How to not write a textbook

Debrah “blogos” Hawhee had a post today titled “one. more. week.” where (as she wraps up a new edition of a textbook she has co-written) she lists her necessary conditions for textbook writing. I possessed none of them. To quote:

1. You really love the material you are working on. I mean, really, really love it, and you must feel it is important (politically, morally, whateverly) to make the material available for teachers and (even more) for students. Just wanting to make money is really not enough IMHO.

Nope, not me. I mean, I think I thought what I was doing was useful and interesting (for a while), but no, I didn’t love it. Or maybe another way of putting it: if there wasn’t money involved, I would have never attempted to write this book.

2. You are willing to work your ass off every five years for a new edition–that is if it goes into new editions.

Nope. Far from it. Of course, I never got to the first edition, so…

3. You are surrounded by loving people–near and far–who will put up with your muddle-headedness and who will understand when you say nothing is new.

Sorry, no. I mean, not counting “loving people” like my wife and son and friends and such. But they weren’t really working on the book. What I needed, to be honest, was some loving (or at least “liking”) book publishers.

4. You don’t mind being consumed for a very long stretch of time.
5. You can adhere to deadlines. These deadlines are quite serious.

No and no. I’ve heard similar things from other successful textbook publishers, actually. I had some kind of shifting deadlines from the publishers for a bunch of different reasons (and that made the deadlines more complex), but as the project lingered on, I did indeed started minding being consumed by the project.

6. You can find a good research assistant who will respond to your piles and pleas, even though the work can be a real bitch (search engines simply aren’t equipped for the kind of hunts we do). Relatedly I have some public library observations to be made at a later date.

Research Assistant?! Nope, didn’t have one of those. Actually, at EMU, I think there is a bias against giving too much in the way of institutional support for any kind of book projects that might actually make money.

7. You have a coauthor who is smart and honest and supportive and whom you admire and respect a hell of a lot.

Also something I lacked and also something that seems to be common in successful textbook writing projects– though I have to say that I don’t know if I could put up with a co-writer for a textbook project, given all of the other necessary ingredients.

Oh well. Live and learn. Or just slap it up on the web when the publishers don’t want it anymore.

2 thoughts on “How to not write a textbook”

  1. Nice post. I should point out too that I think it’s customary for schools not to support RAs for profit-making work. So we had an RA put into our contract with the textbook company. It all comes out of the royalties in the end, I’m pretty sure, but it’s totally worth it.

    And yah, writing a textbook can be the suck. I can’t IMAGINE doing one from scratch (Sharon did the first edition of ARCS solo).

  2. Yeah, that’s a good point about the RA: I wasn’t as smart about the contract as I could have been for all kinds of different reasons. I’ve talked with some folks who even managed to get things written into their contracts like a laptop computer to write the book on. You’re right, it’s out of royalties, but that’s still a potentially good arrangement.

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