A few 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 six-part series to share them. The first installment focused on why they decided to write their textbook, and how they got started. The second installment focused on what they do to boost their confidence as a writer, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and what software they use. The third installment focused on which pedagogical elements in their textbook they are most proud of, and what involvement they have had in marketing their book. The fourth installment focused on what they wish they had known before they started, and advice for other authors.
This fifth, and final, installment in the five-part series focuses on the more veteran authors, who share the key to their textbook’s longevity, what they have learned over the years, and their approach to preparing for a new edition.
Q: What has been the key to your textbook’s longevity?
Kenneth Saladin, author of 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Anatomy & Physiology: The Unity of Form and Function, 7e: “(1) Writing style, art, and photography; (2) the contributions of other writers who produce adaptive learning products linked to my books; and (3) the marketing power of a big publishing house.
(1) With respect to my own contribution, I think the key is writing style—to produce a narrative that goes well beyond just getting the facts down on paper, but engages the reader with a story-telling narrative that they (as students’ emails so often testify) actually find enjoyable to read. I’ve also developed numerous original artistic presentations and sought out captivating photographs to show concepts visually in enlightening ways that other textbooks do not. Some of these come to mind while teaching my lectures and labs, so they reflect the rapport I attain with students in the classroom and ways of presenting or re-explaining ideas that make their minds light up.
(2) With respect to other content contributors, the work of my digital team in producing interactive learning media for the book has been a tremendous boost to sales in recent editions. They’re better at this than I, and my writing task leaves too little time to also develop these learning tools. In turn, they rely on me for accurate and current scientific information and good ways of expressing it. Thus, together, we achieve a synergy that has made the book broadly appealing.
(3) Third, the marketing power of McGraw-Hill has been crucial to the longevity of my books. I depend on a good marketing manager, regional sales managers, and a large army of sales representatives to promote the book, win adoptions, and keep them by cultivating relationships with faculty users. I’ve known other authors to put just as much work into their first editions as I did, only to be discontinued after one or two editions simply because their smaller publishers didn’t have the muscle to promote their books adequately in a crowded and intensely competitive market.”
Timothy Slater, coauthor of the 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 3e: “Continuous marketing.”
Alan Trujillo, author of the 2017 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Essentials of Oceanography, 12e: “Be willing to try some new things in your book through different editions. Actually I was brought onto the book as a coauthor to help save the book! Its publication numbers were really low and it needed help. Previous editions of my textbook were written in a very non-student-friendly manner. Always consider your students and what topics they struggle with when you revise.”
Q: What is your approach when preparing a new edition? When do you start? How do you organize your research and files? How do you decide what needs updating?
Russell Grimes, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Carboranes, 3e: “In preparing Carboranes Third Edition, I used the second edition as a template. Going through that book page-by-page (over eleven hundred pages), I identified areas that needed updating because of new developments, and made appropriate changes in the text and graphics. In some cases this required introducing entirely new sections. Also, there were parts of the second edition that I was dissatisfied with, and the third edition gave me an opportunity to do a better job of writing and/or presentation. I should also say that my interaction with the editorial staff at Elsevier was a bit smoother for the new edition than it had been for the previous one, and this was very helpful. In particular I think the cover design in the third edition is much improved.”
Robert Lucas, author of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Customer Service Skills for Success, 6e: “I start creating content for the next edition once I finish the current revision. I do this by scanning articles in print and online and printing copies which I keep in file folders labeled for each chapter. Throughout the years between editions, I also jot down ideas and notes related to trends, personal customer service experiences and ideas from other professionals with whom I speak. When ready to revise, I go through these to determine potential ideas for content and/or reference sources for material quoted. I start an edit by reading the entire text. Like many authors this often results in a ‘I cannot believe I wrote that mess.’ After looking through my data/article files and notes I have written to myself, I start rewriting and repositioning content.”
Saladin: “I’m always planning a new edition even before production turnover (PTO) of the edition I’m currently working on. As PTO approaches, or I’m already reading chapter proofs, ideas come to mind too late to incorporate them into that edition—things I’d like to write better, concepts for new drawings or photos, and new scientific information from my reading.
Thus, I keep a chapter-by-chapter revision plan and make note of these things as they arise. By the time edition X is published, I already have a substantial file of plans for edition X+1. For example, my flagship text received the McGuffey Award for its 7th edition; the 8th edition came out only a few weeks ago; and I already have a 26-page, 12,500-word list of plans for changes in the 9th edition, which I’ll begin writing in 2019.”
Slater: “The content doesn’t change much, but the appearance and layout needs to be fresh and new. I keep a constant list of ideas that pop into my head that I file into Evernote, and don’t look at them until I’m ready to start revisions.”
Michael Solomon, coauthor of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Social Media Marketing, 2e: “About a year before the edition is due, we look closely at reviews and consult our ongoing notes about emerging important topics.”
Trujillo: “To start the revision cycle (every 3 years), the current edition is sent out for review by both users of the book and non-users. This is very helpful in identifying what parts to revise. Also, I keep up-to-date with recent research, and I keep track of new developments that need to be included in the next edition (such as whatever happened to the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014). The work for the new edition starts about 2 years before it comes out in print!”
Tracy Tuten, coauthor of the 2017 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Social Media Marketing, 2e: “I am basically always in the process of preparing for the next edition. I say that because as I read new research and industry materials related to the book I save the information in Diigo. I tag the material by chapter and possible use. This means that when the real work for the next edition begins, I already have a headstart.”
Q: What have you learned over the years, or through multiple editions, that you wish you knew from the start?
Grimes: “In my particular case, I had no idea when I wrote Carboranes Second Edition, that it would be out-dated so soon. But this happens in fast-changing areas of technology. As mentioned above, I am currently addressing the problem of updating the book by providing new information on the book’s website on a regular basis. (The website is freely accessible, by the way).”
Lucas: “Wouda, coulda, shoulda …if I knew in 1995 what I know about the writing and publishing process what I know now, I would have created a much stronger text in the first place. With each subsequent edition, there have been new software, processes, and changing publisher business models and procedures with which I had to contend. Having edited the book six times, I believe that the content and writing have improved with each update. This is due to multiple sets of editing eyes on the content throughout the life of the book. Also, each edition gets new content and features to keep it fresh and current.”`
Slater: “That everyone will have a critique or suggestion, and you don’t really need to address it until it comes from many people simultaneously.”
Solomon: ”You’re never done! As soon as one manuscript is submitted you need to start planning for the next edition.”
Trujillo: “Student feedback about your book can be invaluable. I offer extra credit to have students review a chapter with me. Also, work hard on the art program, that’s what students always view when they don’t read the book.”
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 second installment in the series – Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software
Read the third installment in the series – Textbook award-winning insight (Part 3): Pedagogy and marketing involvement
Read the fourth installment in the series – Textbook Award-winning insight (Part 4): What they wish they had known before they started, writing advice