December 19, 2012 12:00AM
The old adage goes: If you want to learn a subject, teach it.
“If you really want to learn it,” Donald Baack said with a smile, “and remember, I’m stealing this line from someone, write a textbook about it.”
Baack, a university professor of management, should know. He’s written plenty, and by doing so has combined two life passions – teaching and writing. Since his first book was published in 1997, he has authored or co-authored a total of 16 books, which are read in more than 30 countries.
“I was interested in writing long before I wanted to be college professor,” Baack said. “As a young man, I tried to write novels and screenplays. I have three unpublished novels and four unpublished screenplays sitting around somewhere. I’ll probably get back to that type of writing once I retire.”
His teaching career at PSU began in 1988, when he joined the Kelce College of Business faculty as an assistant professor. For years, he had been trying to “break in” to the publishing business, but with little luck. A few years later, however, his fortune began to change.
“It was really two different things happening at the same time,” Baack said.
Between 1992 and 1994, he co-authored an Organizational Behavior textbook that was published in 1995 by DAME Publications. During that time, a proposal for another book that he wanted to write was sitting in a publisher’s “slush pile” of submissions of ideas from authors without representation of literary agents.
“The slush pile has the works editors check out when they have some down time,” Baack said. “One day, I got a call from Citadel Press. She said they read my proposal, liked it, and wanted to move forward.”
In 1997, “How to Survive Your Child’s College Education” was published.
“It was targeted toward parents and was meant to be a funny book about how to get through having kids in college,” Baack said. “It was my first foray into mainstream publishing.”
The self-proclaimed romantic followed up that book with “How to Write a Love Letter,” which he co-authored with Barrie Dolnick, a well-established writer from New York, in 2000 and “The Everything Romance Book,” which he co-wrote with his wife Pamela, in 2002. A literary agent encouraged him to continue working in the ”love” genre, but that was not what he had in mind.
“I didn’t want to stick with just one type of writing,” Baack said, "and quite honestly, I didn’t have much more to say about romance. “
So, he focused his sights on academic writing – with much success. Along with former PSU professor Kenneth Clow, Baack co-authored “Integrated Advertising, Promotion, and Marketing Communications.” The fifth edition of that textbook was published in 2012, and work on the sixth edition is already underway.
Baack and Clow have worked together on other books, including “Concise Encyclopedia of Advertising,” “IMC Plan Pro,” “Marketing Management: A Customer-Oriented Approach” and “Cases in Marketing Management.”
Baack also teamed with his son Daniel, who is a professor of marketing and international business at the University of Denver, and PSU marketing faculty member Eric G. Harris on an “International Marketing” textbook, that was published this year.
With a full load of classes and grading as a university professor, it begs the question: Where does he find the time to write all of these books?
“Nights and weekends,” he said. “I’ve always said that I have two full-time jobs. I’m a professor, and I’m an author. It’s a ton of work, but it’s also a ton of fun.”
Baack has many stories to tell about his experiences as an author, such as the time he got to take a stretch limo ride down Madison Avenue in Manhattan, courtesy of one of his book publishers, and the time he threw out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game as a “thank you” from a team he featured in one of his books.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “You get to experience so much and meet so many interesting people. When you get into this business and start to have some success, a lot of doors open for you.”
And it’s those experiences that help make him a better teacher, he said.
“When you talk to the students about the real world, about the things you’ve personally experienced, or professionals you have interviewed,” he said, “you tend to keep their attention longer. Being an author has made me a better professor, and in turn, has been good for PSU.”
It’s also been good for his office décor.
“Each year, as a Christmas present, my wife frames the cover of my newest books and they go up on the wall in my office,” Baack said. “It’s pretty cool to look up at them and remember what we’ve been through during this fun ride.”