Your textbook isn’t being revised. Now what?
If your standard textbook revision cycle has come and gone, it doesn’t automatically mean that you aren’t being revised, and you can’t expect that your publisher will reach out to you either, so you’ll need to ask, says Donna Battista, vice president of content strategy for Top Hat.
“Get in touch with your publisher and just ask directly,” she says. “I think it’s always good practice to start from the perspective that everybody is going to work in good faith. Nobody wants to squat on your rights.”
Start with reviewing the revision clause in your contract to see what your options are, but if the publisher doesn’t plan for a new edition and you want to ask for your rights back it’s always best to ask for as much as possible, says Battista. “Know what you want to ask for, and then have an expectation that there are only certain things that they are required to release to you,” she says. The rights that will be returned to you are your intellectual property rights, or your content.
What will not be automatically released to you is any work that the publisher did themselves, such as the actual pieces of art created by the publisher, or the supplements created by a supplements author. “They don’t have to return those things to you, but they might,” she says. “Oftentimes this depends on the person you’re working with and how helpful they want to be.”
Other items to ask for, says Battista:
- The latest digital copy (PDF or InDesign file) of the work. If you plan to take your content elsewhere, you know that the latest digital file has been copyedited and proofread, versus a Word document you may have of the book on your hard drive.
- The permissions file, if there were any third-party permissions that needed to be cleared on your work.
Don’t know who to contact or how to reach them? Start with your editor, she says, and if there’s been too much turnover since you last spoke to him or her, look for emails that you have for development editors or production staff that you’ve worked with and see if they can put you in touch with the correct person. You can also try the royalties department, and if all else fails, go right to the CEO, says Battista. If you don’t have his email, look at the standard format the publisher uses to create emails and figure it out what his might be, whether it’s email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. “You’re well within your rights do that. If you can’t find the right person who you need to be talking to, they should be very responsive to you. I’ve seen this being very effective for people who were struggling to find out who they needed to talk to.”
Once you’ve reached the right person, says Battista, ask them to walk you through what the process will be for you to get your rights back and then ask for a specific follow up at a specific time. “I would not just leave this as ‘I’ll wait for them to get back to me’,” she says. “It’s always good to have very specific follow up so everybody knows that they need to keep on this as well. And then just be persistent.”
Once you’ve received your rights back, you need to decide what to do with the content. In making that decision, Battista says, ask yourself some questions:
- How much work do you want to do? It’s okay if the answer is not a lot. Be realistic about that with yourself.
- How out of date is my product? Determine how much you will need to update.
- What do I envision for my product? Do you just want to make it available to your students or do you want to find another publisher? It’s probably unlikely you will get re-signed by another large traditional publisher, since they are all going through the same things that caused your original publisher not to revise your work, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options available to you, such as a custom publisher, open access, or a professional or trade book.
- Should I find a coauthor?
One option for what to do with your content is to create a digital product with a digital first publisher, says Battista, which has a lot of benefits both for customers, instructors, students and authors. “From the author perspective, you have the opportunity to have a more predictable revenue stream because the digital model is the ‘every student pays model’.”
Digital products also have a more efficient and effective editorial process, she says. Using Top Hat as an example, the product content is first input into the platform and then authors and their team work directly in the platform to make changes, or to add videos and other interactive content. “This allows you to see what the user experience is going to be like, just as you are creating it,” she says. “Once you’ve launched the product, you can go back at any time and update and make changes and address errors that you hear from the market. It’s very easy to just continually add and improve upon the content without having to go back to that long, arduous process that we’re all familiar with at traditional publishers.”
This article was adapted from an April 2021 TAA webinar given by Donna Battista, VP of Content Strategy at Top Hat. Members can watch the entire presentation here. You can reach Donna at email@example.com
Kim Pawlak is TAA’s Director of Publishing & Operations. She has been writing about textbook and academic writing and publishing for more than 25 years.