Publishers did double-takes, then scrambled to sign up scientists with stories to tell and theories to explain.As a result, popular science books--those that bring scientific knowledge to the public in a voice that the layman can understand and appreciate--have become something of a trend, and more scientists than ever before are venturing into the world of mass-market publishing.
Publishers did double-takes, then scrambled to sign up scientists with stories to tell and theories to explain.
Unlike scientific papers, books are commodities--products that are packaged and sold. I didn't like the new one better, but it was a marketing decision." Some scientists shun writing for the general audience, convinced that it adversely affects one's credibility as a scientist.
"What you think is a good product for sale is not necessarily the final arbiter of what goes out," says Hazen. But the consensus among the scientist/authors interviewed for this article is that as long as you're publishing reputable material, there's no credibility lost; indeed, if you do your job well, credibility is gained.
"No one is ever forced to go on a publicity tour," says University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Timothy Ferris, a veteran of the radio and TV circuit.
"But if you are asked, the thing to remember is that your [main] responsibility is to communicate with the public.
This is not some celebration of how great a guy you are, and it's not a two-week vacation in Hawaii." Ronald K. He offers this advice to avoid burnout from lengthy book tours: "Watch or listen to the shows the publicist has scheduled for you, and be selective.
Siegel, a psychopharmacologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, received much media attention from his book Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise (New York, E. Know that radio call-in shows can be done over the phone from your office. With so many scientists entering the world of mass-market publishing, maybe you're thinking about writing a book for a popular audience or have been approached by a publisher about doing so."It's absolutely harder, and an enormous zapper of energy. I just found that I really enjoyed trying to capture the essence of scientific ideas in a way that nonscientists who came for dinner would not just appreciate, but enjoy." Making Science Fun How does one go about making science sound enjoyable? Says Siegel, author of Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise (New York, E. Dutton, 1989) and Fire in the Brain: Clinical Tales of Hallucination (E. Dutton, 1992), "No matter how well I may write a book that details the mechanisms of drugs at a molecular or physiological level, it's going to be boring and read by only a handful of people."Through the use of metaphors and other literary artistry," says Bantam's Meredith. People communicate with each other at a behavioral level, and they interact at a behavioral level."We're always on the lookout for science books," says Leslie Meredith, executive editor at Bantam.There are two stages to book publishing--writing, editing, and printing the manuscript serve as the first; marketing the product is the second.In some cases, critics give bad reviews because they "fail to absorb the book," he says.In other instances, a reviewer might be simply mistaken about the science.Such reviews, particularly in publications such as the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly, are important and can help a book gain sales momentum.But inevitably, no matter how well-researched and well-written your book may be, odds are you'll get a bad review or two. Wilson has experienced his share of negative reviews of his popular science books."You don't just sit down and knock off a book like you would a few technical articles," says Robert Shapiro, a professor of chemistry at New York University and author of The Human Blueprint: The Race to Unlock the Secrets of Our Genetic Script (New York, St. Rather than lecturing, or writing the equation for Newton's law and describing the physics, you might offer an anecdote about what happened to your friend when he didn't wear his seat belt." Ronald K.Martin's Press, 1991) and Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth (New York, Summit Books, 1986). Siegel, a psychopharmacologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, "popularizes" his subject matter--taking it to the streets, so to speak.