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Success, secrets, and finding our way! The inside story of TAA authors’ development

TAA authors' development processHow do TAA authors find their way through a complex and ever-changing maze of writing and publishing? In April 2018, we asked TAA authors, via an online survey and follow-up interviews, to share their experiences in writing and publishing. From 139 survey responses and 12 interviews, we gained rich and insightful descriptions of TAA authors’ writing and publishing journey. We learned about: pitfalls and challenges that can be avoided as authors write and publish books, what authors wish they had known before beginning the book-writing process, and the top three strategies TAA authors leveraged to improve their skills.

To share TAA authors’ experiences and wisdom with you, this blog post reveals some of their pitfalls, lessons, and strategies for writing and publishing textbooks and academic books.

Learn about textbook and academic publication contracts. 

One major pitfall for authors was not knowing what a publishing contract should entail. While authors were extremely proficient in their writing skills and their field of study, they often lacked the knowledge needed to prevent them from signing a contract that wasn’t in their best interest. Have you had successful experiences with book contract negotiations? Do you know what should be included and of which items to be cautious? What about specific terms and conditions, rights, and forms of distribution?  Most of the interviewed authors learned the importance of negotiating a good contract through trial and error.

Remember, contract conditions remain throughout your life (and sometimes the life of your heirs, too). As such, contract negotiation is an exceedingly important and valuable skill to learn before signing a contract. Rather than hoping the contract will be written in your favor, simply search the internet for advice. Better yet, the optimal strategy is to determine what you want to be included in your contract and learn to negotiate before you agree to it. Participants in the study mentioned TAA’s valuable online contract resources available such as the contract publications and workshops, and opportunities to apply for a contract review grant.

One way to deal with confusing contracts or difficult negotiations is to retain a lawyer. Almost all authors we interviewed hired a lawyer not necessarily to take legal action, but to provide education about working within or altering their current contract. Hiring a lawyer may seem like a large up-front cost, but it is far more difficult (if not impossible) to change an already signed contract. If your book is successful, a contract written in your favor will be more than worth the time and cost of working with a lawyer. As one author’s lawyer said, “Pay me now or pay me later, but it’s going to cost you more later.”

Get your message out there. The book won’t sell itself!

Don’t assume that the publisher will do all the marketing for you. While book representatives may be instrumental in helping to sell your book, you also need to be involved. You are your best advocate for your book’s promotion. It is also important to note the differences between textbook and academic book marketing. While textbook publishers might have sales representatives to help market your book (among hundreds, if not thousands, of books), most academic books are promoted solely through online sites, trade shows, and email and postal mailings. When you are involved in your book’s promotion, potential readers/adopters notice.

In addition, learning how to market yourself is good professional development that will provide more opportunities in the future. Authors found that they had to become entrepreneurs – something they weren’t all comfortable with – but the time and effort they invested in promoting their book benefitted them in two ways. First, authors saw more book sales. Second, they were asked to collaborate with others more frequently. Additional writing projects often developed as more people learned of authors’ academic skills and their desire to write.

To promote yourself, meet with your readers, build their trust, and respond to their questions. Authors described the value of interacting and engaging with readers through blogs, podcasts, workshops, and conference presentations to gain insight and guide their further writing projects. Since there are many ways to engage in self-promotion, it is important to find what you are comfortable with, what is appropriate for your readers and subject, and what fits your limited time and fiscal resources.  

Build a community of support into your writing process.

Writing doesn’t have to be isolating, but it sure can be! Authors who didn’t build a community of support generally found the process of writing and publishing to be a lonely, isolating experience. To avoid this, they found success in forming writing groups (in-person or virtual), developing an accountability relationship, and/or creating a local writing community. The focus of these efforts is to build incentive, motivation, and support into your writing routine through social interaction.

Regardless of the type of support you prefer, make sure to have at least one person with whom to discuss your authoring progress on a regular basis.Whether you communicate with a senior author who can serve as a mentor, a colleague who has experienced the process, or a coauthor who can commiserate amidst the struggle, you need someone who “gets it” and who can encourage you to persist. There are times when authors need to discuss their challenges, frustrations, and struggles with others who understand the experience firsthand, with whom they can swap horror stories, and laugh about it when the strife settles. Many authors mentioned that TAA has been a great forum for finding and connecting with others, whether at a conference, virtually, or remotely.

Bonus: Leverage TAA’s community, information, and resources to help you through the authoring process.

The authors also mentioned the value of TAA in their writing experience. Specifically, TAA has an experienced and welcoming community of authors as well as information and resources to help you learn about contracts, understand the many ways to market yourself, form a writing community, and survive the storms of the writing journey. The authors we interviewed leveraged TAA’s members and resources, which helped them successfully author and publish their books. Many authors only regret not finding the association sooner.  

The Authors’ Journey: Continued Learning

The authors we spoke with shared a developmental journey of continued learning. During their efforts to write, they experienced changes in technology, publishing, and even their readers. Therefore, these lessons illustrate how the authors continued to learn, develop, and adapt to the relentless challenges they encountered. In the process, they became better writers, understood contracts, marketing, their changing roles, and their readers. With time, they developed into proficient and successful authors, and many now also serve as mentors. Opportunities for community, learning, support, and mentoring surround us as academic and textbook authors. We need to be proactive: reach out and ask, so TAA and your colleagues can be part of your successful journey.

Lauren RemenickLauren Remenick is a graduate assistant and doctoral candidate in the PhD Education, Higher Education and Policy Studies track at University of Central Florida, Orlando. Lauren has published research in outdoor adult education. In addition to her current research exploring writer development, she is exploring the experiences of nontraditional students in higher education institutions. She earned her Master’s in Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University.

Dr. Kathleen P. KingKathleen P. King, EdD, is Professor of Higher Education, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL. Kathy’s major areas of research and expertise include transformative learning, instructional technology innovations, leadership, international education, faculty development, and diversity. She has been a professor of adult and higher education for over 20 years at such institutions as Fordham University, New York, NY, and University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. Her most recent book, Technology, Innovation and Adult Learning, earned a Textbook Excellence Award from TAA in 2018.