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10 Tips for preparing your next textbook edition

Steven Barkan, a professor of sociology at the University of Maine, and the author of five textbooks and one tradebook, shares the following ten tips for preparing your next edition:

1. The worst is over, but much yet is to be done. The first edition of a textbook takes much more time than any later editions, so the worst is over as you begin to prepare the next edition. However, the next edition can take much more time that one might expect. Research, data, and references must all be updated. Regardless of how long you expect the preparation of the next edition to take, it will probably take longer. The good news is that it will still take much less time than the first edition.

2. Know your (new?) editor. Editors seem to come and go. If you have a new editor since your first edition was published, talk to the editor about what she or he thinks about the first edition and would like to see in the next edition. Also be sure to have a clear idea about the editor’s plan and schedule for the revision.

3. Know your (new?) publisher. Thanks to numerous corporate acquisitions, the textbook world is down to a few major publishers. Your publisher may have changed since the first edition of your textbook was printed. The integration of lists after acquisitions can be difficult, as the (now larger) publisher may now have books that compete with each other. This might affect the enthusiasm that your editor will have for having your book come out in a new edition. Be aware of what makes your book different from, and better than, competing books by the same publisher, and be ready to communicate that to your editor.

4. Obtain a very workable electronic file of the publisher’s copyedited version of the previous edition. This may be less a problem now than in years past, but your life will be a lot easier if your publisher can give you a workable electronic file of the previous edition.

5. Don’t start writing too soon, especially regarding data and statistics, but don’t start too late. If you start writing too soon, your material will be that much more out of date by the time the book is printed, which can be as much as a year after you finish your manuscript and thus more than a year since you wrote a chapter containing the material. If you start writing too late, you won’t make the deadline for the completion of your revision.

6. Expect editor-solicited reviews of the previous edition, but don’t fret too much. At least in my experience, the editor will solicit reviews of your previous edition from instructors who have used the book, and perhaps even from some who have not used the book. One goal of these reviews is to have the instructors become interested in the book, but another goal is to give you feedback on possible changes for the next edition. Some of this feedback will be valuable, but much of it can and should be ignored.

7. Keep track of instructors who write you, especially those who wonder when the next edition is coming out. Respond promptly to any instructors who write you, and let them know when the new edition is about to be published. Make clear to them that you appreciate any comments or suggestions they might have about your book.

8. Argue for four-color, better marketing, and other improvements on the previous edition, but don’t get too optimistic (unless the previous edition was wildly successful). Editors and marketing managers are in charge of these matters, all of which cost money. They have to be very sure that the expenditure will be worth it in terms of increased sales. Sometimes (often?) they don’t agree with authors that the payback for the expenditure will be sufficient.

9. The market, the market, the market: don’t (overly) count on the new edition’s royalties before they hatch. It’s difficult to predict accurately that a textbook will sell well or poorly. Even if your first edition did well, the next edition might not. The odds are that it will indeed do well if the first edition succeeded, but one never knows. So make sure the new edition’s royalties are as strong as you expect before you start spending them.

10. Don’t be a two-way pack rat after the previous edition is published. After your first edition is finished, throw out any materials (newspaper clippings, PDF versions of research articles, etc.) that you used in writing the book unless you are absolutely sure you will need to use them again. If you do need them again, you can probably find copies on the Internet anyway. Also, don’t start compiling new materials for the next edition too long before the next edition will be published. If you start gathering materials in 2012 for a next edition that you will write in 2014 and have published in 2015, these materials will already be somewhat old before the next edition is printed.

Steven BarkanSteven Barkan is the author of Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 5th ed. (Prentice Hall), which received in its third edition the 2006 TAA Textbook Excellence Award. He has also written Collective Violence, 2nd ed. (with Lynne Snowden; Sloan Publishing); Law and Society: An Introduction (Prentice Hall); Discovering Sociology: Using MicroCase ExplorIt, 3rd ed. (Wadsworth); Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World (Flat World Knowledge); Fundamentals of Criminal Justice, 2nd ed. (with George Bryjak; Jones and Bartlett); and Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice: What Every American Should Know (with George Bryjak; Jones and Bartlett). He is presently writing a new text, Social Problems: Continuity and Change, for Flat World Knowledge.