How to Write a Textbook

Katie Flavin

Whilst revising for the Final FFICM viva, I found myself rather frustrated with the lack of suitable material to assist and direct my revision. I promised myself (perhaps rather foolishly) that, should I pass the FFICM on my first attempt, I would make it my mission to publish an SOE revision text book.

I was incredibly naïve: I didn’t have any idea about the processes involved, or how long it would take, or how many different people with whom I would have to engage in long email chains! I simply contacted Cambridge University Press directly with my idea, because I knew that they had published books for other parts of the FFICM exam and FRCA SOE books.

Author Kate with her proud parents at graduation

I asked my close friend and FFICM revision buddy, Clare Morkane, to help me write the content. Clare is an incredibly high-flying trainee in anaesthesia and ICM in London, with countless work and research-related balls to juggle in addition to a hectic social life. I am exceedingly lucky that she agreed to help me. It was an absolute pleasure working with someone so dedicated and her remarkable work ethic was infectious.

I then began the search for someone I could invite to be our editor. Sarah Marsh came highly recommended, so I approached her and luckily for us she accepted my offer! I think that Sarah, like myself and Clare, underestimated exactly how big an undertaking it was – especially since she was on maternity leave and grappling with a gorgeous newborn who wouldn’t sleep and a toddler! I love this part of our story, though: Sarah’s amazing ability to multitask and balance her lovely little family with editing the book (and organising the FICM SOE and OSCE revision course) was truly impressive to me. I consider myself very fortunate to now call this inspirational woman my friend.

Cambridge University Press (CUP) expressed an interest very quickly, so I filled out their book proposal form and it was vetted by a panel before we got the formal go ahead, and we were all sent contracts to sign.

The next nine months involved a series of writing, re-writing and editing for myself, Clare and Sarah. It was a vast amount of work and I hadn’t realised exactly how long it would take us and how much of my free time I was going to spend working on it. I am a perfectionist, so I would re-read through things multiple times to make sure there were no typos and all the tables and diagrams were formatted correctly before submitting each batch of topics to the editor at CUP. Despite this, I have noticed a few typos since it’s been printed!

We then had the rather laborious process of requesting permissions to reproduce original work, although the majority of this process could be done using an online automated system, which made things much quicker than we initially worried it would be. Several journals and publishing houses requested payment for their permissions, but once I explained that the money would have to come out of my own pocket they all were incredibly kind and allowed us to use their material free of charge!

Molly the cat helping Kate with writing

We finally submitted the completed manuscript at the end of May 2017; however, the book was not published until the following February. The intervening period was filled with lots of emails back and forth between myself and the copywriters and editor at CUP, and multiple read-throughs, re-edits and re-submissions. I found the team at CUP to be very supportive and reassuring, and they answered my queries, no matter how small or seemingly daft, very quickly.

With the experience I have now, would I write another medical textbook? I highly doubt it! It took such a long time and so much work, but the feeling of seeing your name and all your hard work in print is pretty great. I’m so proud to be part of our little team of female intensivists, who have worked so hard to bring this vision to life. Thanks girls!

From left to right: Kate, Clare, Sarah and FICM Vice-Dean Alison Pittard celebrating the launch of the textbook

Kate is a consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage. Her sub-speciality interests include trauma, organ donation, echo and anaesthesia for complex general and vascular surgery.