Write This Down

SPIE acquisitions editor Timothy Lamkins provides an inside look at scientific book publishing.
01 October 2006
Timothy Lamkins
The publishing process for journal and proceedings papers may be a familiar one, but if you expect book publishing to follow that same process, you're in for a surprise. The differences are many, not the least of which is a substantial investment of your time. Heed the following tips to maximize that investment and avoid possible frustrations.
Developing an Attractive Proposal
Perhaps you've been thinking about writing a book for a while, or perhaps you were approached by an acquisitions editor who matched his or her publisher's need to your credentials. In either case, development of a solid book proposal is paramount, because unlike fiction contracts, scholarly book contracts are given before the book is written, based on the quality of the proposal.
This is a very important distinction: because many people involved in the publishing process will have a hand in shaping your book to help it reach its full potential, it's imperative that you don't write the book before your proposal is accepted. Concentrate on putting together a sharp proposal first.
A book proposal should include the following elements: a proposed table of contents,your resume or CV,a technical description of the project (at least three paragraphs), and your reasons for writing the book.
In addition, effective proposals will include information about your target audience, projected manuscript length, mathematical complexity, scope, and competing titles. A sample chapter is also helpful for assessment of your writing abilities. Again, the proposal is what will win you the contract, so the more information you can give and the more arguments for the book's necessity and uniqueness you can identify, the better chance your proposal has with that publisher. Also, check the publisher's website for specific proposal guidelines -- they may have unique requirements.
Likely, their website will provide you with a point-of-contact to whom you should send your proposal. This is often the publisher's acquisitions editor (sometimes called a commissioning editor). It is convenient, and preferable, for you to send your proposal electronically, because the next step will be a review and will require distribution, often via e-mail.
Proposals typically undergo both internal and peer review, and the specifics of this will vary from publisher to publisher. In addition to publishing and marketing staff, it is possible that a series editor or editorial board will also review the proposal. Once all parties have had their say, you will receive word from the acquisitions editor whether your proposal has been accepted, rejected, or needs further revision. Often, the acquisitions editor will then share the anonymous reviews with you to assist your revisions, or to explain the reasoning behind rejection. Assuming acceptance, you will then be offered a contract to write your book.
Getting Started
Before forging ahead, it's prudent to inquire about general manuscript guidelines. Tell your publisher what application you plan to write your book in and see whether the file format is one they can use. Publishers may or may not be able to work in LaTeX, MS Word, WordPerfect, Pages, etc., and working in a file format your publisher can handle will prevent errors that could be generated in file conversions. The last thing you want is your microns changing to millimeters, your superscripts dropping, or your closed integrals floating away.
Your publisher may also have other preferences, such as how to approach section numbering and whether you should insert figures directly into your text. Unless you plan to submit a camera-ready manuscript (which is rarely done in this electronic age), the publisher will be formatting your manuscript to match their style and trim size. This will require new placement of your figures, so often it is best to send the manuscript text and figures separately. Just be sure that the figures are referred to in the text to aid figure placement by the compositor.
Figuring Out Figures
When developing graphs and charts for your book, keep in mind that few, if any, will be displayed in color in a printed book. Use dark line colors, and use symbols to distinguish between multiple lines on graphs. With bar and pie graphs, use patterned shadings for differentiation.
Images that you supply to your publisher should be of the highest quality you can obtain. However, determining quality can be tricky because printing is not WYSIWYG; the figure quality on your monitor is not representative of what it will look like on paper. This is one reason that using web images is highly discouraged. By default, images used on the web are 72 dpi, far below the minimum required for good reproduction in print. At a minimum, figures such as color photographs and halftones should be 300 dpi, while line art should be a minimum of 1200 dpi.
Check the resolution in an imaging program (rather than relying on your eyes) before submitting any image to your publisher. This will save a lot of time and frustration in the long run, because the publisher cannot add resolution to an image and will eventually request replacement images. If you are scanning original images, be sure to scan at those minimum settings or higher.
High resolution is necessary because unlike the well-defined pixels on your computer screen, the dots on paper are made of ink and will spread into the paper, often merging to darken images and impact contrast, especially in the mid-tones and shadows.
Acquiring Permissions
If the figures that you use -- or any sizable quotations or data -- come from a previously published work, permission must be obtained for that material to be used in your book. This means that you will need to identify and contact the copyright owner of any figure that you did not create yourself -- including images found on the web. This also applies to figures that you created but published elsewhere. Why? Because publishers commonly hold the copyright, not the authors.
Legally, only the copyright holder must grant permission for material to be published elsewhere. However, many publishers (like SPIE) will make permission contingent on the approval of at least one lead author, effectively extending copyright to include the authors as well. That being the case, it is recommended that you always secure the permission of both publishers and authors when re-using material. Try the publisher first -- often they can give you contact information for the authors.
There is a lot of debate about what exactly requires permission, especially in terms of newly drawn figures. Often we are asked whether altering a graph or figure slightly is sufficient to avoid requesting permission. To not require permission, the altered work must be recognizable as an original work, and not simply be a trivial alteration or redrawing of a copyrighted work. So, if the figure is a redrawing of another's graphs, permission is needed. If data published elsewhere is used, permission is needed. This is not as simple as citing the sources -- again, if you are using previously published content, the copyright holders must be contacted for written permission.
As you write your manuscript, note the sources that you are using and keep track of the original figure location as well as where it will be placed in your manuscript. New science is built on the work of others, so it's to be expected that you'll be borrowing some previously published materials for your book. To properly acknowledge the works you've drawn upon, you'll need to make sure they are properly cited in reference sections.
Citing References
There are many good sources on how to write up references, among them the Chicago Manual of Style, the AIP Style Manual, and the Associated Press Stylebook. The most important thing to remember is that you need to provide full citations in references, including authors' names, the article title, page range, and date and place of publication. And, above all, be consistent! Each style guide will suggest something slightly different. Pick a style and stick with it.
So you've obtained high-quality figures, gotten permission from the publishers and authors, and cited your sources. You've got the manuscript completed in a file format the publisher can work with, and the figures are separate and in file formats the publisher prefers (such as JPEG, TIFF, or GIF). All you need to do is send it off to the publisher and you're done, right?
Not even close.
Beyond the Draft Manuscript
What you have at this point is still considered a draft manuscript. The process is just beginning for your publisher and can take a minimum of six months. When you submit it to the publisher, you will be working with a project editor (sometimes called a developmental editor) who will shepherd your manuscript through production.
Production steps vary from publisher to publisher, but all will follow the basic steps of review, copyediting, composition, and proofing. See the sidebar on page 18 for the production process used at SPIE Press.
Your full manuscript will undergo another peer review, and as a contracted author, you are expected to make reasonable revisions based on this review, the key word here being "reasonable." You'll want to discuss with your editor any comments with which you take issue. Perhaps a reviewer is coming from a competing scientific viewpoint and wants to impose this upon you. Talk these issues out with your publisher, who will determine what revisions are "reasonable." If the changes needed are substantial, revisions may take a month.
When the manuscript has passed its substantive review, production will begin. This includes copyediting, followed by composition (formatting). Both the copyeditor and the compositor may have questions that arise and will indicate these as "author queries" in the margins of the document.
After the first iterations of composition, you will receive print-ready versions of your manuscript (often called "proofs" or "galleys") to inspect, and you will need to pay special attention to these queries. During the proofing stage, you'll also want to indicate words to include in the index, if you hadn't already.
After final proofs, your manuscript goes through a number of final checks and approvals before it is ready to "go to press." The printing process can be lengthy, and depending on a number of factors (paper/hardback, color figures, digital or traditional offset printing) the process can take more than a month. It is not unusual, for example, for offset printing of a 500-page hardback book to take six weeks, which can seem like an eternity when you're waiting to see your work on a shelf.
Suffice it to say, this process is exceptionally different than publishing a journal article or proceedings paper. Book publishing is a lengthy, involved process that will demand your attention long after the work has been written. Hopefully, though, this investment will be worthwhile and long-lasting, and the tips given here will help the process go smoothly.

