About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Things I Won't Work With: Dioxygen Difluoride | Main | Steve Nissen's Meeting with GSK »

February 24, 2010

Write A Book, Why Don't You

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Yesterday's "Things I Won't Work With" post has brought on calls to turn these (and some other parts of the blog) into a book. And you know, I'm game, actually - but I have no real contacts in the publishing world. If anyone out there in the readership knows a good agent, or knows someone who does, I'd be glad to have some contact information. Thanks!

Comments (36) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. chris on February 24, 2010 7:52 AM writes...

You should perhaps have a look at

Permalink to Comment

2. Rich Apodaca on February 24, 2010 9:28 AM writes...

+1 for Lulu, as far as getting the book published.

But your blog is a far better medium for this kind of thing than any book would ever be.

Permalink to Comment

3. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 9:42 AM writes...

They're easily the most consistently entertaining part of your blog. But perhaps not the best subject-matter for a stand-alone book.

Permalink to Comment

4. Bruce Grant on February 24, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

Speaking as one whose ignorance of chemistry is, while finite, very deep, there are just two authors I've read who make the subject positively fascinating to me -- you and Primo about equal measure.

You, like he, must love chemistry very much to write about it so compellingly.

Thanks for all the pleasure your writing has brought me.

Permalink to Comment

5. Ethan on February 24, 2010 11:38 AM writes...

I went out and read Ignition! based on one of the 'Things I won't Work With' posts. . . put me in the category of interested in a book if you find a way to get it made.

Permalink to Comment

6. Sili on February 24, 2010 11:44 AM writes...

They're easily the most consistently entertaining part of your blog. But perhaps not the best subject-matter for a stand-alone book.
I think that depends a lot on the intended audience. Someone here once recommended "Excuse me, sir. Would you like to buy a kilogram of isopropyl bromide". An excellent read for me as a (failed) chemist, but also, I suspect, for outsiders. Likewise I think such a book by Derek could easily appeal to both in- and outsiders. As well as help to inspire a new generation.

I don't have any such contacts, but I'd suggest asking around among other published and publishing bloggers. PZ Myers, Ben Goldacre, Mark Liberman, Carl Zimmer, Jerry Coyne and Sean Carrol spring to mind immediately, and all of them are usually very kind and approachable, so I can't imagine they'd resent the question.

I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. (I still have them!) And for me, actually, since I'd love to read that book.

Permalink to Comment

7. Sili on February 24, 2010 11:49 AM writes...

And let me just second (third, whatever) the comment that your writing do indeed at times have shades of Levi to it.

Permalink to Comment

8. Doug on February 24, 2010 1:09 PM writes...

+2 for Lulu.
They're kind of a vanity press on steroids. You can completely self publish or take advantage of (ie pay for) their marketing services. Unlike most other vanity press operations, I don't think you have to pre-buy x books; they print on demand (and are darn quick about it too!).

If you're after a 'real' publisher, can't help but you might start at your local library for some tips.

Permalink to Comment

9. milkshake on February 24, 2010 1:16 PM writes...

Chad Orzel wrote a popular physics book and had it published recently. Scrolling back few months on his "Uncertain Principles" page you find plenty info on the publishing business, and if you contact him I am sure he will be delighted to give you a full scoop.

Chad should be commended for testing his popular writing on his dog first.

Permalink to Comment

10. chucky on February 24, 2010 1:22 PM writes...

Derek, not so difficult to get published, basically you go to a Scientific publisher (e.g. Wiley) and present to them a proposl. They will have your proposal reviewed and determine if they think there might be an audience for it. Most scientific books like the one you are contemplating do not sell many copies (1-2k with the rare exception hitting a home run)so they are not necessarily looking for a huge audience. I would think with your name recognition, etc that they would be highly motivated to publish for you. You will make very little money but somehow I suspect the blog writing is not particularly high paying either. In any event, you would have a good chance of reaching a critical mass of first readers who in turn might recommend the book to others which is what the publishers are looking for. You can pm me and I can give you a contact and further information. I enjoy your writing and would myself order the book myself so count one copy as advanced ordered. Good luck!

