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10 Tips to facilitate textbook successor author transitions

Finding a successor for your textbook(s) can be a daunting, arduous task. At TAA’s June 2013 conference veteran authors Robert Christopherson, Michael Sullivan, and Karen Morris presented a session sharing strategies for finding a successor and successfully transitioning the future editions of your texts.

The following is an overview of that presentation, highlighting ten tips to facilitate successor author transitions —“passing the torch.”

1) If you already have a successful coauthor arrangement, making the transition from the coauthor to your successor is a logical choice.

Make sure all contract stipulations regarding succession are thoroughly discussed and agreed to before entering into the succession process.

2) Use your ancillary and lab manual, or test bank authors, as a proving ground for potential coauthors.

The benefit of this strategy is that you already have vetted these authors both in terms of their writing and collaboration styles.

3) Phase through a developmental editor (DE) process.

Many publishers assign developmental editors to work with authors on text editions. These DEs serve several functions, from reading a manuscript from a student’s point-of-view, to content editing, to improving writing, to verifying research and text accuracy. After several texts with the same DE–and if you are lucky to have a DE with a degree in your field–there is the potential that this DE knows you and your text well and might be a candidate to coauthor, or your experienced DE might be engaged to assist other coauthors that are selected, for some continuity in the transition.

4) Consider the evolving succession process: contributing, then to collaborating, then to coauthoring.

The typical succession process for authoring textbooks takes a contributing author working on boxed features or individual chapters, into a transition to collaborating more extensively on an edition, then to actual coauthoring status. Success at each stage moves someone into consideration for being a successor. It is important to involve your potential successor’s viewpoint in every aspect of the production and design phases, including features, color palette, layout, and, of course, content. Creating a detailed style guide keyed to your text makes this step of the process efficient.

5) Ask for writing samples and run test trials.

Always ask for writing samples from prospective collaborators and coauthors to assess how much is involved in breaking in the candidate. Perhaps pay out-of-pocket to have the candidate complete an intensive review of a couple of chapters of your text. When completed, work through the review with them, and listen for their sense of organization, writing savvy, and content knowledge. This is best done face-to-face. Such an authoring expense is well a spent investment, even if the candidate fails to move beyond the test review, since those reviewed chapters might be improved.

6) Be supportive and accommodating.

As you work with a successor coauthor for your text, be supportive and accommodating; remember what it was like when you first started and the insecurity of that time. Empathetic support is critical, as the pressure of creation, research, and deadlines shifts from you to the successor. Where appropriate, adjust the conduit between the writing team and production to flow through the coauthor.

7) Don’t assume anything about procedures.

Take all you learned about how to set up computers, preparing manuscripts, and manuscript formatting, and train your coauthor on these procedures. Don’t operate under the false assumption that everyone knows what they are doing, which you know from experience is not true. Certainly, you do not want your coauthor to trip on every speed bump and pitfall that you experienced. A coauthor skilled at the process has a better chance at success with your franchise than does someone going through “first-time” stumbles. Successful authoring is a complex process, why not shave the odds for continued success in your favor?

8) Conduct an outside search for a coauthor.

If none of the previous suggestions are available or workable, an outside search might be necessary. In all cases it is advantageous to be directly involved in the process and not leave decisions up to an acquisition editor alone.

9) Review the publisher’s share of the initial collaboration costs.

Pay particular attention to having the publisher underwrite costs during the transition period–their share of work-for-hire funding, possible grants to collaborators, and the direction of possible advances. At some point several editions down the road, such funding investment shifts to a reduction in your royalty rate and the beginning stages of the collaborators receiving a small beginning royalty. As you can see such processes are phased in, transitioning over time.

10) Contract for the years ahead.

The contract aspect of the successor transition should be carefully considered and a publishing attorney consulted to ensure the contract encompasses all aspects of the transition. Such a comprehensive agreement includes negotiating a step-down contract to cover the present royalty earnings, through the earnings from future editions in a step-down phasing pattern, royalties lowering on each successive edition, perhaps for four future editions, or more. Important is the inclusion of an “evergreen clause” to cover all future editions, after the step-down phase is finished, because this is the legacy of your work over all the years of your active authorship.

All three veteran authors agree that once you successfully transition your textbook to a successor it is imperative, for both you and the successor, to release the outcome and let go—this is the “passing of the torch” threshold. Such a moment in someone’s career, perhaps involving a life’s work, is not to be taken lightly. Therefore, in addition to the structural suggestions we provide above, don’t overlook the emotional aspects.

Share your feedback: What are your tips for facilitating successful textbook successor author transitions?