Transcript: A Prescription for Self-Published Textbooks

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Interview with Dr. Robert Hoyt, M.D.

For podcast release Monday, August 17, 2015

KENNEALLY: A field of study like medical informatics is in constant flux. Indeed, technology and healthcare have become so intimate and entwined, they are almost inseparable. Conveying that dynamic relationship to students demands textbooks and other instructional materials that are current and comprehensive. For a growing number of textbook authors, self-publishing is just what the doctor ordered.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally from Beyond the Book. Dr. Robert Hoyt M.D. created a pioneering program in medical health informatics at the University of West Florida in 2004. He found a lack of textbooks on the subject, and in 2007, he self-published Health Informatics: A Practical Guide for Healthcare and Information Technology Professionals. The work is now a standard in the field, and the sixth edition available in print, PDF, and Kindle versions debuted in 2014.

Bob Hoyt joins me now from his office in Pensacola, Florida. Bob, welcome to Beyond the Book.

HOYT: Thank you, Chris.

KENNEALLY: We’re looking forward to chatting with you, because we’re familiar on this program with self-publishing. We’ve chatted with a number of authors and others involved in that side of publishing, but they have been authors that we think of as being found at a book store, fiction writers and nonfiction writers.

But it’s interesting to chat with you about self-publishing in the textbook field. We heard you speak at the recent annual conference of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association, TAA, and we found your talk quite interesting, because it led us to think about the ways that self-publishing is more and more accessible to many other types of writers than those that we typically think of.

When it came to your textbook, Health Informatics, why did you choose self-publishing?

HOYT: It gave us a lot more flexibility. I think the biggest one is the turnaround time. That is, on average, if a faculty member submits their galley proofs for publication to a standard commercial publisher, they’re probably not going to get that book published for two to four years, based on personal experience and experience of peers.

I was writing on a topic that not only was the content or topic changing rapidly, but the government support of it and their policies was also changing rapidly, so it really mandated a fast turnaround, and the only way to do that was self-publication.

KENNEALLY: Besides that speed to market, there were some other issues that I think you found particularly attractive. This is a way to help keep the cost of textbooks down for students. People are familiar, I’m sure with just how expensive textbooks can be. If you’re a student or the parent of one, you know all about that.

And for authors like yourself, this is a way to be able to make decisions about the text yourself rather than have to work through a third party like a publisher.

HOYT: That’s correct. Just to add to what you already said, not only do we offer the book as print, PDF, and Kindle, but we also now offer it as a rental book, which is even less expensive, and we have offered it as individual chapters. If somebody is teaching a shorter course and they only need three chapters, it’s only $2.99 per chapter. We have tried to be very open-minded and look at every conceivable option out there for the faculty and the students.

KENNEALLY: And someone familiar with technology, you were probably comfortable with the idea of moving into this new way of publishing into self-publishing, independent publishing, as some refer to it. But I’m sure there were some things that you learned along the way from experience. Share with us, if you would, for those listening who may be thinking about going in this direction, some important lessons. There’s a variety of things that you covered in your TAA presentation, and certainly it’s the multiplicity of formats and sometimes, the difficulty that certain softwares present in allowing you to realize the dream you have for the textbook.

HOYT: Sure. First, let me say the obvious things that anybody else would point out. You need to have good coauthors, you need to be endorsed – hopefully – by at least one national organization. That being said, there’s a lot more to it. It’s not just the textbook.

It is true that if you self-publish, you will be faced with a lot of proofreading. We did not find Microsoft Word to be very friendly when you have a lot of images, tables, and so forth, diagrams, that you want to stay put. Word is not very good for a several-hundred-page document, so we had to look for other alternatives there.

I will point out very, very importantly, though, you need an ecosystem, a book ecosystem when you publish, and that usually means a Web page. But it really means even more than that. You need to coordinate that with perhaps free downloads, more educational content for the faculty such as instructor manuals and PowerPoint presentations. We also found a newsletter that goes out periodically for any updates to be critical. All of that we wrapped together into a website that has proven to be critical. The number of hits per month is low, but the quality is extremely high, and the turnaround –

What’s important about that is if somebody has a question about the book or the field, or has a bright idea or criticism, they’re going to get a response from me usually within the hour. You just simply can’t do that through a commercial publisher.

