As an editor and book designer working primarily with self-publishing authors, I am privileged to regularly receive a wide variety of manuscripts, all of which represent the writer’s passion and belief that the information within should be shared with readers. This is especially true of PhD graduate Paul McNamara, who dreamed of igniting a passion for mathematics in secondary school students by communicating his unique slant on this often-dreaded subject. Paul is on a mission to ensure that young people don’t end up like me – someone who has always been ‘maths phobic’ and has shied away from this important subject field! It was such a pleasure to help him achieve his vision with the publication of his mathematics textbook, The Derivation of Mathematics: Mastering Secondary School Mathematics, earlier this year.
As a school student, Paul had a keen interest in mathematics but felt that it would have been much easier for him to learn the subject if it had been approached in the right way. He was fortunate to have a father who was a mathematics teacher and had a deep passion for his chosen profession. With his father’s help, Paul conquered the basics of Newtonian physics and special relativity by Year 10. His love of mathematics was established at this point and has been an ongoing theme throughout his life.
After completing his PhD in physics and working in the computing industry for many years, Paul was ready for a complete change of direction – embarking on his journey to help school students learn mathematics with ease. In tandem with writing the textbook, Paul has developed the Mastering Secondary School Mathematics program which is designed to complement existing mathematics courses by creating clarity and interest in this subject in students.
Breaking into the Field of Educational Publishing
As with any book, newly published textbooks have to compete with existing books that may have been used in universities and schools for many years. Before embarking on the potentially long and arduous journey of writing a textbook, it is important to consider how your publication will fare in such a competitive industry.
The motivation for writing a textbook may be financially-based, to gain industry recognition or the desire to share a lifetime of accumulated knowledge with the younger generation. However, motivation and knowledge alone are not enough to ensure your book is well-received within your industry. First and foremost, it is crucial to evaluate the competition and ensure that your new textbook will have a point of difference that is sufficient enough to persuade university professors and schoolteachers to switch to a new resource. If the current textbook is long and tedious, it might be time for a shortened, more to-the-point textbook on the same topic, or for a series of textbooks where the information is delivered in more manageable chunks. If the current version is outdated, then an updated version can be very timely. The most effective option is to write a textbook on a topic that has not been previously well covered.
Points to Consider When Writing a Textbook
There are some important things to consider when writing a textbook. First, you need to decide on the topic you are going to cover. As mentioned earlier, the best topics are those that fill a gap in the market. If this isn’t possible, it is important to ensure that your book has a real point of difference.
Second, you need to decide on the age or reading level of students who you are targeting your book towards. It is much easier to write for a target audience that you have experience dealing with; however, if you do decide to branch out to a new age group or study level, you could consider running some classes or connecting with your chosen group to increase your knowledge and experience.
Third, make sure you keep your audience firmly in mind and focus your writing accordingly. Teachers with specialised knowledge are perfect candidates for textbook writing because they already know how to talk to students. Academics without teaching experience can often forget that the audience for their textbook is a group of students. Instead, they write in the same way they would for journal articles, which are directed to peers with assumed knowledge on the topic. To help avoid this pitfall, a friend or family member with the right level of knowledge on the topic can be a valuable resource for double-checking the appropriateness of the language used in the textbook.
Finally, testing the textbook before publication is a vital step. It is essential to ensure that your textbook is readable, understandable and useful before committing to the publication process. The most valuable test is using the textbook in a real-life scenario, such as in a tutoring group, or school or university classroom.
The Rewards of Publication
A textbook can take many years of hard work from conception to publication, but it can be an extremely rewarding process. As well as offering the potential for significant financial rewards, educational publishing can help to propel an academic’s career and bring personal satisfaction by serving as a summary of a lifetime of hard work. For Paul McNamara, the reward of self-publishing his textbook will be to enjoy witnessing his book and tutoring program opening up the undeniably beautiful and important world of mathematics to secondary school students – helping them to discover a passion for a field that has so many applications in the modern world.
