Which pop sci pubs do you read?

The due date for Written in Stone is still nine months away, but I have already started to compose a list of potential op-eds, essays, and articles that will help promote its release. They range from summaries of the book's premise to stories that were hacked out during the editing process, but the question is where I should pitch these ideas. There are only a limited number of popular science publications now in operation, and even among this small pool there are some that cannot pay writers and others that do not accept unsolicited proposals. As you can guess, trying to be a freelance science writer can turn into a massive headache pretty quickly.

As I try to put together a strategy, however, I wanted to ask what popular science publications you read. Obviously I am going to have to tailor my pitches to specific publications, a task that requires that I stay on top of who is publishing what and is practically a full-time job by itself, but what I am more curious about right now is what people are actually reading.

Speaking for myself, I must admit that I do not read as many pop sci mags as I should. I'll pop over to New Scientist if there is an interesting story, and National Geographic comes every month in the mail, but I am usually so busy writing that I don't have much time left over to read. When I do set aside time to catch up on things I usually go right to the scientific journals themselves, and so I find myself in the somewhat paradoxical position of someone who wants to be a science writer but has little time to read what other writers are publishing.

What about you? Which pop sci publications do you read (if any), and why do you read them?

More like this

New Scientist and Scientific American (been a subscriber to both for decades and usually devour them almost as soon as they show up), and National Geographic (been a subscriber even longer, but don't actually read it as faithfully/quickly as I do the first two). Also the science/technology section of The EConomist.

I'll read any of 'em if a blogger I follow happens to link to an article on their website. Unfortunately, the link is often accompanied by a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, I spend more and more of my reading time up the Ivory Tower . . . better for my blood pressure, but not so good, maybe, at keeping a finger on the Pulse of America(TM).

Does American Scientist count as "pop"? I've typically liked their stuff, and I haven't heard any scientists complaining about it yet.

Another consideration is magazines that do book reviews and/or recommended holiday shopping book lists. One that does both is Smithsonian magazine.

I'll pop open an issue of Scientific American if there's an article that interests me. This isn't a purely scientific publication, but I am a subscriber to Prehistoric Times magazine. It has some scientific articles, in addition to other stuff related to prehistoric art, pop culture, and collecting.

Like Blake I mostly read what is linked to on the web from my cadre of twitterers and blogs that I follow. I subscribe still to Nat Geo, but when I had money I read Natural History, the Smithsonian, Discover, Seed, Scientific American, and American Scientist regularly. Cosmos is published in Australia, Craig published an article about the giant isopod in there. I would think Natural History and Smithsonian would be good venues for your book.

A Nat Geo and Smithsonian reader here.

National Geographic, Discover, Natural History, New Scientist, and BBC Wildlife.

Does the occasional Prehistoric Times or Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Practical Fishkeeping and Freshwater and Marine Aquarium count?

Thanks for the responses, everyone. I hope they keep rolling in.

Kevin; I pitched a few stories to Natural History a while ago. Unfortunately they were rejected, but it may be just as well as they said they could no longer pay writers who publish in their magazine. I might give them another shot later on since the exposure will be good, but right now I need to keep the lights on.

And while it will not be in print, I do have something coming up that will be on the Smithsonian magazine website in a few months. You'll dig it if you like giant arthropods and mass extinctions. :)

I try to keep up with the New Scientist hardcopy but fail abysmally. However, I find myself more and more tracking general science through feeds - including the New Scientist. I particularly like Wired Science, the Great Beyond (Nature),NYT Science, and Seed. I relish the ability to simply scroll through headlines in search of items that grab my attention.

I read BBC Focus. I also review books for it regularly, and write a regular column.

By cromercrox (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

What about trying to pitch some stories to more general-interest publications, which probably have larger readerships than the popular science pubs? For example (aiming high!), NY Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker.

By Elia Ben-Ari (not verified) on 03 Feb 2010 #permalink

Elia; To be honest, I am a little intimidated by the prospect of pitching to the NYT, Atlantic, &c. I would not even know where to start writing a proposal for a broader-interest publication, especially since many of the stories I am interested in do not have a direct human connection that might make them interesting to regular readers. History of science, paleo, and other topics I regularly write about are a hard sell unless there is some event that has already captured the attention of audiences (and by then it is usually too late). Indeed, part of the issue is that I need to know about stories ahead of time in order to pitch them to publications quickly, before other writers get to them, and I have (so far) had difficulty doing so.

This is not to say that I would not want to write for the NYT or similar publications. I would absolutely love to. I am just not sure I would be able to pitch a story to them successfully yet and so I thought I would work my way into science writing by starting with more specialist publications where I may meet with a greater degree of success.

All of that said, I do have a few things coming up in the next few months, so it might not be long before I have the confidence and ability to approach some of the "big names" for articles.

I second BBC Wildlife magazine, the boyfriend reads the Economist regularly, Fortean times >_>
I mainly read blogs or listen to programmes like Material World and CBC's Quirks and Quarks.

I also get most of my information on-line. I do get Nat Geo every month, though they somehow tricked me into getting two subscriptions last year. Must have been an off day. I did just buy subscriptions to Pop Sci and Discover from my niece. Haven't started getting them, though, so I'm not sure yet if I'll actually get to read them each month.

You should definitely make the podcast rounds - I really like the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and I'll bet they'd love to have you on to talk about "Written in Stone." Just a thought!

Most of the above mags. BTW just wanted to mention a 2009 book called "Written in Bone" in case you hadn't heard of it, not sure of the content, fossils or anatomy perhaps.

I do love Natural History and am saddened to see it has fallen on hard times. Go subscribe, everyone! They did a lovely review for Night Kill. An oddball you might consider is Wired, which picks up on the strangest things. Other blogs might be a good focus as well--ask for reviews and guest blog slots.

MIT Technology Review, SciAm, NatGeo, American Heritage Science & Technology (soon to expire, won't be renewed), Wired, and The Economist technology quarterly.

Not including numerous science blogs and sites, which now constitute the bulk of my reading. I loves me some Ars Technica.