Lina Zeldovich—The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste into Wealth

Dark Matter

Dark Matter


Lina Zeldovich
University of Chicago Press, Nov 19, 2021, $26.00
ISBN-10: 022661557X; ISBN-13: 978-0226615578
Ebook ISBN: 978-0226814223

Zeldovich reports:

I grew up on a small family farm in Kazan, about 400 miles northeast of Moscow. Every fall, my grandfather, who had degrees in both agriculture and engineering, opened our septic system and emptied its content into compost pits, which fertilized our patches in spring. I thought the whole world did the same because otherwise the earth would turn barren.

When I grew up, I learned how wrong I was. Most people wanted nothing to do with their excrement other than flush and forget. The results are depleted farm fields, dying lakes and coastal marshes, and huge sanitation problems. With seven billion of us dishing out a pound of dark matter a day, the planet simply can’t handle all that crap.

Lina Zeldovich

Lina Zeldovich

Until recently, this topic was taboo. In 2014, I wrote a story about fecal transplants. Three years later, I profiled a Madagascar-based startup that was converting sewage into fertilizer and biogas. Both stories went viral, and each won two awards. Friends told me I should write a book, a narrative that implores humans to put this cheap and fully renewable resource to good use. I had little faith it would sell. Agents had turned me down for more conventional projects.

A friend who recently left her book editor job at McMillan kindly sent me some examples of proposals for science books she had bought over the years to use as models. I spent a year perfecting my proposal, but was turned down again. Meanwhile, my friend joined Ayesha Pande literary agency. One day she called and said, “Let’s get your proposal in shape.” I was thrilled, but doubted someone would buy the book.

Several publishing houses indeed passed. They said they liked my writing, but didn’t know how to market or even discuss my topic at editorial meetings. Three small presses bid on it so we had an auction, and ultimately went with the University of Chicago Press. The pinnacle of my publishing path came when Mary Roach and Deborah Blum wrote reviews of my book that were so inspiring I finally believed people would give a shit!

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November 14, 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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