All About “E”: Behind the Scenes with ACS eBooks

ACS E-Books

Over the past 60 years, the ACS Symposium Series and Advances in Chemistry have published books from some of the world’s brightest minds in science, including 34 Nobel Laureates in chemistry. These books have become so important that the ACS Symposium Series has now transitioned under the ACS eBooks banner. “The subtle identity shift better describes the product, which includes the Advances in Chemistry series,” notes Bob Hauserman, Senior Editor for ACS Books.

“There has always been a misperception that the ACS Symposium Series is just a transcript of conference proceedings,” he said. “In fact, the symposium is typically just a first step in developing the books. The book chapters are expanded to present the topics in a more in-depth, focused way.”

Today, these books utilize technology to bring ideas to the scientific community more quickly than ever. All ACS Symposium Series books are first published electronically, and then in print editions later. “Technology has really helped us speed up publication,” notes Hauserman. “The old process to publish a book in print could take anywhere between 18 months to two years to complete. With the advent of the eBook, we are now able to publish that information online in approximately eight weeks after the final pieces are delivered to production.”

Each eBook starts with a proposal submitted by the prospective editor, which must include a working title, an abstract, and a tentative table of contents. Editors submit their ideas electronically, and the ACS Books team facilitates the review and approval process. Once the book proposal is approved, a timeline is negotiated between ACS Books and the editor, and an agreement for publication is drawn up. The agreement is then signed by the editor and co-editors of the book.

“Identifying co-editors and chapter authors is an especially important step,” according to Marinda Li Wu, Ph.D., past president of ACS, who recently published Vision 2025: How to Succeed in the Global Chemistry Enterprise, co-edited with H.N. Chen, Ph.D. and Sadiq Shah, Ph.D. This book includes 22 chapters developed from presentations on the topic at the ACS National Meeting in Fall 2013. The eBook version was published in March 2014, and the print edition will be out this summer.

“Writing a book can seem intimidating, but it’s really not when you partner with people who have the expertise to develop the in-depth content,” said Wu. “The ACS Books team makes the process very smooth. They take care of the details— they’re real pros.”

The editor chooses chapter authors based on their expertise on a given topic. In some cases, a chapter may have multiple authors.

“There is typically a working relationship between the editor and chapter authors from other symposia or projects, so there’s camaraderie among them as colleagues working together in their discipline,” said Hauserman. “The foundation of respect between the editor and author supports the creation of in-depth 250-page books in record time.”

Each chapter is electronically submitted for peer review to colleagues recommend- ed by the author. The editor either approves the authors’ recommended reviewers or chooses alternatives suggested by the author. Each chapter must get at least one positive peer review to move forward. The two-stage peer review process – at the proposal stage and the chapter contents – ensures ACS eBooks are relevant, insightful and accurate.

Once peer review is complete, the chapters are submitted to the book’s main editor, providing an additional level of peer-re- view. The editor may also suggest additional changes or additions from the author.

“The technology of online submission has helped us develop a more ‘civilized’ system compared to 10 years ago,” said Hauserman. “It’s a lot faster and easier than ever before for both editors and authors.”

While technology is important, it’s not an impersonal process, he added.

“We also focus on building relationships with our editors and authors and making it a good experience,” he said. “We collaborate in person while allowing the technology to streamline the work.”

While some book ideas grow out of symposia, some work in the opposite direction: the event stems from a book idea.

That was the case with Nuts and Bolts of Chemical Education Re- search, edited by Diane Bunce, Ph.D. The idea emerged from discussions with her peers about the need for an authoritative graduate-level textbook in the relatively new inter- disciplinary field that combines elements of statistics, cognitive psychology, education, and sociology to advance chemistry education. The symposium was organized to begin developing the content.

“Until the book was published in 2008, there really was no textbook in our field,” said Dr. Bunce. “They say a field is not a field until it has a textbook, and it’s exciting that Nuts and Bolts has filled that role. By listening to those of us in the field, ACS provided an outlet to move our field ahead.”

“The presentations provided a way to test and refine the content,” noted Dr. Bunce.

“We try out approaches and what seems most relevant to our audience,” she said. “If the audience does not seem engaged on a topic, we leave it out of the book. The audience also helps us identify subjects we may have missed, and then we can invite authors to develop those chapters.”

The collaborative process with ACS Books is a key to success, she added. “It’s such a creative conversation. We know the needs in our field, and they know how to make it happen,” she said.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.