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Posts tagged ‘nonfiction’

Writing Nonfiction

Eight preparatory steps necessary to successfully write a nonfiction book:

  1. Choose your topic.

The first thing you want to do as you prepare to write a nonfiction book is choose a topic for your project carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t.

  1. Create a Content Plan

Create an outline or a table of contents for you book. This ends up looking like a table of contents—actually a rather detailed table of contents with chapter titles and subheading titles. You might prefer to just create a simple outline or a bulleted list.

Whatever your method of choice, create something that looks like the structure of a book—a table of contents. And know what content will fill that structure as you create your manuscript. That’s your map.

Then, when you sit down to write each day, you know exactly what to write. In fact, the more detailed you make this plan, the more quickly and easily you will write your book. You will spend little time staring at your computer screen wondering what to write or what comes next. You will know. It will be right there in your writing plan. You’ll just follow the map—your table of contents—to your destination.

  1. Determine What Research You Need

You might think you can write your book “off the top of your head” because you are the expert on the topic. Inevitably, though, you will discover a need to search for something—a URL, a quote, the title of a book. These things can slow down your process. This is where preparation can help keep your fingers on the keyboard typing rather than perusing the Internet.

For each item in your plan—or your detailed table of contents, brainstorm the possible research you need and make note of it.

As you write, if you discover you need more research or interviews, don’t stop writing. Instead, create brackets in your manuscript that say [research here] and highlight them in yellow. Later, do a search for the term “research,” and fill in the gaps.

  1. Create a To-Do List

Look over your content plan. Take all the research items you listed and put them on a to-do list.

Make a list of URLs, books and articles to find. Look for anything you need to do. For instance, does your research require that you visit a certain location? If so, put “Visit XX” on the to do list.

Don’t forget to put interviews on this list. You want to conduct your interviews now.

  1. Gather and Organize Your Materials

Gather as much of your research and other necessary material as you can prior to the end of October. Purchase the books, copy the articles into, copy and past the URLs into a Word doc, or drag them into Scrivener’s research folder, for instance. Get your interviews transcribed as well—and read through them with a highlighter, marking the quotes you think you want to use.

If you are writing memoir, you might want to gather photos, journals and other memorabilia. If you are re-purposing blog posts, or reusing any other previously published or written material, you want to put all of this in one place—an online folder, a Scrivener file or a Word file.

Generally, get as much of what you need to write your book in an easily accessible format and location so you aren’t searching for it when you should be writing. Use piles, boxes, hanging folders, computer folders, cloud storage…whatever works best for you.

  1. Determine How Much Time You Need

Each nonfiction book is different and requires a different amount of time to write. A research based book takes longer to write, for example, because you have to study, evaluate and determine your opinion of the studies. You have to read the interviews you conducted, choose appropriate quotes and then work those quotes into your manuscript.

If, on the other hand, you write from your own experiences, this take less time. With the exception of drawing on anecdotes, an occasional quote or bit of information from a book, the material all comes from your head. You need only sit down and write about a process you created, your own life story or your area of expertise.

  1. Create a Writing Schedule

Last, create a writing schedule. You now know how much time you need to write your book. Now find those hours in your calendar and block them off. Make those hours sacred.

  1. Put a Back-Up System in Place.

Yes…this is my last tip, because you just never know what happens. Your computer crashes or dies. You accidentally delete your whole manuscript. Your child dumps milk all over your keyboard.

You want a back up of your project. Always save it to your computer’s drive and onto a thumb drive or, better yet, into the cloud, for safe keeping! Make these plans in advance as well. You can use, or Google Drive, for example.

The Oxford Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science


The Simonyi Professorship Chair for the Public Understanding of Science was founded in 1995, by a donation from Dr Charles Simonyi. It is currently held by Professor Marcus du Sautoy, and based at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute and Department for Continuing Education.


