Publishing your first legal textbook can be daunting.
Popular media likes to depict great lawyers as great oral advocates. Those of us who work in the field know, regardless of practice area, written advocacy usually has a far greater importance.
Improving and showcasing your writing skills is easier today given the proliferation of blogs and self-publishing platform. But there is still something about the polish and format of a print book that gives publishing a text greater credibility.
Writing your first textbook in law is daunting. The legal field is so wide and vast, and filled with nuance and interpretation. Publishing a text says to the world that you believe you are a subject matter expert in the area.
More importantly, the time and effort invested into a print publication is often difficult to secure while maintaining a busy practice. Fortunately, most publishers provide resources in the form of proofreaders and copy editors to help with bringing it home.
Lisa Macklem, a PhD student at Western Law who has sat on several editorial boards and published a few chapters and articles herself, recognizes the importance of writers making compromises with their work. But she also recognizes the importance of maintaining the integrity of a piece.
“My basic philosophy as a copy editor is never to do anything that changes the voice of the writer,” said Macklem. “My job as an editor may be to clarify what's being said by changes in grammar or typos, but the art of it is to always maintain the meaning and nuance of what is being said.”
Macklem has even refused to re-write a piece and withdraw it from publication when asked to change the core arguments. The relationship of the author with the publisher is therefore obviously an important component in publishing any book. Fortunately, legal publishers are accustomed to dealing with lawyers, and tend to know what legal authors want and need.
You will still have to do the research and writing yourself. Publishers will typically take care of copyright of images and graphics used in your text, and registration of the copyright of the book itself. You want to focus on the writing of the law, not the law of writing.
According to Gian-Luca DiRocco, Manager, Content Development and Acquisition at LexisNexis Canada Inc., it’s important to know the publisher you are approaching. “Does your book idea conflict with anything they have already published?” asks DiRocco, “Is it the type of book that they publish and does it reach the type of market that the Publisher publishes to?”
A publisher’s interest is obviously in making sales. The first question in their mind is going to be whether anyone would buy the book.
Lots of factors go into determining whether there would be a demand for a law textbook, but one of the most challenging factors for newer authors is credibility and prominence of the lawyer in the legal community. For a new author, publishing history - or the lack thereof - can be a significant obstacle.
Danann Hawes of Emond Publishing indicates that his company is usually open to submissions from newer authors. Because they’re small and nimble, they are able to bring new books to market more quickly, and provide authors with greater editorial support.
“We look for writers who can communicate on the page in a very authentic and practical manner,” said Hawes. “We look for enthusiastic writers that want to serve the legal marketplace in a unique and relevant way.”
Despite their small size, Emond has a wide range of book offerings, including casebooks frequently used in law school, as well as more applied texts intended for law clerk and paralegal audiences. For practitioners looking to publish their first book, experience in a practice area can help provide some big picture insights to readers.
DiRocco suggests that potential authors approach a publisher with a draft outline of a book. The outline should include a detail list of topics which will be covered, including page counts, which gives the publisher a better idea of what the book will be about. This means that you will probably have to start researching the topic even before you have a book deal confirmed.
She also suggests that aspiring writers have realistic goals for their book. Most publishers operate on a low price, high print run volume basis, whereas legal publishing works on a high price low print run. You won’t be on the bestseller’s list in 2016, and you’re not likely to retire on the money you do get from a text.
I recently published my first chapter in a legal text last fall with a smaller legal publisher, Captus Press Inc. My focus was on the basics of labour law in a series called Introduction to Law in Canada. The intended target audience was undergraduate students. This made sense for me, as it is usually the student body I regularly teach.
I’ve published other chapter textbooks in other disciplines, but this was my first one focusing on the law. The legal made a considerable difference, and also highlighted for me some of the challenges of publishing in this area.
An advantage I noticed at the outset in writing this text is that the editor and all my co-authors were all lawyers. This helped enormously in creating a common frame of reference and understanding about the direction of the content.
The writing for this text started in 2012, and the next year or so was spent editing and updating before it finally went to press in 2014. However, within months of being released, the Supreme Court of Canada released its new labour law trilogy in early 2015 with Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada, and Meredith v. Canada.
My labour law text was not quite obsolete, but it was missing these crucial cases with very important decisions. Although obsolescence is a problem with all print publishing, encapsulating the state of the law accurately is more challenging in legal publishing, considering the inability to anticipate future decisions.
The upside is I guess I can start planning my next edition.
About the Author
Omar Ha-Redeye, LLM, is a young lawyer and legal academic in Toronto. He currently teaches at Ryerson University, Seneca College and Centennial College.