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2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 1): Deciding to write and getting the interest of a publisher

2017 TAA Textbook AwardsWe recently reached out to winners of the 2018 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about how they made the decision to write their textbook, how they interested a publisher, what they do to boost their writing confidence, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and more. We will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

This first installment of the four-part series focuses on why they decided to write their textbook, and how they got the interest of a publisher.

Q: Why did you decide to write your textbook?

Courtland L. Bovee, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Excellence in Business Communication, 12e: “At the time I wrote my first book in the field of business communication, there was nothing like the book I planned to write in terms of the use of chapter-opening vignettes, real-company examples, cases, projects, checklists, sidebars, portfolios, and Documents for Analysis.”

Joseph Feher, author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Quantitative Human Physiology: An Introduction, 2e: “I decided to write the text because there was no suitable text in existence.  I delivered lectures to the students and prepared extensive handouts that were posted on Blackboard as pdfs, and I realized that with a bit more work the assembled pdfs could become a text. It turned out to be a LOT more work.”

Heidi Neck, co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Entrepreneurship: The Practice and Mindset, 1e: “There is no shortage of textbooks in entrepreneurship, and I’m a little reluctant to admit that I haven’t used a textbook in my courses for years. None of the existing texts reflected how I teach. None inspired the development of an entrepreneurial mindset that I find so critical in entrepreneurship education. So, our author team agreed we would only a write a text that we would want to use. Mission accomplished!”

Pawan Lingras: co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Building Cross-Platform Mobile and Web Apps for Engineers and Scientists: An Active Learning Approach, 1e: “There was no book that provided comprehensive introduction to multiple technologies and topics that were covered in our book.”

Calculus for the AP Course, 2nd ed.Kathleen Miranda, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Calculus for the AP Course, 2e: “Historically, the College Board (CB) has required AP students to learn from college textbooks. Then in 2016 CB published a new Curriculum Framework precisely outlining what they expected an AP calculus student to know and understand and listing the learning objectives that would be tested. Our college calculus book was a good fit. Also, we were confident that the pedagogy, writing style, and approach of the college book would benefit high school students, as well as AP calculus teachers.

So we studied the Curriculum Framework to be sure our AP calculus text addressed each of the College Board’s calculus goals and objectives. We then did a meta-analysis of every released AP calculus exam that we could find from the last forty years. There are two calculus exams: AB and the more advanced BC. We noted what types of questions asked, the writing style used, and the frequency with which they appeared on the exams. We then wrote more than 700 AP-style questions — both multiple choice and free response. These were place within each of the sections of the text where the related learning objective is taught. We also cross referenced almost every AP-style problem with a related worked calculus example. Then we added four AP Style exam.

We were the first to integrate the new AP ideas and learning objectives, AP hints and insights, and a comprehensive set of AP style questions into a college calculus textbook without sacrificing content or rigor.”

Patrick Hester, co-author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Systemic Decision Making: Fundamentals for Addressing Problems and Messes, 2e: “My coauthor Kevin and I wrote this book because most texts on systems thinking fail to articulate what to do once you’ve thought systemically about a problem; that is, how do you actually affect positive change in a complex problem? We sought to fill this gap by writing this book.”

Braja Das, co-author of the 2018 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Principles of Geotechnical Engineering, 9e: “During my Ph.D. work at the University of Wisconsin, I was a graduate teaching assistant. I independently taught 2 sections of the undergraduate soil mechanics course (September 1969-December 1971). At that time, there was no textbook that adequately covered the material, so I had to supplement with handouts.

In 1975 I was appointed as Assistant Professor at South Dakota State University. The department chair promised me one month’s teaching salary for that first summer. However, in April 1976 he informed me that there was no money left so I would not receive the one-month summer salary which had been promised. Fortunately, we had saved enough during the school year so we could take care of our basic necessities through the summer. I then promised my wife and our 2-year-old daughter that I would spend the summer writing a textbook that would provide enough money; thereby we would not have to worry about summer teaching in the future. During the summer of 1976, I spent at least eight hours writing every day. At night, after putting our daughter to bed, my wife spent at least five hours editing and typing the manuscript on a manual typewriter. I’d get up and take care of our daughter until my wife got up. The original manuscript was finished in May 1977.

So the decision to write the textbook was two-fold – financial security and to develop a textbook compatible with the sequential technical material covered in the course.”

Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing, 2nd ed.Patricia Goodson, author of the 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing, 2e: “I wrote the book for two simple reasons: to organize many disparate strategies for improving one’s writing habit, and to force myself to articulate the theory (or theories) explaining why those strategies worked so well.

The book also represented a logistic solution to my having to repeat myself, so many times, in classes, seminars, and workshops. If I had a text and someone was unable to attend any of these events, I could point them to the book and say, ‘It’s all there! Take a look.’”

Alan Rothwell, author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Optimization Methods in Structural Design, 1e: “There are some excellent, advanced level books on the subject matter, but these are mostly not so readily accessible to students and others. The aim was to bridge this gap, and encourage the use of optimization methods both in structural design and as a general purpose design tool.” 

Joan Saslow, co-author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Summit: English for Today’s World (Levels 1 and 2), 3e: “My coauthor and I have taught English as a Foreign Language and English as a Second Language for our entire professional lives. We have both felt that the textbooks and other learning materials that were available to us didn’t provide students with enough memorable models of English vocabulary, grammar, or social language for them to observe the language; enough opportunity to practice the language within the classroom for them to master it; or enough recycling of language to make the language memorable and easy to access in spontaneous use outside of class. We were determined to create materials that provided all that so that teachers wouldn’t have to supplement the lessons from their textbooks and could instead concentrate on directing and managing practice that makes new language unforgettable.”

