Chipping Away at Written in Stone

American mastodon

It has been a little more than a month since I announced my forthcoming book on paleontology and evolution, Written in Stone, and I have been hard at work on the manuscript. As it stands now the book is about 3/4 complete. Provided everything stays on schedule I should have a first draft of the whole book finished in about a month.

But finishing the manuscript, while of primary importance, is not my only concern. I am a virtually unknown science writer publishing my first book through a relatively small house. That means that I cannot sit idly by and expect lots of people to take interest in my book. I will have to work hard to get the word out.

Presenting my book to the widest audience possible is going to require planning, persistence, and a bit of luck. Keeping up my presence on the web through this blog, Dinosaur Tracking, Twitter, &c. will be essential, especially since I am hoping to get some higher-traffic bloggers to eventually review the book. It would save a bit of time to just focus on my manuscript, but the benefits of staying visible outweigh those I would receive from taking a break.

Even so, I cannot rely on the ever-shifting blogohedron alone. In order to reach wider audiences I am going to have to take advantage of more traditional popular science outlets like newspapers and magazines. That is a little difficult to accomplish right now, but fortunately there is going to be a nine month break between the completion of my book and the date when it will hit the shelves. With any luck I will publish a few articles and editorials during that time (as well as start serious work on my second book) to reach people who don’t read science blogs.

I’m also hoping to make at least a few appearances at bookstores (and if I’m really fortunate, local colleges and museums) to promote the book. As much as I loathe New Jersey I must admit that there are plenty of potential venues at which to arrange events. The unfortunate thing is that I will probably have to stay pretty local, or within about a three hour driving radius of where I now live. I do not foresee being able to launch a full-blown book tour around the country, so my ability to reach people outside the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states might be limited.

Then there is the academic side of things. One of the problems I have encountered over and over again during the bookwriting process is that I do not have enough letters after my name. I am not a professional scientist and therefore am not as marketable as someone who is. Therefore I am trying to make sure I keep up with academic publications as I continue to push for more visibility among the public. Right now I have one peer-reviewed paper in press and I have four more history of science papers in progress. I am hoping to finish at least two of them before the year is out. Such papers will not be an instant fix, but I still want to cultivate my academic contributions as I continue to reach out to the public. It is a complicated balancing act.

None of these things occurred to me when I began writing my book. I hadn’t a clue about the process of getting a book from something I typed up on my computer to a finished, dead-tree product on shelves. As soon as the prospect of becoming professionally published materialized, however, I knew that it would take a lot of work to make sure my book gets the reception I feel it deserves. I have poured countless hours and all the effort I can muster into this book, and I will do everything within reason to let people know about it.

For now, though, the most important thing is making sure there is actually a book to promote! That task occupies most of my “free” time, but I do not want to let these other issues slip away, either. It is a balancing act, one made all the more difficult by the fact that I work an 8-hour day job unrelated to my writing, but every minute I spend on this project is worth it. I cannot wait until you all get a chance to read the finished product.

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