Megan Watzke interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Mar 12, 2016 10:45:39 PM
Megan Watzke interview with David Alan Binder
Short bio from her website: Megan Watzke has spent her career sharing the wonders of science with the widest range of audiences possible. From her role as the press officer for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to her “public science” projects that inject science into daily experiences, she seeks to de-stigmatize science for everyone, but especially for underrepresented groups including women. Her first book, “Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Universe,” was co-authored with Kimberly Arcand and published in April 2013 by Smithsonian Books. She sees endless opportunities moving forward to improve the connection that people have with science.
1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?
Megan Watzke (“Meg-han What-ski”)
2. Where are you currently living?
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
Never be afraid to try something. Since I write books about science, I am often venturing outside of comfort zone of knowledge. That’s OK. A professor in graduate school once said about science writing: “You don’t need to know all of the answers, but you do need to know the right questions to ask.”
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I think my strength as a writer is writing in a colloquial tone about often pretty tricky subjects. I try to imagine I’m having a conversation with a friend who is intelligent, but not well versed in the topic I’m writing about. I hope that this casual tone helps people feel more comfortable with what can be intimidating areas for the non-expert.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
Our latest book, “Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond” was published by Black Dog & Leventhal, NYC. Without sounding too much like I drank the company’s Kool-aid, I have to say that I was really happy with our experience. Everything from the writing, design, and editing phases went really smoothly. I’d be very happy to have a chance to work with them again.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I’ve published three books now, and have yet to see any decent versions as eBooks. I know other authors have had great success with that format, but so far, I’ve really only had experience with the old-school print format with traditional publishers.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
I wish I did, but truthfully the publishing world remains an enigma to me – despite have a few titles published. Since these endeavors are not guaranteed to make money, my only advice is work on a project you love and hope that a publisher out there shares your opinion of it.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
We stumbled – quite luckily – onto our agent. Or, more accurately, I should say she found us. We had written an article in an astronomy magazine describing one of our outreach projects for our day jobs and she contacted us to see if we were interested in writing a book. Up until then, I had never considered it.
9. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
As depressing as this may sound, my advice would be to have low expectations. Until you are an established writer, you generally don’t get a lot of perks in terms of money or control of your books. Once you have some tangible books on the shelf, so to speak, then you will hopefully have more opportunity to be rewarded for your work and respected for your ideas.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
I think the most surprising aspect for me has been the difficulty in getting our books widely reviewed. Our latest book did get some more attention, but it’s tough because it seems like only a couple of science books get a majority of reviews during any given period.
11. How many books have you written?
Three: “Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos” (co-authored with Kim Arcand), 2013
“Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space” (co-authored with Travis Rector and Kim Arcand), 2015
“Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond” (co-authored with Kim Arcand), 2015
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Be open to comments, edits, and suggestions from other people. It can be hard to have something you’ve worked hard on be criticized in any way, but sometimes it’s that external perspective that gives you the best insight on your writing.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
As a non-fiction science writer, I think I could use some suggestions myself on how to have good twists in a story!
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
In all of my books, I’ve tried to take a topic and make it accessible to the widest possible audience. That doesn’t mean that the topics are ‘dumbed down’ at all. I think we succeeded in using language that is neither off-putting nor overly simplified.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
We try to augment any work from the publisher’s publicist by doing our own social media campaigns around our books. Also, we try to draw attention to the topics in the book by finding timely news hooks at writing op-eds or other articles in outlets like The Huffington Post.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I’m not sure this is different than how I’ve been in the past, but I try never to assume any level of attention. In other words, we try really hard to get our books out there as much as we can, knowing that there’s a lot of competition for people’s entertainment and information budgets.
17. What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by?
Always explore and learn, love the people around you, and enjoy.
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