Over the course of this year, I had the pleasure of working with author and editor Bronwyn Blake, helping her to achieve her long-held vision for the Gulf Women Project. After spending time with a group of women living in remote regions of the Gulf of Carpentaria, Bronwyn became passionate about curating their interesting stories for future generations. As a result, she suggested that it would be a wonderful idea for them to publish their life stories in the form of an anthology. At first, the women thought she was joking; however Bronwyn gently pointed out the importance of sharing their stories with a wider audience. Bronwyn volunteered her time for the project, spending many hours teaching first-time authors how to write and then editing their stories in order to turn them into an anthology. The book, Gulf Women: Voices from Remote North West Queensland was a mammoth effort and one that will see all book sale profits returned to the Gulf community.
Gulf Women was officially launched in July 2017 in Burketown, Queensland. The book launch was held in the Nijinda Durlga Shire Hall and among the hundreds of supporters were thirty of the fifty-five women who contributed their powerful stories to the project. Drought, bushfires and floods are regular occurrences in their remote way of life, as are pet crocodiles and snakebites, and these women travelled far and wide (some meeting in-person for the first time at the launch) to share in the joy of seeing their amazing stories published.
Gulf Women is a collection of short stories from a group of rural women writers. However, anthologies can also be collections of poems, plays, songs or even a combination of these different formats. Most commonly, an editor compiles the collection and publishes the content in the form of a book, thereby providing emerging authors with the opportunity to have their work published without having to write an entire book themselves.
Anthologies: A General Overview
Anthologies always have an overarching theme – like the women of the Gulf region. However, the real art of editing an anthology is finding how the many additional themes within each piece of work link together to create smooth transitions and a cohesive body of work, rather than simply being a random collection of many individual stories.
A lot of work goes into editing an anthology, but it can be a rewarding experience. A large proportion of the work associated with producing an anthology revolves around forming relationships with published authors and potential writers. This in turn creates a small community of people who feel connected to the editor and his or her vision for the anthology, and who also share a feeling of accomplishment when they hold the printed book in their hands.
A Collaborative Experience
The collaborative process of sharing life experiences lends power to a good anthology and offers something unique to its readers. In the case of the Gulf women, sharing their stories of their lives and their ability to exist within a harsh environment gives their anthology a strong collective voice. However, it’s not only the writers of an anthology who share something unique. Reading an anthology is a different experience to reading other genres, such as a novel. In reality, the editor of an anthology is similar to a reader of other genres – selecting those stories they like and discarding those that they don’t will complement the collection. The key difference is that they publish their preferences for other people to read.
Some readers are not fond of anthologies because they consider them to be essentially recycled content; however, others like this ‘second-hand glimpse’ which forms the essence of an anthology. The editor of an anthology must allocate sufficient time to decide what material to include and the best way to structure the book. It is important that the published book not only contains stories they are personally interested in, but also stories that other people will enjoy reading.
Explore Other Worlds
Anthologies enable readers to explore a world they may not have experienced before by providing insight through the eyes of multiple writers. This may be a place, a culture or simply an experience that many have shared. Instead of offering one viewpoint or one theme, anthologies offer variety to the reader, which often keeps them engaged with the book. Some readers collect anthologies that they consider to be the best pieces from a given era or critical theory. These can be a time-saving resource for students because it saves them from having to scour countless books to find what they need.
A well-researched and well-produced anthology has the capacity to amaze, enlighten or delight its audience and the ability to completely redefine the future of both reading and writing. With a good editor and some remarkable stories, anthologies can be a powerful communication medium for a group of like-minded writers.
For me, the advent of a New Year is always an opportunity to pause and to review the events of the past year. It’s a time to celebrate your successes and to consider ways to improve the not-so-successful outcomes. One success I was very proud to have been involved in 2016 was the release of my client’s (Jim Reay) third book – The Run. According to Jim, The Run is ‘a thriller mystery which goes inside the psyche of the revolutionary fighter … their willingness and need to kill or die for a cause’.
So with this concept firmly in mind, I wanted to share with you the step-by-step process I followed to create a book cover design that would effectively encapsulate the theme of Jim’s novel.
Step-By-Step Process for Designing a Client’s Book Cover
STEP ONE: The Client Brief
Jim collated his initial ideas for the front cover of his book in a Word document (see image below) which he then forwarded to me. This original client brief is an important starting point in formulating the final cover design as it offers an insight into the author’s vision for their book.
