TAA debunks the top 7 myths regarding textbook costs

TAA myths coverStudents’ purchase of used textbooks, and more recently, the theft of new textbooks via downloads at file sharing websites, is based on misinformation about how textbook publishing works, how professors choose textbooks, the business practices of book resellers, and the motivations of authors who write textbooks.

TAA recently interviewed publishers, professors and authors as a way to set straight the top myths regarding textbook costs.

Download PDF


Textbooks-to-trade shift not always easy

The trade book market can be lucrative, so it’s no wonder some indexingtextbook authors have their hands dipped into both pots. But how can a textbook author “cross over” to trade? Most literary agents agree that being academically published gives trade book-author wannabes extra credibility, but the question is, does the textbook author have what it takes to write for the trade book market. [Read more…]

Tips on selecting the right publisher for your textbook

Q: “I’m shopping a project around to a number of different publishers, but I’m having trouble figuring out exactly why I should choose one publisher over another, should more than one of them be interested. Assuming that each publisher makes approximately the same offer, and that my project fits in well with each publisher’s list, what other factors should I take into consideration? Does anyone have any personal experience (or warnings) that they would like to share? I’m particularly interested in hearing about people’s experiences with Cengage (formerly Thomson Brooks/Cole), Freeman, and Wiley, in the science/math college textbook divisions. It would also be very helpful to have any advice regarding questions I could ask of the editors to determine which publisher would be best to work with.”

A: Rebecca Plante, PhD, Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Ithaca College:

“I don’t have any specific knowledge of the science/math text market, but I have some general ideas.

1. Is there a publisher particularly known as the place to go to for books on [your specialty/subject here]? For example, if adopters know Wiley as a great source of books on X, your book would be more easily part of the adopter’s search. [Read more…]

How to cut the clutter from your writing

Q: “What techniques do you use to cut clutter, wordiness, jargon, etc. from your writing?”

A: Kim Pawlak, Associate Executive Director, TAA:

“I write my first draft without worrying about how long it is, and then I go through it again as if it has to be only X number of words. When you only have so much space to work with, it helps you weed out unnecessary words, phrases — and even paragraphs.” [Read more…]

What to consider when recycling content from writing project to writing project

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “A general question: You are writing a book — in one chapter, you wish to include information that you have used in another book with another publisher. What is the rule of thumb — if there is one — about how much information can be used and/or the level of changes necessary?”

A: Richard Hull, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy:

“There are several considerations against recycling material from one book in another. First, it robs you are your first publisher of a potential sale. If you lead the reader to whatever you think important in the second book that is found in the first, but don’t ‘give it away,’ you might find the reader buys the first book to get all of what he or she finds sketched in the second. Consider including in your second book only a minimal indication of what you showed so brilliantly in the first, in hopes that the engaged reader will want to know the full story. You might even interest your first book’s publisher in publishing the second one as a second, companion volume to the first. [Read more…]

Textbook succession planning: What is a reasonable royalty rate for the original author?

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “What is a reasonable royalty rate for an author whose name will remain on a (successful) textbook, but who wants to stop doing the revisions? What sort of language in the revisions clause can protect your heirs?”

A: Zick Rubin, The Law Office of Zick Rubin, Publishing/Copyright/Trademark:

“This is a very important item. Here is a formula that is sometimes proposed by authors and that is sometimes acceptable to publishers for a successful textbook: 75 percent of the royalties (i.e., the contractual rate) in the first edition in which the author does not take part, 50 percent of the royalties for the second such edition, and 25 percent of the royalties for the third and subsequent such editions.

This can be an actively negotiated item on both sides. The negotiations reflect a number of factors, including: how successful and established is the book?; how valuable will it be for the publisher to continue listing the original author as ‘author’?; what would be fair and attractive royalties to attract an excellent new author or authors to take over the book? (the publisher will typically be reluctant to expand the total royalty pot); will the initial author play any continuing role as a consultant or in marketing?”

A: Kevin Patton, TAA Member:

“When researching a succession agreement between myself and a coauthor, Richard’s formula of ’50 percent, 25 percent and out’ was by far the most common type of formula that I ran across.

I think the continued use of your name does pose some potential risks, which I’d never really fully considered before seeing it on the listserv here. Not only that, but will you have any input into the selection of a succeeding coauthor? A wrong move there could be disastrous, I would imagine.”

A: Michael Lennie, Lennie Literary & Authors Attorneys:

“Kevin, You are right, 50/25 percent is the most common, but I would encourage all authors in third or beyond edition to bargain for a 60/30/15 percent with the 15 percent ”evergreen’ (i.e., to apply to third and subsequent editions not participated in by the author.

I take slight issue with my friend and colleague Dr. Hull’s suggestion of the phantom author problem. That issue is present when ‘name authors’ allow themselves to be represented as the author of a book without contributing original content. This is not the same as an author who has developed a book over 2-3-4-5 editions and then retires – ethically or commercially.”

Can you claim royalties on workbook giveaways?

Q: “Years ago, when we wrote our first high school textbooks and workbooks, these items were sold to the schools and we received royalties on each component. Then as publishers began giving away more and more items to secure a big adoption (or a state listing), they began giving away ancillaries. Now they even give away some student books.

At first the publishers would give away the ancillaries they themselves had produced (without authors — as ‘managed’ items for which they had paid writers a flat fee). So at one point our publisher had a “managed” workbook, which they would give away; we got royalties on our authored workbook when it was sold.

Now they are often giving away both their ‘managed’ workbook and our ‘authored – royalty-bearing – workbook. Whereas the writers for the managed workbook were paid in advance, we as authors are not ‘paid’ until the workbook is sold. As the publishers give away more and more of our authored materials, our royalties decline substantially.

