo, and marginal item are positioned in the manuscript. When I submit the manuscript, I submit it in both hard copy and electronic formats.
22. At around this time, a writer for the Instructor’s Manual is hired. Some authors write their own manuals but the practice is quickly changing to having independent people write the manual. I do submit material to be included in the IM and wrote many of the original questions but, for the most part, the IM is the work of the IM writer. And, I think, that’s helpful because it gives the instructor using the text another perspective on the material and the course.
23. A cast-off (an estimate of the total length of the book) is then (usually) undertaken. This can only be done after the design is finalized and the manuscript is in hand. Ideally, this estimate is exactly what was agreed upon between author and editor. When it isn’t, the manuscript has to be cut (almost invariably submitted manuscripts come in too long) or the length renegotiated. And, as you can appreciate, this makes revisions difficult because for every paragraph you add, one paragraph has to be deleted. Often this amounts to topic changes—if a new topic has to be added (because of new research, for example), then perhaps an entire old topic has to be deleted. This is made still more difficult because (1) reviewers almost always want things added (but rarely want things removed), (2) the DE usually asks for additional materials (and less frequently for cuts), and (3) my own tendency is to include further clarification in the form of an additional example or definition. Yet you need to come in at the same length as the last edition. One of the ways I dealt with the page length for EHC was to remove the interviewing chapter and make that a separate item that could be packaged with the text if the instructor wanted it (for no extra charge). So, it worked out to be a win-win situation. I tried to make the same change in Essential Elements of Public Speaking by taking out the small group chapter and packaging it like the interviewing pamphlet but I’ve not been successful in convincing the publisher to do this—yet. There are exceptions to this same-length-for-revision rule, of course. For example, the former Interviewing and Human Communication, is being expanded somewhat and will have a new title, The Interviewing Guidebook.
24. At the same time, I also prepare and submit a web manuscript of exercises, self-tests, and whatever other material I think might be useful to the instructor or student using the book.
25. I also submit a permissions list—a list of all the permissions I think will have to be secured. A Permissions Editor is then assigned to work on this and secures the necessary permissions. Occasionally permission is denied. Recently, for example, Conan O’Brien, Sidney Poitier, and James Cameron denied permission to reprint their speeches though they’re all on the Internet. Others—like John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Woody Allen (whose material I used in an earlier version of the public speaking book)—were accommodating and gracious.
26. At about this time, a design has been created for the book. A “pamphlet” of about 16 or so pages is printed showing how all the elements of the text will be designed and the colors that will be used. The AE, DE, marketing manager, and I look over the design—sent to all in PDF—and all comment on it. Invariably several things are changed and perhaps some colors are changed. A revised design is then submitted. Hopefully everyone loves it. If not, it may have to be done again.
27. The text manuscript is then prepared for turnover by the EA or DE. Depending on how the author prepares the manuscript this preparation may involve creating a separate table and figure manuscript or renumbering the pages or pointing out missing elements. It always involves extensive coding for each element in the text. With electronic files, all elements have to be coded so that the correct fonts, spacing, positioning, and so on are used.
28. At this point, a Project Editor (PE), who had been assigned to the book sometime earlier, takes over. The PE coordinates all activities among the author, pager, compositor, copy editor, and printer.
29. A Copy Editor (CE) is then appointed who goes through the manuscript word by word, making sure that the style manual of the publisher is followed, that every reference in the text is included in the bibliography, that all key words appear in the glossary, that the summary accurately reflects the chapter contents, that all terms in the vocabulary quizzes are in fact in the chapter, that the headings are all coded as they should be, that there are no contradictions or seeming contradictions, that everything in the text is as clear as it can be, that the spelling is accurate and the sentences grammatical, and does lots more.
30. This copy-edited manuscript is then returned to me and I review all the changes, add the missing bibliography items (invariably this is my most unpleasant task), and in general do everything the CE suggests that seems logical and helpful—usually about 99%.
31. The reviewed copy-edited manuscript is then returned to the PE who instructs the compositor to make various changes and sends it off to the printer.
32. From the manuscript and the book’s design, the text pages are created. These are then sent to the author who reviews them for accuracy—making sure the headings are correct, the bullets appear as they should, the placement of the boxes, cartoons, photos, and marginal notes are all logically positioned and, in general, makes sure that all looks as it should. At the same time a proof reader makes sure all is correctly printed.
33. At the same time, an indexer is hired to create an index according to specifications already established (for example, whether there will be both a name and a concept index or just one index). The length of the index is also influenced by the subject matter, the purpose of the text, and by the number of pages available.
34. The completed text is published. Copies are sent to the editor, marketing manager, sales representatives, instructors, and others, and I get my six copies.
35. I label one copy “review copy” and begin to record what I like and what I dislike and, most important, what I’d change.