Brooke Borel: Infested

"Infested" cover


Brooke Borel
University of Chicago Press, May 15, 2015, $26
ISBN-13: 9780226041933

Borel reports:

I came to the idea for Infested in exactly opposite the way you’re supposed to: I had a topic, not a story. Still, bed bugs were in the news when I started informally chatting with agents in early 2011 and it was enough to get a bite (pun, of course, intended).

Brooke Borel

I’d already personally suffered through bed bugs three times, and had written short news pieces on the ways bed bugs had evolved insecticide resistance for Popular Science. During interviews for those articles, I learned two tantalizing pieces of the insect’s story. First, even though the bed bug seemed new to me, it actually was an ancient pest — the uptick in infestations was really just a return to longstanding cohabitation. Second, scientists had been going to great lengths to rear the bug in the lab in order to study it, including one former army entomologist who had fed a population on his own arms and legs since the early seventies. Who doesn’t want to learn more about that?

My lovely agent, Paul Lucas at Janklow and Nesbit, patiently led me through the proposal process. I cobbled together a possible narrative, although the real story remained murky until I had been reporting it out for at least a year. A lot of publishers turned us down. Even the four or so places where the proposal made it to committee, ultimately told us the subject matter was just too gross. (I disagree! That’s a selling point for a lot of readers.) The University of Chicago Press saw the potential, and became a great partner.

From there, I ran a Kickstarter to help fund reporting trips. I eventually received a book grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which helped fund more trips, paid for book art, and provided financial support while I edited and fact-checked.

Four years, ten reporting trips, dozens of interviews, hundreds of documents, countless Internet rabbit holes (who knew there was so much bed bug music on YouTube?), a surprising twist later, and the book is out.

An old nursery rhyme says it best:

The June bug’s got the golden wing,
The lightning bug the flame,
The bed bug’s got no wing at all,
But he gets there just the same.

Contact info:

Buy this book now in the ScienceWriters bookstore.


NASW members: will your book be published soon? Take advantage of this opportunity for shameless self-promotion.

Tell your fellow NASW members how you came up with the idea for your book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. Include what you wish you had known before you started this project, or had done differently.


Send info and images to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor,

Apr. 29, 2015

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

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