Permalink to Comment

11. Carmen on February 24, 2010 1:32 PM writes...

chucky makes a good point re: critical mass. A little judicious use of the blogosphere/ Twitterverse can go a long way. Case in point- Rebecca Skloot, who just published a tour-de-force read about the story of the woman behind HeLa cells. She is THE example to follow when it comes to promoting a book.

Permalink to Comment

12. Sili on February 24, 2010 2:03 PM writes...

Most scientific books like the one you are contemplating do not sell many copies (1-2k with the rare exception hitting a home run)so they are not necessarily looking for a huge audience.
I, of course, don't know what Derek wants, but that doesn't sound like what I had in mind.

We're not so much asking for a scientific textbook. We want a ... sciencelicious book - good for a laugh, but true. No exaggeration (except for poetic license) and poor science, but still some good yarns, the way we have come to expect them. Goldacre's Bad Science didn't compromise the science or statistics, but it was still fun to read - yet left one with plenty to think about. We want Derek to share not just his knowledge and experience, but his wit, experiences and his love for chemistry. There may not be much of a future for pharma in the Occident, but anyone who helps inspire the next generation of scientists does us all a favour.

Permalink to Comment

13. Joe on February 24, 2010 2:31 PM writes...

I would buy this book. I have bought other books, sometimes quite obscure ones, after a mention in these pages. Derek Lowe's blog is one that I come back to reading even when I drop others due to lack of time.

Permalink to Comment

14. Tim McDaniel on February 24, 2010 4:16 PM writes...

Sili wrote, 'Someone here once recommended "Excuse me, sir. Would you like to buy a kilogram of isopropyl bromide". ' A Google search for that phrase has only one hit, this page. More information, please? Is it a book? Author? Can you re-check the title?

Permalink to Comment

15. Tim McDaniel on February 24, 2010 4:21 PM writes...

Sorry -- I didn't search well enough, and there was a small typo. Book, _Excuse Me Sir, Would You Like to Buy a Kilo of Isopropyl Bromide?_,
Max G. Gergel, Pierce Chemical Co. (January 1, 1979), ASIN: B000I3Z28Y, according to . Pricey to buy there used; no review.

Permalink to Comment

16. javaslinger on February 24, 2010 4:22 PM writes...

Partner up with Milkshake and between the two of you it's a sure fire best seller....

Permalink to Comment

17. Matt Doar on February 24, 2010 8:06 PM writes...

I'm enjoying this blog greatly, and I'd buy a book of it.

I wrote a book with O'Reilly and liked it. They add a level of professionalism and distribution ability to the process that lulu etc don't do (yet). They have a good summary of what they want to see before talking to an author at
but cc me at and I'll add a personal plug for the idea.


Permalink to Comment

18. Carl Zimmer on February 24, 2010 8:07 PM writes...

Hi Derek--

I offered some advice a couple weeks ago in an interview with Nature: (open access)

Happy to follow up if I can help further.

Permalink to Comment

19. Richard on February 24, 2010 8:50 PM writes...

In the UK New Scientist and Hodder & Stoughton publish a series of books on bizarre, unbelievable or just plain dubious science (some of the content is from the New Scientist's "Last Word" column which you might be familiar with). From those that I've read, I'd say your "Things I Won't Work With" posts would fit right in.

Permalink to Comment

20. Eric Jablow on February 24, 2010 9:43 PM writes...

You could form a partnership with David Jones, author of the "Ariadne" column in Nature.

Permalink to Comment

21. Bored on February 24, 2010 9:55 PM writes...

Asimov wrote many books along the lines described here. No offense, Derek, you don't have that kind of name recognition, but your writing style is spectacularly suited to the subject matter. Go for it, please!

