I’m pleased to bring you Laura Mazer’s monthly column on publishing in the trade world, particularly if you’re an academic. This month she gives important tips on translating your style and structure for your popular audience. –Kristen
Good to be back up here on GWP! I’ve been getting a lot questions lately from academics who want to write for a trade audience but aren’t sure how to translate their scholarship into a style and format that’s suited for a wider audience. Here are few things you can expect to hear from your editor should you decide to publish your book project with a trade house:
â€” Be sure you’re writing in a plainspoken, accessible voice. That does notâ€”repeat notâ€”mean “dumb it down,” I promise! It means write conversationally, intimately. The academic world, understandably, pays a great deal of attention to precision in accuracyâ€”in the trade world, you’ll need to find a way to be accurate but without using insider terminology or complicated concepts. Example: You may be writing an auto-ethnography, but you’ll need to call it a race memoir. And if you’re thinking of writing a book about longterm neurologic transformation, try saying that you’re writing a history of the brain.
â€” Show how your expertise is relevant to the life of today’s reader. How does your topic play out in the world of 2009? Find something current from which to launch your own findings. For example, if you have studied the rise of prostitution in 17th century France, start with an examination of
the sex trade today, and then connect the contemporary state of affairs with those in the 1600s in a way that reveals something fascinating.
â€” Convert your footnotes into endnotes. A trade book can’t be weighed down with long lists of small type at the bottom of each page, so you won’t be able to use footnotes to clarify and augment your narrative. If readers want to know your sources and read your comments, they’ll find them in the back.
â€” If you have credentials other than your academic degree, highlight them.
A well-rounded author is one who’s more likely to surface from the slush pile.
â€” Make your title catchy and clever, and your subtitle simple and clear.
It should be immediately obvious from reading your title and subtitle exactly what the book is about, without excessive gravitas.
That should get you started! If you have specific questions about translating the technical into the trade, send ’em to me and I’ll do my best to answer them. Looking forward to hearing from you!