Drafting and production schedules are more important than one may think in the world textbook publishing. At the same time, deadlines can be burdensome for authors. Missing them is a principal cause of marketplace failure. An untimely textbook, finding no uncommitted customers by the time it reaches them, is doomed. Furthermore, postponement—pushing back a product another whole adoption cycle—is usually not a good option.
The best way to deal with schedules is to master them at the very beginning through realistic planning, starting with a drafting calendar.
1) Find out from your editor the “manuscript complete” due date. Count the number of weeks from now until then and divide by your number of chapters. This tells you how many weeks or days you have for each chapter. Aim for a minimum of a chapter a week.
2) Subtract the weeks or days you will not be drafting for professional and personal reasons, and adjust your estimates accordingly. Enter all your professional and personal commitments on a planning calendar. Don’t forget to earmark time for family, rest, and recreation.
3) Then enter your due dates chapter-by-chapter on the planning calendar until “manuscript complete”, allowing time for transmittals. Allow more time for longer, less developed, or more difficult chapters. Also allow time for consulting with coauthors and revising in response to review.
4) Stop and reflect. Can you really do it? Plan now to get someone to help you. What can you do for backup? Identify authoring tasks you can outsource. Confirm whatever help the publisher will provide, such as permissions research.
5) Send a copy of your drafting and revising calendar to your editor. Make sure both you and your editor are completely clear and in agreement on due dates and turnaround times.
6) Set up methods for focusing on and accomplishing authoring tasks. Establish a support network of family, friends, colleagues, department heads, etc. Prepare them for the commitment you are making and what it will take. Create a good working environment.
7) Consult your drafting outline or table of contents, and estimate how much length and therefore how much time you will need to write each main section of a chapter. Enter these decisions on your drafting calendar.
8) Develop a writing habit. For example, aim to write for 30 minutes every day, or to complete one main heading of text per drafting session. Find out what works for you, and stick to it.
9) Adjust and fine-tune your calendar as needed, but if you find there is slippage in meeting your schedule, don’t wait to address it. Notify your editor immediately of any delay. There may be some extra time and resources to help you out.
10) After submitting final manuscript, create another calendar for meeting the production and marketing schedules for your textbook. (A textbook author’s work is never done!)
This is an excerpt from Mary Ellen Lepionka’s new book, Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide, now available for purchase. Subscribe to our email list and we’ll send you a 17-page sample of the book.
Mary Ellen Lepionka of Gloucester, MA is a retired publisher, author, editor, textbook developer, and college instructor with a Master’s in anthropology from Boston University and Ph.D. work at the University of British Columbia. In 1990 she worked in higher education publishing as a developmental editor of college textbooks, principally for Houghton Mifflin and Pearson Education. Between 2002 and 2011 she established Atlantic Path Publishing as a retirement business and published two editions of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook and related titles. She presently is an independent scholar writing a history of Native Americans on Cape Ann.