The Academic Author, December '04 issue:
The Academic Author December '04 Issue:
Notable Author: Robert Bauman
Students urge instructor to publish text
by Jennifer Wilson
College biology department Chair Robert Bauman wrote microbiology
text with some encouragement from his students.
journey into the world of textbook writing started with some encouragement
from his students.
Bauman is chairman
of the Amarillo College biology department. He also takes turns with
other instructors in teaching microbiology. And a decade ago, Bauman's
students told him they weren't satisfied with their current microbiology
started telling me that their book was hard to read," Bauman said.
students said Bauman always did a good job of explaining complicated
topics in a clear, easy-to-understand way, and they told him he should
write his own textbook.
"It was their
idea," Bauman said.
textbook was published last year, and it's now being read across the
Before he started
writing his book, Bauman spent time reviewing textbooks for other authors.
Then a representative from the publishing company Benjamin Cummings
suggested Bauman try his hand at writing a chapter.
"He liked it.
He said, 'We can do this. Let's write a book,'" Bauman said.
Bauman got started
in 1998, typically writing from 10 pm to 4 am most nights. The publishing
company hired an artist to furnish colorful illustrations, which Bauman
says clearly illustrate the microbiology concepts.
"I'm very proud
of the book," he said.
Bauman said he wrote
the book for his students and dedicated it to them.
I did it," he said.
The first edition
came out in August 2003, and a shorter edition was published in August
2004. A number of local and national colleges now use it, including
West Texas A&M University, Texas Tech, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi,
Brigham Young University and the University of Southern California.
Bauman is the first
to say the book was made possible by many other staffers on his book's
"My name is
on the front ... but there should be 30 names on the front," he
The book also was
chosen as the "Scientific American" textbook of the month
for September, Bauman said.
John Zak, chairman
of biological sciences at Texas Tech, said he uses Bauman's book because
it's well-written, well-illustrated and well-organized.
The book also connects
everyday situations with technical explanations, he said.
"I think working
with the publisher and his illustrators, he's done a very good job,"
also reflects well on Amarillo College.
proud of Dr. Bauman," AC President Steven Jones said. "It's
most unusual for a community college faculty member to write a book
that is so widely adopted."
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The Academic Author December '04 Issue:
Use dissertation as basis for book prospectus
Margaret E. Farrar,
an assistant professor of political science at Augustana College, said
writing a book prospectus based on her dissertation allowed her the
luxury of describing the project after the fact.
the book prospectus, I was able to look back over my dissertation and
ask myself, 'OK, what did I do here? If I was describing this project
to someone, what would I say?'" said Farrar. "It was a great
opportunity for me to not only describe my project after the fact, but
also to anticipate how I could make the project better the second time
around, as it becomes a book."
Farrar shares her
advice for others wanting to write a book prospectus based on their
Take a look
at prospectuses that were eventually picked up by a publisher. This
can give you a sense of what publishers are looking for as well as help
you structure your own prospectus.
Ask a colleague
from another department who is active in publishing, editing, etc.,
to read the prospectus. This "external" editor can point out
areas that need clarification or reformulation because he or she, not
being an expert in your field, will be able to tell you if the language
is understandable to a lay audience. Editors are generalists, and so
the prospectus has to walk the line between filling a niche in your
discipline and appealing to a much broader range of people than your
that your book prospectus audience is not the same as your dissertation
audience. Don't write a prospectus that is essentially a summary of
your prospectus makes the argument for the worth of the project. Editors,
even if they're extremely interested in the project, have to demonstrate
at the end of the day that the book fills a niche, will generate a certain
amount of sales and does something that is unique.
Farrar's book, "Building
the Body Politic: Power, Subjectivity, and Urban Space in Washington,
D.C.", is now under contract with the University of Illinois Press.
Check out her book
prospectus at: www.augustana.edu/users/pofarrar/Book%20Prospectus.htm
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The Academic Author December '04 Issue:
Building a better book: Tips for prospective textbook authors
By Michele Sordi
resemble talent scouts. We search for prospective authors who combine
solid research credentials and training, an outstanding teaching record,
and an infectious passion for what they do. Successful authors
whether newly tenured, established faculty, or promising new assistant
professors whom experienced editors will track until tenure not
only have the goods, they have the commitment it takes to sustain a
writing project and the ability to deliver it over the long-term.
in college publishing in recent years means that there are fewer editors
making decisions about what books to sign and publish and which to reject.
