2020 Textbook award-winning insight (Part 2): Strategies, environment, and lessons

TAA Textbook AwardsWe recently reached out to winners of the 2020 TAA Textbook Awards and asked them to answer some questions about why they made the decision to write their textbook, strategies they used for successful writing, advice on contracts, editing, marketing, co-authoring, and more. We will be sharing their answers in a series of posts over the next few weeks.

This second installment of the five-part series focuses on strategies for successful writing. We asked the authors to share their time management, productivity, pedagogical, and environmental approaches for success as well as what they learned in the writing process that they wish they had known before starting.

What time management or productivity strategies have been particularly successful for you?

Talya Bauer, co-author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Human Resource Management: People, Data, and Analytics, 1e: “Writing a book is a big project. The key is to be disciplined in terms of approaching the project.”

Women Leading Change in Academia: Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Cliff, and Slipper, 1st ed.Amy E. Bonomi, co-author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Women Leading Change in Academia: Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Cliff and Slipper, 1e: “1) Writing in the morning, 2) Using strategies to ensure efficiency in my day (e.g, making coffee the night before), 3) Starting the day by journaling, meditating and doing yoga, 4) Saying ‘no’ to activities that are only tangentially related to my work.”

David Caughlin, co-author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Human Resource Management: People, Data, and Analytics, 1e: “Writing the first complete draft of each chapter took approximately 80 hours of focused work. Knowing that helped me to have more realistic expectations around the timeline for writing each chapter.”

David Clark, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Molecular Biology, 3e: “I’m not terribly good at this. I need to make lots of lists and tick things off. I also do a lot better with an editor demanding to see results.”

Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6th ed.Jeffrey Conte, author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6e: “I try to find blocks of time to write on certain days. During the heavy writing stages of a revision, I spend at least 4 hours writing every day.”

Braja Das, co-author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Principles of Foundation Engineering, 9e: “I write books every day between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Time management is important.”

David Hall, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Oklahoma Studies Weekly – Our State, 7th Volume, 2e: “Our product is split into weekly units which helps break a project up. I would expect breaking a textbook up by chapters would be similar.”

The UX Book: Agile UX Design for a Quality User Experience, 2nd ed.Rex Hartson, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, The UX Book: Agile UX Design for a Quality User Experience, 2e: “I try to reserve a few hours each morning as a writing discipline. I also take chapter drafts to review when I know I will have to be waiting (e.g., for a doctor or car service).”

Paul Insel, co-author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Core Concepts in Health, 16e: “Writing something in the morning, everyday.”

Laura Levine, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Child Development From Infancy to Adolescence: An Active Learning Approach, 2e: “Always stay ahead of the curve. When you feel like working on the book, stick with it and get ahead of your actual deadlines.”

Tall: the design and construction of high-rise architecture, 1st ed.Guy Marriage, author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Tall: the Design and Construction of High-Rise Architecture, 1e: “Write. Make a list of chapter titles and topic titles and then go to it, ticking them off your list as you go. Revise and edit your work time and time again. The more you edit it the better it gets. But first, all you need to do is write.”

Joyce Munsch, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Child Development From Infancy to Adolescence: An Active Learning Approach, 2e: “At the beginning of a project, we establish a timeline for our writing and both my co-author and I adhere to the timeline throughout the process.”

Andrew Pomerantz, author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, My Psychology, 2e: “Setting aside significant time to write, and sticking (as much as possible) to any schedule I determine for myself.”

Nutrition for a Changing World, 2nd ed.Jamie Pope, co-author of the 2020 Textbook Excellence Award winner, Nutrition for a Changing World, 2e: “Having established deadlines helps keep me on track – knowing that my work and timeliness impacts others and helps keep project on track and on time. Trying to focus on one chapter or ‘assignment’ at a time – completing that as much as possible. I break down tasks into more manageable parts and make a list I can check off and feel good about. Try to identify start and stopping points so can easily pick up where I left off…”

Cheryl Poth, author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Innovation in Mixed Methods Research, 1e: “Booking time in my calendar at the beginning of the term – then when I ‘have’ to give up a block of writing time then at least I am cognizant!”

David Royse, author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Research Methods in Social Work, 8e: “I like to get up early when the house is quiet and to give myself a block of time like 2-4 hours.”

