Featured Member Jason Wrench – Insights on working with multiple publishers
Jason Wrench is an Associate Professor in Communication and Media at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Wrench specializes in workplace learning and performance, or the intersection of instructional communication and organizational communication. He has published five books, including his most recent, published in 2011, Casing Organizational Communication (Kendall Hunt), and Stand Up, Speak Out: The Practice of Ethics and Public Speaking (Flat World Knowledge). He has also published over 20 research articles.
Here Wrench talks to TAA about his experiences working with multiple publishers.
TAA: How did you get started in textbook authoring?
Jason Wrench: “I was lucky enough to have two amazing graduate mentors, James C. McCroskey and Virginia Peck Richmond, when I was a doctoral student at West Virginia University. Starting in my first year as a doctoral student, Virginia invited me to work on a revision of a textbook used in the off-campus master’s program in instructional communication. From that point forward, I’ve collaborated with Virginia and Jim on a number of books first as the last author and then slowly making my way up the chain to first author. I learned so much from their mentoring about writing textbooks. After writing four books with them, I ventured out on my own mentoring two novice book writers in their first academic book. By October 2014, I’ll have 12 text or academic books under my belt and see no sign of stopping.”
JW: “I never set out to write with multiple publishers. My first five books were all written under different publishers primarily because publishers would come to my mentors asking for a specific book, and I went along for the ride. While my mentors primarily published with one publisher over the years, I started out writing for many different publishers, so moving from one publisher to the next was natural for me.
The advantages of working with multiple publishers are that you learn what you like and don’t like about the publishing process, you are free to shop projects around, and you see what different editors need. Two disadvantages of working with multiple publishers are that it may present you with more of a juggling game and it may not offer you the same opportunity to develop strong relationships with editors.”
TAA: Do you have any specific tips regarding negotiating contracts with multiple publishers?
JW: “My tips would be the following:
- Right of first refusal. The right of first refusal clause is one that forces an author to pitch any new book idea to a previous publisher first, so that the publisher has first rights to accept or refuse a project. I ran head first into this problem when one of my previous editors heard I was writing a public speaking book with Flat World Knowledge. The right of first refusal grants a publisher first dibs on your next book project. Thankfully, the editor let me out of this clause in order to work on the project.
- Watch out for the competition clause. First and foremost, you’ve got to be careful of the competition clause in your contracts. The competition clause generally prevents an author of a book from writing a book or contributing to a book that would be seen as competition. If you’re like me and publish numerous books (with multiple publishers) on similarly related topics, you may run into competition problems if this clause is too broad. For example, I published a book on case studies in organizational communication, a two-volume series on organization communication geared towards business professionals, and now I’m writing an introductory textbook on organizational communication. All three of these projects involve themes in organizational communication, which could appear to compete with each other unless the clauses in your contract are written clearly. For example, with the case studies book, I had the publisher clearly specify that I would not write another “case study book in organizational communication” instead of the more generalized language often seen in contracts that reads “in subject area.”
- Understand time commitments. In the world of textbook writing (especially books that need updating more frequently), you should watch out for and specify revision dates. If you have a book that may need revised more often, you can try to negotiate possible revision schedules into the contract from the beginning to prevent yourself from getting too overwhelmed, but this is admittedly something many publishers find non-negotiable because it’s hard to predict the future.”
TAA: What resources have been most useful to you in your publishing career?
JW: “I cannot stress the importance that my mentors were for me as both an academic scholar in conducting and publishing original research but also on writing and publishing academic and textbooks.
I also consider TAA a valuable resource. Michael Boezi at Flat World Knowledge recommended that I join TAA to learn more about the legal and professional side of academic and textbook publishing. I am very grateful that he suggested I join TAA. I’ve enjoyed listening to the various podcasts on a range of subjects from contract negotiations to blogging for your book. I am a proud member of TAA and try to tell everyone I know who is involved with the academic and textbook writing world to join.”
TAA: What do you value about your TAA membership?
JW: “First, I value the monthly newsletter. I relish reading about other academic and textbook authors who are going through similar situations. Learning from their mistakes and their successes helps make me a better author.
Second, I enjoy the wide range of resources on the TAA website. I recently gave a workshop on my on campus about negotiating contracts. While I’m not a lawyer, I was able to draw upon both my own experiences and the wealth of content on the TAA website to help me create this workshop. I’ve received numerous thank you notes for the information I presented in that workshop. It’s very gratifying.
Lastly, I enjoy the ongoing, continuing education that is sponsored by TAA. From articles about the current trends in academic and textbook publishing to innovative podcasts on marketing your books, these features help me understand the business side of the publishing industry. I was taught to be a communication scholar, not to be publisher savvy. TAA helps fill-in the gaps between what I learned as a graduate student and from my own mentors to what I need to know to be successful as an author.”