ideas, loves teaching, is up to date in his or her field, and writes well need not expend much effort in finding a publisher--publishers do the finding. Scores of publishers' sales representatives fill the halls of academia every fall and spring, hawking their wares, but also carefully scouting for promising authors. Editors also come a-hunting. "I knock on doors, ask questions, and see if professors are interested in writing a text," says Ron Pullins, chemistry editor at West Publishing Co. of St. Paul, Minn.

One need not be a practicing scientist to write a textbook. Some of the most talented textbook authors, publishers say, are professors at community colleges, where teaching skill is paramount, and research hardly done outside of student research projects. And some of the most successful science texts today are written by people who are not trained as scientists at all. Nonscientist Cecie Starr, for example, is...

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