Textbook award-winning insight (Part 1): Deciding to write and getting the interest of a publisher

2017 TAA Textbook AwardsI recently reached out to winners of the 2017 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 five-part series focuses on why they decided to write their textbook, and how they got the interest of a publisher.

Q: Why did you decide to write your textbook?

Paul Battaglia, co-author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, AP Calculus, 1e: “Ron [Larson, his coauthor] and I felt that there was not a true HIGH SCHOOL AP textbook. Many schools are forced to use college level textbooks. The high school student and often times the high school teacher isn’t always comfortable with the way things are presented at the college level.”

Karen Hardy, author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Enterprise Risk Management: A Guide for Government Professionals, 1e: “I wrote the textbook because there was no other textbook in the field and I believed the subject-matter would be expanding in my professional sector.”

Robert Lucas, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Customer Service Skills for Success, 6e: “I had been a corporate trainer for many years and was approached by my publisher to consider writing a textbook on customer service. The publisher wanted a book to move into the textbook market.”

Andrew Pomerantz, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Clinical Psychology: Science, Practice and Culture, 4e: “For years, I taught a clinical psychology course with a book that was acceptable but less than perfect for my needs. I repeatedly wished that someone would write a book that was perfect for my course. New books arrived, all of which had their strengths, but none gave me exactly what I sought for my class. Eventually, it occurred to me that perhaps I could write that book.”

Jonathan Pinder, author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Introduction to Business Analytics Using Simulation, 1e: “The book evolved over teaching MBA students for many years and 1) being dissatisfied with the order of the material, 2) the lack of unified principles, and 3) unrealistic exercises. So I wrote my own cases and homework exercises first.”

CarboranesRussell Grimes, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Carboranes, 3e: “My book has an unusual history. The first edition was published in 1970 in my early years at the University of Virginia and helped me get tenure there. At the time, this was a new field of chemistry involving compounds of very unusual structure and bonding that held promise for application in several fields, and although there were a number of review chapters in the literature, there was no book-length treatment of this field. This first edition, published by Academic Press, had 272 pages and about 470 references, and was later translated into Russian.

Carboranes Second Edition was published 40 years later (!) in 2011, several years after I had retired from U.Va. I was motivated to write it because the field of carborane chemistry had grown enormously and had important developing applications in a number of different areas including medicine, polymers, and electronics. This book was many times larger than the earlier edition, with over 1,100 pages containing hundreds of tables of information on individual compounds and several thousand references, as well as hundreds of molecular structure diagrams drawn by myself.

I wrote Carboranes Third Edition, published in late 2016, at the invitation of the editors at Elsevier, who noticed that the field of carborane chemistry was developing so rapidly (over 300 publications per year) that the second edition was already out of date after only 5 years. They first conducted a survey to establish that there was indeed a market for a new edition.”

Anatomy & Physiology The Unity of Form and FunctionKenneth Saladin, author of 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Anatomy & Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function, 7e: “I wasn’t seeking an opportunity to write a textbook; opportunity came knocking at my door. For about 5 years in the 1980s, I wrote test banks for multiple publishers. Around 1990, an acquisitions editor familiar with that work approached me as a potential take-over author for a successful textbook whose author wanted to retire. I was among 10 instructors who auditioned for that role, which included writing sample chapters and revision plans, and I was among the seven who were turned down. The market niche for that book was in community colleges, whereas I taught at a 4-year college at a somewhat higher level of detail. The editors and the retiring author chose a committee of three community college faculty whose writing they felt was a better fit to that market niche. However, the acquisitions editor said they liked my writing very much for a higher level text, and he invited me to write a book of my own. Thus in early 1993, I began writing my own solo textbook, which quickly gained a strong market share and evolved after 7 editions to the one just awarded the McGuffey Textbook Longevity Award.”

Timothy Slater, coauthor of the 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 3e: “We wrote our book because we had an innovative approach that was easily understood by faculty who wanted to adopt our teaching approach, but needed instructional materials that directly supported their implementation, making their teaching jobs easier.”

