The Primate Diaries

This past weekend I was in Durham, North Carolina (my old stomping grounds) attending the annual ScienceOnline Conference that focuses on science communication in the digital age. I am pleased to report that Anton and Bora have built on their previous successes to accomplish something rare for a conference: it was both relevant and refreshingly innovative.

In the next few posts I will highlight some of the workshops I attended and what the important message I got from the panelists involved:

1. From Blog to Book: Using Blogs and Social Networks to Develop Your Professional Writing (description here):

This workshop included the panelists Brian Switek, Rebecca Skloot, and Tom Levenson. Brian writes at Laelaps and is one of the best sciencebloggers out there. He recently found a publisher for his first book, Written in Stone, which made his comments extremely useful for first time writers. Rebecca is also a Scibling and writes at Culture Dish. Her new book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be on the stands February 2 and has been called “a remarkable debut” by Publishers Weekly and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, National Public Radio and on both ABC and CBS News. Tom Levenson is the author of four books, including Newton and the Counterfeiter and Einstein in Berlin and has produced multiple programs for NOVA (he is also a professor of Science Writing at MIT).

A few key points that the panelists highlighted were that you shouldn’t expect to make any money as a book writer. As Levenson stated, “Welcome to our hobby.” However, for those of us who have no choice but to be a writer, the advice on how to make a living doing what you love was extremely valuable. As Rebecca highlighted, as a writer you need to be your own promotion agent long before you even start writing your book. This can be done through the social media tools of blogs, facebook and twitter. The crucial thing to remember about these technologies however is that they’re social. You’re building a conversation, so if you merely link your twitter feed and facebook to your blog and let it run automatically you’ll be talking at your audience rather than speaking with them. When you’re on a book tour you may be speaking with an audience of a few dozen to a few hundred. Each individual in the room may not only buy your book, but could recommend it to others. This form of viral communication can only be increased through the effective use of social media, but only if you’re willing to make it interactive.

However, as I mentioned, the most useful comments came from Brian who pointed out some of the specifics of preparing a proposal and gaining a publisher’s interest (most publishers will not even look at a manuscript unless it comes through an agent). Also a useful thing to note is that academic publishers will be submitting your manuscript through a peer review process to experts in that field (Brian’s is in paleontology). Fortunately, Brian has been keeping his readers up to date on the process of transitioning from a blog to book writer and those interested can read his various posts on the subject here.