“Marketing for Scientists” Charts a Path to Success

1 04 2012

The new book Marketing for Scientists belongs, not on every scientist’s bookshelf, but on their desk! It’s a useful, savvy guide for scientists on how to market their work and themselves, to the benefit of their career, their field, and science in general.

As author Marc Kuchner points out, scientists certainly need to learn marketing, given the uphill battle they face in publishing papers, winning grants, and getting jobs. And society needs scientists to market science, given such adversaries as climate change and evolution deniers, and those who cling to the dangerous myth that vaccines cause autism.

Wisely, Kuchner begins the book by correcting the misconception that “marketing” is a dubious business of selling snake oil. That’s an outdated definition of the word, he points out, offering a new definition that any scientist would be comfortable with:

Marketing is the craft of seeing things from other people’s perspectives, understanding their wants and needs, and finding ways to meet them.

Few scientists realize it, but they are already “marketing” each time they talk to a colleague, publish a paper, deliver a talk, or do just about any other communication. However, in my opinion, the vast majority are abysmally poor at these communications, because they do not heed Kuchner’s definition and consider the needs of their “customers.”

For example, he points out that the very basic concept of giving good customer service is an invaluable marketing tool. This service can be as basic as answering emails and phone calls promptly, and arriving at meetings on time.

However, Kuchner’s techniques extend far beyond etiquette coaching. He explains strategies for turning people who have never heard of your work into advocates. And again, it’s not snake-oil-selling he advocates, but clear honest communications and building relationships. He points out that “There are walls between universities, walls between research groups, walls between one scientist and another.” He asserts that “Each wall between scientific subcultures can only be penetrated by a real, organic human relationship.”

He also offers sound advice on “branding”—another word that might give scientists pause. But he uses the modern definition of branding as “the set of all expectations consumers have about a company or product.” And his strategies aim at helping scientists build their brand; achieving a reputation for creativity and quality. What scientist could possibly object to that!

In his book, Kuchner parses “customers” whom scientists are trying to reach—e.g. students, junior scientists, senior scientists, funding agency staff, and press officers—and details their concerns and how to meet them.

Kuchner also offers practical marketing techniques for getting job offers, writing proposals, producing papers, benefiting from conferences, giving talks, and using email and the internet effectively. And again, these techniques are based on communication skills, not on the old concept of marketing as crass salesmanship.

He also offers excellent insight into communicating science to the public and to legislators, and to marketing science itself to a public that all-too-often harbors wrongheaded myths about science and scientists.

As a final summary “cheat sheet,” he offers a list of marketing tips for scientists. Here are a few choice ones:

  • When you communicate with people, use their names.
  • Carry a prop; tell a story.
  • Everyone is wondering What’s In It For Me? (WIIFM)
  • Creating new research questions is as good for your career as answering old ones.
  • Promote your Signature Research Idea and it will promote you; promote the idea, not yourself.
  • Focus your research; become the go-to person in your subfield.
  • Make videos about your work and put them online.

“A Bee in a Cathedral” Offers a Trove of Science Analogies

14 02 2012

Tired of writing clichéd science analogies like “…the size of a pinhead,” or “…the distance from the earth to the moon”? The new book A Bee in a Cathedral and 99 Other Scientific Analogies, by Joel Levy, can rescue you from the slough of triteness. How about these?

  • A human being consists of as much energy as is found in the matter of 30 very large H-bombs.
  • Every cell in your body, except red blood cells, contains roughly two meters of stringlike DNA molecules.
  • The energy released by a single hurricane could power the entire U.S. for six months.
  • Even a normal thunderstorm generates power equivalent to the energy consumption of the entire U.S. for four days.
  • A chunk of neutron star the size of a sugar cube weighs more than the human race.
  • All the hominid bones ever discovered could fit in the back of a pickup truck.
  • Every day the heart expends enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles. Over a lifetime, it could power a truck to the moon and back.
  • To see what it’s like to be your own heart, try using a teacup to empty a bathtub in 15 minutes—then do it again and again, without stopping, for the rest of your life.
  • The sun burns through matter at a rate equivalent to a million elephants every second.

And finally, of course, the title analogy: “If an atom were blown up to the size of a cathedral, the nucleus would be no larger than a bee buzzing about in the center, while the electrons would be ‘orbiting’ near the outermost edge.”

But A Bee in a Cathedral is more than a collection of neat analogies. It also explores the power of analogies, and it uses its analogies to explain some of the major concepts in science. Writes Levy

…analogy is so powerful that it is central not only to the communication of science but also the process of scientific advancement itself. Analogy is a key element of the mysterious phenomena of scientific inspiration and creativity, and the history of science is filled with examples of breakthroughs achieved by analogous reasoning.

He cites, for example, how Robert Boyle was inspired to develop his theories of gases by imagining gas particles as coiled springs; and how August Kekulé came up with the ring structure of benzene when he dreamed of a snake biting its own tail.

Levy’s writing exemplifies the use of analogies to explain dozens of concepts in physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, earth science, the human body and technology. So as a reference, the book is a great cheat sheet for science writers trying to explain phenomena as diverse as entropy, gene function, supernovae and volcanoes.

Levy also champions analogies as a means to make science more accessible and fun, declaring “science is like a houseplant—it needs to be taken out of its dingy corner and put in the sunlight once in a while if it’s to flourish.”

And that, of course, is a delightful simile to explain why compelling science writing is so important!

