As an editor and book designer who works mainly with self-publishing authors, I am privileged to regularly receive a wide variety of manuscripts, all of which are representative of the writer’s passion and belief that their knowledge and expertise should be shared with others. 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! Hence, it was such a pleasure to help him achieve his vision when he self-published 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
The four important things you need to consider when writing a textbook are outlined below.
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.
Fourth, 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. In this way he can help them to discover a passion for a field which has so many applications in the modern world.