ON TO SOMETHING: Assistant Prof. Ted Spiker co-authors bestselling health advice series. (Photo by Andrea Morales)
Professor co-authors YOU: The Owner's Manual series
The students in Assistant Prof. Ted Spiker’s classes who’ve pulled all-nighters this semester may not realize their teacher has, too.
Spiker, who teaches in the Department of Journalism’s magazine program, has spent recent nights and weekends co-authoring the sequel to YOU: The Owner’s Manual, 2005’s second best-selling book behind Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
As he did in the original health advice book, Spiker co-wrote YOU: On a Diet, which comes out this month, with Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz. They’re also working on other installments.
Spiker has kept rather mum about his role, which includes turning the doctors’ ideas and information into witty, understandable text. He holds weekly two- to three-hour conference calls with Roizen and Oz, who gained fame for developing the Real Age concept and hosting medical shows on the Discovery Channel, respectively.
Every Sunday evening, the group discusses the next chapter and reviews text from previous ones.
When they wrote The Owner’s Manual, they started with the heart and arteries and kept phone-conferencing until they’d gone through the lungs, brain, hormones, and everything in between. This, Oz says, is how most medical students learn the human body.
“When you collaborate with a writer,” Oz says, “it’s like a marriage. We just clicked.”
Spiker turned these “lectures,” as Oz puts it, into such 5,000- to 8,000-word chapters as “The Beat Goes On” and “To a Lung and Healthy Life.”
“Ted is really good at what I call ‘humor that doesn’t hurt anybody,’ ” Oz says.
They used magazine style, with many “entry-points.” (Example factoid: “We all produce one to three pints of gas daily. Less than 1 percent of it smells.”) Spiker assimilated, structured and wrote the information, giving it a conversational and funny tone. The doctors called it “Spikerizing.”
“We try to make these books hit the regular person,” Spiker says. “We wanted to make the human body easy to understand without being condescending or too simple.”
Making health entertaining proved one of the most challenging aspects of the process.
“The main thing is to make sure that the information is helpful and useful,” he says, “but you also want them to read it.”
Spiker honed his humor-writing skills during the three and a half years he spent at Men’s Health, where he eventually became articles editor. He left to join the College’s faculty in 2001 but remains a contributing editor for the magazine. He’s also an editor at large for Women’s Health and has had work published in such magazines as Outside and O, The Oprah Magazine.
“That’s the coolest part,” says former student Morgan Lord, JM 2004, a Men’s Health assistant editor. “For him, the research is writing articles and books. He’s really been out in the field – he’s still in it.”
He prefers to be the interviewer rather than the interviewee, but when you write a bestseller, it’s bound to show, one way or another. He recently exchanged his 10-a-day Diet Coke habit for water, as a way to see if it changed the way he feels (it did). The chapters he submits at 4 a.m. have caused alarm from doctors. But he says that the flexibility in his writing schedule is what allows him time with his family (he and his wife Liz have 6-year-old twin boys, Alex and Thad).
Teaching remains his first professional priority. He calls himself a “regular guy,” but his success proves he’s anything but. He’s ready to pull more long nights, as needed, he says. “It’s fun to be a part of – to hear the stories about people who’ve made changes in their health because of the book.”