Q&A: How to research content for your textbook

Q: “How do you go about researching content for your textbook?”

A: Janet Belsky, author of Experiencing the Lifespan, 2e (2009):

“I go to a library database where I can get every single article on the topic I’m writing about in every journal in my field. If I am updating a book, I will only look for articles that were published from the time of the last edition to the present. This strategy gets me about 100 or 200 new articles for each chapter. I do a cursory look at everything, but I won’t need to read all of those articles.

Q&A: What is a fair royalty arrangement when taking on textbook co-authors?

Q: “I would like to phase out of my textbooks and take on co-authors to keep them going. What is a fair royalty arrangement?”

A: Michael Lennie, Attorney, Lennie Literary & Author’s Attorney:

“I usually deal with this issue in the revised editions clause by negotiating a 60/30/15 percent provision. Under this provision the retiring author receives 60/30/15 percent of the full royalty for the first/second/third and thereafter edition in which he does not participate. Higher percentages are available depending on the number of prior editions and the reputation of the retiring author.”

Q&A: Can you renegotiate your textbook contract when going into subsequent editions?

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Q&A: How to get your textbook rights back from your publisher

Q: “My publisher has decided to drop my books. How can I tell from my contract whether this means I could get another publisher to pick them up for a new edition, vs. writing a totally new work?”

A: Steve Gillen, Attorney, Wood, Herron & Evans:

“Most publishing contracts have a ‘reversion’ or ‘out-of-print”‘clause that requires the publisher to return the rights to a work to the author if and when the publisher takes the work out-of-print. Sometimes this right of reversion is triggered automatically. More frequently, however, the author must request the publisher to execute a copyright assignment. The more problematic issue is likely to be at what point does the right mature — i.e., when is the work “out-of-print.” Look to the language in your contract for the answer to that question.”

Q&A: Timeline for textbook royalties: When should you get paid?

Q: “I am concerned about the length of time a publisher can hold onto royalties. Mine are due in April, four months after the close of the accounting period in December. This means some monies have been held from July 1 through April — 10 months! I would think interest should be paid or royalties sent out on a more continuous basis.”

A: Steve Gillen, Attorney, Wood Herron & Evans:

“The publisher’s obligation to account for and pay royalties is set forth in the publishing agreement. While the timing of payment and the nature of information contained in the reports may be negotiable, the time to negotiate these issues is before the agreement is signed. Once the deal is done, it’s too late for the author to complain. Historically, publishers have paid royalties on an annual or semi-annual basis (providing reports and payments anywhere from 30 days to four months after the close of the relevant accounting period). I suppose there was a time when this delay was justified by the difficulty in processing returns and credits and closing the books. Now, however, it persists as custom rather than of necessity.

Q&A: How to approach a publisher to publish conference proceedings

Q: “I am organizing a conference that I think will be very good. How do I approach a publisher for the proceedings? What is such a publisher looking for?”

A: Michael Lennie, Authoring Attorney and Literary Agent, Lennie Literary and Authors’ Attorneys:

“Ask your adviser; or research similar proceedings to determine their publisher and editor. Obtain several and then contact them to see if they have an interest. The original contact should be by way of a query letter (one well written page) with or without synopsis, sent through snail mail with a SASE. Your initial query should be more detailed (3-4 pages) than the query for an article, including the names and a sentence or two about each participating panelist, his/her subject matter for the proceedings, the forum, date, time, etc.”