If you’re writing science nonfiction, Neil de Grasse Tyson is one to beat. His latest work, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, has more than 3,000 reviews on Amazon – which means he’s sold a whole lot more than 3,000 books.
Which means he's made a pretty penny.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be joining the ranks of lining his pockets. However, I have to admit… I don’t know whether I’ll be able to understand it or not, mass-market meant though it be.
When I mentioned wanting to read it to my younger sister’s husband and older sister’s boyfriend the other day, they both got very hesitant. Apparently, one of them started reading it and the other did read it; and they’re both concerned it’s a little too advanced for this English major to handle.
Before you get your knickers in a twist, no, they weren’t being sexist. It’s just that one of them is an engineer and the other is a techie, two much more scientific fields than I’m in.
So, since I don’t claim to be an astrophysicist or anything even close to it, I’m not offended for my gender. Though, from a personal perspective, I won’t lie: My competitive side is officially revved up.
Now I want to read it even more.
At this point, you might be wondering why I’m bringing my personal life into a professional post. It’s an understandable question, but the following Writing Challenge should help answer it.
Make your science nonfiction understandable, useful and interesting.
Too many people consider science incomprehensible. It’s for geniuses, they say. Or at least the really smart crowd.
Too many other people consider it impractical to learn. Why bother studying how things work when they’re living life just fine without such information?
And then there are those who just consider it boring.
Prove all of them wrong.
That way you get your main message out there to the most people possible. Plus, you make more money.
Truth be told, not every reader out there is stupid-stubborn like me. They’re not going to march right out and buy a book because someone warned them it’s over their head.
I’m guessing I’m in the minority here.
It's a number that dwindles further still once something is labeled “pointless” or, worse yet, “boring.” To avoid those negative reviews and diminishing dollars, you really want to keep this in mind while writing…
Tamp down on your jargon.
Just because you know all the scientific lingo for your field doesn’t mean those mainstream readers with their mainstream dollars do. They’re picking your science nonfiction book up to get smarter, not to feel stupider.
Therefore, work with them at their level to a reasonable degree.
If you’re a pharmacist writing about America’s prescription drug problem, make sure to reference drugs’ recognizable market names much more than their lab names.
Or if you’re a marine biologist writing about shark behavior, cut back on your isurus oxyrinchus and Isurus paucus terminology, and talk about shortfin makos and longfin makos like a normal person instead. Then, after you’re done with the writing stages, look for non-scientific beta readers. The same goes for an editor.
If you’re writing science nonfiction yourself, you’re no doubt working with familiar information. You know it like it’s the back of your white-gloved hand, which means you’re less likely to catch when something might make most readers run for the hills.
The same applies to your colleagues. In this regard, they’re useless.
Not so much with the uninformed masses – the very people you’re hoping to reach.
Non-scientific beta readers will be able to point out where they get confused. And non-scientific editors will then be able to make sure you properly addressed those points after you’ve gone back and tried to revise them.
If you’re writing science nonfiction and want to make mainstream money, this is the truly the best way to go.