Do we have any recourse? For example, if they give away our authored materials, can we claim a royalties payment or equivalent payment? Any other suggestions?” [Read more…]

Author’s questionnaire: What it is and what you need to know

Your Working EnvironmentQ: “What is an “author’s questionnaire’?”

A: 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, teleseminars or 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 Technorati or Linked In (or whatever other web 2.0 organizations you have joined, e.g., Facebook), and include it in your bio whenever you publish an article.

The 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. Your book will be in the company’s catalog, which will go out to their customers and to leads from your Author’s Questionnaire, and information about adopting your book will go out in an email campaign to only a percentage of the people who actually teach that course. To achieve its full potential, in other words, your book will need not only your Author’s Questionnaire. It will need you.”

A: Scott Harr, Department of Criminal Justice, Concordia University St. Paul:

“Maybe different publishers have different jargon or meanings (or uses) for such, but when I’m asked for these from my publisher it’s mostly used for marketing purposes since we write our own ‘about the author’ section. I try to be thorough, maybe erring on providing more than less, then let them decide what they want to use. Typical questions include degree earned, schools attended, courses taught, publications, etc. Questionnaires can also ask about the book (what’s new or special about it, etc). Most of all, I never exaggerate or, obviously, say anything not factual. Always amazes me when people do, especially in this day and age of easy confirmation at the touch of the www. My only real ‘hint’ is once you do one, save it for the next time so you don’t have to redo something that can be quite time consuming.”

A: Rebecca Plante, PhD, Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Ithaca College:

“When I’ve done author’s questionnaires, I too err on the side of being more thorough. The marketing team at one of my publishers is small, but the (back)list is small as well, so they can do their job very well if I give them the benefit of my knowledge of my market. My work is interdisciplinary, which is problematic sometimes, and I try to be extensive in giving ideas about who might adopt, how to pitch the work, what the key features of my books are. I absolutely keep old copies of these documents to (hopefully) use in the future! I’ve also had undergrad research assistants help me cull the Internet to determine who’s teaching relevant courses so that I can provide that information – ‘Dr. So and So teaches human sexuality at XY College’ – possibly along with relevant syllabi.”

A: Sheila Curran Bernard, author of Documentary Storytelling and Archival Storytelling:

“In my experience with Focal Press, it’s a sales & marketing tool — a brief questionnaire seeking information for the publisher about you and your book and your professional memberships and such — your thoughts on possible places the book might find an audience, including professional associations, annual meetings, specialized schools or areas of study, that sort of thing.”

Here’s an example of an Author’s Questionnaire provided by Focal Press:


Your name:

Title of your forthcoming book:

1. What professional magazines do you read regularly?

2. What websites, online forums or blogs do you visit regularly?

3. Please list all professional organization or association memberships.

4. What conferences will you attend in the next 12 months? Please spell out any acronyms and provide web site information if possible.

5. Please provide dates of professional speaking engagements, along with contact details of organizers and topics to be covered.

6. Please list any training or teaching you will be leading in the next 12 months. This may be at a university, corporation or conference. What are the topics covered and please provide any contact details of organizers.

7. Very often corporations purchase large quantities of books for training or giveaways. Please list any organization, with which you have a relationship, that would potentially be interested in buying copies of your book at a reduced rate in bulk. Include a contact details (including a name) and how they could potentially use your book.

Please keep us up to date on your speaking and teaching schedule. We can provide you with copies of your book to include in the price of registration or sell. We will also provide you with fliers or cards promoting your book.

How to convert your nonfiction book into a textbook

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “I have been contacted about converting my nonfiction book into a textbook. I believe that the book as it is, could very well be used in the classroom. Could you tell me how I can go about either publishing the book as is for classroom use, or converting it into a textbook?”

A: Ron Pynn:

“Let me start by noting that I would think your publisher has the rights to your present book, so that any plans to convert it into a text will require the present publisher to agree to the plan or publish it themselves as a text. Be sure you don’t violate the terms of your agreement with the publisher.

Now, having said that, I would also suggest you not let the publisher simply convert the book into a text under the terms of your present agreement, unless those terms are quite favorable to you as author (and they almost never are). I would suggest you declare the text a separate work (it will almost certainly have a new ISBN number), and ask for a separate, new contract from the publisher. Then negotiate the terms of that contract. Here TAA can be of significant help. We have a model contract, know what clauses can and cannot be negotiated, what are decent royalty rates, and have veteran authors to help counsel you. We even have lawyers and book agents available should that be the direction you needed to go.

You have an enviable position — the author of a successful book, interest in a text version with potential for substantial adoption. This gives you leverage to negotiate. Make the publisher work up a new contract or declare their lack of interest, the right of first refusal, so you can shop it around to other publishers. TAA could even help you prepare a book proposal should that become the need.

It appears you have a good foundation for doing this text, and you have strong leverage. Don’t give it away. Should you pursue the project, membership in TAA will strengthen your knowledge about contracts and the publishing process. We will stand ready to provide assistance to you at every step of the way.”

Definition of ‘camera-ready copy’ & how it could affect your contract negotiations

Tips of the Trade ImageQ: “The contract that has been offered on a book based on my dissertation specifies ‘camera-ready copy.’ What does this mean?”

A: Michael Lennie, Authoring Attorney and Literary Agent, Lennie Literary and Authors’ Attorneys:

“The best answer is that you should ask your publisher what it means, since it might have a different meaning to your publisher than it does to other publishers. This information may be on your publisher’s website or in print form available from your publisher. Generally, camera-ready copy is the final layout of a page (or in your [Read more…]