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How to reach out to potential textbook publishers

Q: “I am interested in researching the types of textbooks that currently exist regarding preparing a student for a job and which courses utilize this book. Is there a way to determine, other than contacting universities directly, if books are currently being used regarding this topic and if they effectively address the current job market issues? Also, is it recommended, if you have a textbook topic idea, to send the proposal to multiple potential publishers? Is it necessary to completely write the book before marketing it to potential publishers?”

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing and Developing Your College Textbook:

“You don’t mention the type of job you are referring to. Textbooks that prepare people for jobs may be called professional books, adult education or vocational-technical textbooks, or career training manuals, depending on the type of job and the audience. Professional books are for practitioners in the professions or in jobs that require a license or certification (such as teaching, dentistry, CPA, social work, law enforcement). In some professions, preparation for entry into the field is accomplished through methods courses and field work (e.g., archaeology, oceanography, etc.). Adult, vocational, and technical education texts are for people in specific skilled occupations and trades (e.g. computer programmer, aircraft mechanic, electrician). Career training materials are for people seeking to enter a profession, occupation, or trade. Vocational-technical colleges and community colleges are prime markets for these materials.

To find out what textbooks are in use, you have to know the names of the courses in which the ‘job’ is taught. You can then use a resource such as MIR’s Faculty Online to find out the top books in use for that course. You can also survey the online catalogs of college publishers in the relevant field to find out what is being offered in your subject area (Suggest starting with Pearson; Cengage; McGraw-Hill; Wiley; and Bedford, Freeman, and Worth.) There are far fewer publishers than there are colleges and universities, so it makes more sense to survey publishers’ offerings and go from there. The only way to determine if textbooks ‘address the current job market issues’ is to acquire review copies of the books and evaluate them–yourself and/or though peer review.

If you have a textbook idea, you should express it in a book proposal and send it to the publisher you have identified as the one with whom you want to publish. You need to research this. Only a few publishers will be publishing in your area, and multiple submissions are not a good way to start. Follow guidelines on how to write an effective textbook proposal or prospectus. (I believe TAA has articles on this topic, and I have chapters on this in my book, Writing and Developing Your College Textbook.) It is customary to find a publisher on the basis of a prospectus before drafting the manuscript.”