Interview: Linda Harrison of Sams Publishing

Sams Publishing (external link) is one of the largest computer-related publishers in the world. As a publisher of over five hundred titles, Sams has a huge influence on the future of the web. Here Ethan interviews Linda Harrison, an editor at Sams Publishing.

Getting to Know Linda

Lowter: To start out, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your involvement with Sams Publishing?

I am a Sr. Acquisitions Editor. I came to Sams a little over a year ago from sister imprint New Riders. My areas of concentration are graphics, security, and digital video. I occasionally pick up books in other areas as well.

My latest area of concentration has been starting a new series - the @work series. This series is a project-based series that provides step-by-step guidance on how to complete projects that most readers are sure to face at their place of business.

Lowter: Do you have any computer experience yourself? If so, could you elaborate?

I come from a very different background than most folks at Sams. I have a PhD in Exercise Psychology. I don't work in that area any more, but the experience of the degrees taught me how to ask lots of questions. That has served me well. If prospective authors can explain concepts, techniques, and procedures to me, they can likely present information clearly to our readers.

Series Sams Publishes

Lowter: Sams currently produces various series. Could you explain the differences in the series from one another? What do you feel has been the most successful series?

Wow! That's a tough question. Each series serves a different purpose. So, it's very difficult to call one better than another... or more successful. But, I'll do my best.

Unleashed: Books that fall into this series are very technical. They are reference tutorials that are directed at the intermediate to advanced user of a technology or application.

Sams Teach Yourself: This series has many iterations. Each of them has a time promise. So, we have books that teach a technology in 21 days (typically a language or operating system); 24 Hours (many of the graphics applications); 10 Minutes (scripting languages, databases, other areas where lessons can be completed in 10 minutes and provide good basic information); in a Snap (entry level, task-based instruction on applications and operating systems). There are some All in One books in the Sams Teach Yourself series as well. These books combine a number of applications or technologies to cover a particular topic area.

Developer's Library: These books are a loosely constructed series. The key to this grouping of books is that they appeal to developers only. They tend to be intermediate level development-related topics.

@work: This series turns technology publishing around. Instead of using projects to teach new features of an application, this series presents projects because they are what users need to be able to do. In the offing, a reader may learn more about the software, but that isn't the primary purpose. The first books in this series will be out in August.

Phrasebooks: This is another new series designed to cover coding areas. Think of it as a geek to English dictionary. You want to find a piece of code to perform a particular task... look it up in the Phrasebook. The first books in this series will be released in the Fall.

I think that covers our series output. There are several other series that come out of Que. But, since you asked for Sams, I'll leave it at that.

I guess I'd have to say that the Sams Teach Yourself series is the most successful of these. It is, definitely the oldest of the series - and one that Sams is well-known for.

Inside Sams Publishing - Getting to Know a Good Publisher

Lowter: All Sams books are edited to technical perfection. Could you describe to us the process that each book goes through before it is published?

Our process begins prior to the book even being under contract. In order to be selected as a Sams book, the proposal must be reviewed by a minimum of 3 subject area experts. Each of those individuals provides a review of the proposal in terms of audience, appropriateness for the audience, completeness of content, accuracy of content, uniqueness of the content, and of course, whether they believe the proposed book would make a good contribution to the literature. Virtually every accepted proposal goes through some revision prior to contracting.

Proposals are then presented to Editorial Board, which includes sales representatives, marketing people, editors, associate publishers, the publisher, and anyone else in the imprint who would like to attend the meeting. This meeting provides additional input for the title. At the close of the presentation on the title, official approval is given for the project - or detailed feedback given on what needs to be done to make the proposal acceptable for inclusion in the imprint.

Upon submission of a chapter for a contracted book, a Technical Editor (TE) reviews the chapter for technical accuracy. If they find leaps of logic they ask for clarification. If they believe the author has misspoken, they question the content. If they have questions about the content that need to be answered in order for the reader to really understand the concepts or processes, they request the information be added. For all books in which there are exercises or projects to be completed, the technical editor clicks through the exercise and verifies that it performs as written and that the accompanying screen captures are truly what the user will see if they follow the instructions.

Then the chapter is reviewed by a Development Editor (DE). The DE reviews the material for organization and clarity. Fortunately for Sams, many of our DEs also have substantial technical knowledge and can offer additional technical commentary.