Have you been thinking about writing a textbook? Or, do you have an
idea for one percolating on the back burner? Perhaps you're simply curious
to learn more about how the process works and what's involved? Below,
I've gathered some of the most frequently asked questions and misperceptions
about textbook publishing, along with some advice for how to get a project
off the ground and into the right publisher's hands.
1. Why should
I consider writing a textbook?
Editors are always
on the lookout for signs of author potential and evidence of a proven
track record. At conventions and on campus, in phone conversations and
via e-mail, we're in search of that rare combination of spark, expertise,
and commitment to teaching. How many of the following indicators apply
not fully satisfied with existing textbooks for the course; in fact,
I have specific ideas about what I'd like to see improved and what I'd
like to see done differently in a new book."
an introductory or upper-level undergraduate course that gets my students
interested in and excited about my field."
devised innovative ways to make the course content come alive for my
addition to the core text I've adopted, I've created my own course pack
or custom publication."
in the process of creating (or have recently created) a new course for
been recognized by my department or university for outstanding teaching.
My student teaching evaluations are consistently strong."
active in my field with a vita that shows a strong record of current
research, journal articles, presentations, and membership in my field's
already tenured or will be up for tenure within the next year."
written or coauthored a textbook before for a different course."
previously authored an instructor manual, test bank, or other ancillary
materials to accompany a leading textbook."
on the editorial board of a journal or publication associated with my
a sense of the current trends and future directions of my field that
should be reflected in a new textbook."
taught this course enough times now and have tried different texts and
methods so that I know what works for students."
the first step in linking up with a publisher?
step" actually consists of several preplanning tasks. Before drafting
a proposal and approaching a publisher, you should closely evaluate
the competition, gaining a concrete understanding of the strengths and
weaknesses of the leading books on the market.
Peruse your office
bookshelves and determine what you like about your favorite textbooks.
Do you find effective chapter-opening or end-of-chapter features? Eye-catching
art? Inviting design? Accessible writing style? Concrete, relevant examples?
Student-centered activities? A helpful ancillary package? Today, the
Internet makes it very easy to access instant information about competing
books on publishers' Web sites. You can find tables of contents, book
overviews, reviewer comments, prefaces, sample chapters, media clips,
features lists, and book specs.
Test out your ideas
in class with your own students, and talk with colleagues at your campus
and other schools about common course goals and teaching challenges.
What do instructors find most frustrating about teaching the course?
Which topics give students the most trouble? In which areas do current
books fall short in helping instructors achieve their most important
teaching goals? Understanding the persistent problem areas in a course
and where current textbooks fall short presents an opportunity for the
new textbook author who can solve these teaching needs with a better
The next time that
publisher's representative stops by to say hello, don't politely brush
the rep off. Take a few minutes and talk with her. Experienced publisher's
reps are experts about their own company's books as well as the competition.
The rep will be able to tell you why a book sells or doesn't sell, discuss
regional and national course trends, and explain the impact of new technology.
A good rep can also function as your ally, helping to get your proposal
brought to the attention of a busy editor.
When you attend
your next convention, stroll through the exhibit hall and take advantage
of the opportunity to meet editors, publishing executives, and marketing
managers. Depending on how serious you are about a book project, you
might consider setting up an appointment ahead of time to meet one-on-one
with the editor. Talk with the staff in the booth and ask questions
about the books and media on display. Are books displayed prominently?
Is there a good representation of backlist and frontlist titles? Are
catalogs in plentiful supply? Are reps and booth staff helpful and knowledgeable
about their products? Are the publishers talking with customers? Chances
are that what you observe in the booth is a good indication of the treatment
you can expect down the road for your own book.
competing books and conducting some informal market research of your
own, you're ready to craft your draft prospectus and determine which
publisher will be the best fit for you and your book. Most editors and
companies have proposal writing guidelines that you can download off
the publisher's Web site or request in person from your local publishing
representative. It's a good idea to use the publisher's guidelines as
a roadmap for blocking out your proposal as they typically cover important
market and project issues whose importance a first-time author might
In addition to your
narrative prospectus or proposal (about 5 to 10 pages), you'll need
to sketch out a detailed table of contents or book outline that clearly
shows all chapter titles, subtopics, appendices, and other back matter
you plan to include in the book. Be sure to double-space the entire
document one of the first rules of manuscript preparation
and don't identify your name or affiliation. Your editor will want to
keep the review process "blind" to ensure an objective, frank
evaluation of your proposal's strengths and weaknesses.
3. What are
pitfalls to avoid in your book proposal?
manuscript or huge e-mail attachments. Most editors prefer a brief project
description, or outline and prospectus, along with a copy of your vita.
