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10 Marketing tips and strategies for textbook authors

When authors invest the dedicated time and effort to produce a textbook, it’s important that they do it with a goal that it will be adopted and read and that it will provoke learning, said Robert Christopherson, author of the bestselling introductory geography textbook, Elemental Geosystems. “This requires thought throughout the creation process toward our involvement in marketing and how the post-production/sales period will progress,” he said. “Marketing and sales are areas of publisher responsibility for sure, and I respect these editorial channels of authority, however I have learned that the marketing process works best with proactive, aggressive, and consistent effort.”

Christopherson shares the following ten marketing tips and strategies:

1) Treat authoring as a business — create text-specific letterhead and business cards. “The cards are quite effective in adopter contacts, with students, and to have available at your publisher’s booth at annual meetings,” he said. “Develop a representative icon for your text that carries over to your card and letterhead.”

2) Set up a post office box for those readers that use snail mail. Since 1995, said Christopherson, all his texts have included his e-mail address, along with a P.O. Box with his name salutation, at the end of the Preface. At the beginning of the term and around finals, he receives anywhere from a few e-mails to six to 10 per week. “The feedback I receive is so valuable that the work input is easily justified,” he said. “I respond to each one, in earnest, and usually get a surprised and pleased response, e.g., ‘I never expected an author to actually write me back.’ In my working copy of the finished text and for my preparation file for the next edition, I mark up the text with comments. These e-mails provide valuable error and clarification points. After two years, when I sit down to begin a revision on a three-year cycle, I have this ready-made resource already in hand from hundreds of ‘conversations.’ As a marketing asset, I think that all these contacts and replies develop strength in the connective tissue that supports your textbooks in the market.”

3) Be available at your publisher’s booth at professional meetings. “Make sure your editor and marketing director have all the information for upcoming meetings,” he said. “Offer involvement in preparing ad copy for the conference programs. Help with the booth. Usually some local sales rep is stuck with packing up the booth on the last day, the word is out among the sales reps that I help out – which gives me a feeling of full-cycle involvement.”

4) Offer to proofread sales manual copy, both print and e-catalogues. “Only authors know the buzz words, correct vernacular, vocabulary, and sales features of their own textbook,” he said. “Build on the copy the publisher provides.”

5) Do the first several editions of your ancillaries. “This will give the ancillaries your style and approach,” he said. “These editions then become the guides for later editions that will be done by work-for-hire third parties. I know the authors of my ancillaries and am available to them for questions and collaboration.”

6) Become active in the instructional CD-ROM process. “My publisher invested in an instructional CD-ROM to accompany each of my texts,” he said. “By doing all the design and preparing the functional layout, as well as the storyboards for the animations, I was able to get the inclusion of many features not on other CDs. Remember, this is usually personal work ‘on spec’ with compensation derived from increased text sales stimulated by the CD asset.”

7) Become involved in the creation of an interactive website for your text.

8) Make sure that sales reps, marketing personnel, editors and adopters, know that you are available for feedback, questions, and criticism. “Be available to speak, when asked, at national sales meetings that most publishers hold twice a year,” he said. “We need to teach editors, sales reps, and managers about our books and disciplines.”

9) Know your market and your competition, and write the best student-friendly text possible – there’s nothing like a great book that sells itself. “Yes, I used the word ‘sells,’ for this is appropriate to say in our important academic work!” he said.

10) Go to TAA meetings and participate in the TAA newsletter and website. “No one knows better the isolation that the creative process requires more than other authors,” he said. “The network and supportive web among authors is powerful.”