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17 Mar

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Writing Textbook Proposals: The Brief & Expanded Table of Contents (TOC)

10 Jan

As I noted in this post about the components of a book proposal, two of its most important elements are the brief TOC and expanded TOC because, after your cover letter at the front of your proposal, these are the first real examples as to what your book is going to look like.

First, your brief TOC is a list of all the chapters of the book being proposed and should take up about half a page at the most. For textbooks and/or other types of non-fiction this can be especially revealing (and easy) to produce because each chapter title should—usually!—clearly reflect its subject. And, as well, there should be a certain linear/forward progression in the content from the beginning to end of the book that is evident from its overall layout.

The expanded TOC should immediately follow the brief TOC in your proposal and will, as you might guess, provide additional information about each chapter in the book. This is usually 2-3 sentences about a particular chapter: a breakdown of its main sections, particular elements to be present (I’ll post in the future about the elements common to individual textbook chapters), and, in the case of multiple authors, who will be writing each chapter and/or sections of each chapter. (For example, with our biomedical equipment textbook, Nick Cram was the lead author who wrote much of the main text while his co-author, Selby Holder, produced most of the labs at the end of each chapter.) In total, 3-5 pages—depending on how many chapters you’re expecting to have—should be enough to flesh out the brief TOC.

As I mentioned above, producing the initial brief TOC for a textbook can be relatively easy to produce. That’s because faculty who want to write a book have, in many cases, have already produced a brief TOC without even necessarily knowing it: it’s the course syllabus they’re already using. (A course syllabus is the schedule of subjects to be covered and assignments to be completed in a class over a semester.) I often tell faculty members that their syllabus—either individual or departmental—can be the best place to start in producing the brief TOC because it identifies specific information in a specific order with specific tasks to aid in learning that information.

There are a few things I’d like add in conclusion. First of all, neither the brief nor expanded TOC in the book proposal is an ironclad contract. There is still plenty of wiggle room to allow the specific content and its layout to morph during the writing process. On the other hand, the TOCs show that the author(s) have a plan for how the final book will look and a starting point as to how to get there.

Finally, one of my projects this semester is to write two brief e-books, one about how to be an adjunct college instructor and another about writing e-books. (When complete, both of these books will be available as free downloads from the TSTC Publishing e-commerce site.) I’m doing this because one of our strategic initiatives is to show faculty how to write short e-books in their areas of specialty that will be available for sale from our e-commerce site and these two e-books I’m working on will be designed—hopefully!—to provide examples and information on how to do this. But, in relationship to the discussion today, I’ll also be making periodic posts updating progress on these projects, especially as the development/writing process relates to producing those elements for the book proposal as well as the subsequent editorial, design, marketing, and sales areas.


Writing Textbook Proposals: Elements of the Book Proposal

19 Dec

Much of my job as a publisher, as I’ve noted earlier, consists of talking to faculty and staff around the Texas State Technical College System (and beyond) about potential book projects. Once these discussions move beyond this introductory and informal stage, however, the next step is for the author(s) to put together a formal book proposal.

There are several reasons for doing this. First, it’s easy to talk about doing a book; writing a book is hard work. A complete book proposal shows us that the project has been given serious consideration by the writer(s). After that, the book proposal provides the information needed for us to understand the scope, intent, and market for the book. The market aspect is crucial because we have to make sure that a project is financially viable before we move forward. (That is, as I say all the time, it takes the same amount of effort to produce a book that sells one copy as opposed to one that sells a million; we’re trying to be closer to the latter as opposed to the former.) Finally, the book proposal provides the basic framework of how the book will “look” when it is completed.

Most book proposals have many of the same basic elements. All publishers need to have general information about the book, information about the author(s), detailed information about the book, marketing and/or adoption information, and then several additional (and crucial) attachments. Remember: the necessary information elicited by our particular book proposal form detailed below is specifically geared toward textbooks.


General Information

a. Proposed book title
b. Department(s) to be used in
c. Course(s) to be used in
d. College(s) to be used at
e. Total projected per-year copy usage at all locations

2. Author(s) Information

a. Contact information
b. Writing/editorial experience

3. Expanded Book Information

a. Brief description of content and purpose of book
b. Similar books currently on market
c. Expanded description of content and purpose of book (specifically, the need that this book will fill not currently being met by books already on the market)
d. Special features: types of graphics, forms/worksheets, CD-ROM, instructor guide, companion Web site, etc.
e. Projected length of manuscript
f. Date to be begun and target date for completion
g. Software the manuscript will be written with

4. Adoption & Marketing Information

a. Primary location book to be used at; that is, the school(s) of the author(s)
b. All course titles and numbers book to be used in
c. Course enrollment numbers at primary location for the last year in which book to be used
d. Enrollment numbers, if applicable, at other TSTC colleges
e. Suggested off-campus markets for book: other schools, professional associations, private industry, etc.

5. Attachments

a. Syllabus for class(es) book to be used in
b. Brief table of contents (chapter titles alone in order, about half a page)
c. Expanded table of contents (a paragraph or so discussing more specifically what will be in each chapter, two-three pages total)
d. List of any outside copyrighted materials to be used
e. Sample chapter

In many ways, all other elements of the book proposal form being equal, the adoption/marketing information is the key element in making the final decision as to whether a project will go forward or not. That is, a book has to have the potential to generate enough sales to make money. So, a highly specialized book that sells ten copies a year—and we have some technical programs at TSTC whose book usage would fit into this category—with little potential for outside sales probably won’t be viable. On the other hand, if you have a book that will sell 150+ copies a year at its primary location that also has real potential for outside sales, that project would likely be a good one to have go forward.

In the end, the book proposal form allows both the writer(s) and the publisher to have a clearer idea as to the nature and scope of the book being proposed. It allows the writer(s) to present the content and purpose of the book along with where it will fit in into the market with its competitors. It allows the publisher to determine the financial viability of the project. And, by virtue of the attachments—brief and expanded table of contents, course syllabus, sample chapter—both the author(s) and publisher will have a relatively accurate view of what the final book will look like.


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