Insights on writing, project development and the value of developing a business structure: An interview with Mike Kennamer

Mike KennamerMike Kennamer currently serves as Director of Workforce Development at Northeast Alabama Community College and is President/CEO of Kennamer Media Group, Inc., a company that provides written and photographic resources in a variety of formats. He has written a number of textbooks, workbooks, instructor resource materials, video scripts, and online content in the health and public safety fields, and has had several articles published in higher education journals.

As a seasoned textbook and journal article author, Kennamer shares his insights on the writing and project development processes and the strategies he has implemented to simplify his business structure.

TAA: What process do you employ when deciding to undertake a new textbook project?

Mike Kennamer: “It’s funny, because I have never really thought about this—but most of my books were not really my idea. I suppose that could explain why the topics of my books are somewhat varied. My most successful book to date was undertaken as the result of my asking my editor at the time what holes she was seeing in the market that I might be able to fill. Editors have their ears to the ground in their publishing space, so my strategy has always been to ask what they have heard is a need.  She told me that there was a possible need for a very basic mathematics book for healthcare providers. This title could potentially be used for high school, college, and proprietary school students, and should cover a broad range of healthcare professions. Once she gave me the idea, I developed a proposal as per normal. It was enthusiastically accepted and I was even given a small grant to get started. More than 60,000 units later, I am glad I took the time to ask her opinion.

My first textbook was the result of having compiled some materials for a class that I was teaching for which I could not find an adequate book. After I had compiled these materials an instructor at another college asked if I would sell the materials to his bookstore. This resulted in a self-published book that got the attention of an acquisitions editor who asked if I would be willing to use the self-published book as a foundation and develop it into a full textbook.”

TAA: Your most recent book, Intravenous Therapy for Prehospital Providers, was the second edition of a book by a previous author. Can you explain how you got involved with that publishing project?

MK: “For a number of years I had written exclusively with Cengage, both in their healthcare and emergency services strategic business units. When Cengage dropped their emergency services SBU I reached out to the top two publishers in that space and let them know that I had been working with Cengage and was available for projects. In response to my outreach, an executive editor replied and let me know that she had an author who had written the first edition of a textbook but was unable to do the second edition revision that was currently due. The arrangement was that I could use as much or as little of the existing book as I wanted and develop a second edition based upon current market needs. In addition, the editor allowed me to write survey questions that she posed to those who had adopted the first edition for their course, so that we could learn the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the book. This feedback allowed me to maintain the current strengths of the book while improving on areas perceived as weaknesses. As it turns out, the strengths of the original author (who had no involvement in the second edition) were areas that were not my strongest points. Conversely, the areas that were weak in the first edition fell within my areas of strength, so the unlikely partnership of two people who have never met led to a pretty good writing partnership.”

Kennamer BooksTAA: As a seasoned author of many textbooks, what have you learned over the years that you wish you knew from the start?

MK: “I remember receiving my first textbook contract via Fed Ex and, while I was excited to have been offered a contract, I had no concept about what made a good contract or a bad contract. I had a local attorney look at the contract, but he essentially knew nothing about the publishing industry and was no real help. What I was missing was connections within the industry that had experience with contracts, taxes and business structure that would take me beyond that first contract to a career in textbook writing.

So rather than what I wish I had known from the start, it’s more about who I wish I had known from the start. I wish I had known more people in the industry: authors, attorneys, editors, and accountants who understand the industry and could have shared their experiences with me. That’s one of the great benefits of TAA—just being able to reach out to people who know the industry. And through the new TAA member community it has never been easier for an emerging author to make contact with people experienced in the industry.

In June, TAA Vice President Steve Barkan and I will be moderating a roundtable session at the 2014 Textbook and Academic Authoring Conference entitled, ‘What I Wish I had Known Before Signing my First Textbook Contract’, where we will share the mistakes we both made in an effort to help others to avoid our mistakes.”

TAA: You mentioned rethinking your business structure. Tell us how that occurred and what that entailed.

MK: “First of all, I am not an accountant or attorney, so each person should consult their financial advisors to determine what works best for them. But like many people, when I started writing textbooks I started without much of a business structure at all. I didn’t deduct the items that I could because I didn’t have any significant writing income at the time. It just didn’t seem like a worthwhile task. My wife also does some writing and photography work, and we accounted for everything separately, which can be difficult when certain resources are shared.

Our solution was to form an S corporation, which allows us to bundle our writing, photography and other media services under one business: Kennamer Media Group, Inc. Everything we do goes through the company. All the income goes to the corporation and the corporation pays for the items that we both use in our businesses. We are both paid a salary commensurate with the work we do. It really simplified things for us and helped us to draw a clearer line between business and personal income and expenses.”

TAA: What are your favorite TAA benefits?

MK: “I really enjoy listening to the TAA Podcast Library. There is such a wealth of information contained in these recordings. In fact, it was through listening to one of these recordings that I got the idea to rethink my business structure. Though the recording was a couple of years old it was still relevant information and I was able to make contact with the presenter to clarify some of my questions.

Of course, the conference is great! It’s always fun to renew friendships and meet new people while learning more and more about textbook and academic authoring. This is the conference that I attend each year that I can take ideas and resources back home to use.

The new TAA website is great, and the member community is shaping up to be an awesome resource. I encourage all members to take an active part in the community.”

About Maureen Foerster

Director of Institutional Memberships & Meetings / Newsletter Editor
Text and Academic Authors Association