E-book Guide Update: Keeping Up with a Bullet Train

2 02 2012

Even though I posted a guide to publishing e-books and e-articles only months ago, the field is moving so fast, it’s already time for an update. While e-books can be read on any platform, the heavy sales of tablets and e-readers is a major force driving the e-book rise. For example, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that over the holidays, the share of adults who own a tablet or e-reader nearly doubled, from 10 percent to 19 percent. As the price of those devices continues to drop, that percentage will almost certainly continue its rapid rise. And thus, so will e-book sales.  Amazon reported last May that their e-book sales had passed print books, and in December, Publishers Weekly reported that e-book sales rose 81.2 percent in October, even before the Christmas season and the debut of the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and Kindle e-readers.

What’s more, libraries are moving rapidly to offer e-book lending, according to OverDrive, a leading source of e-book services for libraries. Library lending is progressing despite attempts by with publishers to put up roadblocks, as reported in this New York Times article. Amazon was not one of those publishers, already launching its own lending library for Kindle e-books through OverDrive.

E-book vendors have reacted to this explosion of sales by offering new marketing schemes and e-book development software. For example, Amazon launched its new Kindle Select program, by which self-publishers could offer their books for lending. Depending on how many people borrow their books, they could be eligible for royalties from a Kindle fund. Some publishers have complained about Amazon’s demand for 90-day exclusivity for Kindle Select books. But others, including suspense author Cheryl Kay Tardif, report that making some titles available for free significantly sparked sales of other books.

In my September post, I wrote that the future might see more multimedia e-books.  That prediction was too timid. New design and formatting tools are making e-book layout more sophisticated and multimedia e-books significantly easier to produce.

For example, Kindle has launched its new Kindle Format 8 e-book format that includes tools for creating more visual-rich layouts. For almost all other e-readers, there is EPUB 3, the new version of the widely used e-book format. It allows for embedded audio and video files, besides enabling more elaborate layouts and navigation.

Also, to enable easier creation of multimedia e-books, Apple has launched its free iBooks Author, to enable multi-touch interactive e-books for the iPad. The system has gotten good reviews, such as this one from Wired.com. The catch is that, although books created using the software can be given away for free, any sales must be done through Apple’s iBookstore. Apple’s restrictive contract has generated considerable criticism among publishers and intellectual property lawyers.

Apple is not the only new player in e-books though. Self-publishers are developing their own software, including open-source software such as FLOW, described in this Wired.com post, for creating basic multimedia e-books.  Duke University scientists led by marine biologist David Johnston developed the system to publish their interactive marine science textbook, Catchalot (French for sperm whale). Importantly, they decided to develop the software when their book idea was turned down by publishers as being to expensive for a limited market. Although FLOW is currently Apple-specific, the scientists plan to develop a version for Android, and  to make FLOW widely available for inexpensive creation of other multimedia e-books.

The multimedia e-book arena has also seen the entry of new commercial ventures, such as Cathedral Rock Publishing and Inkling, which aim to simplify the creation process. Here are demos of a Cathedral Rock e-book and a more elaborate Inkling multimedia e-book

Finally, here are some excellent sources of information on e-book publishing. Smashwords founder Mark Coker has published The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, which is free for download. And here’s a  a useful interview with e-book publishers on their experience. Also, the premier science communication conference ScienceOnline 2012 featured a session on e-books that included this extensive list of articles and sources about e-books.

Certainly, the e-book train has not only left the station, but is accelerating down the track. Stay tuned for reports on more milestones.

Use Infographics to Explain Your Work

2 12 2011

Creating dramatic infographics—visually compelling charts and graphs—is not as daunting as it might seem. By following some basic guidelines you can develop infographics that illustrate your research in a way that grabs the attention of both lay and professional audiences.

These tips aim to guide you in producing an infographic that engagingly conveys your concepts using images and words. They have been distilled from the extensive list of how-to web sites at the end of this post. The sites are roughly in the order I found them most helpful. Besides infographics, these tips can also help you develop more effective charts, graphs and diagrams.

Why create an infographic?

To convey basic data , all you really need are simple charts, graphs and diagrams—although you can also make these more attractive with graphics. But true infographics aim to explain more complex concepts, and in a visual, easily scannable and digestible form. They resonate with our visual communication culture, and their visual nature helps overcome literacy and language barriers.

Also, because infographics can be entertaining as well as informative, they attract attention to your work. People tend to share them and link to them on your web site, widening your audience. Adding an infographic to a news release about your work makes it easier for reporters to understand, and media may use or adapt the infographic for an article or web site.

Infographics can range from static images to animated slide shows and videos. They can also range from simple infographics you can produce yourself to those designed by a professional artist. For an in-depth overview of infographics and their history see this Wikipedia article on infographics.

As illustrated by this list of infographics, the best are creative, informative, graphically well organized and often use humor or whimsy:

In contrast, here are a few that I think don’t work:

With these examples in mind, here are steps you can take to create an engaging infographic. Once you’ve gone through them, you might go back and review the examples, and judge which ones you think meet the criteria for good infographics.

What’s your audience?

Most infographics aim at lay audiences, but there are many levels of lay audiences, from science buffs to students or laypeople who know little of science. Similarly, professional audiences may range from students new to the field to established scientists. So, start by deciding the audience at which you will aim your content. Also plan your style accordingly. A lay-level infographic would be more light-hearted, even humorous in style, while a professional-level infographic would be more serious.

Do you really need an infographic?

