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

Written in Stone

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.

Laelaps

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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