How to Become a Textbook Writer

Don’t give up; it may take many submissions to pique an editor’s interest.
Don’t give up; it may take many submissions to pique an editor’s interest. (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

Textbook writing is a lucrative business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for independent writers and authors in 2010 was $101,110. It’s no surprise, considering that textbooks often sell for over $100 apiece, and their authors can receive 15 percent of the sales price in royalties. If you have expertise in a certain field and you feel you can bridge a gap in the textbook market, you may find joy and success as a textbook writer.

Get to know the market. If you’re interested in writing math books for high school students, for example, read the existing textbooks on the market.

Obtain a bachelor’s degree or other training in the topic on which you want to write your textbooks. Though it may not be necessary, a degree or other credential will boost your credibility in your subject area and increase your odds of getting published.

Write a couple of early chapters in the textbook and polish them beyond a rough draft. Although your future publisher will probably want to make changes, having part of your book already written will demonstrate both your ability to write and your commitment to the project.

Compose a brief query letter. This will serve as the introduction to your book proposal. Your query letter should summarize what your book is about, why you are qualified to write it, and how it stands out or fits into the current market.

Compile your book proposal. A typical proposal has six parts: the cover letter or query letter, a market description, a competition description, an author description and your sample chapters. Some editors may require you to include a synopsis, which is a fleshed-out description of your book from beginning to end.

Mail or email your book proposal to appropriate agents or editors. If you are sending your submission out to multiple people at once, indicate in your cover letter that your submission is a simultaneous submission.

Tips & Warnings

  • When submitting your proposal to an agent or editor, always follow that person's specific guidelines. Everyone is different. Some editors may only want to see an outline of your textbook, while others may ask for a much more detailed submission package. If you've never written a book proposal before, it may help to read a book on proposal writing to guarantee you put your best face forward as you seek publication.

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