So you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 4: Getting the word out


The time has come to wrap-up this blog series, but there was one other topic I wanted to cover before concluding; how do you let people know about the mass of ink-blotted, dead tree pulp that is your book?

Promoting Written in Stone will be a tough job. When it hits shelves this fall it will undoubtedly be in competition with numerous other science titles for the chance of being reviewed in the few publications which still review science books at all. Book tours, too, have become nearly extinct, and as a virtually unknown science writer I don't expect many (any?) people to show up at their local Barnes & Noble to see me. Thankfully, there is the internet.

Over the past several years, I have used this blog and Dinosaur Tracking to refine my writing, stay on top of new discoveries, make contacts with other science writers/editors, and develop a following of readers who will already be interested in my book. This experiment has turned out to be an unqualified success, Written in Stone would not exist if I had not started blogging, and as my publication date creeps closer I intend to more actively use this blog and the contacts I have made through it to promote my book.

In addition to general announcements on this blog and my Twitter feed, I am going to follow David Williams' example and organize a blog book tour. This will take place around the time of the book's release, and I am hoping that the collection of reviews and interviews will introduce me to some new readers. There is always the chance that a stop might not go as well as planned, but in general I am optimistic about the reaction of the science blogohedron to Written in Stone.

The trouble with a blog tour, however, is that I am only going to be able to reach the relatively small group of people who are reading science blogs. I will have to get the word out in other ways, and since I cannot count on book reviews in traditional publications I am going to push for some freelance work. I already have two magazine pieces in the pipe (one will be online soon, the other will require a trip to southern Utah and won't appear until the end of summer), but I am going to actively pursue other opportunities for op-eds and articles. I have been meaning to fish for more freelance work, anyhow, so if I can promote Written in Stone at the same time, so much the better.

I can take care of the blog tour, the articles, and other bits of promotion from home, and this is just as well. My travel budget for promoting this book is $0.00, and given the poor returns on most author events a cross-country book tour would probably land me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the hole. Even so, upcoming conferences and other events will give me the chance to do a little bit of informal promotion. This coming October I will at long last attend the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, for example, and soon after that (so long as they let me become a member) I'll be at the annual meeting of the National Association of Science Writers in New Haven, CT. Around that same time I will also be giving a talk at the New Jersey State Museum, too, and I am going to try to schedule another with the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society.

I would love to break away from the east coast and give talks or participate in events elsewhere, though, so in the not-too-distant-future I will be following Rebecca Skloot's example of setting up an interactive book tour map. This will give interested readers the ability to get in touch with me about organizing events related to Written in Stone, and while I might not be able to get everywhere, I definitely want to work with interested parties to set up talks whenever possible. It will be an interesting experiment, and even if it does not work this time I will probably try something similar for my next book (which I have the feeling will generate more public interest).

All of the above, from writing freelance articles to organizing events, make up my primary plan for promoting Written in Stone, but one of the responses to a recent survey carried out by Carl Zimmer made me wonder about a few other possibilities. Commenter Morgan suggested that book writers sell a limited number of slightly more expensive "special edition" copies, and that could mean anything from a signed edition to a copy with a limited-edition t-shirt or photo. I wouldn't expect to sell very many of these books, but I know that there are at least a few of you who have been looking forward to Written in Stone for some time and might be interested in a "limited edition" copy packaged with some bonus material. What do you think? Or what about something like the "meet-the-author" sweepstakes Deborah Blum organized for The Poisoner's Handbook?

I have also been thinking about "book trailers", or the short YouTube-ready videos some people have been using to promote their titles. I do not have much interest in producing a true book trailer (especially because of the cost!), but I was thinking of creating a few short videos about certain vignettes from the book (such as the changing identity of Basilosaurus, figuring out the feather colors of dinosaurs, etc.). I think this would be a fun way to get people interested in the book using a different medium, as well as provide some mini-documentaries about paleontology and evolutionary science. Any thoughts?

