Who can I get to write that chapter?

Woman thinkingYou are all set. The approach to your topic is inspired. A firm table of contents has been finalized. Your book proposal is great. And you now have a contract with a respected publisher!

But, who is going to do all this writing? You have probably carved out specific chapters that you will write. You may have spoken with some colleagues that like the project and said they would be glad to help out. You have a list of likely people to write other key chapters, but you will need more contributors. How do you go about identifying and asking people to contribute to your book?

Some of the initial points to consider are:

  • Would I rather have fewer contributors with each writing several chapters or more contributors writing just one each? The first means easier logistics but less diversity of opinions. The second means more running around but a more impressive list of contributors associated with the work.
  • Is it better to ask a more junior person who will likely meet your deadline and show greater enthusiasm for the project, or to ask a senior colleague who may not produce or may simply recycle old work?
  • Will you ask only people known to you or will you take suggestions from colleagues about people who you may know only from a literature search?
  • What will be your policy when someone who has agreed to write a chapter either goes MIA or does not deliver? When will you pull the plug?

Finding the right people on a contributed or edited textbook can make all the difference to the final work. Here are some ideas for finding possible contributors:

  • Your personal connections will be your best source.
  • Next are your close colleagues and friends.
  • After this, turn to related textbooks and look at who contributed to those books.
  • Look at speakers at national meetings.
  • A literature search on your topic will likely yield a laundry list of possible contributors.
  • Posting on a Listserv or Discussion Board should give some possible volunteers.
  • Don’t forget to consider related professions as possible contributors.
  • Review faculty listings at leading institutions in your area for potential writers.

When you issue an invitation to write, be very specific. Give the exact details of your project, the exact topic you want them to cover (but also indicate a willingness to consider modifications), an exact submission date, specific word and figure counts, and formatting expectations. Also, make sure you outline when you need to hear from them about the invitation. If possible, make the invitation personal. In fact, a phone call would be best (followed up with an email), but that may not be practical for all invitees. If you sense any hesitancy, particularly with the deadline, explore their concerns.

An All-Star lineup in a textbook can add muscle to the marketing. But non-producers can slow down a book to the point of endangering its coming to fruition. Think through your plan ahead of time. You, your publisher, and the reader will be glad you did.

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting and the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” He has been in scholarly publishing for 30 years. In his career, he has directed the publishing of over 500 book titles and 20,000 journal articles. Contact him at jbond@riverwindsconsulting.com.