How to write a book

Most people starting academic career consider writing a book a result of learning large amount of information and understanding some deeper layers of knowledge. In short, to write a textbook or scientific monograph you have to become a renown expert in the field. However, when you become one of leading experts in your branch, even with dozens or hundreds of papers published in prestigeous journals with high impact factors, you may find the task of writing a book still rather difficult. Taking into account the widepsread lack of time in academic world, any further obstacle can make writing a book never-ending (and still more and more traumatizing) story. Although not the principal barrier, let's start with formal requirements; we’ll tackle the origanization of the writing process later.

Formal requirements for the manuscript

  • We respect that each book is an original work; therefore - unlike in journals – our formal requirements are kept to minimum; we love Chicago Manual of Style but we know very well it is a reading for editors, not for authors, esp. authors of medical books.
  • You need not care for typography of your manuscript; each book is profesionally typeset in Adobe InDesign with graphics processed in other Adobe programs, so font typeface and size of text in MS Word is irrelevant (but: although the layout and graphics are created by our graphic designers, your tips and ideas are always welcome)
  • On the other side, clear hierarchy of chapters and titles is very important - not only for reader, but also for the editors. Please, if your book has more than four hierarchical levels, use decimal numbering at least at top two or three (Chapter 1 ... 1.1 ... 1.1.1) and clear graphic style with further levels. Numbering can be dropped out when the copy-editing and typesetting is complete, but it helps editors a lot.
  • Highlighting the parts of the text is also author’s job. Only author knows, what is important for the reader. Keep sober style of highlighting the text: italic is prefered, bold typeface should be used only "like a spice"; highlighting whole sentences means using a box - these are very attractive for readers, but only when there are one per five or six pages at maximum. 
  • Illustrations: drawings will be prepared by Maxdorf Graphic Studio (details are being usually communicated per mail or per phone); images provided by author – photos, micros, x-rays, CT, MR, PET, sono and other images have to be in best possible quality; it is useful for the author to include the images into the manuscript in MS Word, however, in order to be printed in good quality images withous compression in original formats (JPEG, TIFF, BMP etc.) should by kept and sent to the publisher. 

Typing the book

Avoid typewriter-style mistakes

  • Please, do not type Enter at the end of each line ("typewriter style"), only at the end of the paragraph. 
  • Avoid typing "small L" instead of numeral 1 (one) and "caps O" instead of 0 (zero)
  • Please, use other highlighting style than underlined
  • Unless you are writing acronyms, do not use "hard" caps (i.e. with capslock on). If you want to create a caps-style title, write it as usual, then choose it (with shift + arrow or with the mouse) and type ctrl+shift+A in MS Word. The typography in the book will be probably different and everything written in hard capitals we must semi-manually correct - although the MS Word has an utility for changing caps to small letters, you have to do this with every single title

Typing special characters

Many special characters can be typed directly from the keyboard (without using the "insert a symbol" menu) just pressing the left ALT key followed by a so called ASCII code. Here are several useful examples:

  • © = Copyright sign: ALT + 0169
  • ® = Registered trade mark sign: ALT + 0174
  • ° = Degree sign: ALT + 0176
  • µ = Micro sign: ALT + 0181
  • × = Multiplication sign: ALT + 0215

More characters you can find here.

Naming the book

  • Choosing the right title is a key point of the future success of the book; or at least one of key points. Often it is surprising, how little care devote authors thinking about the best possible title of the book taking into account the hundreds of hours spent on writing it. 
  • Book title should be short (and rather striking); unlike the titles of journal papers, the length of which increases the chance to be found and cited by peer researchers, in books it is better to left all this for the subtitle, or subtitles.
  • Be aware of a kind of esthetics of the title: when your book contains the most frequent diseases of the lung, "Pulmonology" with a subtitle "Selected respiratory diseases" sounds better than "Selected respiratory diseased" alone
  • The title should not contain abbreviations and acronyms; of course there are several terms that have been completely substituted by the abbreviations – AIDS, ECG, ICU and many others 

Structuring the book

  • Although book structure is complex and multidimensional by its nature, there are two main levels that the author should be aware of; 1) the hierarchy - chapters, subchapters, sections etc.; 2) the fine structure of the text in the chapter, usually invisible at first sight, the structure of the story, reflecting the structure of author’s thinking
  • You should think about the readers from the very beginning of the idea of writing a book. It is recommended to select the target readerships (in advance) even at the cost of loosing other groups. Not only knowing who you are writing for can considerably save your time spent on writing, but first of all trying to write a book for all possible target groups may end up in no one being interested in reading it.
  • Find a balance between too few levels of hierarchy (with blocks of text too long) and too many levels with subchapters too short. Both can be to difficult to read and remember.
  • Try to set a clear, stable and consistet structure for any hierarchy of the chapters - at least the top one (main chapters) and the structure of the subchapter; this is of eminent importance in multiauthorial books.

Writing the book (proper)

  • How to organize your life to be able to write a book? Quite a foolish question for someone having nothing to write about.
  • The lack of time among top level experts is a rule, worldwide. You cannont become "top level" without enormous amount of time spent on research, gaining clinical experience etc. And with your knowledge and fame growing you are being more and more often invited to boards, lectures and authorship of papers or chapters of other authors ... with still less time for the family and for yourself.
  • "An hour a day for writing" must solve the problem ... Probably it won’t. An hour a day seems to be a lot of time, 30 hours a month. But after that month most of us finds the file "The Book" almost empty (before computer era we used to have at least a page of paper with 20 sentences written and then crossed out). An hour is too short a time to start writing - like a runway too short for the plane to take off. 
  • Try to start with two consecutive days a week - with two hours the first of them and three the next. Friday and Saturday or Sat and Sun. You’ll not write much the first day but try to have at least half page. Probably you’ll write four times more the second day. If you have three day in a row - the amount will increase each day. It’s all about concentration and "tuning" your mind for writing. 
  • Make at least rough "table-of-contents" in the beginning BUT do not use it as a checklist. Do not start with chapter 1. Start with the easiest possible chapter - the shortest or the subject you like - the topic you lecture regularly is the best solution. Do not be ashamed to find an inspiration: to make good structure of the book browse tables of content of relevant books.
  • Do not try to write the final "polished" version of the chapter right from the scratch. Do not correct mistakes - go to the next chapter. Correcting mistakes is completely other psychological process, you can do it in short pieces of time - traveling by bus, waiting for the meeting and so on.
  • It may sound silly now but try to have maximum possible amount of text written - your brain needs motivation for further writing. You have to trigger kind of positive feed-back. 

... to be cont'd

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