Q&A: Advice for prospective textbook authors

TextbooksQ: I have an idea for a textbook and I hope to put a proposal together soon and start looking for a publisher. Can you share any advice as I begin this process?

Mike Kennamer, TAA Vice President: “My suggestion for starting to look for a publisher is to first look at companies who publish in your field. I’d recommend that you review their websites and determine which one (or two) seem to be the best fit for your title. Many publishers provide information for prospective authors online, including what they look for in the proposal. Generally, they will want to see two chapters, a detailed table of contents, list of features, and information about who will use the book, the size of the market, and competing titles. If you are unable to find author information online you might consider contacting a sales rep and ask them to put you in touch with someone who does acquisitions for the company. Becoming a textbook reviewer is also a good way to form a relationship with a publisher.

Once you get the interest of a publisher, be sure to consult an IP attorney to review your contract. When I signed my first contract I took it to a local attorney and his advice was worthless as he didn’t understand publishing. Any money spent on the right attorney is an investment in future income.”

Lorraine Papazian-Boyce, author of ICD-10-CM/PCS Coding: A Map for Success: “Keep in mind that the true audience is the instructors/course directors who make textbook decisions. I agree with doing a competitive analysis of the top 3-4 books in this market, as this will help you hone your outline and features and will become part of your proposal. You need to match the features of your competitors plus do a few things better, things that your audience needs. Since you’ve been teaching, presumably from your future competition, you should know the weaknesses that need to be addressed.”

Kevin T. Patton, Professor Emeritus, St. Charles Community College, author of Anatomy & Physiology: “I offer a general principle that applies to every aspect of your project: This is a new business that you are starting. As in starting any new business, you have to realize that it will take time and effort in addition to your ‘real job.’ Therefore, make sure that you are able to commit to that, developing and embracing your entrepreneurial drive.

Consider tax and related issues now, before it’s too late to avoid mistakes. Keep records of what you spend to develop your book (supplies, services, computer equipment and software, membership dues for TAA)–most or all of which can be deducted from future earnings.

Mike Kennamer mentioned an IP attorney. This is something that most new authors don’t even think about, but it could turn out to be one of your most important moves at the beginning. Fixing a bad contract later on is very, very troublesome (if even possible). But also get good tax advice because there are many pitfalls, like where to deduct royalty income (it’s not in the ‘Royalties’ line of your tax return), how to properly deduct a home office, etc.”


This Q&A was an excerpt from a discussion in the Textbook Writing & Publishing Circle in TAA’s online member community, open to all TAA members. Other TAA resources to assist new and prospective textbook authors include: webinars, presentations on demand, textbook contract review grants, Guide to Textbook Publishing Contracts, Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide, and templates and samples.