Posted on

Two veteran authors share how to research the market for your textbook idea

Researching other textbooks in the market is an important step in determining whether your textbook idea is a viable one. You will also need that information when submitting a book proposal.

Two veteran textbook authors share the research required to determine if there is a need in the market for the textbook you want to write and how to go about doing that research.

Robert Christopherson, author of Geosystems: An Introduction to Physical Geography (9th Edition), suggests you obtain copies of the existing texts in the field of study in which you are doing research and wish to author, and then do the following:

  1. Prepare a spreadsheet of the texts in the y-axis, and details of organization, web support and adaptive learning tools and aids, physical specs for the text (length, trim size, column structure, orders of headings), boxed features, and content, with perhaps columns for twenty key topics in the field that you think are important—arranged along the x-axis. “Survey the texts, what did you find? Areas of coverage agreement, areas of holes in the market, things not covered,” he says. “In my field there are several texts that barely mention the scientific consensus on climate change, nor reference any URLs, or leave out applied topics, or have no chapter pedagogy, etc.”
  2. Make a master listing of all reviewers listed in all the Preface acknowledgements in these texts, group by departments, sample the curriculum offerings for the ten or so leading schools that supply reviewers. Look for patterns, concentrations, and holes in the course offerings.
  3. Attend the professional meetings for your discipline, the one you want to write in, and carefully walk the sales booths, looking for themes, how each discusses their texts, and use your iPhone to sample text covers or posters. At these professional meetings, attend key paper sessions relevant to your field of interest. “These sessions are like a look ahead in the discipline,” he says. “You will go back to the comparative spreadsheet and add columns and check out the competition on these new topics. Now, as you build your text outline through research and teaching, do not refer to those textbooks again. You hopefully have defined a niche for your work, something the market missed, free of anachronistic topics, up-to-date in pedagogical tools and features that will lead the market. All this preliminary work will pay off when you compose your text proposal, editors look for authors that know their field.”

Lorraine Papazian-Boyce, author of ICD-10-CM/PCS Coding: A Map for Success, and the upcoming Pearson’s Comprehensive Medical Coding: ICD-10-CM/PCS, ICD-9-CM, CPT, HCPCS, says her books have risen out of teaching in the field and experiencing the deficiencies of other texts in the classroom. “Other well-established books are available in the this field, but mine take a unique approach to the same subject matter, and the approach seems to resonate with instructors and students,” she says. “For me, this is the best way to define a niche, and break into a crowded field.”

She shares this additional advice for researching the market:

  • Talk to other instructors in the field and find out what they like, don’t like, and wish they had in a text.
  • Talk to sales reps and find out what schools are asking for.
  • Look at the websites of publishers that service your field, see what texts they have, and request desk review copies. “Then you can do a side by side comparison grid of all the available books to see where the gaps are,” she says. “You will need this for your book proposal.”
  • Review current industry literature and news in your field to learn what the emerging trends/topics are that will need to be addressed in the classroom. “Sometimes you have to be patient with this,” she says. “My industry is going through a lot of change and several years ago I identified that a new course and new text would be needed in 1-2 years, in what is a fairly standardized curriculum, to address the upcoming regulatory changes. However, when my publisher did market surveys, and they did several, instructors said they didn’t know what course they would use the book in. Although my editor had great confidence in my judgment, she could not get a book approved without the market surveys to support it. About two years later, the accrediting body for our profession said there should be a separate course on the topic, then the need for a new dedicated text was obvious and the publisher wanted it written in three months.”
  • Consider contacting publishers that are not well-established in your field and/or niche. They might be looking to develop a new product line and, if so, are likely to be more open to new authors. “When I first started working as SME for my publisher, they were in the final stages of producing their first text in my field,” she says. “Now they have 8-10. I have worked on most of the texts as a SME or contributor and authored two of them.”
  • Identify the course(s) that are offered that your proposed book would support. “There are lots of ‘good ideas’ for texts, but if there’s not a course, and not a reason an instructor or department would include your text as a required text, then there’s not much opportunity in the textbook market, at least with major publishers,” she says.