Lydia Denworth: Friendship

Cover: Friendship

Cover: Friendship


Lydia Denworth
W.W. Norton, January 28, 2020
Hardcover, $26.95; ebook $22.73
ISBN-10: 0393651541, ISBN-13: 978-0393651546

Denworth reports:

As a science writer, I mainly cover the brain and psychology. In 2014, I went to a Society for Social Neuroscience conference and was fascinated. Much of the recent work of neuroscience concerns mapping the trillions of connections between brain cells.

At that meeting it was clear that there is an equally important map to be made extending out from the brain—the web of connections we forge with others. And although most relationship research focuses on relatives or sexual partners, there’s a new and growing focus on friendship. We now know that friendship shapes our biology and is part of our evolutionary story. It seemed to me that no one had really written about that in a serious way. I decided to try.

Lydia Denworth, photo by Jessica Barthel

Lydia Denworth, photo by Jessica Barthel

The subject had personal appeal, too. At that moment, I was wedged between kids going off to college and an aging parent and looking a new phase of life straight in the eye. It occurred to me that I better invest in my friends!

This is my third book, so I already had an agent I love. She helps me think through my ideas. Even so, it took more than a year to work out how to focus and structure the book. Friendship is such a big topic.

I ultimately decided to give the book two main narrative threads. By writing four chapters that trace friendship through the lifespan, I gave myself a narrative spine. The other thread follows the growing scientific awareness of the biological and evolutionary relevance of friendship and captures eureka moments along the way.

I was happy to end up at W.W. Norton, with its strong tradition of good science books. I also applied for and received a nice grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support my reporting.

My advice to aspiring authors is to put time and effort into your proposal—even money for things like early reporting trips, if you can possibly afford it. It will pay off in a better contract and a better book.

Contact info:

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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.


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Feb. 5, 2020

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.

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