An infographic should tell a story. It could portray

  • the interrelationships in time or space among elements of a concept
  • a flowchart of a process
  • a visual timeline, for example tracing the evolution of a concept or industry

You don’t need an infographic if you only want to display a collection of data. Instead, a well-designed list or chart might suffice. For example, to me, these Twitter infographics might just as well be lists or simple graphs or charts. Tricking them out as fancy infographics only makes their data more difficult to grasp.

An infographic can also tell your personal story, as a visual resume or life history. If you are a scientist, it can not only visually explain your work and goals , but also display your communication skills. Two good tools for such infographics are the services Re.vu  and Visualize.me, which enable users to import LinkedIn profile information to create an infographic web page profile. The profile can include a broad range of information on your career history, skills and goals. Of course, such resumes could be considered gimmicks, so use them only to the extent that they usefully portray your work and history.

Informational or editorial?

Your infographic could aim only at providing useful information. For example, a how-to infographic might be adapted as a wall poster. And an infographic that shows the sides of a debate will also grab attention. But if you are seeking media coverage as well as attention, your infographic should be an editorial—illustrating your position on a controversial topic. It should be newsworthy, timely, interesting, surprising, opinionated, thought-provoking and/or contrarian. The examples in the list above show both kinds.

Do lots of research!

While you may have plenty of information on your topic, nevertheless check out a wide range of other sources. This research ensures you have all the information—including not only basic facts, but the opinions and theories of others in your field. For scientific topics you could explore Scientific American, Science News, EurekAlert! and Newswise. ThisExplaining Research reference page lists many web content sources that can offer background information for your infographic. To research a broad range of topics beyond science, use Google, Wikipedia and other such search sites. You’ll want to cite these sources in your infographic, to give it credibility.

Chart your points and organize design

Once you’ve gathered your data, write out the points you’ll want to make, and the supporting text. Keep the text extremely brief. Remember, you’re telling your story with graphics as well as text. Your intro should be emphatic but brief, your explanatory text punchy and your supporting statistics simple and dramatic.

Next, sketch out the visual flow of your infographic—how your points might be organized in two dimensions. Also, consider whether you want your infographic to be a literal representation of your topic, or metaphorical. For example, this history of driving in America uses a board game metaphor. Such metaphors will engage viewers and make your infographic fun—if that is the appropriate tone you want. Obviously, for a more serious topic you wouldn’t want such a whimsical design. For a serious or controversial topic, you would want a straightforward design. Color also affects tone, with dark colors implying status and prestige, and bright colors such as yellow being friendlier. For a more extensive discussion of such design tips, see this blog post by Gracie Lavigne.

Include your brand in your design, but unobtrusively so as not to make your infographic look like an ad. This brand should include your web site URL.

Your design should take into account the right size for your infographic. If the infographic will be a vertical, keep it to 1,000 pixels wide and try to keep it no longer than 10,000 pixels; if it is to be a horizontal, make it no taller than 700 pixels. This ensures that users will only have to scroll in one direction, rather than both as with this infographic.

Do you want a video animated infographic?

A video animated infographic combines audio and animated visuals, either video or slides. As a video, it can be posted on YouTube; and as a narrated slide show or video on such sites as Mybrainshark, Slideshare or Slideboom—which also enable you to embed the infographic in your site. Consider creating such an infographic if your topic will really benefit from audio and animation—and if you have the resources. Such video infographics have high impact and will likely be linked to and Tweeted widely. Here’s a good tutorial on video infographics, and for good examples, see this collection of animated infographics and this extraordinary NPR video infographic on how a population grows to seven billion.

Hire a designer, or do it yourself?

For a really elaborate, polished infographic, hire a designer who knows sophisticated design software such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. According to this excellent article on how to find an infographic design agency, the cost should be no more than $1,000.

Your designer should be able to take your text and rough design ideas—and undoubtedly come up with new ideas—and deliver quality designs. Here’s a good article that described what your designer is looking for. The service visual.ly offers experts who can create infographics for you.

However, you can do your own infographic, if you’re willing to learn some basic software. The web site Visme offers whatVisme looks like an easy-to-use system for creating your own infographics. And here is an article from Visme on how to organize your infographic.  Here are other programs that enable basic do-it-yourself infographics, diagrams, flowcharts, maps and image processing:

These tools are among those discussed in this article on tools for making your own infographics.

Whether you use a designer or do it yourself, test your draft infographic on representatives of your audience to make sure it works. One test whether it communicates easily and immediately is to let them look at it for about ten seconds, and see if they are intrigued and get the general idea.

Market your infographic

Once it’s done, of course, you will post your infographic on your web site and/or blog and Tweet about it. But there are other steps you can take to get attention. Send out a news release to media and relevant bloggers about your infographic. And if your infographic illustrates a news release, make sure the link to the infographic is prominently displayed within the release. Send an e-mail blast to lists of people and institutions that will be interested in your infographic.

Beyond these steps, this article on how to market an infographic contains other excellent recommendations for marketing your infographic—for example, including a copy-and-paste embed code, adding buttons for social media sharing (e.g. Facebook, Google+, Twitter), and submitting it to article-sharing sites (e.g. Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit).

Finally, here is a large collection of helpful tutorials on creating infographics, including those I drew on for this post:

Should You Publish an E-book or E-article? Here’s a Guide

17 09 2011

With the explosive growth of the market for e-books and e-readers, writers find themselves considering whether they should publish an e-book or e-article. While e-books represent a potentially liberating and profitable outlet, they have their complexities and pitfalls. This guide aims to help you make the best decisions and navigate the rapidly shifting terrain of e-books. (Note: I recently added an update to this article.)