Consumer Behavior:  Buying, Having and Being, 13th ed.Michael Solomon, author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being, 13e: “Discipline and meticulous (i.e., obsessive) organization are paramount.”

Michael Sullivan, author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, Precalculus, 11e: “I always set aside large blocks of time to write–at least four hours.”

Dengsheng Zhang, author of the 2020 Most Promising New Textbook Award winner, Fundamentals of Image Data Mining, 1e: “Block time.”

Which pedagogical elements in your textbook are you most proud of?

Human Resource Management: People, Data, and Analytics, 1st ed.Bauer: “Our data analysis hands-on Excel exercises were something new and something we are really proud of as well as our opening cases and spotlights on legal, ethical, small business, privacy and data analytics issues.”

Bonomi: “Applied, translational focus provides information about the experiences of women leaders and strategies for success.”

Caughlin: “Spotlights and exercises related to HR analytics and HRIS.”

Clark: “Keeping the diagrams uncluttered and trying to use each separate figure to explain a single concept.”

Conte: “I am most proud of the modules in my textbook. The modules break the textbook down into smaller units (3-5 per chapter) that provide easier reading assignments for students and increased flexibility of assignments for instructors.”

Principles of Foundation Engineering, 9th Ed.Das: “It is student friendly — not to impress fellow professors.”

Hall: “Our blend of art with text.”

Hartson: “That the book is organized around specific activities that readers can perform alone or in a team.”

Insel: “Telling a story.”

Levine: “The Active Learning features that engage students while they are reading the text.”

An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications, 4th ed.Ming Li, co-author of the 2020 McGuffey Longevity Award winner, An Introduction to Kolmogorov Complexity and Its Applications, 4e: “Theory and applications together.”

Marriage: “Breaking it down into chunks that the students can understand. Simple, friendly writing style that students can understand and digest the meaning of.”

Munsch: “Definitely the active learning approach in our texts. In each chapter that are multiple activities embedded within the text itself that ask students to test their current understanding of a topic, reflect on their personal experiences, compare their experiences with those of their peers, or conduct simple research activities with children or adolescents. It is our hope that this more effectively draws students into actually doing the activities than the boxes typically used in text, and doing the activities reinforces their reading.”My Psychology, 2nd ed.

Pomerantz: “Technology-based elements, including Chapter Apps and My Take videos, that facilitate student learning by meeting them where they are (on smartphones, computers, and other devices); emphasis on diversity throughout the textbook; and recurring text boxes that highlight the ways psychology is relevant to students’ personal lives.”

Pope: “We try to give the content/science context within a ‘story’ that helps frame concepts and enhance engagement. Our learning objectives are linked to infographics – overall the organization and flow really seem to work especially in the newest edition.”

Poth: “Visuals – summary tables, figures.”

Research Methods in Social Work, 8th ed.Royse: “The most creative one is the use of fictional characters in my chapters who must wrestle with some of the same content that students must learn in the textbook.”

Solomon: “I’m most proud that I have included contributions from numerous colleagues in the book. In addition, for each new edition I write to 100 colleagues to request papers in press so I can assure that I’m covering what is current when the book actually publishes.”

Zhang: “Research.”

Can you describe your office set up? How does your writing environment contribute to your success as a writer?

Bauer: “As long as I have access to my research, a computer, and a desk, I can work.”

Bonomi: “House with totally open concept — located on 10 acres of forest — with 30-foot peaks/ceilings creates an openness and expansiveness for writing.”

Caughlin: “My home office includes a large desk, a large monitor, a notepad, and whatever books or articles I am reviewing when writing a chapter. My writing environment is bare bones, which helps free me from distractions.”

Molecular Biology, 3rd ed.Clark: “I have quite a roomy office at my university. It’s in a relatively quiet building. I think having other faculty around, even though very few are writing books, makes me feel it is a work environment. I find it hard to get much done on my home computer even when I have time.

The desks are arranged in a large L shape. I use a Mac with two extra screens. I write on one, put source material or diagrams on the others.”

Conte: “I do most of my textbook writing at my home office. It is usually fairly neat and organized, but becomes filled with many open articles and books during the heaviest writing and revising times.”

Das: “This is my book and research paper writing office in my home (since I am retired):

Braja Das' Office

Oklahoma Studies Weekly - Our State, 2nd Edition, 7th VolumeHall: “We are split into teams, a curriculum specialist to make sure it is covering standards, an editor to make sure it is in proper English, designers and online editors. We all write and create the publication together.”

