Q&A: You’ve reached your maximum number of textbook pages, but lack content. Now what?

Q: “I am writing a book under contract and my chapters have been running so long I have already written the maximum number of pages negotiated with my publisher, yet have only fulfilled half the overall content promised. How should I approach this with the publisher? Should I renegotiate the overall content covered in the book or engage in some major editing?”

A: Mary Ellen Lepionka, author of Writing & Developing Your College Textbook:

“I suggest first clarifying if the publisher’s contract is referring to book pages or manuscript pages. You can usually figure 2.5 double- spaced manuscript pages per book page for a book with around 500 words per page, which is standard for an 8 X 10 trim size, which is standard for a textbook. For a 14- to 16-chapter textbook, no chapter should exceed 40 book pages in length.

Q&A: How to determine a good royalty rate offer when negotiating a textbook contract

Q: “I’m in discussions with six publishers right now for my first book. One of them has just made a preliminary offer, including a 12 percent royalty on the first 2,000 sold and 15 percent thereafter. They also offered me a $3,000 advance against royalties to prepare a camera-ready copy over the summer. The editor has informally projected something like 2,000 books/year sold at about $90-100 per, saying it costs them $60-70 per. Here are some of my questions: 1) How common is it to have a lower percentage on the first chunk of books?; 2) Even if it sold only 1,000 at $80, 12 percent of that equals $9,600. Shouldn’t they be willing to part with more than $3,000 of it up front?; 3) How much am I saving them with a camera-ready copy? Doesn’t that cut out a lot of work for them and shouldn’t that translate into a much better deal than this? Sounds like a cookie-cutter offer.”

A: Don Collins, former managing editor at a publishing company:

“First, it is very common to offer a lower rate on the first textbooks published. The publisher is in business for profit and at every point the publisher wants an advantage although in your case it seems slight. Second, up front money is an expense. If the book does not sell then the publisher is out this money. But you get to keep the advance. And lastly, you may think of giving camera ready copy as saving the publisher money. It probably is. But the way publishers play the game is to take only authors who are willing to do this.

Only after your work has proven successful and you have established a reputation will you have much of a chance of negotiating better terms.”

Q&A: What percentage of sales are lost to the used book market over the life of an edition?

Q: “Does anyone know a “rule of thumb” about what percentage of sales are lost to the used book market over the life of an edition? In other words, if the adoption rate remains basically static, how do royalty returns typically decline after the edition has been on the market for one year/two years/three years?”

A: Robert Christopherson, author of Geosystems:

“Quick response on used-book impact. With my 3-year revision cycle we do not stay ahead of the used-book sales erosion. Fortunately in my field there is so much dynamic change that such a revision cycle is warranted.

Q&A: What to consider when recycling content from writing project to writing project

Q: “A general question: You are writing a book — in one chapter, you wish to include information that you have used in another book with another publisher. What is the rule of thumb — if there is one — about how much information can be used and/or the level of changes necessary?”

A: Jay Devore, Professor Emeritus, Department of Statistics, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo:

“I’ve been thinking about this issue because a colleague and I are thinking about collaborating on a business statistics book (introductory statistics for a business audience). I have written statistics books for engineers and also for a general audience — 4 in total, all published by Thomson. But Thomson (actually their subsidiary Southwestern) already has a full stable of business stat books, so may not be interested in publishing another one.

Q&A: Strategies for bringing your writing projects to completion, overcoming writer’s block, and managing your time

Q: “How do you bring your writing projects to completion? Do you write daily, in large blocks? What strategies do you use to overcome ‘writer’s block’? What have you done to improve your writing skills? How do you manage your time so that you find time for writing?”

A: Joan Carnosso RN, PhD(c), CCRN, Associate Professor, Nursing Department, Boise State University:

“I am new to authoring and writing for that matter. I am working on finishing my dissertation and it has been a struggle for me since I really never believed that I liked to write and I sure didn’t believe I was good at it. So I knew that I needed to do something to boost my confidence. I applied and got accepted to two workshops. One is Writing Across the Curriculum, and the other is the National Writing Project. Both of which take place in the summer.

Q&A: Should you create resource materials for a textbook to sell commercially?

Q: “Is permission needed from a publisher to develop resource materials for a textbook if those materials will be sold commercially or is it just necessary to have a disclaimer?”

A: Elsa Peterson, a freelance editor with 25 years of experience in the college textbook industry:

“I’ve done a fair amount of permissions editing over the years, which doesn’t equip me to give a comprehensive answer to your question, but I’ll give you my perspective. I think there are a couple of different points to address here.