After that, a copy editor will check grammar and the more nuts and bolts presentation. Then authors will receive their chapter back with comments from all of the involved editors. They respond to the queries and add information that is required. If necessary this material is tech edited again when returned to Sams. In any instance, the DE checks to be sure that all queries have been appropriately dealt with.

Lowter: As a producer of over 500 titles, where do you think Sams stands in its influence on web development?

We undoubtedly play a major role for the technically savvy reader right on through to the experienced developer. As part of Pearson Education, we and our sister imprints definitely have the lion's share of books on the market. Sams is probably second only to Peachpit in the graphics area. In the open source area, Sams is probably the top publisher, with O'Reilly a close second place.

Lowter: What is Sams' opinion on web standards? Do your books teach proper markup and coding?

We do our best to follow current best practices with regard to web standards. Our books strive to teach proper markup and coding. To do that, we rely on our technical editors and reviewers to tell us if they author is conforming to accepted standards.

Lowter: Which three books do you feel best represent Sams Publishing to the web development community?

This is another tough question. Web development is a really diverse topic area. So, if you are a graphics person, you'll know one area. If you are a developer, you'll know another area. I've selected 3 books that cover different areas and demonstrate our strengths.

PHP and MySQL Web Development - This is a classic for open source developers.

Sams Teach Yourself HTML in 24 Hours - and it's 6 editions with varying titles (HTML and XHTML are listed in the 6th Edition). This one demonstrates that we can cover not only major technologies and major applications, but also cornerstone concepts. This particular book is a perennial bestseller.

Sams Teach Yourself Flash in 24 Hours - This book is another hot seller on a hot application. It leads the field in Flash publishing in terms of sales.

Lowter: Sams currently publishes books on every imaginable computer related topic. How does the staff do it? Late nights and no sleep? A ten gallon coffee maker?

Each editor on the Sams staff has an area on which he or she focuses. We have 2 associate publishers, 2 executive editors, and 12 acquisitions editors to cover the territory. That allows us to stay on top of most of the technological advances out there.

And, yes, we do drink a great deal of coffee.

In the Future

Lowter: Could you tell us a little more about the @works series and your involvement in it? What are some of the upcoming titles in the series?

The @work series is a revolutionary new series that provides working professionals with the opportunity to learn what they need to know to do their jobs through focused reference material and projects they are likely to face on the job. In the process of completing the projects, readers learn to master the fundamental tasks that can be applied to other projects.

Most books on creative applications approach the reader with descriptions of how to use tools - and make some reference to putting those tools into a real-world context. The books in this series turn that approach on its ear by introducing key tools in a few short chapters. The bulk of the book is what readers really want to know - how to use the product to complete the projects they face. Each book includes 7 - 10 projects that a panel of users has verified as common projects those using the application will be asked to complete. Tips, tricks, and notes provide readers with the information they need to carry over what they learn to other projects.

My involvement in this series has been to conceptualize it through conversations with those in the audience. I asked them what frustrated them about the typical computer book... and they said real-world context was missing. From that point, I worked with a group of folks in that audience to create the concept for the series. We tested it with another group, and we review each and every book proposal for an @work both this still other groups. I'm really excited to be able to bring this series to the Sams audience and community.

The first 4 books will be Adobe InDesign @work, Adobe Illustrator @work, Macromedia Flash @work, and Macromedia Studio @work. We're working on PHP and MySql @work, Web Development @work, Final Cut Pro @work, and a host of others.

Lowter: What are some of the upcoming web development titles for Sams Publishing?

We have a number of really great open source books coming out:

  • Fedora 4 Unleashed
  • Sams Teach Yourself Fedora 4 All in One
  • Sams Teach Yourself Unix in 10 Minutes
  • Sams Teach Yourself Open 2 and Firefox
  • Linux Firewalls

We also have some good Mac OS X Tiger books ready to release:

  • Sams Teach Yourself Mac OS X Tiger In a Snap
  • Sams Teach Yourself Mac OS X Tiger Unleashed
  • Sams Teach Yourself iPod and iTunes for Window and Mac

On the graphics side, in addition to the @work titles, we have

  • The Art of Photoshop for Digital Photographers
  • The Art of Photoshop: Techniques Workshop
  • The Art of Photoshop CS Edition
  • Special Edition Using Adobe Creative Suite 2

And, of course, there are literally hundreds more such titles.

Lowter would like to thank Linda for her time in allowing us to better know Sams Publishing.