SPIE Press Process
Publishers' processes vary widely. When considering publishers, have a look at the author guidelines provided on their websites. Often you'll find that they've posted a timeline of their production process.
Below is the SPIE Press production process. Note that the sequence of steps may vary from project to project, and some steps may occur simultaneously.
1. You return your signed book contract to SPIE Press and are assigned a project editor.
2. You prepare your book manuscript and secure reprint permissions.
3. You submit electronic files and a printed copy of the manuscript to your project editor.
4. SPIE Press sends the manuscript out for technical reviews. (4+ weeks)
5. You revise the manuscript based on the reviewers' comments. (2-4 weeks)
6. SPIE Press copyedits and formats the manuscript according to house style. (8+ weeks)
7. SPIE Press designs the book cover with your approval of the design. (2+ weeks)
8. You review page proofs, resolve editorial queries, and select index terms. (2+ weeks)
9. SPIE Press corrects the proofs and compiles the index. (2+ weeks)
10. SPIE Publications director reviews manuscript. (1 week)
11. SPIE Press makes final corrections and sends book to printer. (1 week)
12. Book is printed, bound, and shipped to SPIE. (4-6 weeks)

Picking a Publisher
Choosing the right publishers to approach can be daunting. There are many good resources such as Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, but often the best resource is nearer than you think.
Look first at the books you own in the field. A good look at their production quality will show you what to expect for your own book.
Talk to your colleagues and friends who have published books. They can give you the most candid pros and cons of publishers they've interacted with.
Consider the societies you belong to and the publishers they work with. Some, like SPIE, have their own publishing programs. Societies also have the benefit of a more targeted readership.
Finally, use the internet. Look at books in your field at online booksellers and note the publishers, search for author comments on publishers you've identified, and search for lists of scientific publishers like the one located at www.thymos.com/mind/publ.html.
I believe there is no need for query letters in this electronic age. So once you've determined an appropriate publisher, I recommend sending your proposal directly to the acquisitions editor as an e-mail attachment. Insert what you've prepared to send as a query letter into the body of the e-mail.

Timothy Lamkins
Timothy Lamkins, acquisitions editor for SPIE Press, earned a BS in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas and an MS in optics from the University of Rochester.

Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research
Forgot your username?