YSU professors walk through the inception of a textbook

Mark Vopat, a professor of philosophy, and Alan Tomhave, an associate professor of philosophy, have published two textbooks jointly: “Business Ethics: The Big Picture” and “Business Ethics: It’s Just Ethics.” Photos courtesy of Mark Vopat

By Douglas M. Campbell

With the semester about to end, students are either returning or picking up textbooks. While exploring the sea of textbooks at the campus store, students may be surprised to learn some were written by their professor.

It isn’t uncommon. According to a 2019 Insider and Barnes & Noble Insights study, 67% of students say textbooks purchased were written by their college professor.

Susan Clutter, an assistant professor of forensic science, published her first textbook, titled “So You Want to be a CSI?” in late 2020 through the Kendall Hunt Publishing Co. 

She published her work in collaboration with co-writers and former CSI workers Leggie Boone and David McGill.

“We really didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, Kendall Hunt, they were very patient and walked us through the process,” Clutter said. 

According to Clutter, the journey began with a cold call from Kendall Hunt to discuss the creation of a forensic science textbook with experience in the field. Clutter, Boone and McGill sat down with Kendall Hunt to discuss the plans for the textbook.

The goal of the textbook was to provide students with an inexpensive deep dive from three CSI workers in a conversational tone with plenty of picture examples. From that meeting onward, Clutter, Boone and McGill signed a contract to produce the textbook in about a year with several deadlines in between. The book contains 14 chapters divided evenly among the writers. 

“We sent that [draft] over to Kendall Hunt, and they went ahead and gave us edits. Surprisingly, because we have never written a book, we thought the editing process would be a lot of red ink, cross outs and changes,” Clutter said. “There were startlingly few changes … mostly the changes were the occasional typo, and if they thought our sentence structure was sloppy, they would reword it.”

Following the corrections, the publishing company gave guidance on acquiring photographs for the textbook. Clutter said this step was challenging and she worked to track people down for permission to use their work.

Once photos were acquired, the textbook underwent a process called proofing. This is where all content and components in the textbook are laid out before printing and examined one more time to ensure the textbook will stand out visually.

The final book, according to Clutter, has a spiral binding that can be reused. Plans were made to incorporate a virtual reality component, but due to COVID-19, it will be implemented in later editions.

Mark Vopat, a professor of philosophy, and Alan Tomhave, an associate professor of philosophy, have published two textbooks jointly: “Business Ethics: The Big Picture” and “Business Ethics: It’s Just Ethics.” 

“One of the motivations for it was we wanted a textbook that was grounded in our own views as to how business ethics should be taught,” Vopat said. 

Vopat and Tomhave’s other goal with the textbooks was to keep the prices down.

For their first textbook, they were approached by a representative from Kendall Hunt. About five years after the book was published, a disagreement over the contract formed between Kendall Hunt, Vopat and Tomhave on the price of the textbook. Eventually, Vopat and Tomhave sought to publish another textbook. 

“I was familiar with the Canadian publisher Broadview Press, and they publish high-quality textbooks and academic scholarly works, and they do it at a reasonable price,” Vopat said.

Vopat called the company with their ideas and Broadview Press eventually showed interest in their work. 

During the publication process, the editor sends back a proposal form that questions the topic of the book, the audience and the course it can be used for. Depending on the publisher, the writers also send sample chapters. Editors then decide whether or not they are interested in the book. If they accept, they will write up a contract on the book’s use and the royalties involved.

The textbook was a combination of original work from Vopat and Tomhave and an anthology of articles on philosophy. The use of previously published work resulted in paying royalty fees to incorporate them into the textbook. 

“The publisher gives you a budget and the budget says, ‘Here’s how much you can spend on royalties,’” Tomhave said. “Some articles are expensive, and some are not.”

After selection, the articles are sent to the publishing company to determine the cost compared to the budget. The budget for this textbook is estimated at around $2,500 to $3,000.

“I believe with Broadview, they sort of split the difference with us. So they didn’t make us go down to where the initial amount was, but we couldn’t keep everything,” Tomhave said.

From there, new articles had to be selected to substitute the more expensive ones. Eventually, their book went through revisions, proofing and publication. 

Vopat offers advice for anyone who wants to publish their own work. 

“What I notice is that most publishers want a complete manuscript. Some will go off of one or two chapters if you have an idea for a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I think most publishers want beginning to end … finished,” Vopat said. 

He also advises doing market research, as well as preparing for potential rejections. 

“Don’t get too hung up on the rejections, you are going to get a lot of those and that is part of the process,” Vopat said.