It’s rare that any single textbook is perfect for a course—it’s normal to add a few supplemental chapters here and there, or to contextualize the material for your audience. But when does it make sense to create a new textbook from scratch? A new book can provide your students with material that aligns with your research and expertise in a subject area—and help meet your students’ own expectations. Here, we look at some reasons you might author your own book.
You should author your own textbook if…
1. …you use a lot of supplementary sources in your course.
Trying to keep track of two score paper supplements, and keep them up-to-date and relevant, is more than enough work. You might as well just pull out your keyboard and do it yourself.
Sara Eskridge, Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Randolph-Macon College, decided to abandon her print books, plus the stacks of supplements, and now uses Top Hat to engage the students in her U.S. History course. Previously, she would distribute photocopies of primary sources to her students and still require them to buy a textbook.
One of the benefits Eskridge found of a digital textbook was that it allowed students to listen to political speeches and participate in online forums to test their understanding along the way. It’s clear that in history, the future is not books with no primary sources, but materials that can meet the needs of twenty-first century visual learners.
2. …you have specialist knowledge you want to reflect in your teaching.
This is an excellent indicator that you should author your own book. Associate professors Sam Holloway and Mark Meckler built a business management and planning course—”Crafting A Strategy”—by leveraging their existing specialist industry knowledge. They aim to teach strategic business thinking by focusing specifically on the craft beer industry: where a worked example can provide valuable lessons, along with case studies and white papers. If you’re passionate about a certain area, and want to offer it as a basis on which to teach a general course, then authoring your own textbook may be the way to go.
3. …you want to make an outdated, ignored prerequisite course effective again.
When Thomas Morgan, Assistant Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change Arizona State University, chose to flip his classroom, he found his existing course “Bones, Stones and Human Evolution” needed quite a bit of modernization to fit the new teaching format. He also needed more ways to make students active participants in their learning.
For Morgan, authoring his own book assured him that his students were up to speed on the latest evolutionary theories and concepts. “I think this is the latest technology in the transfer of information from teachers to students. People increasingly recognize the limits of paper textbooks. This technology has opened up new pathways,” he says.
4. …you’re in a field where things change so quickly that traditional publishers can’t keep up.
There are some courses—chemistry, or physics, for instance—where the fundamentals never change, barring any epoch-starting discoveries. Other areas, such as digital marketing, need constant updating as they continue to evolve—and by the time that a print book on the subject gets released with its multi-year update cycle, its findings will be out of date once again. Authoring your own digital textbook lets you modify content while new advancements and discoveries are made in real time. Instead of working around a traditional publisher’s timeline, you can now ensure your textbook keeps up with the latest advances in your field.
5. …your previous book is extremely outdated and inaccurate.
Adrienne Brundage, Lecturer at Texas A&M University, found it frustrating that forensics textbooks were always out of date and missing important materials that she would have liked to share with her students. Brundage had to pull together supplementary materials on the side and recognized that her students wouldn’t be able to sell back their books after a new edition was released. “The best thing about digital textbooks is that they are as up-to-the-minute as you want them to be,” she says. Now, Brundage’s students can watch the detailed videos they need, and in-class time can be spent applying knowledge rather than reviewing background information.
6. …your course content is scattered across media and platforms.
Andrea Hendricks, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Perimeter College, Georgia State University, runs an algebra course that previously required students to purchase different software packages, increasing students’ costs significantly. She decided to curate all the resources she previously assigned to students and put them in one place.
By authoring an ebook, Hendricks was able to release individual sections of the book to her students, who were extremely receptive of having homework, readings and videos in one spot. Releasing individual sections of her digital textbook helps Hendricks ensure her students understand initial concepts before moving onto others and ensures students work their way methodically through the content.
7. …even you find your existing textbook too expensive.
When UC Santa Barbara Economics lecturer, Cynthia Benelli, couldn’t justify traditional textbook costs for her students anymore, she knew she had to find an alternative. Rather than students opting to not buy the book, Benelli introduced a digital textbook into her economics course, which her students were much more receptive towards. “I like the fact that students always have it with them. The ease of access is a nice addition to the affordable price tag.”
8. …you teach a niche course that traditional publishing has overlooked.
Some courses are so niche that traditional publishers neglect them, opting to focus on larger, umbrella concepts. For example, since some publishers may choose to release a book on chemistry, Georgetown College professor Meghan Knapp’s niche specialization, culinary chemistry, may be ignored. It can be frustrating having to supply students with a book that skips over most of the content you want to share and instead have to circulate supplementary materials to assist student learning. But with a digital textbook laser-focused on this subject, your students can easily follow your course.
How to get your textbook in the hands of students
If any or all of this applies to you, you have quite a few options to making writing a textbook a reality. In traditional, advance-based publishing, you would work with one of the ‘big five’ publishers or a smaller, more traditional one, depending on the broad market appeal of your audience. You may require an agent, and you should be prepared to give up some publishing rights or creative input.
Self-publishing or print-on-demand is another way to go—though this requires some heavy investment in time in becoming your own publisher as well as textbook writer. Writing an open educational resource may also help you establish a name and reputation in your field, which is a reward beyond any financial returns you might otherwise receive.
You can also consider authoring with Top Hat, where you can collaborate with other colleagues in your field, incorporate modern teaching techniques into your digital textbook and receive royalties for your contributions. Learn more about what it means to author with Top Hat here.