Permalink to Comment

22. Sen on February 25, 2010 6:16 AM writes...

+3 for

I love that tag of your blog and would definitely buy that book.

Permalink to Comment

23. Cork on February 25, 2010 8:03 AM writes...

I am a random, non-chemist, internet person that follows your blog. I have never even taken a chemistry class, and my knowledge of such things comes almost entirely from vague things I remember other people saying many years ago, when -they- were in such classes. ...However, the "Things I won't work with" ~column is why I have been following (and reading!) this blog for the past few months. I thought it was fascinating and entertaining -- Both the writing itself, and the fact that such almost-deliberately-malevolent compounds actually existed. Since then, the view into a science I do not particularly follow has been very interesting. At the very least, I can confirm the interest of a non-chemist in this theoretical book, especially if it contained more information or interesting trivia about each terrible, terrible compound. I would definitely buy it, if it existed. is definitely a start, and completely affordable / convenient. If you're attatched to the idea of having the book in bookstores, and possibly having a real editor to help you get it polished, you could try to find a publisher. Aside from emailing an author to ask how they got published (quite worth doing, if possible), here's one method :

Find a book in the appropriate genre (Popular science would be the one, I think -- Anything talking about a science in a fashion that is approachable to a lay-person); and look inside the covers to find who the publisher is. Search for that publisher on the 'net, see if you can find any guidelines for submissions, anywhere on their webpage. If so, follow those guidelines, and contact them as directed. Otherwise, contact them to ask if they're accepting submissions, and if so, what the guidelines are (ie, what information they would like, in what format). The worst they can say is "not right now," and they might even give you suggestions for how to approach the next publisher better! I've been researching publishing for a year or two now, and even the best of books will probably be rejected half a dozen to a dozen times before finding a publisher that actually will give it a try -- So, if the first few publishers you ask say 'No', don't lose heart. If you leave a good first impression, they might (might) even call you back, later.

A publisher might find it useful to know:
1) How much of the material is actually complete -- ie, how much you would have left to write, if they said 'yes'. Also, it probably depends on the publisher, but it may not be polite to send them a sample in the first email -- Always check before doing so. Providing a link might be kosher, however. Be sure to check guidelines for this in particular.
2) The size of the audience your blog can already reach, if you have any way to approximate this. Approximate number of unique, regular visitors would be a good measure. Having a pre-made audience is a noticible benefit, to both you and the publisher, and vastly increases your chance of being accepted.

Well, looks like I've been rambling long enough.. Sorry for the length! Good luck with this, and I sincerely hope you do try the book thing. If additional rambling is of any use, I would be more than happy to help however I could.

Permalink to Comment

24. Mary Canady on February 25, 2010 9:37 AM writes...


At the recent AAAS meeting I met a neuroscientist under 30 who is working on her 2nd book. Bora Zivkovic also has done very well with his 'the open laboratory' books which I would guess are self-published. I second, third, or whatever the self-publishing route. You have more control and you have everything you need to do the marketing yourself--a great following and true fans. Also, if you need help let me know--I'd be happy to help in the way of karma, etc.


Permalink to Comment

25. Mary Canady on February 25, 2010 9:41 AM writes...


At the recent AAAS meeting I met a neuroscientist under 30 who is working on her 2nd book. Bora Zivkovic also has done very well with his 'the open laboratory' books which I would guess are self-published. I second, third, or whatever the self-publishing route. You have more control and you have everything you need to do the marketing yourself--a great following and true fans. Also, if you need help let me know--I'd be happy to help in the way of karma, etc.


Permalink to Comment

26. David Shields on February 25, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

You might want to look at what Gordon Atkinson at has done. He writes a superb blog (more a collection of essays, really) and has just published "Turtles all the way down" via his own 'publishing' site, This is a shameless plug because I like his essays, but printing a few thousand without going broke sounds like a good idea to me.

Permalink to Comment

27. Rhenium on February 25, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

Now thanks to #15, I have "Excuse me sir, would you like to buy a kilo of isopropyl bromide?" on
inter-library loan.

