Reprinted with permission from the Puget Sound Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) (http://www.stc-psc.org/). Originally published in the Feb/March 2012 issue of the newsletter Sound Views.

Delivering More than Another How-To

Interview with the editor of Best of Show, Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out
by Robert Reynolds

For this issue, I interviewed Karen Szall, who was the developmental editor for one of the Best of Show entries: Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out. Karen Szall is a publishing professional at Microsoft. She has several years of experience writing, editing, and managing content projects for retail companies, big banks, and most recently, the tech giants IBM and Microsoft.

Initial phase:

How did you define your audience for this work?

Karen: At Microsoft Press, we focus on titles about Microsoft technologies that help readers to get the information they need to optimize their use of the products they use. Based on how Microsoft Exchange Server has been adopted in the market, we knew that there were many experienced IT professionals who would be implementing Exchange Server 2010 with Service Pack 1. Instead of providing another how-to book for those learning the basics about the product, we wanted to deliver in-depth information to those experienced Exchange Server messaging engineers and administrators who already understand the basics and are very familiar with the product.

How did you first get introduced to this project?

Karen: At the time, the Microsoft Press planner for the IT Pro audience was Martin Delre. Martin had been talking with Tony Redmond, the author of the book, for some time about a book targeting this specific audience. Tony had also been working with the same goal in mind. When they felt that we might be able to join forces, Martin sent me some material Tony provided and asked my opinion. I quickly agreed with Martin; Tony was the right person for the book we had in mind.

Development:

What was your role in this product?

Karen: As the content development manager, I wore many hats. The short story is that I put together the book team and supervised editing and production. Above all, I worked directly with the author on the presentation of each chapter. I reviewed each chapter to ensure that the information was presented consistently and had all the necessary features for this particular title (such as the Inside Out sidebars). Tony’s content was so good that this was a pleasure to do.

How many different roles were involved in the creation of this product? Writer, Editor, Producer, etc.

Karen: Many! The product planner and content development manager work with the author on the proposal, outline, and early details. The entire publishing team, including marketing and sales, has input into the initial plan. We then add copy editing and a full technical review before sending the completed manuscript to an indexer, a compositor, and proofreaders. Added to the mix are many others who contribute specialized skills such as graphic artists, cover designers, copywriters, a geopolitical specialist to ensure that the content will be culturally acceptable worldwide, and a pre-manufacturing check to ensure there are no problems when the book goes to print.

Was any of the work done externally? If so, which roles?

Karen: Yes. We work with teams of vendors and freelancers who are very experienced with our series and our processes. Most of the roles are filled externally.

What influenced the development of the TOC? Prior publications, focus group feedback, or just multiple revisions?

Karen: The author drove the TOC development based on his extensive experience in the field as a consultant on Exchange Server.

What content management tools did you use?

Karen: We use Word and our own internal Word templates for authoring and editing. We use a versioning tool called Source Depot, which has been used for several years internally at Microsoft.

How did you determine the format, as far as font type, colors, and overall appearance?

Karen: We use a cross-disciplinary approach to develop our series. Each series is developed to address the needs of a specific audience. In this case, the IT Pro Inside Out series addresses the experienced IT professional who wants a comprehensive reference that covers both the “how” and “why” of a technology. With the audience and type of material identified, a team of folks from all areas of the business (planning, marketing, editorial, production, creative, branding, etc.) work together on all the details including fonts, colors, interior and cover layout, etc.

How did the input from others affect your vision/direction/involvement?

Karen: Our planning process includes input from everyone who will touch the book from planning to sales and post-production management. This helps to ensure that we have aligned the content with the audience and that our view of both the audience and the market is on track.

Post-production:

What were the greatest challenges?

Karen: With technical material, the greatest challenge is always technical accuracy. We were extremely fortunate to be able to team such a talented author with another expert in the technology for the technical review.

How long did it take to deliver this product?

Karen: Approximately 7 months.

What do you hope your reader comes away with - while/after using this product?

Karen: The readers should have a greater confidence in their skills with the product.

What is the next step (evolution) of your project/product?

Karen: We will certainly be looking at the changes in the next version of the technology and determine the best way to meet the needs of this audience.