First the good news: e-books are very inexpensive to publish, often even free. They are distributed instantly worldwide and give buyers immediate gratification. There are also a multitude of outlets, including your own web site, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble Pubit!, Apple iBookstore and Google eBooks. Such outlets also include independent sites such as Kobo and Smashwords, which not only offer sales from their sites, but distribution to major outlets such as Kindle. While Smashwords is a very popular distribution service, many authors prefer to publish separately to Kindle because of better royalty rates.

Importantly, none of these sites is exclusive, so you don’t have to pick one place to publish and sell. You can do it everywhere!

Another piece of good news is that e-book royalties are considerably higher than for print books produced by traditional publishers. For example, Kindle offers a royalty of 70 percent; and Smashwords offers a royalty of 85 percent for sales on its site, and 70.5 percent for sales on affiliates such as Apple and Barnes & Noble.

For other discussions of e-books, see Wikipedia’s comprehensive overview of e-books and their pros and cons and this article from The Science Fiction Writers of America.

Still a minor market

Now the bad news: Although sales of e-books are growing rapidly, they are still not a major percentage of the overall book market. That mass market still belongs largely to print books, although Amazon reports that its Kindle e-book Kindlesales now surpass all its print book sales. However, given that the cost of e-readers will continue to drop, most forecasters believe e-books will ultimately become the major publishing medium overall.

If you write nonfiction, there is the bad news that less than 20 percent of e-book sales are for nonfiction; but that’s good news for fiction writers, who garner about 80 percent of the e-book market.

E-books are also not yet part of the publishing mainstream. Don’t expect your e-book to be reviewed by The New York Times or any other major media outlet. Such lack of reviews is not necessarily terrible news, however, because fewer media outlets are reviewing books, anyway. Readers are relying far more heavily on reviews by fellow readers on Amazon and other sites. And you can solicit those reviews yourself, rather than submitting your book to the traditional media reviewers.

Perhaps the most cautionary news, however, is that the low cost of producing e-books has resulted in mountains of “e-dreck”—badly written and badly edited books that clog the marketplace and turn readers off.

So, before you make a decision to e-publish, you should develop a comprehensive, targeted marketing plan to determine how or whether you can distinguish your work from e-dreck. If that marketing plan really doesn’t reveal a significant market for your work, reconsider whether you should publish at all. Of course, if your e-book is a freebie to advertise your business, you wouldn’t expect to earn income from it, anyway.

Also, consider whether you should publish only an e-book, or make it an adjunct to a self-published print version. A very popular self-publishing model is to use Lightning Source to produce print-on-demand (POD) books, and to create e-book versions for the many outlets. For example, I used Lightning Lightning Source logoSource to print my booklet Working with Public Information Officers as a supplement to Explaining Research. I also posted the text of Working with Public Information Officers online.

While Lightning Source does offer an e-book publishing option, it does not distribute to the major outlets. Among the best sources of advice on POD are Aaron Shepard’s book POD for Profit and this article by book designer Pete Masterson on the business model for POD.

For a good overview of best practices for e-book production and sales, see this article from the independent publishing group SPAN and this Kindle e-book by James Matthews, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks – All for Free. And for a view of the future, see book marketer Penny Sansevieri’s article The Next 10 Ebook Trends to Watch For.

Publishing e-articles

Besides publishing book-length manuscripts, you can also publish and sell e-articles. Major e-article outlets include Kindle Singles, Apple Quick Reads, and Smashwords Shorts. Kindle is perhaps the largest such e-article outlet. Helpful resources for publishing Kindle Singles include Larry Dignan’s review My Amazon Kindle Single publishing experiment, Megan Garber’s article 1,900 copies: How a top-selling Kindle Single is generating new audiences for ProPublica and the Kindle book How to Publish and Sell Your Article on the Kindle: 12 Tips for Short Documents.

Rather than publishing your article on one of the e-book sites, you might also consider e-article web sites. Popular e-article sites include The Atavist, Byliner, Longform.org, Scribd and the “e-reading community,” Wattpad.  Each of these Wattpad logohas a different publishing model: The Atavist charges readers for articles, Byliner links to articles from other sources, and Longform.org and Scribd offer free articles. Wattpad hosts free e-books and e-articles by untried authors, who can receive coaching and criticism from readers. Once an author feels his/her work is ready for commercial distribution, it can be published on Smashwords, a Wattpad partner.

Besides article publishing sites, there are also article syndicates that provide articles free to other web sites and blogs. Such syndicated articles are mainly how-to pieces aimed at promoting a web site, service or business. Syndication sites include Articlecity.com, Ezinearticles and Goarticles. John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books offers a listing of free article directories and online article sites. This site also includes fee-based services and software that claims to enable writers to produce and syndicate free articles.

Avoiding layout pitfalls

If you are seeking to create an e-book, the first challenge is figuring out the confusing welter of e-book formats. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, as outlined in this Wikipedia article and this listing on ePublication Marketing Associates. The safest bet is to produce your book in the formats preferred by the outlets you want to use—for example the .mobi format used by Kindle. Also, you can use such distributors such as Smashwords to convert your book into multiple formats that will serve a range of outlets.

Another complexity is that laying out any e-book is quite different from laying out a print book. Unlike a print layout, an e-book layout allows text to “flow,” according to the screen size. Also, readers can customize font size, font style and line spacing. So, page numbers are meaningless in e-books, and it is difficult—sometimes impossible—to control the placement of images, footnotes, endnotes, columns, tables, superscripts, subscripts, and other design elements. And given the low resolution of e-book screens, images will not be as crisp as in print.

