Monday, July 02, 2012
Interview with Scientist, Robert Piccioni
What was your path towards publication like?
I was born being a scientist, like my father. I had successful careers in science and industry. After "retiring", my brother, who teaches high school physics, invited me to give enrichment lectures to his students, expelling black holes and the Big Bang. I was awful, but the kids eventually taught me how to stop speaking math and jargon and how to speak English to normal people (scientists are taught not to do that). Bad as I was in the beginning, I was thrilled by the occasional sparking in a youngster's eye when they first understood a profound idea. Every year, I went back to that inner-city school and did a little better, and eventually I learned how to share the excitement of modern science.
What was the first market you queried and why did you choose that market?
Through my speaking gigs, I realized that many people wonder about the immense universe beyond us and the submicroscopic world within us. I relish addressing that wonder. My best market is the curious, those willing to think for themselves, and those who still wonder WHY?
What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to pitching yourself as a writer and what steps have you taken to overcome that obstacle?
Science is a very small niche; bookstores carry more astrology books than astronomy books.
Most people would rather be tarred and feathered than have to read a physics book. I've worked to build awareness by obtaining as many reviews as possible, by entering book contest, by distributing through major online outlets, by joining publishers and writers groups, by learning from more successful friends, by guesting on radio shows, by becoming an online radio host, and most effectively by actively soliciting public speaking opportunities. Some things I did that were not worth the time or expense were sending emails to media, and hiring PR firms.
Aside from magazine articles and book contracts, how can someone earn money writing?
For me, public speaking has been most successful. I am most fortunate because every group I speak to—all ages, both genders, those of all interests—have burning questions about the Universe, about Life, about what we are made of. Even those who "hated that damned science class" are awestruck to learn that their atoms were made in stars, that we are the children of the stars and the universe is truly within us. On average, one-third of the people in my audiences buy a book that may sell for $30.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book?
Everyone Guide to Atoms, Einstein and the Universe is the highest-rated science book on Amazon.com—significantly higher than Hawking's, Kako's, Feynman's, or Greene's. I think this is because Everyone can read it. The Midwest Book Review calls it "The layman's guide to 20th and 21st century science...with straight-forward, comprehensible explanations...enthusiastically recommended to readers of all backgrounds. The book explains the most profound concepts—Einstein's Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes, the Big Bang, and much more—in simple English, with over 100 graphics and 33 full-color images, but without math. Physicists and musicians, seniors and children, have learned a lot from it and enjoyed it.
If you could choose just one thing for your book to accomplish, what would it be?
Ours is a technology-driven society. Science underlies most of our pressing social issues. Yet most people feel they are excluded from science—that somehow science is beyond their capabilities. This is particularly challenging for home-schooling parents—their kids have to pass science tests, but they feel unable to help them. That's a terrible shame, because the reality is that even most profound science can be understood by almost anyone. I claim anyone who can change money can understand Einstein, and I prove that every time. I hope my book helps the general public feel more comfortable with science and confident in themselves.
How do you balance your life as a writer with your duties as a parent or spouse?
My wife and I do this together, as we've done with everything else for 42 years. I see no other way. Without her, I would never had made it and it would not have been worth working alone. We keep each other sane, while leaving lots of time to spoil our grandkids.
What is your best advice for getting past writer's block?
Imagine yourself speaking to someone you love, and write that down as rough as it may be. Then rewrite it over and over until you get it right.
What was the best writing-related advice you ever received?
Self-publish with professional help and search long and hard for the best printing deals. It takes much more work, but it's worth the many thousand hours. I hired a professional editor and book designer, but did the interior layout by myself with the designer's kind coaching. We learned the "ropes" on my first book, and did it all ourselves the next time around.
What do you feel is the single most detrimental thing a writer could do to destroy his/her career as a writer?
Being insincere—thinking selling more important than communicating true ideas and feelings.
What’s ahead for your writing?
I want to write a book about the impact of Einstein's discoveries on everyone daily life, perhaps titled "A World Without Einstein." Most people think Einstein was born with grey hair and a piece of chalk in his hand, and whatever he did is too far out to affect them. The truth is that without Einstein we wouldn't have lasers, solar cells, CDs, DVDs, computers, the internet, GPS, atomic weapons, and much more.
You can learn more about Robert Piccioni at GuideToTheCosmos.com
Order Everyone Guide to Atoms, Einstein and the Universe from Amazon.com
Do not reprint this post without permission. © Alyice Edrich
This post was sponsored by The Dabbling Mum.
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