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12 Secrets of a prolific textbook author

textbook stackIf you want to become a more successful and productive author, said Marilyn “Winkie” Fordney, the author of insurance billing and medical assisting books, choose a topic that is a first in its field or with little or no competition. Using this strategy and others, Fordney has published more than 50 books, many of which are the leading textbooks in her field. “I submitted my first manuscript to four different publishers and all wanted it,” she said. “Because of this it gave me a little edge in the contract negotiation. First I hired a contract attorney from Capital Records who taught me from the beginning the do’s and don’t’s of negotiating.”

Fordney shares these additional strategies for becoming a more prolific author:

  • Know your target audience and explain in detail some possible selling and marketing features to your publisher that are not addressed in the current competition.
  • Offer something unique. Present a different methodology or a book that fills a certain niche (for example, a short course book that is used for one semester). “If the publisher already has several titles for the same course, do cross promotion with established titles, target your book to different market levels, or develop a different conceptual, thematic or organizational approach,” she said.
  • Work with a co-author. “This helps you reduce writing time so you can produce more books in a shorter timeframe,” she said.
  • Write a book that concentrates on one aspect of a more general course book. For example, Fordney wrote Administrative Medical Assisting, Medical Transcription Techniques and Procedures, and Dictionary for Insurance, Billing, Coding, and Compliance, all topics covered in less detail in Insurance Handbook for the Medical Office.
  • Aim for a high quality textbook. Thoroughly research technical material and develop the best visuals (easily understood figures, concise tables, relevant examples, screened boxes for important material and icons). “The most lacking thing in books is visuals,” she said. “I use arrows with color highlights to point out what appears in a visual I’m referring to in the text.”
  • Assist the publisher in creating ancillary products (test bank, CD tutorial, internet website, instructor’s resource manual, workbook).
  • Pay attention to reviewer’s comments. “Write down the ‘little gems’ that give you ‘aha’ moments,” she said. Research all questions posed by reviewers because some comments on technical data may be erroneous due to the fact that the reviewer may be located in a specific region and it is handled differently in that locale.”
  • Get organized. File technical material (journal, newspaper and magazine articles) and set a daily routine for writing when you are freshest. “When you hear something pertinent to your topic, jump on it now – don’t procrastinate,” she said.
  • Write a comprehensive and complete proposal. Include a detailed table of contents, a list of competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and why your book is different. Attach your curriculum vitae.
  • Cultivate your editors and sales reps. “I go to every annual meeting, e.g. medical assisting, and meet with my publishers,” she said. “I take photos of my sales reps and editors at the meeting and send them to my publisher. They often post them on the bulletin board outside their office. This gives you a good rapport with them. That relationship with sales reps helps you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in classrooms.”