Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software

2017 TAA Textbook AwardsA couple of weeks ago, I reached out to winners of the 2017 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about their textbook writing. I had so many great responses I decided to create a five-part series to share them. The first installment focused on why they decided to write their textbook and how they got started.

This second installment in the five-part series focuses on how they boost their confidence as a writer, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and what software they use.

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

Paul Battaglia, co-author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, AP Calculus, 1e: “I was never afraid to ask questions from people who had better insight and just understood certain things more than I did. I think you have to surround yourself with people who are really good at what they do and perhaps better at certain things than you are as a writer. So since this was a new experience for me, we talked extensively about how I could present what I wanted to say in a powerful way but in the proper way as well.”

CarboranesRussell Grimes, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Carboranes, 3e: “For some reason I have always had a knack for writing. During my academic career, I published over 240 peer-reviewed papers and reviews on my research in chemistry, and learned a lot from that. I have also edited a couple of books.”

Karen Hardy, author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Enterprise Risk Management: A Guide for Government Professionals, 1e: “Confidence is so important. I created my own website (www.FederalERM.org) around the books’ subject-matter and I make blog posts to the site as well as on Facebook to share current successes and future projects. That keeps me in the moment and helps build my confidence. Sharing my forward movement on projects is always a confidence builder.”

Customer Service Skills for SuccessRobert Lucas, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Customer Service Skills for Success, 6e: “I have written and contributed to 36 books, written video instructor guides, and written hundreds of articles. I have also written three blogs (customer service, creative training and nonfiction writing). In addition, I give presentations to clients, and at local and international conferences.”

Jonathan Pinder, author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Introduction to Business Analytics Using Simulation, 1e: “I don’t have any confidence. I try to judge the students’ comments and I look at the copies they bring marked up with questions to my office.”

Kenneth Saladin, author of 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Anatomy & Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function, 7e: “I haven’t felt an explicit need to boost my writing confidence. Writing has been a strong suit for me at least since the age of 15, when I wrote my first ‘zoological treatise’—a 318-page paper on the biology of hydras, since there had been no book about this since the 1700s and I wanted to assemble all the information I could find into a typescript for my own reference. It gave me good, autodidactic experience in writing style, literature research, citation mechanics, and even India ink illustration skills. It gained me a 4th place medal in the International Science and Engineering Fair and, more importantly, the sense that ‘I can do this’—write effectively and make a career in science. But as a textbook author starting 28 years later, my confidence certainly was reinforced when my book became my publisher’s market leader, and as I received a great deal of appreciative feedback from instructors and students using it.”

Timothy Slater, coauthor of the 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 3e: “I have followed the philosophy of ‘get something down quickly, even if it is terrible, because it is easier to fix something lousy than write it perfect the first time.'”

Michael Solomon, coauthor of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Social Media Marketing, 2e: “Write more!”

Alan Trujillo, author of the 2017 McGuffey Award winner, Essentials of Oceanography, 12e: “Not sure how to answer this one. Perhaps winning both a TAA ‘Texty’ Textbook Excellence Award and a McGuffey Longevity Award helps.”

Jerry Westerweel, coauthor of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Turbulence, 1e: “A couple of colleagues proofread (parts of) the manuscript and provided feedback. They also indicated parts that were unclear and small mistakes that I had overlooked. Their positive comments gave me a lot of confidence.”

Q: What strategies do you use to fit writing time into your schedule? How much time do you spend writing each day?

Battaglia: “I would spend at least an hour a day writing, sometimes more. I always found it easier to write very early in the morning!”

Hardy: “I don’t spend enough time writing as I should. It can be difficult with so many priorities, but that’s not an excuse. I have resolved to at least write on the weekends in a quiet place. I commit at least 3 hours a weekend writing ‘something’.”

Grimes: “Writing the first edition way back in the 1960s was difficult, as I was teaching courses and leading a research group. I did most of my writing in the evenings and on weekends. For the two recent editions, no problem — I was retired, and could devote as much time as I wanted to the task. The challenge was that new developments in the field kept appearing and I had to scramble to keep up.”

Lifespan DevelopmentTara Kuther, co-author of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award, Lifespan Development: Lives in Context, 1e: “I’ve learned to make time to write. Big blocks of time just don’t fall into your lap. I schedule writing appointments and do my best to keep those appointments. More important, I’ve learned to work in smaller chunks of time. I teach four courses every semester. I can’t write every day, but I know when I’ll write and what I’ll work on. Be strategic with your time and plan not just when you’ll write but how you’ll spend each writing session.”

Lucas: “As a consultant, I have flexibility in scheduling. When writing/revising my textbook, I spend an average 6-8 hours a day seven day as a week. Book and support material revisions (e.g. slides, instructor manual, test bank questions, quizzes, etc) typically take around 6 months when editorial processes are factored in.”

Pinder: “I only write during the summer, but I make lots of notes about revisions and changes I want to make.”

