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I have written a new academic mathematics textbook that I think can become popular, perhaps even very popular, as far as math books are concerned (which I recognize in the broader scheme, alas, is unfortunately not so very popular). What is the best way for me to proceed?

I can of course follow the traditional route and pursue the usual academic publishers, such as MIT press or OUP and so on. But I think that royalties are often somewhat low and prices rather high, so I'm not sure this is the best way. Meanwhile, I have some experience with newer publishing arrangements, such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, which pays an astonishing 70% royalty rate for electronic books (but they limit the book cost to $10). That style of publishing appeals to me and per book, that amount is probably higher per sale than what one might get from a old-fashioned publisher.

My question is, is it a bad idea to put my textbook first on KDP, which would be very easy for me to do myself, before I find a serious academic publisher? Does it help or hurt my negotiation status with them? I think I can remove my book from KDP at any time. I have thought that having a proven sales record on KDP might help my negotiation, by proving my worth, but perhaps this is wrong, and that the big publishers will simply reject me for already having electronic sales in which they are not partaking. Which is the correct way for me to think about it?

Any advice is appreciated.

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    What is the target audience for your book? – Dan Romik Feb 28 '17 at 5:18
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    Is your goal to make money? If so, it's really hard, and this is not the best forum to ask in. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 28 '17 at 6:18
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    Not that I have any experience with this, but does the Kindle format lend itself towards mathematical textbooks (or really any kind of text books)? Isn't the Kindle plaintext-only? – xLeitix Feb 28 '17 at 8:42
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    Is you main concern that you get to less money or that students have to pay too much money? I would not buy a KDP textbook (if I was not forced to) because I feel Amazon is covering a too broad field and gets to powerful on the market. I also agree with FuzzyLeapfrog's comment. But I am not your target audience because 10 years older than most first-year-students. However, I would really like to have academic eBooks in the epub Format rather than as PDF Documents (which is often the case). – daniel.neumann Feb 28 '17 at 11:45
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    The target audience of my book is undergraduate mathematics majors. My goal is to have a successful book, which includes making money but also having many students benefit from my book. Libraries can buy electronic books, and I believe students more and more use this format---it is convenient to have all your books on a tablet. My question is: will it hurt my ability to find a regular publisher, if I go with KDP now? My plan was never to go exclusively with KDP, but find a traditional publisher for the paper version. @xLeitix, KDP is not just plain text; it can handle anything. – JDH Feb 28 '17 at 11:59
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One factor you should keep in mind is that most academics consider publication to be permanent. Books used to go out of print because it was economically infeasible to keep them available, but with print on demand and electronic publishing, there's a broad expectation that anything available now will remain available forever under similar terms. This doesn't really apply to standardized low-level textbooks, which can disappear if unsuccessful and are regularly replaced with new editions if successful, but it applies to anything with noteworthy scholarly content. Based on your stackexchange contributions, I bet your book will fall into this category (and I'm certainly looking forward to reading it).

In particular, if you publish a book through KDP and later withdraw it to do something else with the book, you may upset people. I'd certainly be unhappy if I had decided to use the book in a course (or had recommended it widely to students) on the basis of price, only to discover that it had abruptly been removed from KDP and now cost substantially more from another publisher.

I assume you would have to remove it from KDP, and couldn't keep it there while publishing a paper edition elsewhere. It doesn't seem impossible, but it's not plausible that another publisher would put work into promoting a book that was available much more cheaply online from a rival publisher.

I don't know how academic publishers would react to having had a previous edition published by KDP. I'd bet they would be open to it in principle, the same way other books occasionally move between publishers when the rights are available, but I also suspect they'd worry about anchoring to a very low price. I think the only way to know for sure is to ask representatives (for example, you can easily chat with them in person at big conferences), since reluctance to do this could easily vary between publishers.

I'd also keep two additional factors in mind:

  1. Academics who are enthusiastic about electronic publishing are often wary of digital rights management. By emphasizing this aspect, KDP may decrease some of the enthusiasm for this approach.

  2. If your book is not particularly successful on KDP, it may undermine your negotiating position with mainstream publishers. This means you may need a plan to get publicity for your book, since you won't have advertising (outside of the Amazon ecosystem) or bookstore sales. There are a lot of factors that are difficult to predict. For example, will anyone publish book reviews if the book appears to be essentially self published and you are said to be seeking a mainstream publisher? If there are no reviews, it will hurt your visibility; if there are reviews, they probably won't review it again upon finding another publisher, which might lower other publishers' enthusiasm for taking it on.

  • Thank you very much for your answer! This is just the sort of advice I was seeking. – JDH Feb 28 '17 at 18:53
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    DRM is an important consideration. I think academics, more than most people, have specific technologies they prefer to use, to best fit with their preferred workflow. DRM typically ties you to a particular platform and software environment. If your book is only published on Kindle, and DRM prevents it from being converted to another format, I won't use it, because I don't want to have to get a Kindle, and I won't be able to do everything I want with it. Can I display pages on a projector for my class? Can I copy and paste excerpts into assignments? – Nate Eldredge Feb 28 '17 at 19:30
  • I think that the KDP books can be read on basically any device. I don't have a Kindle device, but I read Kindle books on my phone, on my tablet, on my computer, etc. What is DRM? – JDH Feb 28 '17 at 22:31
  • I guess you mean digital rights management. – JDH Feb 28 '17 at 22:43

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