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Preparing for ripples, waves, and tsunamis in textbook and academic publishing

wavesRecently, we’ve seen shifts from print to digital, the rise of open educational resources and open-access journals, the consolidation of large publishers into mega-publishers, fundamental changes in how authors are compensated, and other significant changes to the nature of authoring. As we wait to see which of the ripples coming over the horizon dissipate and which become large—perhaps overwhelming—waves, what can we authors do to remain afloat?

Three main strategies can help academic and textbook authors continue to succeed as changes in textbooks, journals, or scholarly publications come along: vigilance, honing core skills, and agility.


Honestly, I’ve not been too surprised by some of the sea changes we’ve seen recently. Why? Because I’ve been vigilant. I expect change, and continually look for early signs of change by keeping up with how teachers teach and how students learn—paying close attention to changes in attitudes and practices. Watching and asking questions of students and colleagues is a start, as is doing the same with friends in the textbook industry. I stay connected to organizations that report and analyze trends in both education and publishing, as well as other media undergoing changes that may spill over to textbooks.

Developing a “what if?” practice—imagining what could happen next and what is likely to happen next—helps me prepare for different possibilities I may eventually face. For example, if I can find out how composers thrive in the age of iTunes and how screenwriters flourish in the age of Netflix, I may be better prepared for the age of textbook subscriptions.

Honing core skills

Another way to be ready for change is to focus on my core skills: subject-matter expertise, teaching, and writing-editing. If I keep improving these skills, keeping them state-of-the-art and ready to sail, I can roll with nearly any wave of change that hits me. Whether I’m a print author or a digital author, get paid per unit or by subscription, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether I can still communicate my expertise to readers effectively.

Keeping up with new knowledge and trends in my subject gets harder as this information age expands, so I need to continually work on my skills to stay connected to my discipline through digital and personal networking and finding ways to effectively filter and capture relevant information. I strive to improve my writing-editing skills in workshops and by professional feedback or coaching. Another strategy is to look for new content channels and dive into them, even if only as a consumer, thereby learning new skills and tactical approaches.


The third key strategy in preparing for coming change is to maintain my agility. Change is coming—it always has and it always will. But if I’m agile, being able to move quickly and with nimbleness, I can ride the waves of change. I can be resilient enough to adapt.

I’ve been writing textbooks for over 30 years and such agility tends to wane with each passing year—as I get more entrenched in “what always worked” in the past. But I can intentionally refocus my attitude when I feel a shift in the tide, and ride with the tidal current rather than resist it. I can bring all my core skills to bear—plus what I’ve seen by being vigilant—and find ways to adapt.

Agility may also require taking on new or changed roles to succeed as an academic author. For example, I’ve taken responsibility for managing my own professional brand by learning new skills and performing previously unfamiliar tasks. I’ve been learning more about my options and potential roles as an author within diverse and overlapping publishing strategies, such open access, self-publishing, digital books, personalized and adaptive learning tools, etc. My efforts to learn how to better serve those with challenges such as physical and mental impairments, social barriers, and learning in a new language not only make my current authorship more effective, they also give me practice in expanding my skills and roles. I’m learning to adapt to change. If I’m accustomed to shifting responsibilities and modes of practice, then I’ll be more likely to adapt successfully as publishing evolves—with much less danger of drowning.

TAA also helps me stay vigilant, competent, and agile by enabling me to connect with peers and experts who can show me the moves I need make, help me focus on my core mission as an author, guide me in identifying and grasping opportunities, and encourage me to keep the positive attitude and realistic perspective that will maintain my buoyancy as I ride the waves. That’s why I go to TAA conferences, why I read the newsletter and blog, why I participate in webinars, and why I stay connected to TAA.

Let’s keep watch together and help each other stay afloat!

Kevin Patton is an award-winning educator and textbook author in human anatomy & physiology. In his fourth decade of textbook authorship, Kevin is also an active professor, blogger, podcaster, and speaker with a strong interest in the art and science of teaching. For more of Kevin’s tips, visit