KENNEALLY: You did work with one of the fairly well-known self-publishing entities, a company called Tell us about your experience there, and in particular, the offering they have at Lulu provides you with e-book format but also with print on demand, because textbooks, for all the changes in the classroom, people still like the actual physical copy.

HOYT: Right. And to confirm that point, about 90% of what we have published has been in the print form. I will say that electronic is steadily increasing each year, but nonetheless, the print is the most popular.

KENNEALLY: Beyond that choice between print and e-book, you also have made a point of providing the book in a Kindle edition. Why is that important? Tell our listeners about that.

HOYT: First of all, Amazon, and they happen to be a very big distributor, will not distribute PDFs, so while Lulu will do that, Amazon will not. So this gave us an electronic format that Amazon would promote and sell, so that’s why we did it. We did start off with iBooks Author, which Apple software to produce a book, but it didn’t sell well, and the software was pretty rudimentary. That was a lesson learned not to do that again. But the Kindle’s been certainly successful.

KENNEALLY: We’re talking with Dr. Robert Hoyt M.D., who is a founder of the pioneering program at the University of West Florida in medical health informatics and author of a self-published book on health informatics, and learning some of the lessons that he acquired in his experience as a self-publisher.

Bob, you refer to a particular vendor that you’ve found useful called RedShelf. They will host books online with annotation tools. Why is that important for you as an author, but also for your audience?

HOYT: It’s the least expensive option for students. Right now, we’re sort of beta testing it with Rutgers University where 50 students have signed up, so we’ll have some feedback shortly to see how well it’s received.

It’s basically substituting a tablet for a laptop, in a sense. In other words, a student can simply log onto their website, access their textbook that they’re renting for a semester for around $17, and they have all the annotation tools. It’s also available – I think up to 20% can be downloaded to your PC at any one time. If somebody is in a car or taking a trip, they can read it offline. So it offered a few advantages that students may enjoy, but at this point, it’s fairly new. We launched that in May of 2015.

KENNEALLY: You really seem to be somebody driven to be innovative, and clearly, you have established quite a reputation in your particular field, a very interesting field of medical health informatics. But as a publisher, as an author, tell us about your experience. Are you happy with all of this at the end of the day? Have you done well by the experience, as well?

HOYT: We’ve done very well, and we were able to give a large amount of money to the local university. In the past year, we have turned it into grants, so it’s been very satisfying to be able to educate people but also turn around and give them small grants to complete educational programs and very innovative projects.

We certainly have absolutely no regrets about self-publishing, and I think we turned it into what was initial skepticism to pretty well widespread acceptance and praise.

KENNEALLY: And that acceptance has been not only in this country but around the world, and one thing I would think is a bonus to you is that you’re making available this kind of up-to-date information to students who may be in areas where that would be a long time to come otherwise.

HOYT: Yes. I’ve been contacted twice from Iran, for instance, but the Middle East is a hotbed for more information, and there have been some surprises along the way. I fully expected Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to be onboard with any kind of information technology, but it’s surprising to see the level of interested in pretty much all countries.

There is this growing need to digitize medicine worldwide to automate it and to bring it to the level of an ATM machine, let’s say, which has been a slow process, but there is interest worldwide.

KENNEALLY: There certainly is interest here in our audience at Beyond the Book about all aspects of self-publishing, Bob Hoyt, and we appreciate your contributing to that and telling us about your experience as a self-published textbook author.

We’ve been chatting with Dr. Robert Hoyt M.D., who is the founder of the program in medical health informatics at the University of West Florida and self-published author of Health Informatics: A Practical Guide for Healthcare and Information Technology Professionals.

Bob Hoyt, thanks so much for joining us.

HOYT: Thanks, Chris. It’s been a pleasure.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our website,

Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.

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