«Getting Your Textbook Published Expert teachers often are dissatisfied with the textbooks they use for their courses. To solve the problem, they ...»
Getting Your Textbook
Expert teachers often are dissatisfied with the textbooks they
use for their courses. To solve the problem, they usually supplement
the text with additional material, some of which they have developed
What makes textbooks less than adequate? Many factors can
come into play, but a few of the more common include:1
• The author’s inability to explain material at a level students can understand.
• Poor writing or organization that can’t be corrected by editors.
• Authorship restrictions, such as the inability of a publisher to provide a certain quality of illustrations.
• The philosophic orientation of the author, whose view of how the material should be presented may differ from the instructor’s.
At some point, especially after developing large amounts of supplemental material, an expert teacher may decide that writing his or her own textbook is the solution. There are a number of reasons for writing a textbook — some good, some bad. Schoenfeld and Magnus2 note the following three aspects of textbook production that should be
addressed by any instructor who wants to write a textbook:
• Writing a text is the absolute expression of professing (being a professor). It hones teaching skills and techniques and reaches a wider audience. By writing, you will learn more about your discipline and more about teaching.
• Publishing means selling, and selling means marketing. A text- book author must become an entrepreneur. Unlike trade or academic books, the textbook author must be willing to help promote and sell the book as well as write it.
• Rewards are uncertain. Even a good text can receive meager adoptions and lukewarm reviews. At research institutions, a 2000-word
INSTRUCTIONAL TOOLSarticle may count for more than a 200,000-word textbook. At teaching institutions, however, a textbook author may be “positively venerated.” The financial rewards may be staggering (although this is unlikely in a market like radiologic technology) or you may receive years of “nega- tive royalty statements.” If you, as a professor, feel capable of producing a quality product, are willing to let your ideas be held up for public scrutiny and realize that the rewards of textbook production may end up being more intrin- sic than extrinsic, then you may want to consider producing a textbook.
Payne and Gallahue3 make the following observation about writing a
Textbook writing should be undertaken for the love of learn- ing, and for conveying knowledge, thoughts, and ideas on the printed page. Textbook writing is all about the process itself, and very little about the product. The rewards of textbook writing are intrinsic and grounded in the creative process of “becoming” rather than the extrinsic rewards of “being.” Developing the Proposal Let’s say you have an idea for a new textbook and are willing to undertake the challenges of publishing. Before you ever approach a publishing company, you first must develop a book proposal. A wellprepared proposal can save you considerable time should the publisher consider the target market too small for your proposed text.4 The proposal must convince the publisher that your book will be superior to similar books already on the market. Although you might be willing to develop a textbook as a “labor of love,” a textbook publisher will not be interested unless your book has the potential to sell. The goal of a publishing company is to make money, not to disseminate ideas. Even a small publisher must consider profit as the motive, because a publisher who makes no profit will cease to exist.
If you want to develop a book for a specialty market and the big textbook publishing companies show no interest, you may want to consult a university press that specializes in short-run books of less than
TEACHING TECHNIQUES1000 copies. You also should investigate the possibility of self-publishing your book.
Book proposals have six main components. Most publishers will provide a format to follow when writing a book proposal, but proposals
generally include the following information:
• A market description.
• A competition description.
• A book description.
• An author description.
• Sample chapter(s).
Securing a book contract is highly competitive. It is estimated that of 1000 expressions of interest to write a book, probably 50 make it to the proposal stage. Of those submitting a proposal, only five to 10 are accepted by a publisher and only 30% to 70% result in a finished book.
Usually, the publishing company will ask other educators in your discipline to review your proposal. If you are unable to convince these reviewers that your textbook has merit, it is doubtful that the publisher will offer you a contract. A goal of the proposal, therefore, is to convince the reviewers that they would be willing to switch from their current textbooks to yours once it is published. Let’s examine each part of
the book proposal:
Market Description Each publisher has a specific view of the target market or audience for every book. You must be able to convince the publisher that your book will sell enough copies to make the venture worthwhile.
This is especially important in a discipline such as radiologic technology, where the market is small compared to disciplines such as English composition or psychology.
Competition Description If you are unable to describe what is good or bad about the currently competing textbooks on the market, the publisher probably will decide that you are not going to be their choice of author. Another sure “kiss of death” is to claim there are no competing texts to yours at
this time. The logical assumption, from the publisher’s point of view, is that if there is no competition there is no market, and if there is no market there will be no demand for your text. When you prepare the spreadsheet or table describing your book (see Table 1), you may want to prepare a second version that shows how your textbook will stack up against the competition.
Another method that worked well for Michael Thompson, senior editor on the collaborative text Principles of Imaging Science and Protection (W.B. Saunders, 1994), was to conduct a national survey that asked what was good and bad about texts currently on the market. Based on his data, Thompson was able to prepare a proposal that revealed what educators didn’t like about the texts they currently were using and how he intended to develop a book that would meet educators’ needs in the areas of physics and imaging.
TEACHING TECHNIQUESBook Description The book description should, in one paragraph, clearly describe the book. Ancillaries and pedagogy also should be described in this section. If your book is accepted, this section often forms the foundation of the marketing plan for the book.
