Erika Engelhaupt—Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science

Gory Details

Gory Details


Erika Engelhaupt
National Geographic Books, March 2, 2021; $26
ISBN-10: ‎1426220979, ISBN-13:‎ 978-1426220975

Engelhaupt reports:

The idea for Gory Details dates back to 2013, when I looked at my office bookshelf, loaded with titles like That’s Disgusting and histories of forensic science and decided to blog about the science of all things gross, creepy or morbid, and explore why we feel the way we do about them.

I started the blog at Science News and brought it with me when I went to work for National Geographic as online science editor. When I went freelance a couple years later, the National Geo books team approached me about turning Gory Details into a book. I was thrilled at the prospect and wrote a book proposal.

Since I was working with a former employer that had hosted the blog, I didn’t shop the book idea or get an agent. Instead, I hired a media lawyer, the same person who had also helped me trademark the name Gory Details, to review the contract. I would recommend that step to any author negotiating without an agent.

Erika Engelhaupt

Erika Engelhaupt

I structured the book according to themes I spotted among my favorite topics, such as death, taboos, and disgust. Then came the fun part: planning new pieces to write and some travel, paid for by my advance. I drew from my existing blog content, but also wanted the book to feel fresh, so I agreed that at least half the word count would be new material. In the end, I think it was more, as I updated and added to old articles and wrote a number of entirely new pieces.

If you’ve ever considered writing a book about a topic you’ve covered heavily or blogged about, my advice is to learn from your agent or a lawyer about the relevant copyright law. It surprised me that it was up to me to negotiate with Science News for permission to reuse some of my old blog content there. They generously allowed me to use it for free. Also, know that even if your book will contain 50% “old” material, that doesn’t mean you’re halfway done. Even “minor” rewrites and updates can take a lot of time!

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Jun. 30, 2021

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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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