Since publishing ‘Does It Fart?’ the most common thing people ask me is ‘I have a book idea, how do I go about making it reality?’. Well, sorry for the misleading title folks, but I am afraid I can’t really tell you how to get a book published.
What I can do however, is share my experiences of becoming a published author in the hope that a) it might answer some of your questions about publishing and b) spark a conversation with other authors about their experiences – which I can hopefully pull together into a follow-up (science authors please comment, get in touch over Twitter or drop me an email through the contact form if you would like to contribute!).
So, instead of telling you how to get published what I am going to talk about is how I got my book published. I have split it down into the different steps so you can skip bits if you like. I don’t think it is a particularly typical way to publish a book, but I’m not sure there really is one ‘typical’ route. Hopefully some elements will help someone somewhere.
How do I approach a publisher??
Now this is the bit I really know nothing about. The process for me went a little like this. I started a hashtag (#DoesItFart) along with another Twitter used (Nick Caruso) as a bit of a joke among zoologists. We had a complimentary spreadsheet of farting animals that sat alongside the hashtag for future reference purposes because, well, science. The media – in no small part thanks to Jason Bittel and Ryan Mandelbaum – picked up on the spreadsheet and it completely blew up (pun totally intended). The spreadsheet was featured on Gizmodo, LiveScience, Washington Post, the Times, BBC Radio, CBC….I was even on Canadian TV talking about it. In the midst of all this a publisher (Quercus) contacted Nick about writing a book, and Nick brought me on board. Of course we said yes, but up until that point I had never even really thought about writing a book on anything. What I would say is I really like Quercus they have been fantastic.
I think if I was going to summarise this into some constructive key points it would be:
- Building an audience on social media can be really helpful
- Having a good relationship with a few awesome journalists is always a good thing
- Sometimes you just get super lucky
What does a good book contract look like?
It really depends on the type of book but for your standard popular science stuff apparently you should be getting 7.5% for a paperback and 15% for a hardback. Also try not to sign away world rights as then you don’t have to give your first publisher a cut when it comes out in other countries. I kindof found this out as I went along but honestly I wish I had listened to the many people who told me to get a literary agent right away. Publishing a book is more complicated than just writing it, there is a lot of negotiating and uncertainty in an area where I had no expertise, and it would have been nice to just have someone manage it for me. Agents usually take 15% of any money you make, but everyone tells me they will make you more money than they take and honestly I just think it would have been worth it for the stress removal alone.
- Get an agent
- 7.5% for a paperback and 15% for a hardback
How do I write a book?
Again, this process was a little abnormal for us because…well I have never met Nick. We split the book 50-50 by animals. The first stage was research – we had a hierarchy of evidence starting with peer reviewed papers, then video evidence and expert opinion, then anecdote and newspaper articles. We were incredibly fortunate in that the Science Twitter community contributed over 100 animals to our spreadsheet so that was a great starting point. We wrote each animal then swapped, therefore proof-reading each others work. We also Skyped a lot.
Erm…I don’t really know how to summarise this other than be efficient and get someone to proof read it? If you can get a bunch of experts to contribute examples that helps too 😀
Should I self publish?
I really don’t know. What I can say is a publisher has a lot of contacts with retailers and will sort out getting it on Amazon for you. I don’t think we would have seen our book in Sainsburys or Urban Outfitters without them, and maybe not even Waterstones. You would have to negotiate that all yourself if you self-published so I imagine it is incredibly time consuming. Also our publisher managed all the media stuff for us which was great. As a busy PhD student I really appreciated it. I don’t think I would have had the time or knowledge to self-publish if I am honest but I know many people do it and like it.
- Self publishing seems like a lot of work to me but probably best to ask someone who has actually done it
How do I find an illustrator?
Just get Ethan Kocak on board why would you ever want anyone else?
- Just hire Ethan look at this absolute beauty of an illustration
Are you rich now?
Sadly not. If you want to help make that dream a reality please buy my book or just Paypal me money I am cool with either :p
- No-one really makes a tonne of money off being an author so don’t do it for the cash, although any additional income is always very well received as a PhD student.