Evolution book

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DC2244

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Quick overview:
I'm a beginner writer planning to write a book on evolution and the history of life just for 'fun' really. I'd probably just self publish using Amazon. I don't really have the time to start writing yet but am reading/researching whenever I can.


I can see two difficulties in structuring the book. I would like to tell the life history story chronologically but chunks of the story would need to be told at a time to make it clear, and there would need to be a lot of backtracking. For example it might work to cover the 160 million years of dinosaur history in one section, but then I might have to backtrack 150 million years or more to tell the mammals story. It strikes me as a very complex structuring exercise. It wouldn't work to be strictly chronological since you'd be constantly jumping between different groups of organisms.

The other issue is concerning the fact that the book is two parts really - one is explaining evolutionary science and the other is telling the life story. I could just split it into two but I'd prefer not to do this. I'd prefer to tell the life story and bring in the science as a series is 'asides'. This strikes me as quite difficult and I wonder as a beginner if I'd be able to pull it off. It has been done in that way by a very skilled writer on the subject.

I'm not sure what I'm asking about the writing. I'm wondering just how difficult it might be, and any tips on how to deal with the problems? Some textbooks put asides in separate boxes but I'd like them integrated in the narrative ideally. I wonder if some kind of hybrid idea might work.

Re publishing, I'd like to see some examples of books self published using Amazon (to get an idea what they're like) but when I search on Amazon books are only ordered by best selling and I can't get to the end of the search where I imagine most would be. Is there a way to find self published stuff?
 

Dennis E. Taylor

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Can't help you with the self-pub search, but as far as the book structure, here's a suggestion: Start by creating a graphical timeline of the entire evolutionary timeline that you want to cover. Then put in bars for each overlapping segment or chapter. At the top of each chapter, show the timeline with the bar for that chapter highlighted. It'll make it obvious where the overlaps are. Chances are your readers will be sophisticated enough to understand that the mammals didn't suddenly evolve just as the dinosaurs died out.

As for the treatise on Evolution--write the two section separately, just to get them on paper. Then decide how they should be interleaved. You might find that it becomes obvious once you have the finished products in front of you. And meanwhile, you can write the sections without having to worry about it.
 

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There are so many books on evolution that it's going to be difficult to make a new one stand out! A straight chronology from the Ediacaran through to the Holocene is the stuff of textbooks. If you're not writing a text book, maybe it'd be better to find an angle? Dawkins told the story of evolution backwards through time in The Ancestor's Tale. In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin did something similar by focusing on various human organs and tracing their origin. Sean Carroll explored evo-devo in Endless Forms Most Beautiful. What aspect of evolutionary biology interests and inspires you most? Concentrate on that and structure the narrative around it.

I have seen self-pubbed evolution books, but they tend to be barrow-pushing. And many are quite barmy.
 

MaeZe

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Were I to write a book or paper about evolution, I'd focus on the revolution in genetic science that strengthened the theory beyond overwhelming evidence supporting it. There are so many fascinating things involved, it would be a fresh look and it could move the needle for a few people who still don't get it that the theory is not in doubt.

What happened: the cost of looking at genomes became relatively inexpensive opening the door to a flood of research.

Some fun facts (I'll let you do the research if you're interested):

The gene that controls the development of the eye in fruit flies was exchanged with the related gene in rabbit fetuses and they grew normal eyes.

You can muck around with the genetics of moths' wing colors without harming the moth while you can't change one thing in a transistor radio and have it still work. In other words, designed doesn't look like evolution after all.

Dr Behe's hypothesis on irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum was disproved when genetic analysis found the precursor, it wasn't an organelle, it was a cellular transport system. In other words, two very different things can be surprisingly similar on the genetic level.

You could fill chapters refuting the naiveté that an eye couldn't have evolved. So many people are unaware that the precursors are still there, from bacteria that have single light censors to evidence eyes will devolve in cave creatures.

Some bacteria can increase their mutation rate when exposed to a toxin by shutting down their DNA repair mechanisms.

Sexual intercourse is one of several ways a species mixes its genes in its offspring.


I love science. :D
 
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DC2244

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Thanks for the replies.

Dennis - the graphic sounds like an interesting idea. Maybe be it could be a branching tree/cladogram and I could highlight the part I'm talking about.

Helix - I think my best idea of an angle was to tell the story and keep going off on tangents in an entertaining way to tell the science bits. Which is slightly copying Dawkins but he did it by the organisms telling their own stories, and I wouldn't copy that quite so obviously. I'd want to try and bust a few of the common misconceptions about evolution such as the idea of everything being in very distinct and different boxes when actually evolution is very gradual. And the idea that humans evolved from chimps - I've yet to read a book that successfully explains why this isn't true.

MaeZe - Yes, I'd want to bring in some of the latest genetics, all very interesting stuff. I must admit, the arguments with creationists bore me a bit, I just want to write on the science.
 

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There are hundreds of books about evolution. What makes your one unique and compelling?

If you want to write this as a book, you need to work that out before you begin. Otherwise all you'll be writing is lists, or one extremely long book which you probably won't ever finish.
 

cornflake

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If you've never read a book which successfully explains why/how humans didn't evolve from chimps, I wonder what the heck you've been reading, because that's so basic....
 

DC2244

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There are hundreds of books about evolution. What makes your one unique and compelling?

If you want to write this as a book, you need to work that out before you begin. Otherwise all you'll be writing is lists, or one extremely long book which you probably won't ever finish.

I've read of lot of evolution books. The best are obviously excellent, the worst are plodding and incomplete. I'm not aiming high but I want to do my best. I feel I could match or better the lower end, but I'll get nowhere near the better ones. I'll admit, to a degree it's partly a bit of an ego thing - if an amateur such as myself can match something produced by university professors and the like I'd be happy. Is that a wrong attitude?

I imagine most self published books don't get many sales. If 100 people read mine and a reasonable percentage like it and learn something, I think I'd be happy. I'm doing this as a learning exercise for myself as much as anything.

I think my strength is in explaining things. My weakness in making things entertaining, so yes, I might have to work on the compelling bit.

If you've never read a book which successfully explains why/how humans didn't evolve from chimps, I wonder what the heck you've been reading, because that's so basic....

I don't mean they didn't explain it. Maybe I just think my way is better.

Just about every book simply says that humans didn't evolve from chimps but they both evolved from a common ancestor. Which is basic stuff if you understand evolution but I don't think it gets into the mind of the uninformed reader. Yes many will get it straight away, but not all. I think it's better explained in a different and more detailed way. Maybe I'll ask a few people to gauge how well the concept is generally understood.
 

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I imagine most self published books don't get many sales. If 100 people read mine and a reasonable percentage like it and learn something, I think I'd be happy. I'm doing this as a learning exercise for myself as much as anything.

From what I've heard about sales for self published non-fiction, you'll be very lucky indeed to make this target. You are not likely to even make half of it.

Just about every book simply says that humans didn't evolve from chimps but they both evolved from a common ancestor. Which is basic stuff if you understand evolution but I don't think it gets into the mind of the uninformed reader. Yes many will get it straight away, but not all. I think it's better explained in a different and more detailed way. Maybe I'll ask a few people to gauge how well the concept is generally understood.

There must be a lot of different ways to explain the "common ancestor" point. But surely people understand this already? And it's not exactly a difficult point to make, is it? I must be confused, because I don't see this as an issue to focus your book on. It's a paragraph, perhaps a page or two, but not a whole book.
 

veinglory

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I think anyone who wants to understand it, does. An evolution book for adult enthusiasts is going to need to be less remedial. An evolution book to contradict anti-evolution myths might be interesting but would probably work best from a historical point of view. When you see who invented the myths and their history they become more interesting (e.g. the banana as God's benevolence, the eye as perfect design). You could also cover old myths that have already been disproven like extinction of species is impossible if they are created by God to be part of the world's eternal design.
 

DC2244

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The common ancestor part is small and will be a paragraph or two. I just gave it as an example.
As I mentioned arguments with creationists don't interest me so I won't use that angle.
 

cornflake

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The common ancestor part is small and will be a paragraph or two. I just gave it as an example.
As I mentioned arguments with creationists don't interest me so I won't use that angle.

Maybe it's me, but I don't think I understand the point of the book, especially considering the plethora of evolution books out there.
 

Dennis E. Taylor

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You're up against some stiff competition in the likes of Gould and Dawkins, but I think this is one of those subjects where the audience has a bottomless appetite.
 

DC2244

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As I said my ambitions are modest. I wouldn't dream of thinking I'd compete with the best out there.
There are ('properly' published) books out there that give a very basic account of the history of life with little or no angle to then. This is what I'd like to match. I'm not an expert enough writer or biologist to think I could do much better. If I got one person say they thought I'd written a book as good as one of these types of book written by some university professor I'd be happy.
If my likely target is to sell less than 50, then I shouldn't care much about sales figures or the competition, and I don't. I'd write the book to learn something - about writing and evolution. I'm doing it for me really, it's just a hobby.
Like I asked, is that a wrong attitude? People here seem to think it is.
 

Dennis E. Taylor

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Like I asked, is that a wrong attitude? People here seem to think it is.

No, it isn't, and no, we don't. But so many people come here with unrealistic expectations that it's become habit to be blunt about the realities of publishing. As long as you're going in eyes open, have at it!
 

cornflake

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As I said my ambitions are modest. I wouldn't dream of thinking I'd compete with the best out there.
There are ('properly' published) books out there that give a very basic account of the history of life with little or no angle to then. This is what I'd like to match. I'm not an expert enough writer or biologist to think I could do much better. If I got one person say they thought I'd written a book as good as one of these types of book written by some university professor I'd be happy.
If my likely target is to sell less than 50, then I shouldn't care much about sales figures or the competition, and I don't. I'd write the book to learn something - about writing and evolution. I'm doing it for me really, it's just a hobby.
Like I asked, is that a wrong attitude? People here seem to think it is.

No, and no, we don't. If you want to write for yourself, have at it. People have all different goals and expectations. It's less usual, ime, for someone to want to write a nonfiction book that will require loads of research just for themselves, and lots of people have unrealistic expectations w/re publishing.

I said I don't get the point, but if it's just for you to learn about evolution and practice writing, then that's a point. 'I want to educate others' is a different thing, and given the plethora of books by experts, that'd be confusing to me.
 

veinglory

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It's not about ambition or hubris, just that every book has to bring a unique angle or perspective--otherwise we would just reread the ones that already exist. We are hoping to help uncover your special motivation and your unique angle. The fact that you want to write the book at all suggests that you do have one,
 

DC2244

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It's not about ambition or hubris, just that every book has to bring a unique angle or perspective--otherwise we would just reread the ones that already exist. We are hoping to help uncover your special motivation and your unique angle. The fact that you want to write the book at all suggests that you do have one,

Mmmm...

I do get a buzz out of learning new things, and then a desire to create the same in someone else by passing on that knowledge.

I admit I'm highly influenced by Dawkins' The Ancestors Tale, probably my favourite book...

I wanted to write in a chatty style with lots of diversions and asides. More of a variation of Dawkins style than something completely unique.

I've just come up with a thought/idea. I don't know if anyone has read Families and How to Survive Them by Cleese and Skynner. It's a psychology book written as a conversation between the two where John Cleese keeps asking Skynner questions. I wonder if I could do it like that. Does it sound corny? I think it could work but maybe a danger it would sound patronising or childish. Not sure if I'd have the skill to make it work.

Maybe the person asking the questions could be a resurrected Darwin!
 

Helix

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I think the conversational style would only work if you had a really tight focus. Frex, Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson is about the evolutionary biology of sex and reproduction. It's written as a series of letters to an agony aunt and her replies.

I think you're going to have to narrow down your subject matter. The mechanisms of evolution + the entire history of life on earth is too big a topic for a popsci book.
 

Comanche

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Quick overview:

Re publishing, I'd like to see some examples of books self published using Amazon (to get an idea what they're like) but when I search on Amazon books are only ordered by best selling and I can't get to the end of the search where I imagine most would be. Is there a way to find self published stuff?

I know absolutely nothing about evolution (other than knowing I evolved from something), but perhaps I can help with the self publishing. I used Amazon's Createspace and have been quite happy with it. If you already have a good copy editor, I wouldn't use theirs, and likewise, I would skip the marketing services they offer.

From what I've heard about sales for self published non-fiction, you'll be very lucky indeed to make this target. You are not likely to even make half of it.

In my case, I'm well over 1,000 copies sold, and after five years, still have the occasional sale. If you wish to see the book, find it at "Same River, Different Water: A Veterans Journey from Vietnam to Việt Nam"
 

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If I were you, I'd start from the beginning and call it, The making of life, or some other corny name. (don't call it that. Now that I've written it, it sounds terrible)

I'd start by glossing over the big bang, stardust, planets, yadda yadda yadda, and then... Life.

Go to modern times, end with the theories on the death of the universe, and that's a wrap.
 

DrDoc

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I'd start with describing Natural Selection, which is the differential reproduction of genotypes. Once people comprehend natural selection then evolution follows naturally. Any particular evolution is guided by historical precedent, e.g. because of a meteor striking Earth we now have mammals as one of the dominant life forms instead of dinosaurs.

So here's a dinosaur joke:

What does a thesaurus eat for breakfast?

Answer: Synonym rolls.

Good luck,,

DrDoc
 

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Speaking as an enthusiast for the subject, one of the first things I'll look at before buying a non-fiction book on evolution is the credentials of the writer. Not just what degrees they hold, but their experience in the subject as in what universities they've lectured at, what research they've done, etc. The last book I bought was written by Chris Stringer, the research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and co-written by Peter Andrews, who previously held the same position and now holds a similar position at another museum. (I saw it in the gift shop when I took my kids to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum* for a day trip and just couldn't resist it :greenie ) There's a paragraph under the blurb which lists the credentials of both writers.

*I love London so much, especially how both these museums are next door to each other and have free entry


The problem with non-fiction in specialised fields is that you have to be right at the top of the field to have much chance of success in them, unless you have something else unique to bring to it, which would be more than an ability to explain stuff well - physics writer Jim Al-Khalili is amazing at explaining complex concepts clearly and simply, and he's also professor of theoretical physics at a UK university and has a whole bunch of other credentials which not all professors of theoretical physics have. And since I mentioned Chris Stringer above, he also has that ability to explain things really well. Successful science writers have both the academic credentials and this ability to explain stuff to people who haven't studied much science.


Are you only looking at writing non-fiction? If you're thinking of writing fiction and you're into evolution and have a ton of knowledge about it, then maybe you can write scientifically accurate/plausible prehistoric fiction. The world needs more of this (naturally I'm biassed... it's what I want to read but there isn't much of it about) and you don't need credentials to write it, because readers will judge it based on whether the story's good and readers like me who are evolutionary biology nerds will know if you got your facts right by reading it.

Or you can make humour the focus. A sarcastic account of the history of life on Earth... or do all three, i.e. combine fiction, evolution and humour all into one.
 
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DrDoc

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It depends on who your audience is. If he's writing to everyday people for whom evolution is a million miles away from their everyday doings then he may just need a hook to entice them to go a little further. Perhaps one for the kids first?