These questions are not necessarily frequently asked, but we think they should be.
What should I consider before I write an open text?
First a question for you: why do you want to write a book? It’s a surprising amount of effort and time, and most books are not widely used. You probably think that you have a new and interesting perspective on your subject, but it’s difficult to have interesting perspectives on all the different topics that fill up a textbook. For the few topics that you have something new to say, you ought to consider joining an existing open textbook project. Then you can focus your work on the areas where you have something new to add. Working on an existing project gives you the chance to learn how an open textbook works, so that if you do actually go ahead and write your own book, then you will find it easier than if you just jump in now.
All right, I’m interested in working on an existing project before I write my own magnum opus. Where can I find out about them?
Many of the books on our approved list are open source, which is an invitation to you to reuse the source in any way you like, but we recommend that you let the author know what you want to do, because it may be that your ideas are agreeable to the author who would like to incorporate them into the “official” version. For the books that are not open source the author has decided to keep control, but we still recommend contacting the author with your ideas. The author can allow you to use the source and may be happy to do so, while at the same time not want to give blanket permission to anyone in the world to make use of his/her work.
Well, you haven’t talked me out of it. What should I consider as I begin?
It’s tempting to just dive in and start writing, but take some time to plan carefully by answering some simple questions of yourself.
- Who is your target audience? Consider what courses and institutions you would like to adopt your book.
- Does such a course really need a textbook?
- If so, how will your book contribute to the course?
- How will your book be used by instructors and by students?
- Would you like others to contribute to the development of the book?
- How will you distribute the book to instructors and students?
Remember that the appearance of the book is important. We recommend that you aim for a professional-looking visual style and that you adhere to that style consistently throughout the text. This will most likely involve some work in carefully setting up a working environment, perhaps in (La)TeX, that is easy to use and to modify. Consider preparing your book in such a way that it may be easily converted to other formats, such as those for mobile devices (see some of the later questions in this document).
Most likely, you will want to be able to easily create figures that effectively illustrate important points in your exposition. Preparing figures to include in mathematical exposition often requires planning and perhaps familiarizing yourself with available software tools. There is a large number of possibilities with a trade off between ease of use and the ability to control fine details in a figure. Choose one that feels comfortable to you and learn to use it well.
Give some thought to what the tone of the book should be. Though you may wish to write in a more informal, conversational tone, you will want your exposition to be read and taken seriously by a large audience. We recommend adopting a professional tone that uses sarcasm and humor sparingly, if at all.
Design a system of organizing your electronic files (.tex files, graphics, etc) that is logical and easy to use. Remember that others may want to contribute to your project later and an effective organizational system will facilitate collaboration.
Some successful authors have written a few sections of their book and sent them to a number of colleagues to obtain feedback before launching into the heart of the writing. You may also wish to seek student feedback on your project at an early stage. Whether you choose to solicit feedback at an earlier stage or not, try to build a network of reviewers who can be relied upon for useful, maybe even negative, feedback on your book.
How can I prepare my book for publication?
Get an objective outside editor. No author can read what is on the page as well as someone else, because the author reads what he or she thinks is there. Many of the books we look at do not appear to have been edited carefully. As a general rule, books that were first published commercially show the benefits of professional editing.
The use of compelling figures and diagrams would significantly improve most of the books we review. It is worthwhile investing time and effort (even money) in creating or redoing the graphics in your book. To do this yourself you may need to learn new software. Instead, you may decide to team up with a colleague who has the necessary graphical expertise.
How can I help instructors using my book?
Assuming that you have used your own book in classes, make available an actual couse syllabus. Provide quizzes and exams. Invite others to do the same and post them or link them from your website.
How do I get my book noticed?
We want to see that others use your book and that they think it worth recommending and using again. Start with colleagues at your own college and elsewhere. Submit information about your book to the Open Mathbook forum. You can list your book in the E-Books Directory, a very large online directory covering all subjects. If your book is available in printed form, ask MAA Reviews to review it. Submit information about your book to the University of Minnesota Open Academic Catalog.
Also, promote your book and its use through conference talks, blogs, and social media such as Twitter.
Will AIM host my book on its server?
No, we do not have the time or personnel to create and maintain the kind of website that we would like to see for open textbooks. In our opinion, the author and colleagues are the the ones to do this. There are a number of things that should accompany the book to make it better and more useful. We recommend that you look at the websites for the algebra book by Tom Judson (abstract.ups.edu) and the linear algebra book by Rob Beezer (linear.ups.edu) for guidance.
What is the difference between open source and open access?
A book is open source if the source file(s) are freely available for others to download and use. If only a PDF or other digital format is freely available and printable, then we say that the book is open access. We do not consider an electronic version that cannot be printed to be open access. We use the term “open textbook” to mean either open source or open access.
Which do you recommend?
We believe releasing your book as open source improves its chances for success because it invites others to contribute to the development and improvement of your book. They know that their work is not at risk of being lost if you lose interest in the book or if you get hit by a bus. Your willingness to share your hard work invites others to do the same.
Which open source/access license do you recommend?
The most common choices of open text authors are the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) and various Creative Commons licenses. The GFDL, which is perhaps the simplest, allows others to use and modify your work as long as they apply the same GFDL to their modifications. The Creative Commons licenses have further options concerning attribution, commercial use, and derivative works. The Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license (CC BY-SA) is most like the GFDL. We recommend that you first consider either of these two licenses for maximal flexibility and encouragement to others to use your work. We believe that your book will have a greater chance to succeed and survive if you invite others to use it, modify it, and further develop it and provide them the incentive to do so.
To prevent others from using your work for commercial purposes, then the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license (CC BY-NC-SA) is our recommendation, but be aware that this may inhibit the adoption of your book. If you want to keep control of the appearance and content, then choose the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license (CC BY-NC-ND) and do not make your book open source.
For more on the license issue read the discussion by Michael Shulman.
Should I arrange to have my book printed?
Yes. It makes your book much more attractive for classroom adoption if the students and instructors can get printed copies at a reasonable price without having to arrange it for themselves. Three companies that have been used successfully by math text authors are
- Lightning Source
The books are either sold through their online sites or by Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. They can also be ordered by your campus bookstore and sold like commercially published texts.
What about ISBN numbers?
Your book needs an ISBN number if it is going to be printed and sold. There are various options for obtaining ISBN numbers. You may get one for free by using a company like CreateSpace, in which case CreateSpace will be listed as the imprint of record on the details page at the front of the book. If you’d like to choose the imprint of record or have an ISBN that works with any publisher, then you will have to buy an ISBN. More information about ISBN numbers is available on the internet.