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Publishing a popular science book I

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Style Counsel Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist from Griffith University, outlines the process of making his just-published book, The Birds at My Table.
Books don’t come out of nowhere so they must be important to authors who devote a lot of their time to them. Authors have to be thoughtful about who might be interested in a particular topic and therefore who might potentially buy a book on this.

Pepe  (Daphne Pickering)
As The Birds at My Table was a popular science book, Professor Jones wanted to reach people who were already feeding wild birds. This required a different style of writing from typical scientific papers that are intentionally dull and lifeless. He contacted people he knew who were good at communicating to the general public and passed his writing on to see what they thought. This enabled him to come up with the style first as he definitely wanted the book to reach a wider audience.

After the book was written, he spent a fruitless year and a half trying to approach publishers throughout the world, getting very discouraged in the process. He contacted about 50 publishers and only five said they would look at it. Of them, only two actually read it! He kept thinking that maybe nobody else cared about bird feeding as much as he did. His problem, however, was specific in that he was writing a book in Australia about something that mostly happens elsewhere, like the US and the UK.


King parrot
Publishers said it wasn’t appropriate for an Australian to be writing on a topic that wasn’t a big thing in Australia compared to the US or the UK. Little wonder he thought that he had written an entire book that no one cared about and that most people never read. It seemed that this had been a huge amount of work, heart and soul for no gain. As soon as he had an agent on board, however, everything changed. This was somebody who knew the system, could communicate with publishers and knew which publishers to approach.

Hand feeding,
She was able to suggest to publishers how the book could fit into their readership while dealing with the detailed technical contracts that are part of publishing. She could go through the fine print before anything was signed. Other successful authors swear by this process, allowing them to concentrate on writing the book, leaving the technical stuff to someone who knows what they are doing. The eventual publisher was impressed by an outsider looking at what was going on in the feeding of wild birds.

They are pleased with the launches and book events in Australia and now that it is coming out in the US and the UK professor Jones is getting requests for interviews. It’s already recommended on a Christmas list in one catalogue. The path to publishing can be a rocky one. It is quite clear that the process of creative writing is assisted by some style counsel.

Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed by Ruby Vincent for A Question of Balance. Images from Darryl Jones. Summary text by Victor Barry May 2018

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A new kind of bookmaker Publishing a popular science book II

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