I am only getting started with my book-promotion plans, but I am hoping to use both traditional outlets (magazines, journals, talks, etc.) and new ones (blogs, Twitter, etc.) to let people know about Written in Stone. I hope that all of my hard work will bear fruit, but I honestly have no idea how the book will fare. All that I know is that I have spend the past several years trying to make Written in Stone the best book I possibly can. The past year has been a crash course in the book-writing process for me, and I hope that by sharing my experience I have encouraged some of you to go ahead with your own projects.

Many thanks to Michael Welland, David Williams, and everyone who commented for making this discussion possible.

For more, see the other entries in this cross-blog conversation.


So you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 1: From idea to agent

So you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 2: The value of blogs

So you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 3: Writing the damn thing

So you want to write a pop-sci book: Open thread

So you want to write a pop-sci book: Answers to your questions

Through the Sandglass

Thoughts on writing a popular science book (1): making it interesting, finding a publisher

Thoughts on writing a popular science book (2): Writing and structure

Thoughts on writing a popular science book (3): the tedious but important stuff

Stories in Stone

Writing a Book: The Idea, The Proposal, and Publishing

Writing a Book: Part 2, the Writing

Writing a Book: Part 3, Answering some Questions

Writing a Book: Part 4, Promotion

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Dear Brian,

Here's an idea that seems to work well for other books. There is a "secret" program on for top reviewers called Amazon Vine. Every month, top reviewers get to select up to four books from a newsletter, which will send to you for free in return for writing a review. Most books in the newsletters are fictional novels, but there are a couple of pop-science books (Bill McKibben's new book is one). The Vine program is designed to promote new authors or less known books, as well as a few more famous ones.

If you could get Written in Stone available on the Amazon Vine newsletter, you would at least get a lot of exposure and more people taking a look (and, I'm sure, good reviews). I'm a member of the Vine program as a top reviewer, and I'd be happy to give you contact info for the Vine program. When the book comes out, I'll also be sure to give it a good review.

Good luck!


Some interesting ideas here, Brian - this is the side of things that I am particularly clueless about (but still learning).

One suggestion, since you mentioned the video idea, is that your publisher might use the "Meet the Author" program - I did one for the UK version and I have no means of knowing what difference it might have made, but references to it do show up.

I've also seen some very good home-made videos on the author pages on I keep meaning to do one myself but ....

Can you give me an idea of how to go about "fishing" for freelance work?

Blogs also get out to other crowds than just the science-blog-fans...Facebook even moreso. And your timing is good. I'll ask Santa for one in my stocking.

Dom; Thanks. I had heard of the "Vine" program before, and I will definitely be talking to my publisher about how to participate in it.

Michael; I had not heard of the "meet the author" site before. Thanks for the tip.

And I am starting to put together ideas for the videos. I will probably post them on YouTube and on this blog if I can actually pull them off. Of course this means having to buy a decent digital camcorder and some editing software (still cheaper than hiring someone to do the filming), but I think it would be a fun way to introduce readers to the book.

As for freelance work, it is very important to use blogs, twitter, etc. to make connections and reach editors. It helps a lot if an editor knows who you are/has been following your work, and sometimes these connections even result in editors approaching you for pieces. (That is how I published my first op-ed, anyway.) The most difficult thing is figuring out newsworthy stories and which publication to pitch to. A pitch I would send to National Geographic would be very different from one I sent to New Scientist which would be different from one I would send to the New York Times. It is almost a full-time job keeping up with who is publishing what, and since I am still a beginner myself I can't say I have many good tips on the matter.

Glendon; I do get a fair amount of traffic from people who find this blog due to google searches, but I think most of the people who read this blog are people already interested in science. I don't get that much traffic anyway (about 500 unique visits on a bad day, a little over 1,000 on a good day), so I feel like my ability to reach people via science blogs is relatively limited. I will do what I can, but I know I can't rely only on blogs if I want to successfully promote my book.

Glad to hear that you'll be asking Santa for one, though. I hope you like it. :)