Book Publishing Operations: NISOD 2007, Update #3

22 May

Today was the last full day of the NISOD conference. Booths in the exhibit hall were taken down beginning at five o’clock with a few closing sessions and the final awards ceremony taking place tomorrow morning.

Once again, I made sure that I was in the exhibit hall ready to go promptly at nine this morning. A big plus is that the Texas State Technical College booth is right next to the complimentary coffee station. (The first morning I was in my hotel room I discovered that while there was a coffee maker, the only coffee provided was decaf. This was not doing me any good. On the other hand, the water drains out of the bathtub like it’s supposed to, which is always the ultimate litmus test of whether a room is truly okay or not. That is, when I was younger and first going to conferences, it was always kind of a rock star feeling to stay in hotels someone else was paying for. As I have gotten older, however, I always have the feeling that I’m actually staying in a big Petri dish and I don’t need any more evidence to support that idea.) Anyway, all my personal foibles aside, it was another productive, though long, day.

This year, while I have tried to balance spending time in the booth versus going to sessions, talking to folks as they wander by the booth, as always, is unexpectedly interesting. Most of these conversations are probably never going to lead to any publishing per se—then again, who knows?—but so many people from around the world go to NISOD you never know who you might run into. (For example, I talked briefly with a couple of guys from the University of Baghdad School of Medicine.) Another interesting person I met was Keith Tolleson, who teaches process technology at Nunez Community College in Louisiana. (For those of you who don’t know what process technology is—you know, if you’re a person like me—it’s basically training people to work in the oil industry—refineries and oil rigs—which there is a lot of in Louisiana and out in the Gulf of Mexico.) In particular, he had some very bizarre stories about how Hurricane Katrina flooded their campus and what they have been doing since then to get to school back to where it was pre-storm.

At 11:15 I went to Diana Gafford’s and Billie Becker’s session “Developmental Acceleration: Quick Review.” As I’ve noted before, Diana is the chair of the developmental math department at TSTC Harlingen while Billie is the chair of the developmental English department at Harlingen. There were at least 50-60 people at their session and the twenty-five sample Quick Math Review books I brought—the first five chapters plus the table of contents for the whole book—were quickly snapped up by attendees. (Plus, after the session was over, I had half a dozen or so more people give me business cards asking for copies of the sample and/or desk copies when the whole book is done next month.) Diana and Billie had a good presentation that covered the logistics, curriculum, and results of the one-week intensive prep courses they offer for math, reading, and writing. (I’m going to ask them for a copy of the PowerPoint they used to post in the near future.)

As I noted yesterday, getting students through developmental classes as quickly yet productively as possible is a big issue these days, especially at two-year colleges. So many students become bogged down in developmental classes—even more so when class sizes are too big—that they lose heart/hope before making it very far in their academic careers. This is always one of my big plugs that I make for our publishing operation: we offer adopting departments a percentage of sales (that comes out of our end of revenue generated) in addition to a royalty for authors which can be a real boon to developmental programs. That is, the rate of contact hour reimbursement by the state for developmental programs is very low compared to most technical courses so these departments, in general, are chronically under funded. On the other hand, the developmental math books we put together last year for use at TSTC Waco will generate several thousand dollars—we’re crunching the exact numbers right now—in local funds (being non-appropriated dollars, local funds can be used for a wide variety of purposes) for the developmental program.

After their session it was back to the booth in the exhibit hall for about an hour and a half before heading back up the escalators at the Austin Convention Center to attend Dr. Hossein Pezeshki’s session about the Math Academy program he offers to public school students at Harlingen. (Dr. Pezeshki is chair of the math department at TSTC Harlingen and the author of The College Algebra Helper that we published last year.) For whatever the reason—perhaps because it was right after lunch—his session didn’t have quick as many folks at it as the earlier one I attended.

On the other hand, I may have gotten my best lead on a book project at this session. Before it started I was chatting with Beverly Bendiks, a speech instructor from TSTC Harlingen, who said they were willing wanting to put together a workbook for their speech classes. Given the number of students who go through speech classes down there—it’s a required class for many of the technology programs—this project could be a real winner. Of course, it can also seem overwhelming to put a book together. As I told her, just gather up the materials you’re using now that you’ve developed, take a look at what gaps exist where you might want to generate more content, then put together a trial version to field test in the classroom.

I’m always suggesting to people that they put a baseline version of a text together first—instead of trying to create some epic text—and then add to it over the course of 2-3 semesters until it has all the things in it they want. This is especially feasible on our end because when a book is first published we’re only printing enough copies for one semester at a time, which makes updating a text from semester to semester no big deal. (On the other hand, of course, we like to eventually get the content fairly stable after 2-3 semesters so that it’s not perpetually in the production cycle.) Todd Glasscock, our editor, and I will be heading town to Harlingen for a week in July so this is certainly one of the many projects we will be following up on.

Finally, regarding the two sessions I attended today by faculty from TSTC Harlingen, I just have to add one more thing: hats off to Dr. Gilbert Leal, president of TSTC Harlingen, who also went to both these presentations. That’s the kind of thing faculty love to see: support for their work from upper-level administration. Too often faculty feel like—and too often correctly assume—they are slogging along in the trenches with nobody really noticing or caring what they are doing. But, when administrators like Dr. Leal take the time to show they do know about and recognize these extra efforts, that’s the kind of leadership and support that makes faculty realize everyone really is on the same team.

Finally, it was back to the booth yet again for one final round of chatting with attendees—that is, schmoozing—and trying to get rid of all our Dr. Peppers to make sure I didn’t have to haul any back to Waco. At five we tore down the booth, I loaded my materials into my car, and I headed back to the room for another quiet evening of elevating my pounding feet and eating some Lean Cuisine pizza.

Mark

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