If you do your own layout, some sites, offer authors substantial formatting help. These sources include the Kindle Direct Publishing site, the Amazon Smashwords logoKindle Publishing Guidelines, the Barnes & Noble ePub Formatting Guide and the Smashwords Style Guide. The software Jutoh has also received good reviews as an e-book formatter.

There are also many excellent books on formatting and publishing e-books, mainly for Kindle, which represents about 70 percent of the e-book market:

However, if your book has complex design elements such as images and tables, and if you’re not up to tackling a sometimes a technically difficult conversion process, you might find it wiser to pay an expert to format your book for you. Good sources for formatters are this Bookmarket list of e-book producers and distributors and this list from self-publishing guru Dan Poynter. To hire a Smashwords designer, you can obtain a list of authors who can format e-books and create e-book cover designs by emailing list@smashwords.com. Other e-book sites, such as AuthorLink, Bookbaby and eBookIt! offer formatting services as part of their fee-paid publishing package.

While Apple offers only minimal help in posting e-books to its iBookstore, it does offer a list of recommended “aggregators” that can provide layout and other services. A word of caution: while the list includes free aggregators such as Smashwords, and commercial services such as Ingram, it also includes the subsidy publisher Lulu. While Lulu offers a free e-book publishing service, such subsidy (aka “vanity”) publishers also promote paid publishing packages that are of doubtful value. See Masterson’s article on vanity publishers for a good summary of the drawbacks of such publishers. BookLocker is another subsidy publisher that offers conversion and distribution services for e-books.

Many e-book distribution sites, however, do not offer layout services, although they are still worthy outlets. These include eBooks.com , eBookMall, ePublication Marketing Associates, Fictionwise, and Scribd. Two other sites, Payloadz and E-junkie, sell all digital goods. Another, Overdrive, distributes e-books and other media to libraries, schools and universities.

The future of e-books may well extend beyond text to include sophisticated multimedia. Such enhancements may involve only adding a soundtrack to an e-book, a service offered by Booktrack. See this New York Times article on the uses for Booktrack. Or, multimedia may take the form of elaborate apps for the iPad and other tablet computers, as discussed in this New York Times article and in my blog post How the iPad is Inspiring New Publication Formats. Already, early pioneers such as Push Pop Press and Vook are creating extraordinary multimedia e-books. However, such multimedia apps are expensive and complicated to produce, and unless there is a mass market for an app, authors are perhaps wisest in sticking to simple, traditional text.

Considering Writing a Book? Read “Explaining Research: the Aftermath”

7 05 2011

If you’re thinking of writing a book, this piece I wrote for ScienceWriters, the magazine of the National Association of Science Writers offers what I hope is a useful reality check.

Explaining Research: the Aftermath

by Dennis Meredith, reprinted from ScienceWriters, Spring 2011

Most authors have experienced that darkly hilarious moment when they open their royalty statements and discover their minuscule income for years of toil. Indeed, my latest royalty statements for Explaining Research show that my recompense for three years of interviewing and writing, and for an investment of thousands of dollars (see below for financial breakdown), were a whopping  $1,646.97—still not enough to offset my $2,000 advance, not to mention my own investment.

But the royalty statement doesn’t tell the whole story of the book, and it’s a story that I hope my fellow NASW authors and proto-authors will find useful. The lessons I learned about negotiating with publishers (discussed in the Winter 2010 ScienceWriters), marketing, self-publishing and ancillary income have made the project eminently worthwhile.

And the book itself might well ultimately turn a profit. The initial royalty statements reflect only very early sales of the book. Given indications that teachers are adopting it for academic courses, the income might be larger in the future . . . I hope.

I’m certainly pleased with the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press. Although commercial publishers give significantly larger advances and better royalty rates, Oxford was the right choice, given the book’s potential as a textbook. Also, an agent whose opinion I trust told me that the book would likely not be considered by a commercial publisher, given its academic audience. And while Oxford did all the promotion it promised—for example, sending the book widely to reviewers—the vast majority of marketing fell to my wife Joni and me. It’s a reality that faces even authors of high-profile commercial books, and one that all authors must embrace if their books are to be successful.

Marketing free (or at least cheap)!

The book taught me two major lessons about marketing. First, marketing is largely based on hunches. Investment in any marketing efforts almost never yields hard data on payback. The only measure we had of return on investment from our marketing initiatives was an increase in Web site hits, since the book is heavily integrated with its Web site.

The other marketing lesson is more comforting: that almost all the effective marketing efforts an author can undertake are either free or cheap. So, with those lessons in mind, here’s which marketing efforts seemed to work for me, and which ones didn’t:

The book’s Web site was a highly worthwhile investment in time and money. Of course, the Web site was necessary because I posted the book’s references and resources there. But beyond that, the site was the prime marketing “brochure” for the book. I think a key to the site’s usefulness was that it didn’t concentrate on highlighting me as the author, but rather the content and value of the book itself. I’ve been told that readers really don’t much care about the author—unless he/she is a brand like Stephen King—but the information the book offers.

Social media did not really work for me. I launched a blog, Research Explainer, a Twitter account (@explainresearch) and an Amazon author page. Perhaps I did not blog, tweet or cultivate contacts enough, but the traffic to none of them seemed to offer sufficient payback for the effort. A major issue—and one that faces any freelancer—is whether to spend time blogging, which doesn’t bring in a check, or freelancing, which does. So, I ultimately decided to continue to blog, but to post only when I have an idea really worth blogging about, and only when I don’t have a paying freelance assignment on deck.

