The Nitty Gritty of Science Writing

Sunset en route to Seattle. Don't ask.

Following your bliss. David Quammen. Lutefisk. REI. Merchandise vomit reaction. How are people going to know where to recycle their cups? Magma. Exaaactly. E.coli. Nursing-home politics. Couldn't use my degree, so I'm getting another. Costco actually has lots of organic vegan stuff. Biodiversity. Traffic.

This was cocktail talk at a Northwest Science Writers Association event last night at the Seattle Times auditorium. The event was a panel discussion between three writers of just-published non-fiction natural history. Carol Kaesuk Yoon, author of Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science;
Alan Boyle, author of The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference; and David Williams, author of Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology. The discussion, it turns out, wasn't  about the subject matter of their books, but about the process of writing and promoting their work. Take away messages:

  • Do not write for money; you will make less than minimum wage (circa 1934).
  • Do not write if you expect to make your annual salary from your advance.
  • Do not write if you expect the process to take 12 months from conception to publication. Give yourself several years, maybe a lifetime.
  • Plan to spend a year on your proposal and to be brought to tears during the process.
  • Expect to handle all the promotion yourself, even hire your own publicist.
  • Annotate, document, footnote; you will not have a fact checker at your disposal.
  • Expect to give some book readings with zero attendance (including your mother-in-law who set up the reading in the first place!)
  • Try to get famous before you try to sell your book so you have a "platform" to launch your book.
Click these links to read more about David Williams, Carol Yoon. Alan Boyle

The Northwest Science Writers Association is a volunteer organization based in Seattle. For very modest annual dues, they'll keep you on top of events to enrich your mind and nurture your talent. Their website features more information and a calendar of events.