Featured Member Ric Martini – A veteran textbook author’s insights on contracts, author collaboration & more
Frederic (“Ric”) Martini received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in comparative and functional anatomy for work on the pathophysiology of stress. He is the lead author of ten undergraduate texts on anatomy and physiology or anatomy. Martini is currently affiliated with the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has a long-standing bond with the Shoals Marine Laboratory, a joint venture between Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire.
A veteran textbook author, here Martini shares his insights on publishing contracts, author collaboration, and more.
TAA: What is your approach to textbook authoring?
Ric Martini: “For new projects, I like to start with lecture notes for the course and work from there. For intro level courses I try and write with a ‘talking voice’ rather than a professorial academic voice. I write to the students and not to the faculty; that can sometimes be a negative factor in an adoption committee situation, but in the final analysis it is the students I want to help. I’ve done everything electronically since around 1983, so I keep paper copies to a minimum. Rough illustrations are assembled using Acrobat Professional and Photoshop.”
TAA: Do you have any textbook writing or publishing advice that you can share with fellow authors? Important lessons you have learned?
RM: “The first advice is not to sign anything you are handed as a ‘standard’ contract. There isn’t any such thing. Almost all of the terms and conditions are negotiable, so read them all with great care and do a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios to see if there are any hidden surprises or issues that aren’t covered explicitly.
If you have provided a sample chapter and jumped through the hoops and the reviews are terrific, and especially if the publisher doesn’t already have a successful entry in that market, you have some leverage. Use that leverage as fully as possible. You may not get much movement on things like royalty rates or rights assignment, but you may be able to improve clauses dealing with illustration costs, permissions fees, responsibility for ancillaries, royalties for foreign or translation sales, derivative works, future editions, and the ‘retirement clause.’ If it is your first book contract, take the time and accept the expense to have it reviewed by an attorney familiar with publishing law.
My second piece of advice applies primarily to authors working in the sciences, where the texts are enormous, the illustration programs complex, and the books on 1-3 year revision cycles. If your text does OK and moves into further editions, you will need to make a decision about your future. Good textbook authors are rare commodities – most contracted texts never get completed and most first editions fail to reach the publisher’s targets – so if your book succeeds the publisher will probably push for derivative books that target different markets. My advice is that if you are going to continue to teach full-time, you should not tackle more than one textbook, even with a coauthor. The problem is the massive time investment required for each project, even if you aren’t the primary writer of the manuscript. Reading and editing what another has written, dealing with copyediting, checking the illustrations, proofing pdfs, etc. takes a large block of time that you will have to budget in addition to dealing with the writing and production complexities of your first text, and the two projects will of course have overlapping, if not synchronous, schedules. So if you want to keep your sanity and home life intact while authoring multiple texts, you should be prepared to reduce or even eliminate your teaching contact hours, or agree to additional texts only after your retirement dinner.”
TAA: As the lead author on many textbooks, can you share any tips on successful author collaboration?
RM: “I think the number is 10 texts and 5 large (200-400pp) clinical or anatomical supplements. There have been collectively 50 editions/revisions. I now have coauthors on all of those projects. The keys to a successful coauthorship are (1) know the potential coauthor well, as a past reviewer or adopter of your text or as a long term friend or academic colleague; (2) be absolutely certain that you know how organized and obsessive the person is – the more detail oriented and tech savvy the better; (3) be familiar with the person’s teaching style and writing style; and (4) DO NOT bring them onto a contract unconditionally without at least one edition on a conditional basis. I would recommend screening through one to three and then having the candidate serve as a contributor for one or two editions so that you can see how you work together in reality as opposed to in theory. There are various ways the paperwork can be structured – your publisher and your attorney will probably be able to help you with the terms.”
TAA: Can you share any pitfalls to avoid when collaborating on a text?
RM: “Don’t start without a clear stipulation of who is doing what, what the schedule is, what the routing will be, and who makes final decisions. Maybe you want to be hands-off on a derivative project, or maybe you want total control because it’s a course you like to teach. No problems either way, as long as all parties know what’s going on. And always keep your sense of humor up front. It is easy when pressed on a schedule to become terse in emails, and this can easily be misconstrued by other members of the team.”
TAA: What is your experience with the use of illustrations/art in your texts? What practices do you recommend authors employ to protect their intellectual property?
RM: “All textbook contracts contain clauses that cover (a) who pays for the art/illustrations/permissions and (b) who has the rights to them. In my experience, unless you personally provide the illustration (in other words you take the photo or you pay an illustrator for an art piece on a work-for-hire basis and submit the resulting image) then the publisher owns the rights to it and they can use it anywhere they like. You may negotiate that a bit, so that they won’t use it in competing works and when they do use it they credit your Work as the source.”
Leaders and labels are considered part of the illustration. Tables are a different matter. If the table contains text material, especially in sentence format, those rights should be yours as part of the Work. If one of the tables appears elsewhere, your book should be cited and you should get a permissions fee. But that will depend on the terms of your contract, how much text is in the table, whether the table is illustrated or not, and so forth and so on. There are many reasons for potential disagreement there, so the more explicit your contract the better.”
TAA: What do you value about your TAA membership?
RM: “I joined TAA as a newbie text author with a first edition recently published. It was wonderful to meet other authors and discuss the ups and downs of publishing. The seminars were extremely useful, especially with regard to publishing law, royalty statements and royalty audits, and trends in the industry. The contacts made there and the perspective gained by attending TAA meetings in my “formative years” were a great help in shaping my success as a textbook author.”