The blog posts were more useful as updates for the book. When I wrote a blog post that contained new information or insights, I added a link to the post in the relevant chapter listing in the references & resources, so readers would readily discover it.

More productive, I believe, were the guest posts I did for the Oxford University Press blog. They reached the publisher’s huge audience, and seemed well worth the effort.

Another tip: I linked my blog with my Twitter and Facebook accounts and Amazon Author page, so my blog posts automatically appeared there. Also, I posted blog pieces on the relevant LinkedIn groups, of which I was a member. These groups can be quite large. For example, the Science & Technology Media Professionals group has 1,500 members, and the PRWise group has 7,310.

Also useful for marketing purposes were articles I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Scientist. They reached large audiences that were prime targets for the book. Again, I synergized the effort by posting the articles on my blog and listing them in the press room of the book Web site.

E-mail seemed to be by far the most effective marketing tool, and it was free. Joni sent about 30,000 (yes, 30,000!) personalized e-mail messages to teachers, researchers, librarians and administrators involved in research communication. We decided that recipients would not consider the message spam since we sent only a single personalized message, and the information was useful. Indeed, we only received a few complaints, in contrast with the scores of thank-yous and requests for review copies from teachers. And, when Joni sent an e-mail blast to relevant lists, we saw a major increase in Web site traffic.

The one exception to “free or cheap” in our marketing was the $936 we spent on 500 packages of gourmet cookies imprinted with the book’s cover and reviews. We distributed those at the 2010 AAAS meeting as part of the book’s launch. They were quickly snapped up, and we did see a large jump in Web traffic at that time.

Skloot, the marketing champ

As extensive as our marketing efforts were, we don’t hold a candle to Rebecca Skloot, author of the bestselling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Of course, central to her success is that she wrote an extraordinary book that has garnered deservedly rave reviews. But she is also highly adept at marketing. For example, over the decade spent writing her book, she managed her writing career to make contacts that would help secure reviews, published excerpts and media attention. And she is an adept user of Twitter. As of this writing, she has 10,988 followers and has sent out 6,608 tweets.

However, as important as Skloot’s book is, she and her father still had to organize her own book tour. Her publisher and others in the business declared the book tour “dead.” However, Skloot drew on her extensive social network to solicit expense-paid speaking engagements, and her father scheduled the four-month tour.

Lesson in self-publishing

The book also taught lessons in self-publishing, because I elected to publish a supplement Working with Public Information Officers myself. After Oxford asked for 10,000 words to be cut from the manuscript, I excised that section and used the print-on-demand company Lightning Source to produce the booklet. The advantage is that Lightning Source books automatically appear for sale on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other outlets. The books are also listed in the database of distributors Baker & Taylor and Ingram, which owns Lightning Source.

The disadvantage is that Lightning Source demands that you act like a publisher, not an author. There is no handholding, and you are expected to supply the cover, layout and other data, as would a publisher. Fortunately, there are many design companies that can supply just such handholding, and I found one in 1106 Design.

Importantly, Lightning Source is not like the so-called POD publishers like Lulu, iUniverse, etc. These are vanity publishers that make their money from charging fees to authors, rather than book sales.

The print cost for the booklet was $2.52 per copy, and I set a cover price of $10. I found that I could give a “short discount” of only 20 percent, and the online booksellers would still list the book. And although bookstores will not stock a book at that discount, they weren’t an appropriate outlet for the booklet, anyway.

I’ve not made that investment back—probably in part because I purposefully “sabotaged” print sales by posting its content online as a service to researchers and public information officers. However, the experience taught me about the machinery of POD; and with the rapid rise of ebooks, self-publishing is becoming a more cost-effective route.

Platform key to making money

The key to making money from a book, I learned, is to use it as a “platform” for workshops and paid speaking engagements. After some research, I found that I should charge $2,500 for half-day communication workshops, and I charge $1,500 for one-hour talks on research communication topics. This latter fee is low. Speaking fees typically range from $2,500 to $10,000, according to professional speakers. And the fee schedule in Writer’s Market lists $5,000 as the average fee for a “national event.” The schedule also lists average fees for regional events ($615), local groups ($219) and class presentations ($183).

And while my topic of research communication is a natural for workshops and talks, just about any nonfiction book could provide fodder for an interesting fee-paid talk.

Beyond directly earning income, of course, a book also enhances a writer’s reputation and visibility, quite likely leading to freelance assignments—a phenomenon that is not quantifiable.

So, given this experience, should you write a book? The best advice I’ve heard is from veteran New York Times writer Cory Dean. In her book Am I Making Myself Clear? she declares “Don’t think about writing a book unless you really cannot help yourself.”

Well, I guess I can’t. I’ve already started on my next book.

The Accounting: Money Out, Money In

Explaining Research

(Not counted: travel expenses for interviewing trips)
Lawyer fees: $2,950.00
Indexing: $1,245.00
Cartoon rights: $1,200.00
Cookies: $936.00
Books purchased for marketing: $967.86
Web site (two years)
$299 setup and $29.95/month: $658.40
Total Cost: $7.957.26

Income (as of December 2010):
Book advance: $2,000.00
Allowance for cartoons: $1,000.00
Total Income: $3,000
NET LOSS: [$4,957.26]

Working with Public Information Officers booklet

Cover, layout and proofing: $650.00
Amazon Search Inside file: $25.00
Lightning Source setup: $100.00
ISBN: $28.00
Total Cost: $803.00

Income (as of February 2011):
Payments from Lightning Source: $262.00
NET LOSS: [$541.00]

Sharing Presentations on the Web

6 05 2011

So, you give that brilliant slide presentation, and there’s thundering applause, and the enthralled audience asks if they can get your slides. You can do much more than that. You can actually give them the whole presentation as an online, narrated presentation . . . and for free!