Introduction to Statistical InvestigationsTodd Swanson and Jill VanderStoep, coauthors of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Introduction to Statistical Investigations, 1e:  “When we started to write our textbook, no introductory statistics textbook existed that introduced inference through simulation-based methods. Using simulation-based methods allowed us to introduce inference on the first day of class. Since inference is at the heart of statistical investigations, we were able to teach inference for the entire semester and not just for the last half, as it is traditionally done.”

Tracy Tuten, coauthor of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Social Media Marketing, 2e: “There wasn’t a textbook out on this topic. I had been teaching the course for a few years using my own notes and a trade book I wrote on the topic.”

Alan Trujillo, author of the 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Essentials of Oceanography, 12e: “For me, I was asked to join as a coauthor by the lead author, who had been writing the oceanography textbook for the previous 5 edition over about 20 years. He wanted to get out of writing once he retired and the book needed some new ideas on how to better communicate oceanographic concepts to students.”

Jerry Westerweel, coauthor of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Turbulence, 1e: “Our textbook is a translation from an original textbook in Dutch. Since all master courses had to be taught in English, we first looked for an alternative. We could not find the mix of topics in other English-language textbooks. We therefore decided to translate the original book. We also decided it needed an update to include recent findings and developments.”

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

Grimes: “For the first edition, Academic Press approached me with a proposal to write. Academic Press was later bought by Elsevier, who therefore had proprietary rights to publish a new edition. The only suggestion I have is fairly obvious: look for publishers with experience in producing books similar to your manuscript, and that have good marketing and editorial staffs.”

Hardy: “After I decided I wanted to publish the book I reached out to my network. I had a long-time friend who worked as a Professor at a university who offered tips on how to go about the process. So naturally, he recommended his publisher. Even then, knowing someone doesn’t guarantee publication. The deciding factor was being able to state a business case for why ANY publisher should publish your book. So, tapping into your network is great for advice, but you still need to be able to write a stellar business plan showing why it’s worth publishing economically.”

Introduction to Business Analytics Using SimulationPinder: “I was very fortunate; I did not shop my book around. I self-published it a couple of times. First at Café Press; then they stopped doing print-on-demand, so I self-published it at Amazon. Then I was asked to review a text by an editor at Academic Press. I did the review and commented that what I didn’t like in the book I reviewed is why I wrote my own book. I let it go at that, but the editor (unbeknownst to me) went and looked at my book and asked me some questions about content and afterwards asked me if I wanted Academic Press to publish my book. So, I submitted the prospectus and self-published book and it was accepted by the academic reviewers.”

Pomerantz: “In my clinical psychology course, we cover psychotherapy and what makes it effective. An undeniable part of that effectiveness is a strong working alliance between client and therapist. I would argue that the strong working alliance is equally important in all kind of situations in which multiple people work closely together toward a mutually agreed-upon goal, including the publication of textbooks. In other words, as much as possible, select a publisher that employs people with whom you feel a sense of collaboration, cooperation, and partnership.”

Slater: “We looked for a publisher who was publishing very similar materials, but in a different discipline, so that their sales people would more easily be able to sell our textbook, because they already had one that looked just like it.”

Social Media MarketingTuten: “We met with several publishers and picked the one that offered the best overall support. It is important when selecting a publisher to consider the entire contract – not just the revenue split. We chose SAGE for this book and I could not be happier. I really feel like the team at SAGE is a partner for us. They go above and beyond in many ways and Mike and I know from our experiences at other publishing houses that this is unusual. Authors need to think about whether the acquisitions editor and publishing team are really excited about their book and ready to help make it a success.”

Westerweel: “We contacted Springer, because originally Kluwer Scientific (now part of Springer) had also published conference proceedings and a scientific journal related to our field of research, so we knew they were familiar with our field of research. Also, the publisher agreed with us that the book should be sold at low cost, so that it is affordable to Master students.”

View all of the 2017 Textbook Award winners


Read the second installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software

Read the third installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 3): Pedagogy and marketing involvement

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.