If your entire submission is less than 25 pages, it's fine to send your
material by e-mail. But, always send a hardcopy as well, since e-mail
access can be erratic for travelling editors. Sending a box of unsolicited
manuscript or multiple chapter e-mail attachments is strongly discouraged.
Experienced editors will be able to decide the potential of a project,
and whether they want to see more material, based on a solidly written
proposal and vita.
the competition. Inexperienced authors often state that they never look
at the competing books because of a naive perception that their own
project's originality would be compromised. I can't tell you how many
times I've been in meetings with prospective authors when the conversation
has taken this near-fatal turn. An author's unfamiliarity with the competition
reveals a lack of understanding of the market and audience for which
he or she intends to write.
The more you can
demonstrate a solid grasp of the strengths and shortcomings of current
leading books, the more convincingly you'll position your book in relation
to leading competitors. Why would a professor using a proven, leading
book be tempted to drop the current text and switch to yours? To make
a compelling case for your own book, you'll need to know your competition,
common teaching challenges, areas of student difficulty, and how your
book will provide a better, innovative alternative.
your book for everyone. "There's no other book like this on the
market anywhere. In fact, I've never seen a book like the one I'm proposing.
My book will fit a range of courses, such as Intro X, upper level courses
in Y, as well as courses over in the Medical School, and anthropology
and education departments. The book will also have broad appeal to professional
markets and the lay audience." Some version of this comment appears
in many first draft proposals, and I can' think of a line that makes
an editor wince more (other than the "I don't know the competing
books" comment above). Once again, this common pitfall reveals
an author's lack of knowledge of the audience and the market for which
he or she is writing. If you can't find a similar book available anywhere,
you might want to consider what this lack of supply suggests about market
demand or market size.
If the course for
which you are writing a book is a newly emerging or growing course,
you'll want to have hard evidence (sample syllabi from other campuses,
studies or reports, related articles describing new course trends) to
back up your claims of the need for such a book. A textbook will often
appeal to secondary or overlapping markets, and it may have reach into
trade or professional markets. However, it's imperative that you clearly
identify the target audience for which you are writing the book. In
the textbook arena, this means that you must be able to identify the
primary course for which your book will be the core text. A book with
diffused objectives will end up fitting no single course well.
4. How does the
review process work?
Depending on the
quality and completeness of your draft proposal, an editor may require
changes before agreeing to send it out for review. When both editor
and author are satisfied that the proposal and outline are in good shape,
the editor will commission 4 to 10 "presigning" reviews (depending
on the market size and competitive landscape) to gather feedback on
the project's potential for critical and commercial success. The review
process typically takes 4 to 6 weeks, including time to line up reviewers,
prepare and mail out review packets, and track reviews as they come
in. It's a good idea to get a sense of the timetable for the reviews
up front. By what date will the editor send your material out for review?
When will the reviews be due back to the publisher? When will copies
be sent to you? Do you have a clear understanding of what the editor
hopes to learn from the reviews? In other words, what will the editor
specifically be looking for in the reviews in order to reach a decision
about the book's potential for success in the market? Do you have a
sense of what the editor considers a "solid" round of reviews
50% positive reviews or 80% positive reviews? What's a reasonable
target date by which you will want to know whether the publisher will
offer you a contract or decline interest in your book?
When all the reviews
are in, the editor will send you a set of reviews and set a date to
discuss them with you. It's a good idea to prepare for this conversation
by taking careful notes as you read the reviews, noting which comments
or criticisms you find helpful and which you disagree with. Do you find
any patterns in the reviewer comments or any concerns or disagreements
with what you have proposed? Be prepared to discuss the reviews in detail
with the editor. This meeting will give you a preview of what it might
be like to work closely together and what you can expect from the editor
in terms of level of detailed attention, support, creative solutions,
guidance, expertise, and flexibility. You can be certain that seasoned
editors will be looking for these same qualities in you!
Assuming that the
reviews are encouraging that is, reviewers indicate that they
would be likely to adopt the proposed text or would seriously consider
it for adoption the editor will then nail down a writing schedule,
terms, and proceed to negotiate a contract.
5. What are the
hallmarks of a good textbook? What makes a book marketable?
