Textbooks

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
WRITING SUCCESSFUL TEXTBOOKS. By Anthony Haynes. Aamp;C Black pound;9.99. TES Direct pound;9.49

There's something unglamorous about writing textbooks. As Anthony Haynes points out: "No one reads textbooks for fun." More worrying, the name on the cover may well be greeted by a collective groan from a reluctant class.

Haynes's guide captures this reality in brutal starkness. "There is no great secret about what makes a good textbookI Experts often fail to make good writers of textbooks." Instead, the successful writer will be familiar with most of the subject matter, but will brush up on less familiar areas through writing the book. It's not someone hoping to convert a few years' worth of lesson plans into a classroom bestseller.

Other key ingredients are an ability to string sentences together, being organised, and managing your time well. It's someone who "instead of reading the newspaper or aimlessly drinking coffee" grabs any available moment for writing. He estimates that "most writers can produce 500 words of draft material in a one-hour session. At that rate, if they write for three hours a week, they can write over 75,000 words a year."

It's this bracing realism that distinguishes Haynes's book. He gets the tone right partly because he's not a writer of textbooks, but someone who ommissions and publishes them. This brings a sense of detached expertise. He's able to quote the best and worst traits of the books he has encountered. Most enlightening of all, he addresses the issue of the way people learn - something neglected in education, let alone textbook publishing - guiding prospective writers to ways of creating a book that will work with a range of readers. He reminds us of the need to balance "concrete experience" with "abstract conceptualisation", how to move between learning styles to ensure the reader is educated as well as entertained.

There's practical advice on writing style, submitting proposals, redrafting, and a questionnaire to assess the likelihood of readers making successful textbook authors.

For those considering using early mornings and holidays to write a textbook, this is the definitive guide. The only bit that doesn't ring true is the example of the American textbook author who funds his private jet from his royalties. Anyone thinking of writing textbooks to make money may be advised to get a paper round: it's similarly unglamorous and similarly unsociable, but at least the income is guaranteed.

Geoff Barton is deputy head at Thurston community college, Suffolk. His latest textbook is Active Grammar (Oxford University Press)


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