No matter the medium, content is the driver. 

     Content publication requires compiling information in a manuscript–whether for print or digital presentation–in a way that someone else can readily use.

     Books, reports, or websites are complex creatures, but should be easy to navigate and absorb. Development of a book, report, or website manuscript entails arranging the content elements in attractive and efficient manner. The editorial choices are complex, while the resulting book, report, or website appears to unfold naturally and simply.

     Whether preparing a primer on fly-fishing or comprehensive survey of climate impacts on invasive species, the questions implicit to successful content development remain quite similar. Successful development of a book or report manuscript will address up thirteen characteristics of the author’s manuscript.

    Examine your project with the thirteen sets of questions below and you will have a better outcome.  

  1. BulletWhat are the steps in content development?

A baker’s dozen to consider:  

  1. 1.Rationale: What is the reason for the work? Why should we publish? For whom?

  2. 2.Level: What is the level of assumption we should make about the audience’s prior knowledge of this subject?  How does this assumption affect the writing?

  3. 3.Order: What is the best sequence of topics for this book from start to finish?  Why?

  4. 4.Scope: What is the best breadth and width of coverage within this sequence of desired topics?

  5. 5.Theme: What is the thematic strategy for tying the facts and analysis together coherently?

  6. 6.Elements & Design: What is the priority sequence of the elements that will comprise the new edition? How does this ranking affect design and layout?

  7. 7.Currency: What would need to be updated to reflect the passage of time or advances in the field (if this project is be undergo future revision or republication)?

  8. 8.Tone: What is the best tone from friendly to more formal for the project’s narration? What tone will be most effective for the audience?

  9. 9.Support: What—in addition to the expository prose—will best help support the book or report’s content and approach? Illustrations? Readings? Cases? Exercises?

  10. 10. Documentation: What form of bibliography (reference) documentation will be both minimally intrusive and required for the work?

  11. 11. Length: What is the appropriate length for this work in manuscript form and published book or report form?

  12. 12. Competition: What aspects of the competing books or reports need to be closely studied to make this work stand out as a success?

  13. 13. Transmittal: What information about this work must be handed over to the colleagues involved in the subsequent stages of production, distribution, or marketing? 

Every manuscript requires development in order to succeed. Each manuscript may differ in how much attention it requires for successful completion of each aspect of development. The challenge for the sponsoring organization is properly diagnosing the series of development tasks for each individual project and allocating staff, resources and schedules accordingly.

Content development brings together at least three different kinds of expertise. The first is discipline or topic expertise, e.g. the author as expert fly fisher. The second is content-shaping expertise, e.g. the editors.  The third is market expertise arrived at by comprehending the audience intended for the content. 

Lack of input from any one of these three is equivalent to multiplying a string of handsome numbers by zero. It is often helpful to augment author’s discipline expertise and the editor’s knowledge of the market by getting added feedback from other experts or practitioners.

  1. BulletWhen does development work take place?

Content development work begins well before a contract is signed or commitment is cemented to produce the work. The author and editor or sponsoring organization will have collaborated on fashioning a proposal that stands up well to the scrutiny of peer review. This process continues through the delivery of complete and final manuscript to copyediting, design, composition and production, usually in batches of chapters. The amount of time assigned to each stage will vary from project to project and between first editions and subsequent revised editions.

  1. Milestone 1.  Pre-contract: Analyze Proposal Content versus Market/Audience Need

  2. Milestone 2.  Post-Contract: Establish Schedule and Workflow Pattern

  3. Milestone 3.  Create “Model” Chapter/Section

  4. Milestone 4.  First Draft Stage 1: Obtain Peer Review of Several Chapters

  5. Milestone 5.  First Draft Stage 2: Obtain Peer Review of Remaining Chapters

  6. Milestone 6.  Develop Art Program

  7. Milestone 7.  Second Draft Stage 1: Review Revised Chapters with Art.

  8. Milestone 8.  Second Draft Stage 2: Complete Manuscript Delivery

  9. Milestone 9.  Develop Interior Design and Layout

  10. Milestone 10. Develop Ancillary Package (web site support for readers, etc)

  11. Milestone 11. Transmit to Copyediting, Design, and Production

  12. Milestone 12. Publication and Announcement

  13. BulletHow does development affect design?

Each of the different individuals involved in a book is both the author of manuscript information and the audience for the information generated by others. Rigor in the development process leaves a cleaner tableau for the copy-editing, graphic design, and production to work with. 

Good development work brings valuable information about the project to copy-editors, designers and marketers. What are the salient characteristics of the book or report’s appeal that a designer should be aware of? How is the art program married to the expository components? Where can a marketer or publicist point out the book or report’s value to the target audience?

Specifically, the author and content developer may have to provide appropriate information to the following potential team members (or functions) during the writing stages:

  1. Organization’s communication director or publisher’s editor;

  2. Project Editor (someone who manages the copyediting, design and production);

  3. Designer for interior and cover;

  4. Photo Researcher or Graphic Artist;

  5. E-media Designer (websites are common as integral to print content);

  6. Marketing or Public Relation Manager

Ultimately, all content development has the reader as its final audience: How will the reader’s experience of this book or report be enhanced by the development decisions we have implemented?

  1. BulletWhat is the resulting output?

While the tangible result is a bound book ready for the cash register or a snappy report ready for policy-makers, two other benefits result from constructing a mutually intelligible development pattern for a given manuscript. The first result is a relatively detailed calendar for project’s development.  Dates in the schedule may change, but creating target dates for each milestone at the outset will help the author/compiler and house to track progress and to adjust priorities later if needed.  The second result is that the content manuscript will be more coherently prepared, more adequately vetted, and more comprehensively planned. The project team will have examined the possible elements that apply to the fabrication of this particular book or report.

(c) Leo Wiegman