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Feeling empowered to take a seat at the publishing table

In this blog post, long-time colleagues Karen Sladyk (professor and bestselling author) and John Bond (Publishing Consultant) discuss taking the first steps as an academic toward taking a seat at the publishing table.

Despite years of academic and professional accomplishments, taking the step to become involved in publishing may seem daunting. Finding a seat at the table may not feel comfortable at first. More experienced colleagues and veteran editors and publishing-types seem to be monopolizing space and speaking an unknown jargon. Fear not!

Feeling Like an Outsider

Karen Sladyk: When I first was approached to write for a textbook publisher, I was not a fish out of water, I didn’t even believe I was a fish. I was a substitute at a publishing focus group covering for my boss who could not attend. I did not even qualify for “imposter phenomena” as the idea of being a textbook writer was not even in my thoughts. But then the publisher was persistent in reshaping my ideas on what is an author.

John Bond: Publishing events like a focus group are great ways for publishers to make new connections with experienced faculty, but also with emerging voices. Publishers like to have a range of contacts. If they simply seek the opinions of individuals at the pinnacle of their field, they miss out on emerging topics. Likewise, if they only connect with new members of the faculty, they miss the opportunity to understand the bigger picture.

Am I Really Qualified?

Sladyk: Qualified to be an author? I was so NOT qualified. I knew nothing about publishing but had lots of opinions on what I read. At the time, my first thoughts about market demands or trends for a publisher was authors seemed to forget books had multiple customers, yes, the teacher who will adopt and, yes, the student who will buy but also your publisher, your profession, your professional peers, and your promotion or retention committee. Although there may be a “need” for a book topic, the book needs to sell. It’s frosting on the cake if the book goes to second edition or beyond. In addition, developing a wide network of co-authors or contributors are vital to developing your professional growth and your book’s adoption and success. Twenty-five years later, market trends are clearly different, authors need to be adaptable and flexible partners with many consumers.

Bond: Academics may not readily see themselves as experts, let alone qualified textbook authors. They may need some support in convincing them that their years of rigorous academic training make them eligible for a seat at the table. The publisher needs to know when to support and when to query. Authors need to understand a fresh idea or new approach to a subject can be as powerful a selling point as having the “top name” in a field.

Taking the Plunge and Pitching a Project

Sladyk: At the urging of my publisher, I jumped. Headfirst, eyes closed, confident it would be a belly flop. But it wasn’t because, I listened to what they said, I stayed true to my belief that students want to be met at their level and grow, and that the market has holes that need filling. I spend a lot of time looking, watching, asking, and listening to what consumers want and need. One idea led to the next and so on. Often, I have more ideas than I have time for, so I literally keep a shoebox labeled “Ideas for Later.” Feeling empowered first by my publisher and then by my success is indescribable. I was initially a substitute at a focus group, and an opportunity was right in front of me. Be aware every day to these sudden opportunities to change the world of your profession. Now, I try to do that every day with others.

Bond: When a person wants to become a first-time author, the publisher assumes the role of guide in regard to the process. They are experts in their field; the publisher experts in the twists and turns involved with publishing. A gratifying aspect of publishing is when a new person grows, publishes, succeeds, and move onto other bigger projects. It takes a village.

Karen Sladyk, PhD, OTL, FAOTA, is an occupational therapist and faculty of health sciences at Westfield State University. Author or editor of 10 books, eight with second editions or higher, she believes, opportunity knocks for those who listen.

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He works with individuals on publishing and writing projects. Schedule an initial complimentary phone call at Publishing Fundamentals. He is the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at