A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology, 5th ed.Sara Baase, co-author of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology, 5e: “I wrote A Gift of Fire (the first edition in 1995!) because there were no books in the field and I thought it was important for computer science students to understand the social and ethical context of their work.  I believe there was a small book on ‘computer ethics’ at the time, but I wanted a broader coverage of topics and perspectives.  Also, I have a strong preference for basing judgments on principles that a person is willing to apply consistently, whether he or she agrees with the result in a particular case. I try to choose examples throughout the book to emphasize this.”

Maria Dove and Andrea Honigsfeld, co-authors of 2018 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Co-Teaching for English Learners, 1e: “We had written a very well-received book on collaboration and coteaching for English learners in 2010. It was our first book ever and when it became a Corwin Press bestseller we knew we were on to something that is underrepresented in the professional development literature. We continued to research the topic and edited a research volume as well as coauthored a leadership companion book to support the implementation of a collaborative, integrated model of instruction for ELs. We found that teachers and administrators still had questions about the practice collaboration and coteaching for English learners. This new book answers questions such as how to engage in all phases of a collaborative, integrated instructional cycle consisting of coplanning, coteaching, coassessing, and reflection.”

Q: How did you decide which publishers to approach with your textbook idea? Can you share any tips for selecting a publisher?

Bovee: “Try to find a publisher who currently doesn’t have a leading textbook for the niche for which you’re writing. In today’s publishing environment, this is much more challenging than it was years ago.”

Feher: “I looked at what else publishers published, and submitted ideas to them. I was rejected a half a dozen times before I found success.”

Neck: “We looked for a publisher who was willing to consider the authors as a partner in the publishing process and willing to consider the authors’ input on all matters. We were also looking for a publisher with an international reputation and a marketing team who would truly promote our book to all relevant potential adopters.”

Lingras: “This was my third textbook, so I went with the publisher who had been supportive in the past. Our initial decision was based on the the fact that this publisher was committed to ensuring quality of the content.”

Miranda: “We had recently (2014) published a calculus text with WH Freeman. It was in the long-range plan that the book could be marketed to the high school market. But then in the Fall 2016, the publisher from Bedford Freeman and Worth approached us and said, ‘Let’s write an AP calculus book!’ focused exclusively on the high school market. We were lucky. BFW wanted our book.”

Psychology and Work, 1st ed.Donald Truxillo, co-author of the 2018 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Psychology and Work, 1e: “One of our team was approached by the publisher after she won a teaching award for this area of study. It was a house that publishes a lot in our field and with which we were somewhat familiar, so it was a natural fit.”

Hester: “A colleague of ours was the editor for a Springer book series. We floated the idea by him and he loved it. But, we still had to do our market research and develop a compelling proposal that would be accepted by Spriger’s Editorial team. Making the case as to why your book is important and unique is the most important thing you can do, in my opinion.”

Das: “I did not have much of a choice. Due to the drastic change in the style and sequence of presentation that I put forth in the text, no major publishing company in the U.S. wanted to publish the book. Finally Iowa State University Press published the book – Introduction to Soil Mechanics – in 1979 in a camera-ready form. It did not sell very well. After about three years, I convinced the publisher to either publish a second edition in a better form or return the copyright to me. They chose the latter. At that time, Brooks Cole (Thomson/Cengage) was a startup publisher in engineering. They agreed to publish the book as Principles of Geotechnical Engineering. It was published in 1984 (1985 copyright). In about two years it became the best seller in the U.S. It is now probably the top seller in geotechnical engineering around the world with translations into Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, etc. Lesson Learned: Quality of production matters.”

Goodson: “SAGE is a reputable publisher in the social sciences, and I knew I wanted to publish with a respectable publishing house. What really helped, however, was having an initial contact at SAGE who, then referred me to another editor. The initial contact was the editor of a colleague’s book. But my book didn’t fall into that editor’s section so, because of the personal connections, this first editor referred me to the appropriate person.

My only tip for selecting a publisher is to contact several acquisition editors at different places (after developing a draft of the book proposal) and seeing who is interested. Having a connection with a network of academic writers (TAA to the rescue!) also helps tremendously. Ask colleagues who have published, if: a) they would recommend their publisher, and b) if they would recommend, would they help facilitate the initial contact.”

Rothwell: “The publisher (and other publishers later absorbed into the company) are well known to me through the many books in my field that I am familiar with. By ‘printing on demand’ and as an e-book, I hope that the book will remain available over a longer period of time. The book was quickly accepted by my first chosen publisher, on the basis of a partly completed text, so it was not necessary to approach other publishers.”

Saslow: “We believe an important tip for selecting a publisher or accepting an offer of publication is finding out where (geographically) and in which market segments a publisher has been successful. Some of this can be learned at professional conferences and from consulting with educators who purchase textbooks. Equally important is the quality of the marketing and sales staff of a potential publisher. The support of a knowledgable, competent, and confident sales and marketing staff is essential to maximum distribution and consequent sales.”

Dove and Honigsfeld: “We have had a long standing partnership with Corwin Press, they have published all our previous books on this topic so it made sense to stay with the publisher. Our tip to textbook and academic authors is to build a strong relationship with your editor and the publisher that you have already started working with.”

View all of the 2018 Textbook Award winners

Read the second installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software

Read the third installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 3): Pedagogy and marketing involvement

Read the fourth installment in this series: 2018 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 4): What they wish they had known before they started, writing advice