Posted on

Developing a new textbook? Research other textbooks in the field

Textbook ResearchIf you are thinking of writing a textbook, an important step in the process is to research other textbooks in the field. This information will not only be helpful to you as you develop your textbook, but will be an important part of the process of developing a book proposal and securing a publisher.

Three textbook authors share their views on the importance of researching other textbooks in the field when developing a new textbook, and suggest some sources for finding out which textbooks are already available on the market for a particular field:

Q: Why should someone thinking of writing a textbook research other textbooks in their field?

“Given the enormous time that goes into writing a textbook — typically equivalent to many years of full-time effort — you should only enter into writing a textbook if you truly believe that you have something new and innovative to offer. This makes it very important that you be familiar with what others have already done, since that is the only way to evaluate whether your idea is as new and innovative as you think.”

Jeffrey Bennett, winner of the 2013 American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award, and author of college textbooks in astronomy, astrobiology, mathematics, and statistics

“If you decide to take on the daunting task of writing a textbook, you are likely doing it to address shortcomings in the existing texts. The best way to find those shortcomings is to read and research those existing texts carefully. In this way, you can form an inventory of the books’ strengths and weaknesses. This helps you to figure out how to address the weaknesses, improve the strengths, and craft a better overall book.”

Erin C. Amerman, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and author of four college textbooks in the field of human anatomy and physiology

“The need to research existing textbooks in your field is two-fold. Before investing time and energy (a LOT of time and energy) into a project you need to be sure that you are not duplicating efforts. This leads into the second point: product differentiation. For your book to sell, you must stand out against existing or even similar books. Without an original approach that actually meets a need, you have no basis on which to attract buyers.”

Meredith Carpenter, Instructor of Entrepreneurship at Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC and the author of Innovation and Creativity

Q: What are some sources for finding out which textbooks are already available on the market for a particular field?

Bennett: “Talk to others who teach the course for which you hope to write a book, including colleagues at other institutions, and find out what they are using as a text. You can also search for other texts on Amazon or on publisher web sites.”

Amerman: “The first place to start is with the text you use in your courses — what about that text isn’t meeting the needs of your students? Next, look to your bookshelves, as most professors have books sent to them by publishers for consideration for adoption. Beyond that, is extremely useful, as you can find just about any book published on a topic with just a few key words. Amazon also shows how popular a particular text is with buyers, which can give you an idea as to the expectations of the market.”

Carpenter: “As a full-time instructor, I had access to existing books from book reps, catalogues, and conferences. When I was frustrated with my limited options, I decided to write my own book. If you are not currently in education, new federal mandates require colleges to publicize their book selections for perspective students. You can survey college bookstores to see what books are being used and which ones seem to be most popular. Also, researching used textbooks on Amazon is a great way to uncover some titles you may not have been aware of.”

What would you add and why? Please join the conversation by including your views in the comment section below.