Leveraging collaboration among authors and editors
When I started writing anatomy and physiology textbooks in the 1980s, I never gave much thought to this last part of my adventure: my exit. And here I am, getting ready to step back and hand it all over to others in a few short years.
I’m finding out that some of my friends in TAA who have exited or are on the “offramp” are valuable counselors who freely give advice from their experience. Most recently, four colleagues presented their experiences at the 2022 TAA Conference in a panel called Time to Slow Down: Finding an Offramp from the Authoring Freeway. Even with all this help, my offramp has been a bit bumpy.
As I first began to navigate these bumps, I got a good tip from an unexpected source. I chatted with a guy in front of me in the deli line at a nonacademic event. It turned out that he’s a consultant for company founders trying to turn things over to their successors. He pointed out that this is analogous to my situation…and that there are always bumps. Over our Reuben sandwiches, he coached me in ways to smooth those bumps.
Among the many things I learned is that communication is key. Of course it is! But the trick is how to make that work when collaborating with a team of co-authors, most of whom are new to textbook revising and likely to be geographically separated.
One of the tricks working for me right now is simple: a weekly meeting.
Every Friday morning at ten o’clock, all the authors and key editors working on our overlapping revision projects meet via Zoom. When I proposed this, we set our Friday Meetings for a half hour, with the notion that they’d rarely go that long and often be cancelled for lack of things to discuss. We guessed that after a couple of months or so, we’d no longer need or want to meet weekly.
That was nearly three years ago. The half-hour meetings have turned out to last an hour nearly always —and sometimes a bit longer. We rarely miss a meeting.
Authors and editors alike have found this meeting to be very useful in so many ways. Coordinating who is doing what and when is easy. We can discuss our choices in revising as collaborative colleagues, work- ing things out in ways that cannot be done easily by email or Slack. We sometimes invite guests such as marketing managers and digital resource specialists so that we all understand each other’s roles.
When I first proposed our Friday Meetings, I thought my editors would balk. Just the opposite. I wondered if my new co-authors would hesitate. They didn’t. Looking back, we all agree that we feel more connected as a team and, perhaps for that very reason, we are more productive. We solve problems more easily, we assign and reassign tasks more efficiently, and our revisions really hang together in ways that better facilitate student learning.
Although the Patton Team meetings include a lot of mentoring of the new co-authors by me and by our editors, I think this strategy can work well for any author team. Whether a team is large or small, the authors are new or experienced, or the writing involves textbooks or scholarly articles, such meetings can amplify the benefits of collaboration in ways that are hard to imagine. Until we’ve tried it.
Now a bit closer to my exit, I feel great about it. I’ll miss the whole process of authoring, surely. But I’ll especially miss hanging out with “the gang” each Friday morning.
Kevin Patton is an award-winning educator and textbook author in human anatomy & physiology. In his fourth decade of textbook authorship, Kevin is also an active professor, blogger, podcaster, and speaker with a strong interest in the art and science of teaching. For more of Kevin’s tips, visit TheTextbookAuthor.org