Textbook award-winning insight (part 1): Getting started and boosting your confidence

2016 Textbook Award winners q&a
I recently reached out to winners of the 2016 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about how they made the decision to write their textbook, how they interested a publisher, what they do to boost their writing confidence, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and more. I will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

This first installment of the three-part series focuses on why they decided to write their textbook, how they got started, and what they do to boost their confidence as a writer.

Q: Why did you decide to write your textbook?

Eugenia Etkina, coauthor of College Physics, winner of a 2016 Most Promising New Textbook Award, said she wrote her textbook for two reasons: 1) There was no other textbook on the market that helped students learn physics as a process of scientific inquiry. “Regular textbooks represent knowledge as a given and do not help students see where this knowledge comes from,” she said. “We use the framework of ISLE (Investigative Science Learning Environment) to help students see how to observe the world around them and post questions about it, and how to answer their questions the way physicists do.” 2) She wanted to make physics accessible for the students, and, she said, “this means giving students tools to be successful, and our book consistently helps students learn how to use the tools to master physics.”

Lorraine Papazian-Boyce, author of Pearson’s Comprehensive Medical Coding: A Path to Success, winner of a 2016 Most Promising New Textbook Award,
said she decided to write her textbook because “based on my teaching experience, and that of fellow instructors, I found the existing texts did not adequately address the needs of students and instructors.”

Joan Saslow and Allen Ascher, coauthors of the Top Notch: English for Today’s World series, winner of a 2016 Textbook Excellence Award,
said that in their experience, published English language teaching materials were inadequate: “Vocabulary and grammar were presented and then ‘crossed off the list’ as ‘taught’ rather than being brought back again and again so that it would become unforgettable. The English language classroom needs to serve as a place students can observe, practice, and remember new language. In other words, it has to provide a mini-microcosm of the English-speaking world and concentrate exposure and practice at a language level appropriate for students.” Their goal in creating Top Notch, they said, was to make English unforgettable “by providing multiple opportunities to observe new language, numerous opportunities for receptive and productive practice of it, and deliberate and systematic recycling of that language long after its initial presentation.”

Armando Fox and David Patterson, coauthors of Engineering Software as a Service: An Agile Approach Using Cloud Computer, winner of a 2016 Most Promising New Textbook Award, said: “In late 2011, we were in the process of reinventing UC Berkeley’s undergraduate software engineering course to better match industry needs and to be more rewarding for students and faculty. We had come to the conclusion that the existing textbooks targeted at such courses were unsatisfactory, and that we would therefore need to write one, mirroring Dave’s experience over 20 years earlier in deciding to coauthor Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach (henceforth CA:AQA) with John Hennessy. Although the publisher of CA:AQA (Morgan Kaufmann, now Elsevier) expressed some interest, we ultimately decided to self-publish.”

Q: How did you get the interest of a publisher?

Etkina: “The publisher approached my coauthor, Alan Van Heuvelen, to do a new edition of his existing textbook, but instead he decided to team up with me, as he wanted to implement the ISLE approach that I pioneered.”

Papazian-Boyce: “I made inquiries on several publishers’ websites who were advertising for peer reviewers or subject matter experts (SME). I have worked with Pearson as SME for several years and wrote my previous text with them also.”

Kevin Patton, coauthor of Anatomy & Physiology, winner of a 2016 Textbook Excellence Award, said he was invited to be a coauthor on the book’s second edition, which was derived from a much older, successful textbook. “I wanted to be a part of this project because I’d used its predecessor, both as a student and as a teacher, and I wanted to be part of shepherding it into a new age of learning.”

David P. Clark, coauthor of Biotechnology, winner of a 2016 Textbook Excellence Award, said that he was an established textbook author when approached by a friend to write what ended up as Biotechnology. The book started out as a much larger text but was split into two books, when the first publisher was acquired by Elsevier. The second book, Molecular Bilogy, also won a 2222 Award in its second edition. His coauthor on Biotechnology, Nanette Pazdernik, joined him first as an assistant and then as a coauthor.

Andrea Honigsfeld and Audrey Cohan, coauthors of Serving English Language Learners, winner of a 2016 Most Promising New Textbook Award, were invited by their publisher, Bridgepoint Education, to contribute to the publisher’s new textbook series to support ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher preparation based on their previous publications.

Q: What have you done to boost your confidence as a writer?

Etkina: “We probably never received this boost before the book came out. The boost came from the users.”

Papazian-Boyce: “Solicit feedback from other instructors in the field, specifically what their challenges are and/or elements in the book they find most helpful.”

Saslow: “To me, personally, the biggest confidence booster is traveling and working with teachers who use Top Notch (and other materials I’ve written). Their feedback on the book —both positive and negative—lets us know when we are on the right track and where we need to improve materials in the next edition. Top Notch is currently in its third edition, and both Allen and I are very grateful for the praise and contribution teachers have made to our material. Being with teachers gives us the confidence to make changes that we are confident will make it better for those teachers. Honestly, if we didn’t get to interact with teachers year after year, we would have very little confidence to revise our work and would be simply working on hunch.”

Kevin Patton: “Write. Write. Write. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. And your confidence goes up. It also helps not to be afraid of making mistakes. My tai chi teacher says that the only way to learn is when you make mistakes, and he’s right about that. So I’ve come to value feedback from copyeditors and users of my books—it helps me grow as a writer and content expert, which ultimately boosts confidence in what I’m doing.”

Andrea & Audrey: “We were each other’s cheerleaders and critical friends, which boosted our confidence as a writing team.”

Timothy Henry, coauthor of Data Abstractions & Problem Solving with C++: Walls and Mirrors, winner of a 2016 McGuffey Longevity Award:
 “I have expanded the writing and explanations in both the material I prepare to support lectures and the assignments I give to students. This provides an opportunity to practice a writing style similar to the one we use in our books and to receive feedback from students on the effectiveness of the writing.”

Kathleen Miranda, couthor of Calculus, winner of a 2016 Most Promising New Textbook Award: “Keep writing. Often one or two good pages can take me hours to compose, only to have my coauthor revise it. Then I read and revise his work. This can continue for several days. But then in the end there is a well written section. I am a firm believer that confidence, educators call it self-esteem, comes from success; not the other way around.”

View all of the 2016 Textbook Award winners

Read the second installment in the series – Textbook award-winning insight (part 2): Scheduling writing time and getting involved in marketing

About Kim Pawlak

Kim Pawlak is Director of Publishing & Operations for the Textbook & Academic Authors Association (TAA). She has been writing about the textbook and academic authoring and publishing industry for 20 years.