I’ve long been an advocate of using online services to post narrated “slidecasts” of presentations, because the result can be an enormous increase in the audiences for your presentations. For example, when I gave a talk at the 2010 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the attending audiences was about 200. But when I posted that presentation on SlideShare, the online audience grew to about 3,500.

The value of online posting was emphasized for me when I gave a talk at the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Symposium. By posting the narrated slide show on Slideboom, I was able to offer AAAS a much more effective “handout” that if I’d given them text or my PowerPoint slides. And it’s easy for people to pass the presentation URL along to others.

The references and resources section of Explaining Research lists many sites for sharing not only slide presentations but other content. The sites include Slideboom, Slideserve, Slideshare, and myBrainshark.

Even though Slideshare is the largest such service, I’ve settled on Slideboom because it has a much easier uploading and audio synchronizing capability than Slideshare, which I used previously.  With Slideshare, you upload your slides and audio separately, and then go through a laborious process of synching your audio with your slides. In contrast, with Slideboom, you use the audio recording feature of PowerPoint to record your narration right in the slide show. So, when you upload the presentation, it’s set to go.

Also, Slideboom enables you to embed video and PowerPoint animations in your show, which Slideshare does not—although Slideshare does enable you to embed YouTube videos. To include video in a Slideboom presentation, you use the free add-on, iSpring, which converts your presentation to Flash—including narration and videos—and uploads it to Slideboom.The result is a much smaller file size. For example, my AAAS slideboom presentation was 240 megabytes.

However, if you don’t need Slideboom’s video embedding capabilities, one advantage of Slideshare, is that you can embed links in your presentations, so users can explore other Web sites that you reference.

I have by no means explored all the presentation-sharing sites, and all the features of Slideshare and Slideboom, so there may be features I’ve missed. But I’ll keep exploring. For example, the services enable you to embed presentations in your WordPress blog, but I’ve not figured out how to install the plugin yet.

Two Free Books Teach About Social Media and Virtual Events

4 03 2011

Two free books, Social Media: A Guide for Researchers and Virtual Events for Dummies offer to fill a gap in knowledge about new media for both Virtual Events for Dummies coverresearchers and communicators. Also importantly, they help to increase the comfort level with this unfamiliar realm, given that researchers may be reticent about plunging into blogging, tweeting, and virtual eventing.

Particularly germane for scientists is that Social Media: A Guide for Researchers emphasizes the practical uses of social media in aiding both research and career advancement. And, the book presents a realistic picture of social media. Thus, wrote the authors, “We are not trying to present social media as the answer to every problem a researcher might experience; rather, we want to give a ‘warts and all’ picture. Social media have downsides as well as upsides, but on balance we hope that you will agree with us that there is real value for researchers.”

The book is extensive, covering how to use the full gamut of social media, including blogging, microblogging (e.g. Twitter), social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn), wikis, social bookmarking (Delicious), social documents (Google Docs), project management (Bamboo), and multimedia (Flicker, YouTube, SlideShare, SecondLife). It draws on extensive interviews with researchers who use these tools, offering examples of their specific applications.

The book is refreshingly realistic about the time required to productively develop a social media network: “The process of building, curating and filtering useful networks is a skill which needs to be practised,” wrote the authors. “Most tools offer you ways to find people who might share your interests however, and once you have started building a network it becomes useful very quickly.”

And, the book emphasizes that swimming in the social media pool need not be a marathon, but perhaps only a comfortable dog paddle. Scientists could choose to be major bloggers or Facebookers, or merely comment on others’ blogs or “like” Facebook posts.

The book’s realistic assessment of social media includes a full account of criticisms, including the concerns about encroachment of technology, invasion of privacy, and information and workday overload.

And usefully, the book illustrates how social media can enhance the “academic research cycle” of knowledge identification, creation, peer review and dissemination.

Virtual Events for Dummies, while narrower in scope, is nevertheless a good introduction to the topic. While it is published by the commercial webcasting company On24—and while it emphasizes business events—the advice it offers is helpful to researchers and research communicators. For example, the section on using webcasts and webinars for “training” could be applied to using them for research seminars.

The book’s major point that virtual events are far cheaper than real events will resonate with university researchers whose budgets are tight. And the points that virtual events are global and can be archived for long-term access emphasize important advantages over a one-time live seminar.

The book explains the spectrum of virtual events, including audio streaming with slides, video streaming, text-based chat, and discussion forums. It also helps readers better understand the role of virtual events by comparing them with physical events, and by comparing types of virtual events—for example, webcasts versus web conferences.

The book’s chapter on best practices offers practical advice for attracting participants, targeting and engaging audiences, and interacting with them.

Besides these books, more extensive resources on social media are available on the references and resources page for the chapter on social media on the Explaining Research Web site.

Nifty Web Sites Offer Online Communication Training

29 01 2011

The Web boasts a wealth of good sites for training in communication skills—from writing, to creating PowerPoint presentations, to making videos. And for most of them, the price is right: free!

Here are some of my favorite sites for online tips and training, and you can find links to many more communication-related Web sites in the references and resources section on the Explaining Research site.

Of course, online training can’t  place of an astute editor or a formal course, but they are an excellent way to introduce yourself to new skills and to brush up on existing ones.