STEP TWO: Researching Background and Central Figure Photographs for Front Cover
The next step in creating the book cover design involved searching an online stock photo library (DepositPhotos.com) for two suitable high-resolution royalty-free photographs – a background image of a small fishing boat adrift on the open sea and a central image of a masked terrorist – to purchase on Jim’s behalf.
Some of the watermarked photo options I identified during the research process as possible options are shown below:
Images of a fishing boat on open sea with sunrise or sunset background
Images of masked terrorist
STEP THREE: Editing Selected Stock Photos Using Photoshop
From the range of watermarked photo examples I provided to Jim, he selected Background image – 2 and Central figure image – 5 as his preferred options to purchase for the book cover design. With these two high-resolution photos forming the basis of the cover design, I then commissioned a Photoshop artist to edit both photographs in order to create a cohesive ‘look and feel’ for the cover of Jim’s book.
The ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of both photographs are shown below:
Original and Photoshopped version of background image
Original and Photoshopped version of central figure image
STEP FOUR: Putting it all Together
With the two stock images having been edited in Photoshop, it was time to put all of the graphic and text elements (including back cover blurb, tagline, author website URL and ISBN barcode) together to create the book cover design. At this point, I experimented with different font faces and colours for the title (plus subtitle if appropriate) and the author’s name on the front cover of the book so that Jim could make his final decision regarding which colour palette and font style he preferrred.
Two initial example book cover designs for The Run are shown below:
STEP FIVE: The Final Tweaks
Jim’s liked the yellow colour palette and font style of Version 1 of the book cover design examples. At this stage, all that remained for me to do was to make a few final tweaks (including capitalising the book title and changing the blurb to white text on a dark shaded textbox) to produce the final book cover design.
Below is an image of the final book cover design for The Run:
Over the past few days, I’ve been reflecting back over 2015 and the different projects I’ve worked on and the authors I’ve supported to publish their book. One self publishing project I’ve been very proud to have been involved in was helping my client Cathy Burke (CEO of The Hunger Project Australia) to publish her book: Unlikely Leaders: Lessons from the Village Classroom. This moving and inspirational book – which describes the work that Cathy and others from the The Hunger Project organisation are doing to combat world poverty – has the potential to transform many people’s lives.
Throughout history, it has been through the stories that we tell each other that we shape our own lives and those of our friends, families and communities around us. I firmly believe that inspirational books can act as a powerful vehicle for change within society – providing inspiration, clarifying problems and challenging entrenched thinking patterns. At a critical juncture in your life, the right book can offer you the courage to embark on a new venture, the reality check that you’re not yet ready to embrace change or the quiet affirmation that you’re not alone in your fears or ambitions. An inspirational book can set you on a path to happiness and a successful life.
Reasons for writing an inspirational book
1. Overcoming adversity
During our lives we may have to cope with heartbreaking challenges – the death of a loved one, chronic illness, unemployment or financial difficulties. Sharing what you did to overcome your problems or how your positive attitude uplifted those around you during a challenging time in your life can have a powerful influence on your audience.
2. Personal development
Whether it took you months or a lifetime, we’ve all encountered a powerful learning experience we think might be helpful for others to hear about. Maybe there are things you would have done differently in hindsight or maybe you want to instil hope in others so that they can triumph in their own lives. Your wisdom can help others grow in similar situations.
3. The inspiration of a leader
Has your leadership motivated others to take action? Whatever the actual circumstances, we all have pride-worthy moments of leadership we can share with others to light their path in life.
Sharing your experiences or life story can help readers to identify how you made decisions and why; what wisdom you gained as a result of your particular challenge or journey; and what things made it possible for you to grow and change – transforming into a stronger and more mature person.
Readers want to be able to share your insights so that they have a better understanding of how they can make positive decisions and solve their problems. Even if you are a fiction author, you can write stories that demonstrate how you’ve worked at understanding challenges and give your audience information which they, in turn, can apply in their own lives. Consider your readers as your future self and aim to inspire and encourage them with your words.