2019 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 4): What they wish they had known before they started, writing advice
A few weeks ago, we reached out to winners of the 2019 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about their textbook writing. We had so many great responses we decided to create a five-part series to share them. The first installment focused on why they decided to write their textbook, and how they got started. The second installment focused on what they do to boost their confidence as a writer, how they fit writing time into their schedule, and what software they use. The third installment focused on which pedagogical elements in their textbook they are most proud of, and what involvement they have had in marketing their book.
This fourth installment in the five-part series focuses on what they wish they had known before they started, and advice for other authors.
Q: What did you learn in the process of writing a textbook that you wish you had known before you started?
Maxine P. Atkinson, co-author of the 2019 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Sociology in Action, 1e: “There are so many people involved in the production of a text!”
Ralph G. Carter, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, IR: International, Economic, and Human Security in a Changing World, 3e: “how painstaking one must be”
Dave Dillon, author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Blueprint for Success in College and Career, 1e: “How challenging it is and how time consuming it is.”
Nicole M. Gage, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience: A Beginner’s Guide, 2e: “This is a huge question! I no longer write in collaboration because the work is only as strong and as deliverable as the weakest and slowest contributor. We began with an edited book with a dozen chapter authors and it was a challenge to complete the task. Organization of the ms process is almost as important as the creation of the material. Next, the production team has to be spot-on precise with the submission and proofing stages.”
Mary Ellen Guffey, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Essentials of Business Communication, 11e: “I learned that there is never a writing problem that the author cannot solve; it just takes a while to think it through carefully and perhaps rearranging ideas until the best strategy dawns on you. The author has total control.”
Thomas Heinzen and Wind Goodfriend, co-authors of the 2019 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Social Psychology, 1e: “Subsequent editions cannot be taken for granted; they just require a different kind of work.”
John Hennessy, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, 6e: “That the last 10% of the work takes almost as much time as the previous 90%!”
Timothy Henry, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Data Structures and Abstractions with Java, 5e: “The final steps with manuscripts and final proof copies.”
Milan Jirásek, co-author of the 2019 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Creep and Hygrothermal Effects in Concrete Structures, 1e: “I wish I had known how to work faster, but I still do not know it.”
Dana Loewy, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Essentials of Business Communication, 11e: “That it’s crucial to hire the best lawyer I can get for contractual reasons, so that my interests are fairly represented.”
Robert (Bob) W. Lucas, author of the 2019 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Customer Service Skills for Success, 7e: “Academic writing is different from trade book writing. Your voice (e.g. 1st vs. 3rd person) differs. I like to write to the reader (e.g. “You” can benefit vs. “Users” can benefit from…). Academic writing takes a more impersonal approach of presenting facts and details and is less emotional in most cases. I have to adapt my style when working on a textbook.”
Matt Metzger, co-author of the 2019 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Attainable Region Theory: An Introduction to Choosing an Optimal Reactor, 1e: “It’s not that hard but it takes time”
David Patterson, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, 6e: “I wish Pearson Writer had existed when we started. Amazingly good advice on writing style as well as catching grammatical and spelling errors.”
Robert L. Zimdahl, author of the 2019 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Fundamentals of Weed Science, 5e: “How much time it takes. There is no such thing as good writing. Good writing results from rewriting, perhaps several times.”
Q: What advice can you share with aspiring textbook authors?
Atkinson: “Be sure this is a calling for you. You are not likely to earn much money.”
Frank M. Carrano, co-author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Data Structures and Abstractions with Java, 5e: “Write a book that you would want use if you were a student.”
Carter: “get a proposal written, shop it to publishers, and be open to their suggestions and input”
Dillon: “Attend the TAA Conference!”
Gage: “Attend TAA every year, attend any workshops in your area, and read a well-reviewed textbook that is not in your field of expertise and examine how well you are able to grasp the new information — what techniques does the author employ to make the information tenable and approachable for you? How can you adapt those techniques to your textbook?”
Guffey: “Start every chapter with an outline of 4 to 6 main points (objectives), and continually refer to it and update it as you write. The outline will help you see immediately if your organization is faulty.”
Massimo Guiggiani, author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, The Science of Vehicle Dynamics: Handling, Braking, and Ride of Road and Race Cars, 2e: “Write a new book if it is really original.”
Heinzen and Goodfriend: “You must love rewriting.”
Hennessy: “Decide what your big picture objectives are: what are the 5-10 things that every student should know. Use examples and figures whenever possible. Writing is rewriting. Get a great coauthor and push each other to do better!”
Henry: “Protect your writing time the way you protect class time in your schedule.”
Jirásek: “Be aware that the project will take three times more time than you expect.”
Loewy: “Writing textbooks is not as simple as it may seem to some. I call it ‘writing in a straightjacket,’ highly structured, concise, clear, disciplined writing. The more effortless the prose seems, the harder it was to craft it.”
Lucas: “Learn the craft of writing and publishing, get involved in writing, publishing, and critique groups, and become visible (e.g. write and publish articles, be active online through blogs and social media, speak to groups to hone that skill, train others, be active in professional groups on committees and boards, and network regularly with other writers and professionals in your specialty). Publishers look for all of these things when you approach them with a proposal.”
Metzger: “Involve others in any aspect of the process. Outlining, drafting, reviewing, proofing, etc.”
Patterson: “Be sure you make the book high enough priority that you can finish a draft in 6 to 12 months. If you don’t, you’ll have to rewrite what you’ve already completed as things can change. It’s also a lot easier if you have a co-author that you don’t want to disappoint by missing self-imposed deadlines as well as having someone to bounce ideas off of and give you critical feedback on early drafts.”
Andrew Pennock, author of the 2019 Textbook Excellence Award winner, The CQ Press Guide to Writing in Public Policy, 1e: “- Have conversations early with publishers and be prepared. Ask around to see what proposals look like and do your due diligence about why your textbook is the right one.
– Think strategically about which press to sign with. Is the prestige of a largely academic press important to you or would the reach of a major textbook press be better?
– Attend a TAA conference. It was enormously affirming to see a community of people interested in helping students learn through writing textbooks. Attending helped me see that I could write a textbook, just like these people.”
Zimdahl: “Allow plenty of time. Be prepared for harsh, but helpful reviews. Don’t expect academic writing to make a lot of money. Don’t anticipate abundant praise from your colleagues.”
Read the first installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 1): Deciding to write and getting the interest of a publisher
Read the second installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Boosting writing confidence, scheduling writing time, software
Read the third installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 3): Pedagogy and marketing involvement
Read the fifth installment in this series: Textbook award-winning insight (Part 5): Key to textbook longevity, preparing for the next edition