A content outline must be detailed enough to give the publisher an idea of how your book will compete against current texts. In addition to the table of contents, a content outline should contain a brief description of the intent of each chapter.
You should prepare a spreadsheet or table that describes your book. (See Table 1.) The spreadsheet is difficult to prepare, but it forces you to think about the details of your textbook. Be as complete as possible when describing the features of your book, because everything affects the final cost of the project. How many pages of text?
Is there any front matter? Back matter? What is the trim size? How many illustrations? Will they be line art or photographs? Will the photographs be black-and-white or color?
By determining these factors in advance, you are doing the publisher’s homework and making it easier to prepare a budget for the project. It doesn’t matter if you are off a little on page count or the total number of illustrations; what matters is that the publisher has enough information to make a rough estimate to assess profitability (which affects their interest level and your leverage).
Also, doing this advance work proves that you know the ropes, are organized and can be taken seriously. This is important, because a lot of aspiring authors have great ideas but poor organizational skills. If the reviews are good and the publisher needs a book in your proposed market, you’re in business.
Author Description Resumés and curriculum vitae usually are not very revealing.
You may be the world’s foremost expert on radiographic technique, but that fact in and of itself does not qualify you to write a textbook. You must convince the acquisitions editor that you are capable of explaining concepts clearly and accurately, using the written word.
INSTRUCTIONAL TOOLSYou already accomplished much of that in the first part of the book proposal, and some of it you will solve by providing a well-written sample chapter. However, in this section of your book proposal you should provide a brief overview of your relevant qualifications. Have you written articles or textbooks before? Have you presented papers at professional conferences? Have you won awards for teaching? Are you recognized in your profession? If so, let the publisher know. Now is not the time to be modest.
Sample Chapter(s)Publishers may ask specifically for the first chapter of your book, since it will serve as a foundation for the entire text. In some cases, publishers will ask that two chapters be submitted — the first chapter plus another representative chapter. Whatever you submit, make sure that it accurately represents the remainder of the book. If you plan to include boldfaced terms throughout your book, for example, then your sample chapter should show how you will incorporate them. If you intend to use pedagogical devices, do so in the sample chapter with the same amount of detail as you will in the potential book. Don’t consider the sample chapter to be a “rough draft,” even if the publisher tells you that it’s all right to turn in something rough. Your sample chapter should be very polished.
What If My Proposal Is Rejected?
It can take as little as one ambivalent review to sink a proposal.
In some cases, reviewers may react with hostility to the very idea of your textbook. The reason behind these reactions is best left to the psychoanalysts. If your proposal is rejected, don’t be too discouraged.
Most experienced textbook authors have experienced rejection at one time or another — some of them more often than they care to admit.
As consumers, you see only their successes, not their failures.
An author has two options if his or her proposal is rejected — either submit it to another publisher or give up. The best authors learn to glean relevant comments from the first set of reviewers and use them to write a better book proposal.
TEACHING TECHNIQUESWhen the Contract Comes An acceptance from a publisher is exciting, but don’t let your enthusiasm lead you into signing a contract prematurely. Examine the details of the contract carefully. For example, don’t commit to an overzealous schedule for producing the book. Consider your workplace and personal commitments first. Also, look carefully at the publisher’s requirements for ancillaries such as an instructor’s manual or accompanying software. Writing an instructor’s manual, in some cases, can be as time-consuming as writing the textbook itself.
Henson4 notes that he used to tell potential authors not to worry about the details of publishing contracts. Today, however, he realizes that it is in the publisher’s interest to write a contract that benefits the
publisher. He recommends that authors follow these tips:
• Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Although most publishing companies are honest, they have to look out for their own best interests.
Work, within reason, to protect your interests.
• Ask for a fixed royalty fee. Depending on the discipline, the size of the market, the financials run by the publisher, your art contributions and other factors, book royalty rates can vary from 8% to 18%.
Lower is much more common than higher, and rates offered to experienced, proven authors are higher than those to newcomers. There also are levels of royalties in many contracts. In other words, the frontpage contract rate may apply to U.S. college sales, while another rate — specified in a later subparagraph — applies to foreign sales, direct sales, discounted sales and so on. As separate items, these categories of sales do not count toward any escalation point.
“Sliders” are a common feature of royalty contracts, with the breakpoint often set at the projected first year sales. The contract also may include a “home-run” clause stating, for example, that if the text sells more than 30,000 copies in any one year, the royalty rate jumps to 12% retroactively. In general, royalty rates have been declining due to the large investment — now including multimedia — required in these markets. Also contributing to declining rates is the management of megapublishers by conglomerates concerned with bottom-lining everyINSTRUCTIONAL TOOLS thing. Fifteen years ago, rates of 15% were common; today, those rates are the exception.
Henson believes that sliding scales benefit the publisher rather than the author. Such sales typically promise, for example, 10% royalties for the first 5000 copies, 12% for the next 5000 and 15% for anything above 10,000. Few books are going to sell enough to justify such sliding scales.
In textbook writing, the experts rarely agree on royalty rates.
This makes it important to solicit multiple viewpoints. (See Table 2.) For example, Levine5 considers sliding scales beneficial and recommends that authors lobby for them. In the end, it simply might be a matter of the sales potential of the book. A book with large sales potential has more to gain from a sliding scale than one with a limited potential.