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Getting to first base: How to pitch your textbook idea to publishers

You have a great idea. You know your book is needed. As you pick your way through the prospectus (or guidelines for authors), here are some thoughts about what editors are really looking for, the core messages to keep bringing home:

You know this market. Editors tell me that their number one question as they read a proposal is: ” Do we need this book”? To convince them, be familiar with every comparable text. Then, if possible, do your own informal survey to concretely make your case: “My colleagues at X, Y, Z university have been yearning for a book with this orientation.” “The existing texts do not fully capture the new trends (be specific) in my field.” ” Based on my intimate knowledge of our students my book will be ideal because it does A, B and C.” Inflated self-serving phrases such as this book is “utterly unique” or ” for all undergraduates” are total turn offs— signs of an author who doesn’t know the market, or, worse yet, is planning a text that is too weird ( won’t sell).

How to find a textbook publisher

If you have an idea for a new textbook a great way to start looking for a publisher is by attending your discipline’s annual meeting — which typically hosts book vendors — where you may be able to make some good contacts with publishing companies, said Dr. Laura Taalman, a mathematics professor at James Madison University.

“It is worth stopping by the exhibit booths of the publishers you are interested in; the editor you seek might be right there,” she said. “Sales reps can sometimes give you an idea if your book fits in with their company’s list. They also will often have contact information for the appropriate editors.”

When Taalman was looking for a publisher for her textbook, Integrated Calculus: Calculus With Precalculus and Algebra, (which was published in 2004 by Houghton Mifflin) she shopped the idea around to sales reps at her university and at yearly math meetings. “The sales reps communicated with the math editors and someone turned out to be interested,” she said.