Q&A: What is an author’s questionnaire and why do I need one?

Q: “What is an author’s questionnaire and why do I need one?”

Author's questionnaireA: Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide:

“An author’s questionnaire usually comes from the marketing department to develop leads for reviewers of, contributors to, and especially adopters of your text. I suggest filling it in as completely as possible to make your contacts, colleagues, affiliations, and achievements known to the people who will attempt to market and sell your title. Also include any press (news articles) about you (and keep sending them). List your upcoming opportunities to promote your book, such as guest lectures, keynote addresses, interviews in the broadcast media, academic conventions, professional meetings, webinars, etc.

Ideally you would have a marketing plan of your own to include–what you intend to do to help get the word out about your book and win adoptions. For example, you could include the forthcoming title in your email signature, blog about it, add it to your web site, ask colleagues to try it out, discuss it on Facebook or Linked In (and any other online groups you have joined), and include it in your bio whenever you publish an article. Some authors invest in advertising on their own or have postcards made to undertake a targeted direct mail campaign.

The publisher’s marketing department needs all the help it can get. It is a common misconception that publishers invest heavily in marketing and promotion. The truth is that even the largest have certain systems in place to do only so much with the many products they field each year. They also do not cover the whole universe of potential adopters, because sales forces focus on certain territories where they have done well in the past. Competition among large publishers to control adoptions in their territories is pretty intense. At the same time, schools and faculties tend to keep doing business with the suppliers they are used to. You might ask your publisher, acquisitions editor, or marketing manager roughly what percentage of the market for your book they will reach.

Your book will be in the company’s catalog, which will go out to their usual customers, plus the catalogs of wholesalers and distributors the company uses, plus any leads you identify in your author’s questionnaire. Thus, information about adopting your book will go out to only a percentage of the people who actually teach the course for which you have written your textbook. To achieve its full potential, in other words, your book will need not only your author’s questionnaire and publisher’s efforts. It will need you.”


Mary Ellen Lepionka is the author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook: A Comprehensive Guide. She 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 the 1990’s she worked in higher Mary Ellen Lepionkaeducation 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.

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