Forming a publisher relationship: 6 Strategies for building rapport

Textbook ResearchIn the first part of this three-part series, I described how product acquisitions works, and in the second part I covered how to submit a project proposal.  But what if you just aren’t ready to take the plunge and submit a proposal yet?  You can still take constructive action by building relationships with higher education publishers through working on smaller projects.  Why is this important?  Because most higher education publishers and their editors prefer to work with authors they know and upon whom they can rely.  As an aspiring author, it’s also valuable to experience what it’s like to partner with various publishers before committing to a major project.  Building rapport with one or more publishers today can yield rich dividends down the road.

There are a number of ways to build publisher relationships, and each of them is useful in its own way.  Employ as many that appeal or make sense to you.  Or use this list as a springboard to generate your own ideas to connect and build rapport.  Not only will you make important contacts, but you’ll also gain valuable publishing insights and learn how to become a better textbook author.

Following are six strategies for building rapport with a higher education publisher:

1) Become a Reviewer.  Higher education publishers need thoughtful input from scholars and teachers to ensure the products they’re developing are current, accurate, and effective learning tools.  Publishers are keen to identify new reviewers who can provide fresh perspectives based on the newest research and relevant teaching practices. Manuscript reviewing doesn’t pay well, but you’ll be accepting such assignments for reasons other than monetary gain, of course.  Review projects can be as simple as filling out a survey, but superficial projects generally don’t get you noticed.  Try to secure more in-depth assignments such as analyzing chapters, learning modules, wireframes, or beta versions of online products.  Whatever the task, give it your best and be sure to cite plenty of recent, pertinent research to substantiate your comments.

2) Write a Supplement.  Most textbooks aimed at the introductory markets are accompanied by a long list of supplements (also known as ancillaries).  Some supplements, such as instructor’s manuals or test banks, are meant to support faculty.  Other supplements, such as study guides, quizzes, and online learning games, are meant to improve students’ performance.  Most authors don’t have the time or inclination to write the supplements to accompany their textbooks.  Therefore, publishers need creative and dependable supplement authors to develop useful ancillaries that align well with the associated, core product.  Publishers consider successful supplements authors to be among the best candidates to write new textbooks.  They’ve proven they can meet schedules and understand how to synthesize appropriate scholarship and employ useful teaching strategies.

3) Contribute Features or Sections.  If your expertise touches upon current or hot topics, you may be a good candidate to contribute a feature or narrative section.  Many textbooks cover a wide range of content, and an author simply cannot be an expert on everything about which he/she is writing.  Remember:  You must be prepared for the author and publisher to edit your contribution to conform to their own styles and perspectives. Contributing content is a great way to get a close-up look at how the writing process works, and successful contributors are another preferred source from which publishers like to draw author talent.

4) Participate in Market Research.  A great way to get to know a publisher’s editorial and marketing staff is to participate in virtual or in-person focus groups.  Class testing beta or pilot versions of print or online products is another important way to connect with publishers.  Among class testers’ most valuable contributions is keeping a “user diary” that closely tracks testers’ experiences teaching from the preliminary product. Such in-depth feedback provides a treasure trove of information a publisher can use to improve its product. Check with your local sales representative about joining a focus group or becoming a class test site.

5) Cultivate Your Local Sales Representatives.  Get to know your local sales representatives.  They’re your best conduit to in-house editorial, product management, and marketing staff, and they’re often asked to identify strong reviewer prospects, focus group participants, and class testers.  Sales representatives are sometimes rewarded for generating reviewer leads, so they’ll be eager to discuss how you can contribute to product development efforts.   Ensure your CV is up to date and available online to make it easer for sales representatives to provide your qualifications to their editors.

6) Reach out at Academic Conferences.  Many publishers send editors, marketing managers, and sales representatives to the largest academic conferences and regional meetings. Check the conference exhibitor list to identify appropriate publishers and stop by their booths.  Strike up conversations with acquisitions editors, development editors, and marketing managers.  If you’re presenting a topic that might be of interest, invite them to your conference session.  Ask what kind of help someone with your background can provide to support the development of existing products, help the publisher learn more about the market, or spark innovation.  It’s important to remember that publishers make many conference appointments ahead of time. Don’t be discouraged if it’s hard to find or connect with an editor or marketing manager at first.  Once you know whom to contact, you can make an advance appointment for a future meeting.

Key Strategies and Tips.  Getting to know a higher education publisher by working on smaller or more limited projects is a great way to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of the publishing industry, make valuable contacts, and prove you can successfully write or create for the textbook genre.  If you build a strong rapport with one or more publishers, when it does come time for you to write a textbook or online courseware, you’ll be well prepared to proceed with your new project.

Read the first two installments in this three-part series:
Forming a publisher relationship: The acquisitions editor
Forming a publisher relationships: 3 Steps for submitting your project


Sean Wakely

Sean Wakely is Vice President of Product and Editorial at FlatWorld. He is also co-author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide.