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How to get started in textbook publishing

Most books come out of experience. Authors find a need in the field. They discover the existing texts have weaknesses, miss important topics, or simply do not excite their students. It may very well be there is no book on the particular topic they are teaching, or that the author is on the developing edge of an emerging area in a discipline.

Betty Azar, author of Understanding and Using English Grammar, said: “Experience tells me that first an author should see a need in the field. If the book you want to write fills a need you have in your own teaching, you can be fairly sure it will do the same for other teachers. Some of the best books have come from teachers like myself who develop their own materials for their classes because there was nothing available in the marketplace to meet their teaching needs, and then turned these materials into texts.”

Here are some ways to get started in textbook publishing:

Look at what exists in the field. The best place to start in determining where your book might fit into the marketplace is with your own bookshelf, and then expanding your research from there. Make lists of existing books’ strengths and weaknesses. Then ask yourself how your idea fits in. Does it offer some unique approach to the field? Does it present material in a different and more effective manner? It is imperative that prospective authors know they market they want to reach. A good book directed to too narrow a market will fail.

Talk to book representatives. They know the market. Being in the field, they see what is being used and what is not. They talk with faculty and hear their likes and dislikes. Use their knowledge to help shape your idea into a more concrete proposal. Book representatives are always on the look out for book proposals. They know what their company seeking, and which areas have the biggest draw in interest at any given time.

Talk with other faculty and/or published authors about your book idea. Have them read your proposal.

Establish your reputation with a publisher before submitting your first proposal. Review manuscripts for publishers, doing a good, reliable job so that your name becomes known to them with a favorable impression. You might ask to be considered for writing supplements to an existing book, such as a student learning guide or a teacher’s manual, or offer to design the website. These projects get you into print and establish you as a competent writer who can bring projects in on deadline.

Write an article. Elementary English education author Lee Mountain advises authors to write their great idea for a textbook as an article first, and get it published in a professional journal. “You can approach a commercial publisher as an established authority in your field, and maybe you can use the article as a sample chapter in your textbook proposal,” she said. “It has worked for me repeatedly, and also for some of my doctoral candidates.”