It's important to
recognize that there's a distinction between a good textbook and a marketable
textbook. Not all good books are commercially successful. I'd bet that
there are numerous first edition books lining your shelves that you
consider perfectly respectable in terms of accuracy of content, organization,
and style. A good book may appeal to a narrow segment of a market but
fail to meet the needs of a wider audience. It's your editor's job to
craft a strategy for your book's critical and commercial success, ensuring
that it is a quality book that gets widely adopted and sells enough
copies to satisfy the publisher's investment goals. The development
of a textbook its unique pedagogy, art and photos, media, and
supplements package represents a costly, long-term financial
investment by the publisher. Understanding the basics of your book's
budget and the publisher's financial expectations will help you partner
with your publisher in making decisions that are best for the success
of your book. To reach a second edition, your textbook will have to
meet or come close to meeting the sales targets established by your
books tend to be ones written for a specific course that the author
successfully teaches. The author's grasp of common course goals, teaching
challenges and areas of student difficulty is informed by his or her
firsthand experience as an instructor who teaches the course. The book
must match the course as it is commonly taught, while offering obvious
improvements and innovations that make it a better and more exciting
alternative to the leading books already dominating the market. A good
book is accessibly written, free of unnecessary jargon, and replete
with interesting, relevant examples. A good book is crafted with a keen
eye to detail so that text, art, pedagogy, media, and supplements are
planned together from page one. It's also essential that the author
complete the book according to schedule, as a book that suffers from
chronic delays risks losing its timeliness, currency, and competitive
edge. Given the high competitiveness and tight margins of publishing,
the book alone is no longer enough. The author and publisher need to
partner in creating a complete course solution delivered via a combination
of text, media, and supplements.
6. With all the
books on the market for course "X," why would a publisher
want to develop yet another new book for the same course?
Why would I want
to sign with a publisher who already has other books for the same course?
Why would I want to sign with a publisher who has never published a
book for this course before? New authors confronting this issue need
to decide what is most important to them in an editor and publishing
house, and what they expect for their book. It's important to understand
that there are potential benefits and challenges that come with either
of the two scenarios mentioned above. Signing with a publisher who already
has a track record of success publishing in a given course can benefit
your book in several ways. The house has a demonstrated commitment to
the course, and its sales reps and marketing department know the customers
and what it takes to be successful in that market. Your new book will
have the advantage of cross-promotion with established titles. For any
sizeable course, there is always room for multiple books aimed at different
levels of the market (low, mid, and high level), as well as books that
take different conceptual, thematic, or organizational approaches. The
fact that a publisher may publish one or more books for the same course
should not be a deterrent as long as each of these different books
including your proposed book has a strong, compelling story that
distinguishes it from the other books on a publisher's list.
tempting for an author to favor a publisher who will make his new book
that publisher's first entry in a given course or market. As in the
scenario above, be sure to get specific assurances up front about your
and the publisher's expectations for development and marketing. What
are the publisher's goals for entering a new market? You'll want to
see evidence that the publisher has the resources, creativity, and commitment
it will take to establish a successful new book in a competitive and
often crowded marketplace. If your book marks a publisher's debut in
a new market, does the publisher have other strengths it can leverage
in helping to establish your book?
7. Is it ethical
to send my proposal out to different publishers at the same time?
As a prospective
author, you are free to talk with and get advice from as many publishers
as you wish. It is not uncommon for an author to submit his proposal
to several publishers at the same time. Doing so can help you gauge
your potential working relationship with different houses. You'll get
a realistic view of how quickly and thoroughly an editor responds to
your material, the timeliness and quality of reviews, the urgency with
which your project is treated, and a feel for whether the editor and
publishing house are a good fit for you in the long term. However, in
any presigning situation in which you are sharing your book proposal
with more than onepublisher, it's vital to assure a fair process.
To avoid miscommunication,
communicate honestly with all parties about your most important needs
and concerns, identify which publishers you are talking with, ask tough
questions, and establish clear decision-making timetables. When will
reviews be commissioned, analyzed, and discussed? Is an on-site meeting
with the publisher necessary, and if so, when? By when can you expect
a decision from the publisher of intent to offer a contract or decline
interest in the project? Do you have a date by which you want or need
to make a decision?
When the honeymoon
phase of signing has ebbed, and youčre hard at work on the book, you'll
want to be confident that the publishing relationship you've entered
into is the one that will support and sustain your efforts over the
long term. Even if you never end up writing a textbook of your own,
understanding some of the nuts and bolts of the process will help you
better appreciate the commitment and contribution made by those of your
colleagues whose names appear on your favorite textbooks.
This article was originally published in the Society for Industrial
and Organizational Psychology, Inc.'s newsletter, The Industrial-Organizational
Psychologist (TIP), January 2003, Vol 40 number 3, pages 15-21.)
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