Hartson: “I have my PC on a stand-up desk, to protect my posture and my back. I have a desk and a work table. The work table has a large work surface so I can move notes around to organize them. I have file folders on shelves above the work table to organize the material by chapter.”

Insel: “I have two rooms divided by a window. The front office is shared by two people who work for me part-time. The wall behind me are all windows. It looks onto Redwood City buildings and streets from the 6th floor.”

Child Development From Infancy to Adolescence: An Active Learning Approach, 2nd ed.Levine: “I am writing from home, either in my home office or at the kitchen table. Being able to write whenever I can find the time, whether for hours or for a short time is important.”

Li: “My University of Waterloo office, about 10 square meters.”

Marriage: “I can’t write from my office. I have a house at the beach with nothing to disturb me except the birds and the sea. Works for me. Office spaces are not creative.”

Munsch: “I do have a dedicated office. It is comfortable and quiet and lets me stay focused on my writing.”

Pomerantz: “I actually find it beneficial to write in different locations on different days.”

Pope: “I have a home office with lots of light and do my work at a treadmill desk that is set up with two monitors and at a height that make it easy to walk and work (around 2.5 miles/hour, but still moving!) or use as a standing desk. I get stiff and sleepy when I sit!”

Innovation in Mixed Methods Research, 1st ed.Poth: “I have a large window which gives me a good look at the outside world and motivation!”

Royse: “I don’t share my office with anyone else…just a large desk with my laptop and a printer close by…a window to my right.”

Solomon: “My office is my sanctuary. It overlooks the water, and I can really concentrate (most of the time) when I’m working there.”

Sullivan: “Most of my books were written at the dining room table. I remember sitting there in the morning as my kids went off to school. They returned in late afternoon to still find me at the dining room table with a rather full paper bag of crumpled paper representing failed efforts.”

Fundamentals of Image Data Mining, 1st ed.Zhang: “Laptop, that’s all.”

What did you learn in the process of writing a textbook that you wish you had known before you started?

Bauer: “How many steps are involved with getting a textbook published.”

Bonomi: “1) Clarify what the book design will look like with the punisher, 2) Allow the book design to, in part, inform how long each chapter is, 3) Establish clear back up plans when chapter authors are unable to complete their assignment.”

Caughlin: “It took much longer than I anticipated and getting the first chapter started was the most difficult part.”

Clark: “Perhaps the thing that caused most aggravation was dealing with artwork. How to find useful diagrams and dealing with copyright, permissions etc. and who exactly is responsible for which part of this process. Part of the problem is that this area has constantly changed over the years since I began writing.”

Conte: “I learned that authors should accept that they will never feel like they have satisfactorily finished their textbook or a revision. Instead, authors must accept that they will run out of time when the manuscript is due to their publisher.”

Hartson: “It is very important as you approach production with a publisher that you don’t assume they will do the right thing. You need to monitor and review every single step to be sure it’s right. We’ve had them typesetting the wrong versions, completely messing up the indexing, and lots of other fiascoes that could have been avoided if we had paid more attention to production details.”

Core Concepts in Health, 16th ed.Insel: “How important good organizing is.”

Marriage: “That it was possible. I always thought that someone else would have written the book. Then I realized it was up to me.”

Munsch: “I don’t think you can realistically know how much time and effort it will take to write a text, but it also is very rewarding when you are done. I also didn’t know how many people at our publishing company would be involved in the process after the writing itself was done.”

Pomerantz: “The time investment was much greater than I originally anticipated.”

Pope: “Honestly – just how much work and time it requires. Textbook writing is an ongoing process that requires continual attention to what is coming out in your field (and thus for next update or edition) and involvement/support of your editorial and marketing team. What the market wants is a big part of how a textbook evolves and a huge determinant of its ‘success’.”

Precalculus, 11th ed.Poth: “That you don’t have to know exactly what you will write until you are finished!”

Royse: “Sometimes when being so focused on writing the content, it is hard to see the components of the book from 30,000 feet–as a student or possible adopter might view it.”

Solomon: “I learned to organize mass amounts of information. When I started writing in 1989, we didn’t have all of the great organizational tools that authors have now such as social bookmarking sites and even computers!”

Sullivan: “I’m still learning things I wish I had known earlier.”

Be sure to check out the advice in other articles in this series: