Lisa: You’ve written and edited many health books yourself, and taught hundreds more published authors: What is the very first thing you suggest doctors or other experts do before they even write a health book, when they’re still in that exploratory phase?
Julie Silver, MD: It’s important to decide whether the book you are thinking about writing is a self-help or a narrative non-fiction book.
Lisa: What else do you have them do before they write a health book?
Julie Silver, MD: Although brick and mortar bookstores are quickly becoming a thing of the past, it’s still important to think about where your book would fit on a shelf in a bookstore. This helps you to figure out what you are really going to write. For example, would your book be on the shelf with psychology self-help or next to the addiction books or perhaps by the diagnosis specific health books like the diabetes books.
Lisa: Has your own process changed for writing your books? In what way?
Julie Silver, MD: When I started, I did what a lot of doctors do–I thought about the book that I wanted to write or the book that I thought people needed to read. Now, my approach is to think about the information that I believe is important to convey to readers, but I also consider the type of book that they would be likely to buy and read. It often doesn’t work very well to just write the book that you think is important. You’ll have much more success if you understand the market.
Lisa: People often struggle with understanding who they’re writing for. They may be reluctant to pin down specifics (everyone needs this book) or they may have several very different groups of readers in mind. Is there any advice you’d like to give about how to get clear who your readers are?
Julie Silver, MD: In a book proposal, there is a section where you explain your intended audience. I always tell the authors that I work with to write the book for the biggest audience on that list. For example, if you are writing a self-help book on alcohol addiction and you think that your audience will consist of people addicted to alcohol, their loved ones and some addiction professionals, then write your book for the first group–people addicted to alcohol.
Lisa: What are the biggest mistakes you see people make in writing a health book?
Julie Silver, MD: Most doctors and other professionals are really busy, and they don’t get the right information before they begin. So, they spend a lot of precious time doing things that won’t help them to write or publish or sell their book. Getting the right information helps you to save a lot of time and also to be much more successful. Publishing is a complicated business with many changes happening constantly. There are a lot of opportunities to be successful for doctors and other health professionals, but it’s not easy to sit at home or in your office in front of a computer and become successful in this business.
Lisa: What are some of the benefits of attending Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing, for someone who wants to write a health book?
Julie Silver, MD: We have such a terrific faculty of publishing experts including literary agents, editors, publicists and successful authors. Every person at the course–attendees and faculty alike–learns so much. It’s also a lot of fun!
Lisa: Anything else you’d like to add?
Julie Silver, MD: This course is not only about publishing–it’s about becoming a “go to” expert in your field. Someone who is invited to give speeches and many other opportunities. Former attendees are doing so many exciting new things because they came to the course–everything from being invited to other countries to give talks to hosting their own radio shows to winning awards. One thing I always say at the course is that this will take you on a journey that you can’t really predict but it will be exciting and really fun!
About Julie Silver, MD
Julie Silver, MD is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. An award-winning author, her books include After Cancer Treatment: Heal Faster, Better, Stronger and What Helped Get Me Through: Cancer Survivors Share Wisdom and Hope. She is course Director for Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course, Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing which is being offered March 31-April 2, 2014 at the Fairmont Copley Hotel in Boston.
Dr. Silver is the co-founder of Oncology Rehab Partners which has developed the STAR Program® Certification—a best practices and evidence-based model for a cancer rehabilitation clinical service line adopted by more than 100 hospitals. Her work in cancer rehabilitation has been recognized by the ACS, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Boston Globe which named her a Top Innovator in Medicine 2012, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Bloomberg/Businessweek and the Stevie Awards.
Dr. Silver’s work has been featured on many national media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Today Show, The CBS Early Show, Dr. Oz, ABC News Now, AARP Radio and NPR.