The aim of the Simonyi Professorship is to contribute to the understanding of science by the public. The chair is intended to be filled by a scientist of distinction in their field of expertise, and the Simonyi Professor may hold the post while also pursuing their scientific work. Just as important as scientific accolade is that he or she has a talent and interest in communicating science to a wide audience.

Primary goals

The task of communicating science to the layman is not a simple one. In particular it is imperative for the post holder to avoid oversimplifying ideas, and presenting exaggerated claims. The limits of current scientific knowledge should always be made clear to the public. Once done so, however, there is also a role for presenting speculative ideas, which can convey to non-scientists some of the excitement of doing true science.

From Charles Simonyi’s Manifesto

“The chair is for ‘Public Understanding of Science’, that the holder will be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field rather than study the public’s perception of the same. By ‘public’ we mean the largest possible audience, provided, however, that people who have the power and ability to propagate or oppose the ideas (especially scholars in other sciences and in humanities, engineers, journalists, politicians, professionals, and artists) are not lost in the process. Here it is useful to distinguish between the roles of scholars and popularisers. The university chair is intended for accomplished scholars who have made original contributions to their field, and who are able to grasp the subject, when necessary, at the highest levels of abstraction. A populariser, on the other hand, focuses mainly on the size of the audience and frequently gets separated from the world of scholarship. Popularisers often write on immediate concerns or even fads. In some cases they seduce less educated audiences by offering a patronizingly oversimplified or exaggerated view of the state of the art or the scientific process itself. This is best seen in hindsight, as we remember the ‘giant brains’ computer books of yesteryear but I suspect many current science books will in time be recognized as having fallen into this category. While the role of populariser may still be valuable, nevertheless it is not one supported by this chair. The public’s expectation of scholars is high, and it is only fitting that we have a high expectation of the public.:

Six Reasons Editors Will Reject You

Whatever’s good about your book should be good on page 1, or very few editors are going to get to page 2. If you can’t figure out how to make the beginning of your book compelling, you’re probably not writing a compelling book.
Although no one loves a typo, it’s close to impossible to eradicate every single little mistake in a manuscript. Typos are usually forgivable (except in a query letter). But what’s not really forgivable is using words or phrases whose meanings you obviously don’t understand.
Editors read tens of thousands of pages of submissions per year, in their spare time. On weekends, at night in bed, on vacation. If you think any one of them wants to read a 90-page book proposal, you’re out of your mind. Whatever you need to say in a book proposal, say it in less than 30 minutes of reading time. I honestly can’t remember ever rejecting a single proposal for being too short (and I acquired a few books whose proposals were 0 pages long). Say what needs to be said, not more.
As for fully written manuscripts: an editor once confided to me that she refuses to read manuscripts that are longer than 400 pages. None. Automatic reject. And although her stance is the exception, she might be the exception who would acquire your novel if you could trim 150 pages of flab.
Many writers feel compelled to include a section of business-oriented ideas in their pitches or proposals. “My book should be merchandised in the front of the store, in a stack next to the register.” “Window displays would be a natural fit.” “The Today show and The View are perfect publicity venues for this book.” “You know Restoration Hardware? Or Starbucks? They should put my book on their coffee tables.” These are not helpful, actionable suggestions. They’re insults to everyone who spends their professional lives making and selling books.
If you managed to procure a try-out to pitch for the New York Yankees, would you show up to the stadium and present the scouts with a redesigned uniform (“Pinstripes are so 1977!”), and a proposal to move from the Bronx to Coeur d’Alene? Of course not. Shut up and throw your best fastball.
Editors are hoping—they’re desperate—to love it. Every time they pick up a new project, what’s in the front of their minds is, “I hope I love this.” It’s their jobs to find something new to love, and their careers are doomed if they can’t. But here’s a type of thought that never, ever pops into an editor’s head: “Oh, well, Joe Schmo says right here in his query letter that his debut novel An Incredibly Great Book is unputdownable and that he’s the next John Grisham, so we should probably just write the eight-figure check now, before he signs with Amazon.” Don’t tell editors how great your book is. Just make it great.

From: Chuck Sambuchino

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