Sanford Professor Self-Publishes E-Book on Budget Crisis

 

When Associate Professor Donald H. Taylor Jr. decided to write a book about the federal budget crisis, he was faced with a problem: 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..."

The 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 an e-book. “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 August 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 actively involved 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.”