Open book floating in stacks

Florence Williams—Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey



Florence Williams
W. W. Norton. February 1, 2022, $30
ISBN-10: 1324003480, ISBN-13: 978-1324003489

Williams reports:

As a science writer, I’ve long been interested in somewhat unseen connections between the world around us and human health. I often write in the first person and find some science to test on myself. So when I experienced a big personal earthquake in my life, the end of a long marriage, it felt natural to look to science to help explain why it hurt and why my body started breaking down. Then it also felt natural (if somewhat awkward) to tell that story of the emotion-body connection in the first person. I figured out a way to run a bunch of tests on myself, including for transcription factors linked to loneliness.

Fortunately, my long-time publisher, W.W. Norton, wasn’t ready to divorce me even if my husband was! I worked again with the same agent, Molly Friedrich, and the same editor, Jill Bialosky. I realize this is a rare and wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for it. Norton told me they would make Heartbreak their lead title for the season. This paid off with excerpts, coverage, and many media interviews, including Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Florence Williams, photo by Casie Zalud

Florence Williams, photo by Casie Zalud

The tricky part about writing it was weaving together two threads: the very personal (My dating life! My suffering!) and the scientific. Both had to inform the other. If either thread included extraneous scenes that didn’t serve the other, I cut them. I wanted both threads to be rigorous and good, and the tone (not too bitter, not too trite, likeable but not naïve, etc.) was critical.

The other notable thing I tried was making an “enhanced” audiobook with Pushkin Industries. As someone with experience in audio and podcasting, I had taped all my interviews and even conversations with friends, therapists, and myself (an audio journal). So we had 200 audio files to draw from in crafting an original and immersive sound experience, including beautifully engineered original composition for the audiobook. It’s an expensive and time-consuming way to go, but Pushkin took the risk and I’m so proud of the final product.

Contact info: -

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

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 began working on your book, or had done differently.


Review Advance Copy archives at

Thinking of writing a book? If you are a NASW member, you may access a list of more than 150 books and online resources to help you create your book proposal, find an agent and funding sources, negotiate your contract, learn about self-publishing, publicize and market your book, and more at

Send book info and questions about book publishing to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor,

Follow @LynneLamberg on Twitter for news about science/medical books and writing.

Hero photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

February 23, 2022

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.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit for information on submitting your report.

Publication of NASW author reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of any publication or the ideas, values, or material contained within or espoused by authors or their books. We hope this column stimulates productive discussions on important topics now and in the future as both science and societies progress. We welcome your discussion in the comments section below.

BWF Climate Change and Human Health Seed Grants

Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communications

Advertise with NASW