Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Resources for writing a popular science book (and particularly a proposal)

Posted 24 Aug 2015 / 0
Still #00001

Today is the first official day of my first-ever sabbatical. Although I have been trying to get some over-the-summer momentum going into this one-semester break from teaching and service duties, now is the time that I really need to get (and stay) focused on my sabbatical project.

I want to write a popular science book about the tension in modern human societies between biological and cultural reproduction. I have never written a book before, so this is a new endeavor for me. I have been getting valuable advice from comrades who have written books (thanks Jennifer!) and who are experienced writer/editors (thanks Jeff!), but I also need to figure out how to get a viable book proposal into the hands of an agent/editor. So I have been looking for valuable resources to guide the process of writing a proposal. Below are some sites that I found to be really useful:

  1. ScienceBlogs LaelapsSo you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 1: From idea to agent“: This is a great overview of what needs to go into a book proposal, and the attitude and approach needed to get that proposal into the hands of an agent.
  2. Through the Sandglass Thoughts on writing a popular science book (1): making it interesting, finding a publisher“: This overview does a nice job of explaining some of the key challenges to reaching a broader audience with your book, and how to reflect your ability to meet those challenges in your proposal.
  3. Scientific American Life, Unbounded “So You’re a Scientist Wanting to Write a Popular Science Book?“: This is a funny overview of the whole process of popular science writing that brings out some of the humility and general habits required to be successful.
  4. The Scientist So You Want to Write a Book?“: This also gives a good overview of the process, including some pathways to consider as you think about what book you want to write.
  5. NatureJobs Popular science: Get the word out“: Lots of good little tricks for determining what to topic to write about and how to write about that topic in a way that will spark readers’ interest.
  6. Writer’s Digest The Writer’s Dig The 8 Essential Elements of a Nonfiction Book Proposal“: This is a good fast summary of the major points made by Jane Friedman about how to write a good non-fiction book proposal (see below for her full post).
  7. Jane FriedmanStart Here: How to Write a Book Proposal“: A great broad overview of proposal writing that focuses on the “business plan” identity of all book proposals.
  8. Writers in the Storm Nonfiction Submission Tips — Agents Speak“: What I like about this blog post is that it features actual commentary from agents about what they look for in a nonfiction proposal. And, man, this and other sources above are really pushing back on my abstinence from Twitter and Facebook… I may have to re-consider my stance against these internet outposts.
  9. Publishing Talk How to Write a Winning Book Proposal“: Although not focused particular on science writing — or even nonfiction — this gives a good overview of what your proposal will be subjected to in terms of review. I like the focus here on tailoring your proposal format to the needs of your project.
  10. BioScience When scientists write books for the public“: This provides a good (albeit old!) account of why a scientist might want to write a popular science book. I find in these reasons some good ideas for what should go into a proposal… and what might end up being a pitfall in a proposal.
A Minor Post, Breeders, Propagators, & Creators, Public Outreach, Publication

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