Online is a boon for scientists wanting to write and established freelance writers trying to get a book contract. From the discussions at ScienceOnline2010 Saturday morning, it became clear the Internet expands science-related content – as long as the writers don’t expect to make a living from it.
Ed Yong, author of the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, said five years ago he couldn’t have been doing what he’s doing now. He said scientists who blog about what interests them are expanding the field of science writing and they add content that matters. Once online, their writings may reach diverse interest groups not tied into academic writing.
The reaction may be “Good Lord, they’re doing it by themselves,” as Yong put it, but scientists who blog usually have a day job. Yong is a molecular biologist who is the head of health evidence and information at Cancer Research UK in London.
Established freelance science writers like Carl Zimmer and David Dobbs shared experiences at the conference of how to leverage their blogs to get out information newspapers and magazines will turn down. “Be a virus and infect people’s minds,” Zimmer said encouragingly. Yet, both are writers whose work is regularly published by paying publications like the New York Times and the Atlantic.
Online provides a persona, a brand, as Rebecca Skloot demonstrated. The freelance science writer, who is a contributor to PBS NOVA and comes from a literary dynasty, blogged her way into a book contract. She also pitched it to 50 to 60 publishers. The book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” is about to hit bookstores.
But while content may be thriving in online niches, among dedicated science audiences and in academic circles, newspapers and magazines continue to cut back. Dobbs admitted that there are “fewer and fewer places for 4,000 to 8,000-word magazine pieces.”
And that’s where the discussion about the economics of science writing ended.