Writing and editing

The World Federation of Science Journalists offers an online course in science journalism that gives a good grounding in the basics of the craft, World Federation of Science Journalists online courseincluding finding and judging science stories, interviewing, writing the story and reporting on controversies. And remarkably, the course is offered not only in English, but in Arabic, French, Portugese, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese.

To train scientists to write more clearly, NIH has developed its Plain Language Training course. Although aimed primarily at NIH employees enrolled for credit, the site also allows outsiders to explore the course.

Also aimed at scientists is Bob Grant’s article in The Scientist, “Right Your Writing: How to Sharpen Your Writing and Make Your Manuscripts More Engaging.” It’s not a training course, but constitutes a good collections of savvy writing tips.

Explaining statistics in a meaningful way is one of the thorniest problems faced by scientists, journalists, and public information officers. Fortunately, the UN Economic Commission for Europe has produced an excellent set of  Making Data Meaningful guides. The guides, in English, Croatian, Spanish, and Japanese are

Public speaking

Although MIT researcher Patrick Winston’s series of “How to Speak” videos is aimed primarily at teachers, any public speaker will benefit from his wisdom. Here’s the intro video, which leads you through the series:

Also, the Wired How-To Wiki “Deliver the Perfect Presentation” is a handy introduction to good speaking practices. Follow its advice, and your talks will be immediately better. For more extensive speaking tips and techniques, explore the public speaking blogs


Just about every speaker on science depends heavily on PowerPoint for visuals, and here are my favorite sites for learning both the basics and some of the program’s neat tricks:

You can find scads of other PowerPoint tips, templates, backgrounds, and videos in the Explaining Research references and resources for the chapter on giving talks.

Beyond PowerPoint, there are also new Web sites that offer presentation capabilities well worth exploring. For example the presentation program Prezi enables speakers to create large “pages” containing their presentation, which the presenter can maneuver around during the talk.

ZohoOther new sites enable not only production of shareable Web-based presentations, but also foster online collaboration. These include Zoho, 280Slides, Google Presentations, and Google Wave. The last enables groups to share pictures, slides, graphs, and other interactive elements in one long chatlike discussion thread.


If you’re planning to create your own videos—or you just want to better understand what the pros you hire are doing—here are some good sites:

Finally, two other communication training sites well worth exploring are the Adobe tutorials on creating multimedia projects and Nikon’s MicroscopyU tutorials on creating dramatic microscopy images.

Invaluable Lessons in Book Marketing

27 09 2010

(This post was originally published on the Oxford University Press blog on September 27, 2010)

Since Oxford University Press published my book Explaining Research in February, I’ve learned a great deal about book marketing. And since the success of a book depends so critically on adept marketing, I’d like to share those lessons.

First of all, authors should always consider themselves critically important marketers of their own books. After all, it’sExplaining Research your book, so who else would know the most about it and care most about its success? Begin by assiduously filling out your publisher’s author questionnaire, supplying comprehensive information on the book description, unique features, newsworthy topics, audience, promotional targets, and sources for advance comment. Many departments, from marketing to sales, will use this information as a guide to their marketing efforts.

While your publisher will manage such marketing efforts as sales and distribution, sending review copies, and advertising, there are many marketing efforts you can make as well. The good news is that most of these are free or very inexpensive. Here are some marketing tips that I found most effective:

– Work with your publisher to notify your institution’s news office and professional associations about your book. The news office will likely do a news release and promote you to the media, while your associations may review on its website and in its publications. Also, notify internal publications such as the alumni magazine. They’ll likely review it.

– Offer to be a “media expert” on your topic. Volunteer to be listed on your institution’s list of people willing to talk to media, as well as in national experts directories such as Profnet, Help a Reporter Out, PitchRate and the AAAS Science Talk Experts Director & Speakers Service.

– Promote your book and drive sales at your publisher’s website by including your book’s information in your email signature, in talks and articles, and on your institutional web page.

– Blog about your subject by creating your own blog and by “guest blogging” on others’ blogs about your topic. For example, I’ve created the blog Research Explainer, in which I offer tips on communicating research. I’ve also found the blog useful in updating and expanding on the information in my book.

– Write articles and op eds about your book topic for professional and popular publications and Web sites. Make sure the author identification mentions your book.
Market on Amazon. Ask readers who like your book to write a positive review. Create an author page. See Amazon’s Author Central for information. Have your blog posts automatically feed to your author page. Ask Amazon top reviewers to review your book. See this guide to getting your books reviewed on Amazon.

– Give public and professional talks about your book’s subject, in which you mention the book. Work with your publisher to organize book sales at public talks.

– Distribute your talk on the Web as a narrated “slidecast” via such services as SlideShare or Slideboom. For example, my slidecast talk “Using Multimedia to Advance Your Research” has received more than 2,000 views.

– Track Web mentions of your book using Google Alerts. Such alerts will notify you of reviews of your book and other mentions.

– Offer to make “virtual” appearances using Skype. Buy a quality webcam, set up a well-lit area with a nice backdrop, and advertise your availability for video talks to seminars, classes, book clubs, and other groups of potential customers.

Importantly, before you even begin these efforts, give your publisher’s marketing contact a complete copy of your marketing plan, so your efforts will be coordinated with theirs. Also, they are the experts at marketing, and may well have suggestions and contacts to make your efforts more effective.

Finally, keep your marketing contact in the loop, letting him/her know about talks you’re giving, reviews, articles on your book, and other developments. Your marketing contact knows how to use such information to your book’s best advantage.