Last Updated May 21, 2013
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Michael Spiegler is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Providence
College. A successful textbook and academic author for more than 40 years, he
is the author of 16 textbooks, including Personality, now in its 8th edition, and
Contemporary Behavior Therapy, now in its 5th edition, both of which have been
groundbreaking as textbooks and in redefining essential conceptual perspectives
in their fields. Spiegler has also authored a professional book, 14 book chapters,
and 21 articles and has delivered more than a 120 professional presentations.
As a sponsored presenter in TAA’s workshop program, Spiegler offers a textbook
authoring workshop entitled Textbook Writing 101. Here he
shares some of his textbook writing insights and tips.
TAA: How did you get started writing textbooks?
Michael Spiegler: “The stimulus that launched my textbook writing career was an
inquiry from a publisher’s sales rep about writing a textbook in personality psychology.
Besides seeking textbook adoptions from professors, sales reps are the primary source of
initially recruiting textbook authors. In my case, the solicitation came indirectly. I was in
graduate school when a publisher’s sales rep said to my dissertation advisor, ‘We are
looking for a new textbook in personality psychology and wondered if you could
recommend someone who might write it.’ Typical of my advisor’s bravado, he
responded, ‘Do you want the best person?’ When the sales rep answered ‘of course,’ my
advisor simply said, ‘You are looking at him, but there is one proviso. I need to write it
with one of my graduate students.’ I was the graduate student he had in mind, and I
jumped at the chance. I enjoyed writing and in my mind writing a book was the ultimate
in writing—but writing a book is something that just a few very talented (other) people
did and therefore not something that I ever expected to do. I guess I was wrong, and
therein lies a lesson for aspiring textbook authors: don’t underestimate what you are
capable of doing.”
TAA: What is the first piece of advice you have for an academic who is considering
writing a textbook?
MS: “Know what you're getting into. Writing a textbook is a challenging and rewarding
endeavor that involves a large investment of time over an extended period. It is not for
everyone, and it is important to have an idea about whether you possess the personal and
professional prerequisites for textbook writing, have sound reasons for wanting to write a
textbook, and have a realistic picture of the commitment in time and energy that it will
entail. Because of the importance of these considerations, I typically begin my Textbook
Writing 101 workshops by covering each of them in some detail.”
TAA: In terms of getting started with a project, what is your square one?
MS: “Get started. One of the advantages of writing a book is that there is so much to
write and so many tasks to complete (e.g., finding and reading resources, developing
special features, and creating illustrations). If you are having trouble getting started—
initially or at any time in your writing—just choose a section to draft or rewrite or a task
to work on.”
TAA: What advice do you have about the writing process in terms of organization
MS: “There are two types of organization—ideas and resources—which must come in
that order. Begin with a clear picture of where you are going and while working on the
details, always keep the picture in mind and where the pieces fit. Typically, the
introductory chapter outlines what the reader can expect to find in the book, which is why
it has to be finalized once all the other chapters have been written. However, writing a
preliminary draft of the introductory chapter at the outset will focus your writing. This
rough draft is written knowing full well that the contents of the book will change
somewhat (and maybe a lot) over the course of writing, which is inevitable because
writing a book is an evolving process and product.
Once you know where you are going, you will know what resources to gather (a task
students can help you with). The key to organizing resources is to have a system for
keeping track of them, knowing where to put your hand or mouse on a given resource
when you need it. Also, if your textbook includes references, be sure you document the
citations as you make use of them rather than waiting until the end, which inevitably will
lead to the vexing and sometimes unanswerable question: ‘Where did that idea or quote
As for scheduling, the most important rule is to set up uninterrupted and undisturbed
writing times (not answering phone calls, emails, and knocks on the door). Find the time
of day and length of writing periods that work best for you. Write at least several times a
week—more frequent writing periods keep up your momentum, continuity, and trains of
TAA: What do you consider to be the dos and don’ts of writing a textbook
MS: “Do start with a clear vision of what you want to write and how it is different and
better than existing texts. For the latter, make honest comparisons with your book’s
existing competitors. Provide sufficient details (e.g., tentative table of contents with
chapter titles and major sections of each chapter) so that the editor and reviewers can see
more than a vague idea of what your book will look like. Sell the editor on your book
project by describing its essence in a 30-second ‘sound bite’ (50–100 words) that gets at
what is special/different and why it is needed. (Writing such a ‘sound bite’ is one of the
exercises I use in my textbook writing workshops.) Let your passion for the book come
through in your proposal. Make it interesting and fun to read. Because of the importance
of a textbook proposal, it is a major topic in my textbook writing workshops.
Don’t avoid my advice for the dos.”
TAA: Can you share some important lessons you have learned?
MS: “Continue being open to learning about textbook writing and improving your
writing in general. Not only have I been writing textbooks for more than 40 years, but for
almost half that time I have been helping others write good textbooks through workshops,
presentations, and courses. Still, I continue to learn from other textbook writers (picking
their brains and looking at their textbooks to get ideas for pedagogy, expression, and
features) as well as from the questions participants in my workshops ask (as Anna in the
‘King and I’ says, ‘by your pupils you’ll be taught’).
The rewards of textbook writing must come from the process and not the end product.
Sure, it feels great to finally see your book in print, but that source of satisfaction is
hardly sufficient to sustain you through years of work that must be satisfying in
TAA: What is your philosophy on textbook pedagogy?
MS: “A textbook is first and foremost a teaching tool, a learning resource for students.
The biggest challenge and what I find most rewarding about textbook writing is
translating classroom teaching techniques into textbook pedagogy. In fact, that is the
topic of my discussion session at the 2013 TAA conference this June in Reno. The
session will examine common classroom teaching techniques—such as lecture,
discussion, debate, Socratic dialogue, and active learning exercises—and explore how
they can be adapted for a textbook. The adaptations draw on one’s creativity—thinking
outside the box—and writing skills. For example, it would seem that lecturing, the most
popular form of teaching in college classrooms, would seamlessly adapt for a textbook.
Record a lecture, transcribe it, and, voila, you have text for your book. Not so. What is
communicated in a lecture comes not only from words but also from paralinguistic cues
such as tone, volume, and pacing as well as a host of nonverbal cues such as facial
expressions and body language. Incorporating those critical communication variables
involves skillful writing. That challenge and others will be discussed in my session in
TAA: What do you enjoy most about textbook writing?
MS: “It combines my enjoyment of writing and my passion for teaching.”
TAA: What do you value about your TAA membership?
MS: “The opportunity to meet, collaborate with, and, in some cases, develop close
friendships with interesting, talented, and creative colleagues from diverse fields who are
interested in something I am passionate about. I also value the noncompetitive openness
to sharing and helping that is a hallmark of TAA.”
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