Laying the foundation for an academic textbook: Testing for audience

It’s one thing to write a textbook; it is another matter entirely to get a critical mass of people to buy. For someone socialized as an academic, the audience for a textbook is a far less specialized one than one is accustomed to addressing. The format has to be perceived as accessible; the audience has to find it welcoming.

A website about trade books provides analytics enough to give a would-be author pause. According to Bookscan, of the 3.2 million books tracked in 2021, fewer than 1percent sold more than 5,000 copies. While I confess to find myself turning to book writing for the sheer love of the spaciousness it affords to expand on ideas, it’s hardly a wise investment of all-too limited time to a write a book that only a few will ever buy.

The prelude: Preparing to write a scholarly textbook

Many think about writing a scholarly textbook years before actually picking up the pen to do so. That prelude is like musicians tuning up before a performance. It is an investment of time that is as critical to finishing a book as to beginning it. For a writer, the prelude is a time to organize notes and references. To draft and redraft a table of contents. To organize notes. To connect with potential editors. To investigate potential audiences and find colleagues who would consider adapting it in their teaching. The prelude contributes to the ease with which you can write the book and lays the foundation that there is an audience for it.