Brendan Borrell—The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine

First Shots

First Shots


Brendan Borrell
Mariner Books, October 26, 2021, $28.00
ISBN-10: 0358569842, ISBN-13: 9780358569848

Borrell reports:

When the coronavirus broke out in early 2020, I couldn’t tear myself away from the deluge of bad news, but I’m a features writer and was slow in figuring out how I could put my own reporting skills to good use. In April, I started publishing a few newsy stories and coming up with more thoughtful projects, including an essay on “vaccine diplomacy” for Wired.

That essay caught the eye of an agent I had been talking to over the previous year, Susan Canavan. She suggested I put together a book proposal on the vaccine race by the end of the month. It sounded nuts. I had no idea how I would craft a book-length narrative or how I would even pull off the reporting amid a pandemic. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Brendan Borrell

Brendan Borrell

One day I sat down and crafted a 25-page proposal. It had been so long since I had written something that was 100% my own voice. I had so much fun with it. The best part was that publishers liked it. It sold at auction, giving me a very nice advance!

Next came the “oh crap” moment. We still didn’t know how or when the vaccine race was going to end. What I did know was that my deadline was less than a year away. Perhaps the biggest mistake I made was agreeing to share parts of the book with my editor throughout this accelerated process.

The problem wasn’t my editor, who was great, but my frantic reporting and writing were non-linear. The early sections were rough, and I needed more time to digest the material I was gathering. I think it wasn’t until the final months that the editing process really started paying off.

The advice I would give to aspiring writers is to be patient. It took me longer than most to find a book topic I could be totally absorbed by. I would not have been able to complete it in this tight time frame were it not for everything I learned working on dozens of longform articles over my many years as a freelancer.

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Hero image by David Sohair on Unsplash.

Oct. 27, 2021

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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