The publishing of textbooks used in public and private schools is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States alone. Textbook publishing's importance is far greater than its economic value, for the textbooks that schoolchildren and adult learners read shape their minds and thereby shape society. If you want to be a truly influential author, publishing textbooks is the way to go.
The textbook publishing market is controlled by a handful of powerful players. Curriculum committees at the state and local levels of government decide which textbooks will be purchased for use in public schools. They wield such great purchasing power that their choices become the de facto standards for private schools as well. If a textbook publisher's books are not chosen by a large number of curriculum committees, there simply won't be enough demand for the books to support the mass production that yields affordable prices.
Even worse, in the United States one state's curriculum committee wields disproportionate purchasing power. What Texas buys for its public schools is what the majority of school districts nationwide buy. So the fifteen conservative members of the Texas Curriculum Committee, to a large extent, determine what most schoolchildren in the United States will learn.
There are thousands of textbook publishers, but less than a score control the overwhelming majority of the market. Here is a list of the top textbook publishing companies:
Mc-Graw Hill Companies, Houghton Mifflin Company, Henry Holt & Company, Prentice Hall (a Pearson Company), Harcourt, Pearson Publishing, Addison-Wesley (a Pearson Company), Scott Foresman (a Pearson Company), The Thompson Corporation, Jones & Bartlett, W.W. Norton & Company, Wiley, and Bedford, Freeman, Worth
Despite the bottlenecks in the textbook market, there is hope for someone who wishes to publish an alternative textbook. Many teachers, dissatisfied with the textbooks chosen by curriculum committees, select their own "supplemental" textbooks and teach from those, ignoring the official choices for the most part. Teachers choose supplemental textbooks from a vast array offered by publishers, from recommendations of other teachers, and from their own research of available textbooks, often conducted online.
To get a textbook published through a publisher, start with a solid book proposal. It should detail not only the content of your proposed book, but also the ways in which it is better than existing textbooks. A lot of research should go into this proposal. A solid proposal is the key to signing a textbook contract. A textbook proposal (or proposal for any book) should include six elements:
- Market description
- Competition description
- Book description and outline
- Author description and qualifications
- Sample chapter(s)
If your proposal is for a specialty textbook, the giant publishers may not be interested. Approach smaller publishers such as university presses that specialize in textbook runs of 1,000 copies or less.
You can also self-publish your textbook, printing small runs through a print-on-demand service, in hopes that teachers will pick it up as a "supplemental" text. Self-publishing through a web site, academic resource directories, and guest appearances at teachers' conferences is an effective way to get your textbook exposure and sales.