Saladin: “I do have a busy work day, as I usually teach a course load of 15 to 19 clock hours per week. During academic semesters, I do much of my writing in the early morning before classes; in the evenings after dinner; and weekends. I also write a lot during term breaks, and once my book began generating a good income, I quit teaching summer terms and devoted that time to writing. On non-teaching days, I frequently work from two or three hours before breakfast until well after supper. When a book is in deadline-driven production, there are very few days when I work less than 4 or 5 hours, and many days when I work on the book 12 to 16 hours.

When a new edition has just come out, I can kick back and relax, relatively speaking. I may do hardly any writing for a year or so, but it is still a busy time. I’m engaged in marketing, correspondence with users, keeping up with the literature, attending conferences, outlining revision plans, reading my competitors’ books, and reading my own book with a critical eye to how I can make it better. However, now that I have three textbooks on the market and each of them is revised on a 3-year cycle, I rarely have a year off. I’m rewriting one book or another almost every year.”

Slater: “I always write in the morning when my brain is fresh and before I even go to campus because once I’m on campus and have opened my email, my writing ability is non-existent.”

Solomon: “This varies but I try to block out at least 1/2 days.”

Trujillo: “When I’m working on meeting deadlines, I might work 12 hours or more a day on writing. I just spend all day on it, ignoring all else.”

Tracy Tuten, coauthor of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Social Media Marketing, 2e: “I don’t multi-task well which means that I am typically either writing or working on classes and grading. I block off full days when I can. Because of my preference for immersion, I tend to do the most writing during the summers and breaks and on weekends. This isn’t what I’d recommend – but it is what works best for me.”

Westerweel: “It took much longer to finish the book than originally planned. The publisher was very patient and always supportive and understanding. I usually worked on the book in my own time. In the end I made a list of remaining tasks and devoted three weeks at the end of summer to complete these.”

Q: What software do you use to organize your research and other files?

Grimes: “I used mainly Microsoft Word for manuscripts and tables and PDF (Acrobat) files in the later stages of the project. For the drawings of molecular structures in Carboranes Second and Third Editions, I used a German program called PLT, which is very similar to a well-known commercial program, ChemDraw.”

Hardy: “I use my smartphone to scan articles of interest and save them to my phone. I seldom use my computer now to save articles or books of interest. Smartphone technology is the fastest and easiest way to stay on top of that.”

Kuther: “I don’t use software to organize my files. I use a hierarchical folder structure with a folder for each chapter. Within each folder is a drafts file and files for each section of the chapter. Each time I open a document I save it a new file with the date as part of the title. I use Dropbox to sync my folders across computers and online.”

Lucas: “I use Word. I also collect articles in file folders for each chapter in the years between editions and reference them in the text when I revise.”

Pinder: “I used Excel for the example problems and the exercise sets and Word to do the manuscript.”

Saladin: “I suppose I am somewhat old school, as I haven’t seen any need for specialized file management software. Almost all of my in-house file management is done in MS-Word, with just a little use of Excel just to keep tabs on word counts, illustration counts, and other data. I keep only one drawer of paper copies of articles relevant to my textbooks, mostly review articles printed from web sites or torn from the journals I subscribe to, organized by book chapters.

The actual writing, however, is now done mostly online, using various writing and editing applications that the publisher prescribes for its authors. This tends to change from one edition to the next as software developers produce new and better tools for editors and authors, so it requires some mental flexibility to learn new authoring applications every few years.”

Slater: “I use Evernote and MS Word for everything written; I draw all of my figures using PowerPoint.”

Solomon: “I tag topic headings in a large Word document and organize new material under these headings.”

Todd Swanson and Jill VanderStoep, coauthors of the 2017 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Introduction to Statistical Investigations, 1e: “As an author team we use Dropbox with file folders for each chapter. We also use track changes to make edits so everyone can see changes and comments made by each contributor. As the editing nears completion, we add our initials after the document name so we can quickly see who has completed edits.”

Essentials of OceanographyTrujillo: “One program I use to organize information for my revisions is Evernote. It helps keep me organized and I add articles I see to various chapters. I also keep an expandable file folder (physical item) that is organized the same way, by chapter, and I fill it with clippings of news events and articles from scientific journals that I subscribe to.”

Tuten: “I use a social bookmarking service called Diigo. I have used it since it first launched and I don’t know how I would organize research without it. There is a free version and premium versions. I started out with the free one but have found that it is well-worth the premium fee (which is still under $100 per year — quite the deal!). It also has features specifically for teachers. Recommending Diigo is probably the most valuable advice I have for new authors.”

Westerweel: “I use LaTeX for writing, BibDesk to collect my bibliography, and CoPlot / CoDraw for making graphs, figures and diagrams.”

View all of the 2017 Textbook Award winners

Read the first installment in the series – Textbook award-winning insight (part 1): Deciding to write and getting the interest of a publisher

Read the third installment in the 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.