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I am a few days away from sending in a manuscript for a textbook to a publisher. The publisher's site instructs prospective authors to attach a cover letter describing the work, including why the author wrote the work.

In my case, this came to criticisms of existing textbooks, and the belief that my product addresses those criticisms.

I was inspired to write the textbook to replace two existing books on the market. The publisher I want to work with will be familiar with both books...they once sold the first, but when it went out of print, another publisher came and started selling a competing product and took away their contracts and sales.

As a teacher, I found considerable issues working with both books (for instance, the publisher's own book falling severely out-of-date on the subject area) and I met many other teachers who shared my complaints. This inspired me to write my own textbook.

Is it unprofessional if I lay out my complaints about the existing, competing products in my cover letter?

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Keep it Affirmative:

I think Amadeus is fairly solid in the advise they give. I would add that your presentation of your book should center on why your book is great. So if you do criticize other books, it should be in an oblique way. Generally, text books are building off of existing knowledge in the field, and the existing authorities exist in that matrix. Criticisms of other books should be presented as good points in your book, not just ripping on other books. Your book is tall because you stand on the shoulders of giants.

If you say another book is terrible, it doesn't mean yours is better. It also emphasizes that the other book is a reasonable alternative to yours if it is the standard you compare your own work to. So point out how your book handles something awkward in a better way. As much as possible, don't call out individual books in the field unless they are the only other alternatives. Otherwise, it comes off as an attack on the other book.

You only have so much time and space to convince people your book is the only real choice - don't waste it talking about someone else's book.

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In this case I don't think it is unprofessional; the reason most textbooks are written is in response to complaints about existing textbooks, being out of date, being incorrect or being politically motivated to whitewash the facts. (Or, unfortunately in some venues, the selling point is other textbooks not being whitewashed enough!)

In any case, however, I would be as professional as possible in criticizing other works. Lay out the facts, declare them incorrect, or out of date due to scholarship since they were authored, etc.

Stick to the facts, and avoid hyperbole, emotion and insult. Those books are in error, or are now proven incorrect by more recent scholarship, or they tell an incomplete or biased story.

It is a selling point to the publisher if you will produce a book that allows them to compete, so you want to highlight the specific areas (or at least the most prominent examples) of being competitive with the existing product.

But keep it "effective" and focus on the specific competitive advantages you offer, why school boards would want to choose your book over the existing competition.

Your complaints about a book out of print are only mildly relevant. Even if it is still in use, you are only competing against ONE book if a board is looking for a new book. Perhaps some points about that old book might help a board decide to ditch it, but I would not make that the focus.

And nobody wants to read a vituperative diatribe with a holier-than-thou flavor. Find a way to phrase your complaints and corrections as clear marketing advantages. Even if you wrote your book to set the record straight, you have to sell it for that to happen.

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