I published a textbook in 2013 (called Membrane Filtration: a problem-solving approach with MATLAB, if you really want to know). I signed the publishing deal in September 2011 and I submitted what I thought was the final draft to the publisher in November of 2012. I’d say I worked on the book on more than 90% of the days in between. When writing a book, especially a highly technical one, you cannot lose momentum because if you do you will find yourself going back to it and unable to figure out what the hell you were doing when you last worked on it. Then, when you have submitted it to the publisher you have to deal with a style editor who goes through your book line-by-line. There then follows a flurry of emails until the final version is sent to the people who will actually print it. Maddeningly, even when you think the job is done, you’ll find that it’s not. In my case I got the proofs from the printers and they were not what I had expected at all. Graphs and tables and computer code were all over the place and the version they sent to me would have been incomprehensible to the reader. This led to lots of three-way conversations between me, the publishers in Cambridge and the printers in India. It was a really frustrating and stressful time.
Despite all of that, I’ve been thinking about writing another textbook – I have the table of contents done and have done a lot of thinking about the pedagogical philosophy that will guide the book. But there is a worry in the back of my mind that maybe textbooks are becoming obsolete. It’s not that they don’t have a use anymore; it’s more to do with the fact that the market for textbooks seems to be collapsing. I don’t want to spend 18 months producing a product for which there will be no demand. So maybe I need to think outside the box and that probably means going down some kind of digital route.