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Q&A: What is the likelihood of a textbook publisher ‘cloning’ your textbook?

Q: “I am working on a different kind of developmental mathematics textbook. It is very difficult, nowadays, to distinguish between current Mathematics textbooks. Mine looks, feels, and reads in a very different unique way. I’ve presented it to one publisher and they are interested. I know that it is to my advantage to approach other publishers, however, should I be concerned that if I do, that they will ‘clone’ my text?”

A: Michael D. Spiegler, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Psychology, Providence College:

“If you have a good way of approaching the subject matter, others will imitate once your book comes out. You may have an edge as the original. And you’ve made a contribution to the students in your field beyond just your book. It may be possible to get a publisher to sign an agreement stating that they will not come out with a book that clones yours for a given time period. I’ve heard of this being done with other ideas and industry. I’d suggest you consult with a good intellectual property lawyer on this idea. And remember, imitation is the highest form of strategy (or something like that).”

A: Frank Wilson, Chandler-Gilbert Community College:

“When I first started writing math textbooks, I had a similar concern. I have since learned that although a particular manuscript may help to shape the overall view of the market for an editor, editors are too busy to spend the time “cloning” texts. For me, this worry is no longer a concern.”

A: Christa Harris, Executive Director, World Languages, McGraw-Hill Higher Education:

“Given how long it takes to take a textbook from concept to published book, that would give you about three years of being truly unique. So about the time your second edition publishes, you’d have some similar books on the market. And Frank’s right… editors are working on other first editions (and revisions), and honestly, most of us and most authors feel our first editions are pretty unique too. We’re financially (and emotionally, if you’re a good editor) invested in our projects. So we’re too busy trying to get our own unique and wonderful books published!”