Thursday, March 1, 2012

The tenth edition of a college textbook

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
It was never a dream of mine, and it was never even on my radar screen at all—at any point in my life.  The possibility of writing a college textbook came to me without asking for it, soliciting it, or even thinking about it.  And yet I feel  fortunate and, indeed, lucky.  

To have the privilege of writing a tenth edition of a college textbook is not completely under an author’s control.  That is, it is a choice made for authors.  First, it must be adopted by a sufficient number of professional colleagues.  Second, for them to make the decision to adopt, it has to be liked by student readers of the book.  Third, the number of adoptions must be ample enough to make it worthwhile for the publishing company—in this case McGraw-Hill—to invest its resources in a new edition.  Of course, the author must agree to write it; however, if an author were to say no, many  contracts allow publishing companies to carry on without them—adding another author to the mast head.
The only reason I began writing college textbooks is because my co-author, Saundra Hybels, whom I had met in a college course at the University of Michigan, asked me to co-author one with her.  She knew the president of a small publishing company—D. Van Nostrand (which has since gone out of business)—and her connection permitted us (maybe even encouraged her!) to write a book entitled Speech/Communication.  Its popularity and success led to a second edition, and when Random House bought out the Van Nostrand list, we became Random House authors, and at that time we changed the name of the textbook—even though it was exactly the same book—to Communicating Effectively.  

That was in 1984.  (Our first edition of Communicating Effectively carried a copyright date of 1986.)  Saundra died in 1999, and I finished the 1998 edition and then wrote the last five editions (including the 10th) as a sole author.  Previously we had divided the task with Saundra writing the first half of the book, and with me writing the second half including all the chapters on public speaking.
Who knew (or could accurately predict) that the book would continue through a tenth edition?  When I mentioned that I had been asked to write a tenth edition, my father-in-law, also a college textbook author, said to me, “Do you know how many people in the world have ever been asked to write a tenth edition?”  (The answer, of course, is very, very few.)
The first thing I did when asked to write the new edition was to request from my editor at McGraw-Hill, Nicole Bridge, reviews of the ninth edition.  I suggested some of the areas that needed to be covered, and she proceeded to get 20 reviews using an online form reviewers filled out and sent to her.  It is those 20 reviews that shaped and guided my work.  I took those reviews on a long summer vacation in our fifth wheel, and I worked on them diligently for well over a month—organizing the ideas and suggestions by chapter, highlighting those that demanded my attention, noting those on which a future decision (whether to make the change or not) would have to be made, and listing all those that would affect the book as a whole rather than individual chapters throughout.
With the organization of the reviewers’ comments complete, I created a chapter-by-chapter revision plan which incorporated (prior to my doing anything about the comments) all the reviewers’ ideas.  This revision plan became my precise and exacting blueprint for the ninth-edition changes.  It governed how I proceeded, which chapters needed the most attention, and where additional research and investigation was necessary.  The revision plan grew as the actual changes were inserted with page and paragraph numbers and whether permission would be necessary to use the information.
Now I must pause and explain a couple of items.  First, I always anticipate writing a new edition.  This is important because I begin collecting new and relevant information immediately after completing the last edition.  You cannot wait simply because important information may be overlooked; thus, the search for information is an ongoing and unrelenting task.  Books, newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, other textbooks, and any other available resources (like the Internet) must be carefully and thoroughly canvassed along the way.
The second item that needs explanation at this point is a new adventure I began with this edition.  Because I blog, and because my five-day-a-week blog entries are posted on Facebook as well as on my web site, I decided to chronicle the process of writing the tenth edition in blogs, and the Facebook entries that include the steps could be viewed there — but are likely to be deleted now because of time.  This was an enjoyable exercise, and for those who have never written a textbook, I hope it offered interesting, informative insights.
Once the revision plan was complete—using the reviewers’ comments organized by chapter—I began my work by following the blueprint.  This is a tedious, time-consuming, and challenging job that requires patience, extraordinary insight, and close attention to detail.
Another job I performed immediately when asked to write a tenth edition was to write an “active open-mindedness” (or AOM) box for each of the 16 chapters.  Most of the previous editions offered adopters a new and unique “selling point.”  These included, “Consider This” boxes, “Another Point of View” boxes, as well as “Working Together,” “Reality Check,” and “Strategic Flexibility” boxes.  The AOM boxes were a new selling point for the tenth edition.
Just as an aside here, every one of the AOM boxes I wrote at this early stage appears in the completed tenth edition, and all appear without a single change from when originally written.
There was another important discovery, however, based on the reviews.  Several reviewers noted the short attention spans of students and offered suggestions for breaking up large bodies of text material.  It is precisely for that reason that I added over 75 new marginal boxes designed to offer specific instructions regarding text material, provide examples of text information, or furnish a quick summary.  Many appear simply to break up long sections of textbook material.
Reviewer comments suggested, too, that I combine my two chapters on group communication into one, pull out all my sections on dealing with conflict in the three chapters where they occurred and make a single new one entitled, “Conflict and Conflict Management,” and reorder the contents in a more meaningful and logical manner.  These are major changes in a new edition because you don’t want to lose adopters; however, to make such changes requires great thought, careful organization, and much justification (to self and others).
Many changes follow when the main text is changed.  There are organizational changes in the instructor’s manual, new activities that must be organized for instructors, new review and quiz questions, new items to support instructor lectures, and creative web site and web work.  The tenth edition is a lot of work—especially when I began with a goal of increased usefulness, improved structure, and more supporting information and material.
Writing and Developing Your College Textbook by Mary Ellen Lepionka is a valuable resource.  Anthony Haynes of the UK, wrote this review of Lepionka’s book at “There aren't many books about textbooks and the ones that do exist tend to be rather theoretical. This one is very practical. You can tell it isn't written by a hack: the book is full of concrete details based on experience. As a textbook publisher myself, I feel confident in saying that no prospective textbook authors could read this without profit - and I doubt any experienced authors could either.”  

The other six reviews were favorable as well.   Another said, Mary Ellen Lepionka’s (a veteran development editor in higher education publishing for more than twenty years) publication, “is a straightforward guide to creating an easy-to-understand, comprehensive, well-thought-out, accessibly organized textbook for college-level courses. Individual chapters cover how to publish the text manuscript, as well as the importance of structure, ways to make drafting and revising easier, the right way to acquire permissions when needed, and much, much more. Writing And Developing Your College Textbook is very highly recommended for aspiring textbook writers regardless of the subject matter of the book itself.”

Jennifer Burns has a delightful and insightful essay, “Key to Successful Writing,” at the web site Cheap College Textbooks.  If you are interested in getting started as a writer, this essay offers a useful starting point.
Copyright March 2012 by And Then Some Publishing, LLC


  1. Maximillion Ryan IIIMarch 1, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Congratulations on an amazing milestone!

  2. I usually complain about textbook prices, and thanks for shedding a light on this matter. You're such an inspiration. I guess if the author keeps on writing new versions it only means that he cares and passionate about sharing his knowledge. Just wondering... What are your thoughts on AApl's iAuthor?


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