Sanford Professor Self-Publishes E-Book on Budget Crisis

Electronic publishing helps Taylor bring policy book to market in timely fashion

Sanford Professor Don Taylor took an unusual route to publishing his latest policy book to get to readers in a timely fashion.
Sanford Professor Don Taylor took an unusual route to publishing his latest policy book to get to readers in a timely fashion.

Associate Professor Donald H. Taylor Jr. faced a problem when he wrote a book about the federal
budget crisis: He wanted his text to influence the current debate, but
publishing an academic text might take months at best. By the time he
could get a book printed, many key budget decisions might have already been
made.

"I started to talk with a few
publishers who had some interest," he said. "You talk about late
spring or summer for the book but, well, it seemed like these ideas are timely
and hot and ready to go..."

Instead, Taylor took an unusual
route for an academic: self-publishing the manuscript as an e-book.  "Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority" stems
from Taylor's work with health care reform (the book is available for download
for $4.50 from Amazon.com). Taylor teaches classes on health policy at Duke's
Sanford School of Public Policy, has written 29 columns on health reform for
the News & Observer, and has contributed to The New York Times' Room for Debate forum on health reform.

"I started thinking about the
book 14 or 15 months ago," he said. "The affordable care act passed,
and that was a good step, but not enough to create an affordable health care
system, and (health care is) the biggest driver of the long-term budget
deficit, especially 20 to 50 years in the future."  

In the book, Taylor argues progressives should place more importance on
the long-term goal of a balanced budget, and he makes specific suggestions for
Social Security reform, tax reform and spending cuts.

As recently as six weeks ago Taylor was still
considering taking a conventional publishing route. But after dropping his son
off at a summer camp, he "holed up in a hotel room and I did nothing but
write for a week. And this book had been sort of stewing but it just came
blazing out."  Then, a
conversation with an economics editor from a major press persuaded him to self-publish. "He said, 'You
know, I'm interested in this. We'll get it reviewed. But this kind of book
could sort of go out from underneath you depending on what might happen
politically.'" 

Taylor said the format also made
sense for the book's short length. "The manuscript is 45,000 words...  If it were in normal book form, it would
probably be a 100-page book." Taylor found the formatting details of
self-publishing tricky, and after releasing the book on Aug. 12, had had to
make revisions. "It's giving me new appreciation of the soft opening of a
restaurant," he said.

Aside from being an early adopter of academic
self-publishing, Taylor has been active in Twitter and blogging as ways to stay
involved in public debate. Taylor blogs about health care at www.TheIncidentalEconomist.com, and
fields questions about his book at donaldhtaylorjr.blogspot.com.

"The
feedback I have received from policymakers and their staff members has been
enhanced by my blogging," Taylor said. "I think it is fairly clear
that a timely blog post can greatly amplify the voice of a given research
finding."

Emily Young, books marketing director for Duke
University Press, said she wasn't aware of any other Duke University faculty
who have self-published e-books. However, she noted the Duke University Press
has more than 750 titles available on Kindle, some by Duke faculty. 

Taylor acknowledges that while the
option worked for him, there might be downsides for others.

"I got tenure a year ago,
and I probably wouldn't have published this as an e-book
if I were still an assistant professor because of the worry of academic credit
or lack of academic credit. But I decided 
I believe in the themes of this book, I think it's timely, I think it's
important, and I actually think progressives kind of missed the boat on this.
It was important enough to me that I just decided that I want to put my oar in
the water."