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An Interview with Professor and Indie Textbook Author Dennis Holley

Dennis Holley is a retired professor on a mission to eliminate inadequate, costly science textbooks from high school and college classrooms. We spoke with Mr. Holley recently about the challenges of writing and publishing his latest textbook, General Zoology – Investigating the Animal World and the companion laboratory manual, Investigating Animals – A General Zoology Laboratory Manual. His goal is clear cut: Give students science textbooks they understand and can afford. Let the lesson begin.

What prompted you to write a textbook?

I taught life and earth sciences for almost 40 years, to every level of student from elementary to college. The textbooks out there are awful. They are overpriced and full of very technical, terminology-driven information that is way over a beginning student’s head. I often resorted to writing my own teaching material for my courses.

Is your Zoology textbook well received by educators?

Yes, it has. We sold over 100 copies last summer to the Muscle Shoals, AL school district for their AP course in Zoology. The book is written for use in entry level college classes as well as AP level high school courses.

What makes your textbooks different?

Everything in the book is done with the student in mind. How are they going to view it? Will they understand the material? Does it assist the educator in conveying the material? The book is written in a conversational style and at the appropriate course level. We even formatted the pages to be single column like a magazine article instead of the traditional two columns per page.

You began your writing career with a traditional publishing company and later moved to self-publishing. What are some of the biggest differences you’ve experienced?

The first company I used was a mid-level publishing house. Despite their smaller size, I could never get in touch with anyone to ask questions or to check on progress. It took six years to get the textbook published. When the book came out it was filled with errors (even after a lengthy editing process). Nothing damages a Zoology textbook’s credibility like misspelled scientific names of animals and incorrect illustrations. That’s when I decided to try self-publishing. I have seen the bad side of publishing. With Dog Ear, I got to see the good side. Their editorial staff is ultra-professional and super-respectful. They always had time for my calls and answered my emails quickly. I had control over every aspect of my book.

What kind of advice would you give a person trying to choose between traditional publishing and self-publishing?

First off, it is hard to get in with a traditional publisher no matter what size the company. If you are accepted by one, realize that you may not have as much control over how your book turns out as you think. You will be given choices of things like book cover designs but you will not be creating it yourself. If you want more input into the production of your book then research other options like self-publishing. If you have the confidence to wear a lot of different hats (proof-reader, editor, designer), then self-publishing is the best option. Be prepared, it is challenging work and can push you outside of your comfort zone. You have more control over the final product, which is what I wanted. It’s worth it. I am getting 60 to 70 percent off every unit sold, whereas before I only made 10 percent.

Is there any area of the self-publishing experience that challenges you?

In real estate, it is all about location, location, location. In publishing, it is all about marketing, marketing, marketing. You can have a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, but if no one knows it exists then it is a moot point. I have a website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and a photo bank, but I also go old-school and do direct mailing. I created an extensive mailing list by researching every college and university in the country. (There are 459 schools that teach courses in Zoology, by the way!) Dog Ear helped produce a post card mailer with a photo of the book’s cover on the front and content information on the back. It went out to every one of these facilities. That’s the tough part, you must market your book in every conceivable way (no matter how exhausting) if you want it to sell.

As a self-published author, what is next for you?

I am currently working on a general biology textbook with Dog Ear. The standard biology textbooks being used are large, technical tomes that cost around $300. Instructors can’t get through the material in two semesters, let alone one. I want to write a textbook that students will understand and can afford. After that I may decide to write a textbook on earth sciences. You know what they say, teachers and professors never retire, they just teach until the bell rings.

Why Dog Ear?

Dennis Holley isn’t an author who will settle for subpar work from his students or his publishing company. If you want more control over your book’s production, check out our website at dogearpublishing. With over 50 years of traditional publishing experience, we can help you produce a quality publication that reflects who you are as an author.