Academic Writing: How To Write A Textbook

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This article explores an often neglected aspect of academic publishing: the student textbook. Many scholars regularly publish their research in journal articles or academic monographs but never consider writing a textbook.

Why write a textbook?

Many lecturers become frustrated because a course that they want to teach has no obvious textbook to recommend to students. If this is the case, why not write your own? As innovative teachers working with the latest theories and approaches, we often find that student textbooks do not keep up with the trends explored in our research, meaning that students can struggle to grasp these ideas.

Textbooks can have a significant international audience, with US academia especially relying on the student purchase of a key text to guide them through a semester’s course. Unlike the publication of academic monographs, publishing student textbooks can offer considerable financial benefit to the authors because students buy a copy each rather than relying on sales to libraries as is the case with most monographs.

Considering co-authoring?

Many publishers prefer that textbooks have an authorial team rather than one author. This is because the ideas that make up a textbook’s content are not solely the intellectual product of one person but of a synthesis of the field, so it makes sense to have a number of scholars on board preparing the content.

Expertise on the methods of teaching and need for a book in a particular national context can help to sell the book. For example, having a European and US scholar working together helps to make the book relevant on both sides of the Atlantic, and consequently boost sales.

Finding a publisher

Looking for a textbook publisher is a different procedure from finding one for a monograph. Make sure you research which companies are the key players in the field, as the top monograph publishers may not be the best for textbooks.

If you are a full time academic you will find that textbook publishers come to you. You will be approached by publishers offering free ‘inspection copies’ of their existing books to encourage you to adopt the books as recommended texts for your courses. Alternatively, publishers’ representatives often visit universities and arrange face to face meetings with academics to discuss this. As an author you can take this opportunity to see whether the publisher would be interested in your proposed textbook.

The writing process

If you collaborate with colleagues overseas on the textbook, the writing process will have to be managed carefully. It helps to assign one member of the partnership or team to maintain contact with publishers, another to deal with images, and so on. The division of the writing will be different in every case, but it is important that any split is equitable, and that this is reflected in the division of royalties. Most co-authors find it easiest to allocate entire chapters to one writer, rather than having a number of contributors working on one section simultaneously, but with modern methods of communication, file sharing and editing, any version of the collaborative process is becoming viable.

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