Finishing the Blog Turned Book with Carolyn Thomas

A Woman's Guide to Living with Heart Disease: my Blog-turned-Book!

By Carolyn Thomas

With a splendid sigh of relief, I hit the ‘submit’ button and sent off the completed draft manuscript of A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”, the book I’d been writing for most of 2016. I sat back and waited for a response from JHUP.

And waited. And waited.

My anticipation ended within a week via return email from then JHUP Executive Editor Jackie Wehmueller. She loved it! Even the introductory preface I’d written was described as “a masterpiece”.

The next step: the entire 10-chapter draft manuscript needed to be evaluated by JHUP internal reviewers. Since a heart attack had forced my retirement after almost four decades working in public relations, I wasn’t used to writing for anybody else but my Heart Sisters blog readers. But now I not only sent the finished product to Jackie, but the manuscript would need one more lengthy go-round from a JHUP cardiologist, the Editorial Advisory Committee, and finally the Faculty Board.

When the cardiologist’s review of my 70,000-word manuscript finally arrived one month later, I was thrilled to read this description of my book: “an important new contribution to the literature.”

But what knocked me right out of my chair was this one sentence, almost a throwaway line on the second page of the review, that simply said:

“Chapter 7 is irrelevant to patients, and should be deleted.”

I was so shocked that I had to go back to my manuscript and look up Chapter 7, because I honestly couldn’t remember what it was in this chapter that rendered it so objectionable. Then I had to have a wee lie-down just to pull myself together.

In follow-up communication with Jackie to discuss Chapter 7, I argued that, in my opinion, this chapter was actually the most patient-centric chapter in the entire book (and did I really have to mention the irony of a cardiologist telling a female heart patient what is or is not relevant to female heart patients?!?)  Chapter 7 would end up staying in, as is.

While I waited for the other internal approvals to come in, I heard from the publisher’s graphic design team who were working on my cover, the sales team who would be selling my book to bookstores, the marketing team who would be publicizing my book to media and book reviewers, as well as the catalog team who were describing my book for the 2017 fall/winter catalog of new JHUP books. 

            But the best news amid all of this was landing the woman assigned to edit my finished manuscript, Deborah J. Bors, a longtime Senior Production Editor at JHUP. Debby would become my go-to person from then on. Our working relationship evolved over months and was one of the highlights of my book experience. I learned that I could confidently trust Debby’s wisdom and experience, and that any edits she suggested inevitably made for a better book--well, maybe except for the parts about those Tim Hortons maple dips (an insider’s reference for my fellow Canadians!)

But I still had lots of editing left to do. I had to carefully go through the book page by page now, incorporating Debby’s editing suggestions, followed weeks later by another last-chance read of the final page proofs to check for any overlooked errors (especially in eleven pages full of medical journal citations). It was All Book, All The Time around here, 24/7.

The last project was creating the book’s index, organizing just the right words or phrases throughout the manuscript that would help readers easily find specific pages. My resident family proofreader (my daughter-in-law, Paula) and I learned that there are people who make a living creating indexes for authors, and even a national association of professional indexers. But we loved creating the index, and decided we must be natural-born indexers ourselves.

Three months later, Fed Ex delivered a cardboard box of advance books to my door. I cried when I opened that box.

The reality hadn’t yet begun to sink in: my two-year adventure was coming to an end, and another one was about to start: books shipped out to booksellers and customers, reviews coming in, media interviews arranged. And at my first book signing event, one of my Heart Sisters blog readers, who had been following this adventure for two years, leaned in and said: “I just can’t wait to read Chapter 7!”


Carolyn Thomas is the author of A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017). Some excerpts from this post were previously published on her blog, Heart Sisters.