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So you want to write a book? More tips from a second-time author

So you want to write a book? More tips from a second-time author

Picture of Antronette Yancey

In response to CareerGPS: So you want to write a book?

[Antronette K. Yancey, MD, MPH is currently a professor in the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health, and is Co-Director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity. Dr. Yancey's primary research interests are in chronic disease prevention and adolescent health promotion. She takes an active and activist approach, designing easy exercise programs that can be used in places as varied as schools and sports arenas. Dr. Yancey is also the author of An Old Soul with a Young Spirit: Poetry in the era of desegregation recovery (1997). She serves on the board of USC Annenberg's California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.]

Thanks for the invitation to weigh in on this, Angilee!

My second book, Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time is due out from the UC Press at the end of September, with a formal publication date of November 1. The book's core premise is that it's antithetical to human nature to go out of our way to expend energy and, hence, society will only succeed in getting the majority of the population moving when activity is the default choice that's difficult to avoid. Ultimately that means New York City-type mass transit systems and traffic snarls in every city that discourages auto use. But in the near term, short and enjoyable dance breaks or "Instant Recesses" can be incorporated into schools, the workplace and other organizational settings to remind us that movement's fun and necessary to mental and physical well-being--not to mention business productivity and academic performance. Check it out by downloading or streaming an Instant Recess break from my website at www.toniyancey.com. 

Basically, the book came about after I got an e-mail out of the blue from the Executive Editor at the Press Naomi Schneider, asking to meet with me during her planned trip to LA the following month. We connected well when we met, and I floated a couple of book ideas. She asked for the concepts in writing, and selected one to run with.

That was about two and a half years ago. It took six months to get the proposal into shape, and then another four months to negotiate the book deal. I hired a lawyer to shepherd this process, which I'd highly recommend, because there are many ins and outs of contracts that I would never have anticipated needed to be spelled out, e.g., my having a say in the appearance of the cover, or how soon the book had to be published after the manuscript was approved. So that's my first piece of advice to novices in my situation--use a little of your advance, however modest, to get a lawyer to look over your contract.

My second suggestion for non-journalist physicians and scientists like me is to find a good skilled editor. In my case, I'd been doing public health commentaries for a show on the local NPR affiliate KPCC for a couple of years, and got along extremely well with the show host John Rabe. He'd been able to extract the core ideas from my more scholarly discourse and add a flair compatible with my style in producing my commentaries, and did a stellar job on my book in helping me find my voice for communicating to a sophisticated lay audience.

My last and only bit of advice about getting a deal is to echo Daniel Carlat (in the post): take every opportunity to get into print/broadcast media to build your own brand and expand the audience for your ideas. I don't know exactly why the Press selected me initially, aside from a great recommendation from my Dean, Linda Rosenstock, but I'm fairly certain that the media coverage of my work and not infrequent excursions into non-academic writing helped seal the deal.

Of course, I also agree with Linda Marsa (in the post) that a unique take on a hot topic is key. I scoured the literature to confirm my impression that no one had taken on physical activity at a population level, in the way that Marion Nestle had food. I used Marion's book Food Politics as a model, though my editors Naomi and John pushed me toward a much more personal and less scholarly style of writing. (I was tremendously honored to have Marion read my book and provide a cover blurb!)

The next challenge is to get people reading the books we write, so Angilee, maybe you'll take on marketing our books in a future blog. I'll stay tuned...

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