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A Short Conference Recap from a TAA Staff Member’s First-Time Perspective

By Sierra Pawlak

The 2024 TAA Conference in Nashville was my first conference as a new TAA staff member, and I was not alone. There were another 37 textbook and/or academic authors who attended for the first time.

The Thursday night TAA Council of Fellows networking reception felt so welcoming. You could walk up to any table, and you would be included into the conversation. I hope everyone else shared that experience. There was an overwhelming agreement that the food was delicious, and that the rooftop Pool Club Restaurant in which it was held was a beautiful space with expansive views of Nashville. I loved meeting everyone, and it made me excited to serve as a session moderator on Friday.

Friday morning began with Geography Textbook Author Robert Christopherson’s 20th Annual GeoPrimer, “Nashville – Athens at the Grand Ole Opry,” an historical and geographical introduction to Nashville, which was both comedic and informative. He discussed the origins of the state’s name, as well as the fact that the statue of Athena in the replica of the Parthenon is wearing flip-flops. He also remarked that, rather than taking a selfie with the stage of the Grand Ole Opry behind him, he was the only one who waited in line for photos to get down on the ground to take pictures of the section of the wood floor they had added from the previous building.

The GeoPrimer was followed by the first ever Michael Sullivan Lecture on Textbook & Academic Authoring, presented by Susan Winslow, CEO of Macmillan Publishing. Unfortunately, Michael wasn’t able to attend, as he was watching his grandson Ryan Murphy compete in the Olympic swim trials (he placed by the way!). Susan’s presentation on the very human experience of learning was a fascinating inside look at her thoughts on AI and how Macmillan not only handled its entree into the space, but pivoted to learning how it might be an opportunity instead of an obstacle. We look forward to working with Susan and her team on how we can bring the author perspective into the conversation.

I had the honor of moderating one-half of the sessions, and found the audience in each of the sessions to be engaged, and with an eager readiness to learn and share their advice. Christina Inge, author of Textbook Marketing Analytics: A Comprehensive Guide, presented The Distracted Writer’s Guide to Finishing Your Manuscript where she asked attendees if they were a Jane Austen writer or a Toni Morrison writer. Portland State University Professor Emerita Micki Caskey and Sam Houston State University Professor Julie Combs’ presentation on choosing a book series successor covered what was successful (and not so successful) in their own search. Anatomy and physiology textbook author Kenneth Saladin also presented on this subject, sharing in detail the hiring process he and his publisher went through to find the perfect candidate, and all of the traits he found in the other candidates that he knew meant it wouldn’t work out. I also moderated psychology textbook author Thomas Heinzen’s presentation Try Thinking Like a Game Designer, where he shared how you can make your textbook, and your class, more engaging to students. There were many more presentations that were insightful, and I learned a lot from, as well as sessions I did not have the benefit to attend. I, unfortunately, could only be in one place at a time!

This year, for the first time, we introduced a Ted Talk style format with a series of “Author Talks,” which were well-received by attendees. Nutrition textbook author Jamie Pope, intellectual property attorneys Rohit Nath and Brenda Ulrich, Qian Ji, an assistant professor from Texas A&M University, and Laura Jacobi, a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato, all shared 10-20 minute presentations packed with information on topics such as working with your textbook marketing team, new developments in authors’ rights litigation, tips for publishing contract negotiations, a free-writing exercise, and working with co-authors.

I want to congratulate everyone who received an award during the awards presentation: Brenda Ulrich (TAA President’s Award), Laura Frost (inducted into TAA Council of Fellows), and Kevin Patton (Authoring Mentoring Award). TAA President Paul Krieger’s presentation of Kevin’s award was especially heartening because, as Paul said, Kevin was also his mentor.

For the closing session and raffle, we gathered everyone’s nametags for the drawing. The nametags were quite large, and the container we brought to put them in was quite small, so I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to throw them in the air like a deck of cards and pick them up off the ground with my eyes closed. I was so comfortable with the group of attendees after meeting them over the last few days, otherwise I definitely would not have crawled on the ground with my eyes closed searching for nametags in front of them.

I want to thank everyone for how kind and welcoming they were, and how the presenters and audience made it so easy to moderate for the first time. I had such a wonderful experience meeting everyone, and I can’t wait to see everyone again.

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