Bridging the gap
Keeping up to date with the latest developments in environmental management is a tough call. That's where books come in: once the prized possession of every nerd, today they provide a bridge between experts and industry. But how does all that expertise get from the typewriter to the printing press? Beverly La Ferla takes a look behind the scenes at Elsevier Science and Technology Books.Ever picked up a book and thought you could have written it? Seems simple enough. Bash out a few chapters on the typewriter, send it off to the publisher and before you know it, you're raking in the royalties. Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy as that. I talked to Carla Kinney and Tara Habhegger at Elsevier Science, senior acquisitions editor and marketing manager respectively, about how they commission, publish and market the latest environmental engineering titles.
"The Environmental Protection Agency (US equivalent of the Environment Agency) is constantly churning out requirements for companies, requiring them to comply to certain standards," says Tara, "That in turn leads to a need for books relevant, not only for the science of environmental engineering, but for the management of environmental engineering in the workplace.
"The better companies can comply, and do so systematically, the less their profits are going to be impacted by the cost of having to comply. And so we aim to commission authors to supply material that will appeal to managers looking for practical solutions." In other words, books that cover the latest developments, new technology, or forthcoming legislation.
"Take one of our most popular titles as an example. Green Profits is all about how business can come up with pollution prevention measures that enable a company to maintain profits in the face of increasingly strict legislation," explains Tara.
Written by Dr Nicholas Cheremisinoff, a consultant and expert witness with an international reputation in environmental forensics, Elsevier Science is lucky to have him on their books - and writing them as well. With his constant exposure to all areas of the environment from a variety of different angles, his texts make invaluable reading for all environmental managers.
Not all books are written by a core group of tried and tested authors though. "Sometimes a proposal for a new book will come in out of the blue," says Carla, "That's what we call an 'unsolicited' or 'cold' book proposal. Once we get that in, we look at it and decide if it's an area we are already publishing books in and if it is, whether this new title would complement or be in competition with our current titles.
"We also look at the person it will be written by - their CV, educational background, industry or academic experience to check they know what they're writing about. Both cold proposals and solicited proposals are then sent out to reviewers I know who are independent experts working in that field."
To build up their networking contacts, Carla and Tara both travel widely to trade shows and exhibitions, as well as keeping in touch with people by phone. They have to keep their finger constantly on the pulse because missing a beat may mean missing a lucrative contract, and allow competing book publishers to get a step ahead.
"We talk to specialists constantly - for news on what's happening out there in the marketplace, where new technology is heading, which areas our portfolio of books is not covering comprehensively enough," says Tara, "Sometimes they say this particular area is stagnant or the books we've published or have under contract in that area are enough. Other times they come up with potential topics and name drop possible authors or editors, like Cheremisinoff.
Carla chips in: "Our authors range from academics to consultants to full time writers. They can be professors or just people working on the floor in a lab. Whoever it is, they write a proposal and send it to me and then I send it out for review to several experts for their advice about whether this book would be viable or not."
A very different story from fiction publishing where books are written before a publisher is even approached.
"In ten years of scientific publishing, I've only once received an entire manuscript," Carla continues, "The review stage is really important. Authors appreciate constructive criticism because it gives them an idea of what's good or bad, areas for change, missing information, superfluous material."
It also gives Tara a chance to gauge the scale of demand for the book. "I ask the reviewers to comment on who they think the book will appeal to and how it will fit with titles already in circulation. It's quite interesting to compare that to what the author thinks," says Tara, "Then I look at the marketing opportunities such as the markets it will be projected at, the divisions of societies that might be interested in it, and any big corporations who would buy it in bulk for their employees.
Carla continues: "I then plug in all the parameters and map out a pricing structure based on production costs and marketing opportunities to see if the book will work from a financial standpoint. If it does, I do a round of presentations to everyone - marketing, production etc, get final approval and offer a contract to the author."
Carla currently has a dozen book proposals out for review, five ready for financial analysis, and received an approval for a contract just last week. "From proposal to contract, it can take just a month, or three or four months, depending on how long the reviewers take and how much I harass them to get back to me. However, rewriting the proposal from scratch starts the whole process all over again.
"Author deadlines range from several months to two years, although we do have some books due for publication in 2006," says Tara, "They tend to be reference volumes on subjects such as pumping station design. And books with multiple editors usually need extra time to take account of the need for co-ordination."
The books that successfully navigate the obstacle course and pass all the tests are the ones which focus on practical solutions. You can't get more practical than ISO 14001 Environmental Certification Step by Step, for example.
Enough theory is covered in the books to make sure the reader understands what is going on but they are written for practical end users, not for bedtime reading. "We try and tell them about things which are new or revolutionary in approach. That gives us an edge in terms of marketing the book as well, and justifies the price tag." Prices for books range from $60 to $90 (£40-£60), depending on page count, author expertise and reputation, and book content, although a series of reference volumes can set you back $250 (£170).
The higher priced books are often purchased by major corporations who see the niche volumes as valuable additions to their corporate libraries. Many see the ability to disperse this information easily and readily to their employees in book form as an advantage similar to bringing in experienced industry consultants.
One thousand copies are printed as a general rule, with reprints every few months as needed, although the initial print run can be much greater if copies are ordered in advance.
The book is then sold through various channels. There are the retailers, high street stores, specialist engineering shops or bulk sales. Direct mailing aims to make individuals aware that a book relevant to their work can be ordered and direct sales are taken through Elsevier's website: www.bh.com\engineering. Trade associations and key exhibition shows are sent review copies and encouraged to promote the titles.
Tara also talks to colleagues outside North America to determine whether the
book would be suitable for an international market.
"Some books can be marketed worldwide because the technology can be applied in a wide range of different situations. Some can't because they detail national legislation. For example, an update on the latest EU directives would be useless in North America," Tara says, "We also target second world countries that could benefit from our books, such as those in Eastern Europe who are trying to meet EU standards."
"We want people to pick up one of our books and be able to do their job
differently as a result."