This review, by Patrick McKeague, a veteran math professor and textbook author, appeared in The Academic Author, the monthly journal of the Text and Academic Authors Association. Silverman is a former TAA president.
Now and then, one of my colleagues will tell me they are interested in writing a textbook. My first piece of advice is always the same: Write a little each day -- a half-hour is about right -- and start as soon as possible. In his book, "Authoring Books and Materials for Students, Academics and Professionals," Franklin H. Silverman gives the same advice. I like this book. Everything I tell prospective authors about writing is in the book, along with lots of other information that will interest both the prospective and the experienced author.
The book covers the entire publishing experience, starting with a discussion of the qualifications necessary to become a successful author, then moving on to the details of writing a proposal, negotiating a contract, writing the book, marketing the book, and ending with a chapter on the tax consequences and other business implications of writing. Along the way, Silverman backs up what he says with quotes from a variety of successful authors. With these quotes, you feel you are getting the advice and experience of a group of people, rather than one person's opinion. Besides that, reading the quotes was lots of fun.
What personal qualities does it takes to be a successful author? Do you need to be well known in your field? Are good writing skills important? Is perfectionism necessary for successful writing? These questions and more are answered in the first few pages of the book, giving the prospective author a good idea of the personal qualities they need to become published authors.
Chapter 2 covers the potential benefits and losses of writing, financial and otherwise. He starts by covering royalties, advances, and grants. Although he doesn't estimate any possible income for textbook authors, he does give a statistic on the average amount earned by authors in the 6,500-member Authors Guild (you'll have to buy the book to see that number). Later in the chapter he covers the downside of writing. Most people with a desire to write don't anticipate any negative reactions from colleagues, let alone family members. But experienced authors know these things happen. Silverman puts them in print and backs them up with quotes from other authors. Here is one:
I maintain a low profile because of the possibility of jealousy. My colleagues in the math department know very little about my activities beyond the classroom. I just don't want any problems.
Choosing a publisher is the topic for Chapter 3. Here he distinguishes among textbook, trade and internet publishers. He advises not writing the book before getting a contract, which is good advice. He ends the chapter with a discussion on self-publishing.
Chapter 4 gives the details of writing a successful proposal, valuable information for anyone with an idea for a book.
Anyone with an interest in writing will want to read Chapter 5, which covers contracts. When I talk with colleagues who have been offered a publishing contract, they are usually focused on the royalty rates and advance. I tell them that there are more important things to consider in the contract. The potential problem clauses are all covered throughout this chapter, in detail. The information here is valuable for all of us, whether we are signing a new contract or trying to renegotiate an existing one. Also covered in this chapter are joint collaboration agreements, which are new to me. They are agreements between co-authors that spell out the details of who will do what, how the royalties are divided, and anything else that can become a problem between co-authors.
There are eight interesting appendices at the back of the book. One has a sample book proposal, which can be very useful to the prospective author. Another lists common characteristics of successful textbooks, information that is useful to all authors, experienced or not. My one small complaint with the book concerns the appendix that contains a standard publishing contract. Anyone who is offered a contract from a publisher is going to see one of these, and I worry that an inexperienced author will compare the contract offered by his publisher to this one, and think that everything is OK when it is not. I would rather the appendix included alternate contract clauses, favorable to authors (such as the ones supported by the TAA contract guidelines, along with the standard contract clauses).
As I said before, I like this book very much. In fact, I am going to buy two copies -- one for myself and one for the next person that tells me they are interested in writing