I have no idea what the book is about or who Max Gergel is, but as"Ignition" by John Clark was recommended here as well, I feel I cannot go too far wrong.

Permalink to Comment

28. Tim on February 25, 2010 5:30 PM writes...

I got a business degree because of the LACK of lab classes required. I never heard of you, your blog, or any of the names mentioned there before I followed a link to "Things I Won't Work With" about an hour ago.

Despite seeming to be outside your expected audience, I must agree with the others clamoring for a book. While chemists might gasp appreciatively in all the right places, your writing makes the points behind the stories accessible to everyone--even me.

A handful of science authors are able to reach beyond their discipline to a much wider audience (e.g., Richard Feynman) and based on the last hour or so of reading your work, I think you can too.

Consider talking to authors of computer books. Their publishers are used to publishing technical topics for mass audiences in both electronic and paper editions. In fact, it was a Twitter link from a computer author that led me to your site today. If you'd like some suggestions please let me know, but now I appear to have a great many of your past columns to catch up on.

Permalink to Comment

29. Brooks Moses on February 27, 2010 4:06 PM writes...

-1 for

It's an excellent site, for what it is -- which is essentially a book printer. There is, however, a world of difference between a printer and a publisher. A publisher will provide an editor (who, if any good at all, has large amounts of knowledge of how to turn a good book into a great book and how to make it appeal to more readers), copyeditors (who will make sure there are no typos), designers and typesetters, and a promotion and distribution network that will in actual practice get the book onto the shelves of bookstores.

This pretty much makes the difference between a mediocre book that maybe 100 people will buy and nobody outside this blog has heard of, and a good book that sells in multiple thousands and people randomly run across browsing through the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble bookshelves.

(Also, while I'm on the topic -- be very wary of "vanity press" publishers, who promise all of the above and deliver very little of it. A large distinction is that, for popular-press books as this is likely to be, a vanity-press publisher wants payment from you -- usually different payments for every step -- while a real publisher will pay you.)

Permalink to Comment

30. Derek Lowe on February 27, 2010 4:48 PM writes...

Yep, Brooks, I'm keeping in mind Yog's Law of publishing: Money Flows Toward the Writer.

Permalink to Comment

31. milkshake on February 27, 2010 5:22 PM writes...

Derek, when you sell the film rights to your book make sure that you have a say about what goes into the script - Hollywood has a terrible track record of mangling lab research in the film. You need to make sure there is no "flourine", alembic distillation or Bruce Willis in the movie adaptation of your book

Permalink to Comment

32. Sili on February 28, 2010 10:48 AM writes...

Iono. I think Bruce Willis would be an excellent portrayal of those people who weld the safety valves on Dewars shut.

Permalink to Comment

33. milkshake on March 1, 2010 12:17 AM writes...

nah, that would be Mr. Bean, using a screw to get the the pressure release valve shut.
Bruce Willis would hurl the Dewar down a stairwell, crush the frozen villains with a well-placed bullet and then make a snarky one-liner

Permalink to Comment

34. Stephen Ritterbush on March 1, 2010 3:11 PM writes...

-1 for Lulu.

While it would get your book published with your readership, it would prevent any proper agent from picking up your book for distribution and marketing. That means a huge number of people would be spared your wit and wisdom, which would be unfortunate. An agent is deffinately a better choice for getting it out there.

Permalink to Comment

35. Greg on March 1, 2010 5:56 PM writes...

My wife who works with published authors says:

"He needs to find an agent. Agents get books published. As for who that agent should be, well, my advice would be to research literary agents who deal with the subject matter he writes about. He could google authors who write on similar subjects. Most authors now have personal websites that list their agents as a thank-you."

Permalink to Comment

36. cicely on March 15, 2010 11:57 AM writes...

This may or may not be helpful, from Laelaps: So you want to write a pop-sci book, Part 1: From idea to agent

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry