Zimmer: She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

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.

Cover: Her Mother’s Laugh

Cover: Her Mother’s Laugh


Carl Zimmer
Dutton (Penguin Random House), May 29, 2018, $30
ISBN-10: 1101984597; ISBN-13: 9781101984598
Available on Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, etc.

Zimmer reports:

I set out to write a book about heredity because the word has puzzled me for a long time. It’s very familiar to us all. No one asks for a definition of heredity, the way they might for mitosis or parthenogenesis. It has many different meanings to people, but heredity often refuses to fit neatly into any of them. I get a lot of ideas for books, and so I rely on others — my wife Grace and my agent Eric Simonoff, for example — to let me know which ones are any good. Heredity passed that test, and so I wrote up a proposal. I ended up working with Stephen Morrow at Dutton.

Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer

A grant from the Sloan Foundation helped support my time away from regular magazine work and some travels to report the book. I went to laboratories across the country, learning how some researchers are tracing back our Neanderthal DNA as others learn how to override Mendel’s Law. I also went to historical sites, such as a home for the “feeble-minded” in New Jersey where American eugenics burst into full bloom. I also used myself as a guinea pig for the book, inspecting my own genome for clues to what I inherited from my ancestors (Neanderthals and otherwise).

I ended up doing a lot of research and writing that never made it into the final book. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have used up so much time on that unseen effort. But after having written thirteen books, I know that this is just the way I have to work.

My advice to writers starting out on their first book would be to avoid deluding yourself that you can write about everything having to do with the story you’ve chosen to tell. You’ll end up with an encyclopedic mess. Maintain the same rigor you’d use filing a short article. You’ll still have to cut a lot out of your book, but the experience will be a lot less painful, and you’ll end up with a better creation.

Contact info:

Carl Zimmer, 917-863-0212, carl@carlzimmer.com, https://carlzimmer.com/books/she-has-her-mothers-laugh, Twitter: @carlzimmer
Book web site: http://bit.ly/SheHasHerMothersLaugh
Agent: Eric Simonoff, 212-903-1160, esimonoff@wmeentertainment.com
Publicist: Amanda Walker, 212-366-2212, amwalker@penguinrandomhouse.com

Buy this book now in the ScienceWriters bookstore. Your purchase helps support NASW programs and services.

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.

See https://www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines.

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 craft your book proposal, find an agent and funding sources, negotiate your contract, learn about self-publishing, publicize and market your book, and more at https://www.nasw.org/article/write-book.

Send book info and questions about book publishing to Lynne Lamberg, NASW book editor, llamberg@nasw.org.

May. 30, 2018

Drexel University online