Breaking into publishing is a goal for many physicians in training, but how often do students publish research—let alone whole books—before even completing medical school? Medical student authors share how they landed a major book publishing deal and give their top tips for students looking to turn their own ideas into reality.
Developing a novel book idea
As undergraduate science students at Dartmouth College, Andrew Zureick, Yoo Jung Kim, Justin Bauer and Daniel Lee viewed college as more than a series of lectures and high-stake exams. For the biology and chemistry majors, college was about discovery. It was a chance to ask questions, challenge established traditions and explore their convictions as future scientists.
It’s this frame of thinking that led Zureick, Kim, Bauer and Lee, now medical students at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, University of California–San Diego and Harvard University, respectively, to write What Every Science Student Should Know, an informative guide that extols the love of science and offers insights to students looking to successfully study science in college and launch science-based careers. The University of Chicago Press will publish the book in May 2016, and it has already garnered early positive reviews. Zureick and Kim recently spoke with AMA Wire® about their experience with the publishing industry.
Zureick and Kim credit their success to collaborating with a trustworthy group of peers and pursuing the idea because of its personal connection to their lives—not its publishing potential. Plus, the group of four Dartmouth students had worked together as writers and editors for the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, Zureick said. Collaborating on a project they each valued seemed like a logical next step.
In 2012, they began to flesh out ideas for chapters and a writing process. “But once we started graduating, we were in multiple time zones fairly quickly,” Zureick said. Still, distance didn’t stop them. The group took advantage of technology: “We scheduled video calls regularly [with our team], and completed the entire writing process using Google Drive and Google Docs,” Zureick said.
Navigating the publishing process
Once a few sample chapters were written, the team of student-writers navigated the publishing process by reaching out to a Dartmouth alumnus and author who offered advice on how to effectively pitch their book to literary agencies and publishers. With his guidance, the team began to contact literary agents to send a full book proposal, sample chapters and an outline.
“Between September 2012 and September 2013, we went from starting to write a book proposal to having a literary agent and publishing company on our team,” Zureick said. While he noted that they garnered interest from publishers faster than the average first-time authors, their success didn’t arrive without hard work.
Kim added that the subject of their book struck a chord with the publishing community at the time. “I think the reason our agent and publisher were interested in this is because of the timeliness of the subject matter. When we had first come up with the idea, there was a recent article in the New York Times that discussed how students were dropping out of the STEM majors” because they were perceived to be too challenging.
After learning about the article, Kim said she and her colleagues wanted to address students’ waning interest in the sciences and remind them why it’s actually a fulfilling field of study, brimming with exciting opportunities—not just defined by tests and lab reports.
“Since we were all STEM majors, we understood what our counterparts at Dartmouth and other institutions were going through,” Kim said. “So we really wanted to write a book that would help students not only continue with their science majors but also feed the passion that helped them get interested in the sciences in the first place.”
Tips for student success
Zureick and Kim said their book arrived as a culmination of creative collaboration and dedication to a subject they both genuinely enjoy. Here are some of the key insights they referenced along their path to publishing success. Follow these tips to see your own innovations come to fruition and ensure you have fun in the process:
- Establish a study strategy to effectively balance your coursework and original projects. Medical school can be overwhelming, especially in the early years of training when students have to cram in so much information. “It takes good study habits and discipline, which some students take longer to develop than others,” Zureick said. “Once people solidify their study habits, medical school and the sciences become a much more manageable process.” Students can start planning an effective study schedule using these must-have checklists to help prioritize tasks throughout med school: AMA Wire offers checklists for the first and second years, third year and fourth year of training.
- Learn from your mistakes. “From my experiences in scientific research, I know that there will always be setbacks,” Kim said. “There will be setbacks in my projects. There will be setbacks in my education and personal life, but I’ve always tried to learn something from every disappointment and every setback to apply new lessons … to better accomplish my goals with more efficiency.” “Just having this kind of outlook and learning from my mistakes has made being in the sciences a really positive experience,” Kim said. “That kind of resiliency is so important in the sciences … and everyday life.”
- Launch projects that connect with issues that are meaningful to you. “Certainly writing a book was a great experience in itself,” Zureick said, “but knowing that we could positively impact high school and college students and help them enjoy science was what truly kept us motivated throughout the writing process.”
- Embrace discovery in medicine—focus on more than tests and classes. “When people think about the sciences, all they [usually] think about are the classes they have to take and the problem sets, but [those] really are just the basics of what science actually is,” Kim said. “Science is about finding novel things that exist in the world, and the classes [and] didactics only really cover the basics of it.” While succeeding in the sciences requires a strong knowledge base, Kim said students also should focus on developing “soft skills,” such as resilience and effectively collaborating with peers.
- Nurture your passions outside of science—don’t feel pressured to only love one subject. As early as high school, Zureick and Kim knew they enjoyed writing just as much as science, so being editors for the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science allowed each of them to tap into their interests and creativity. They advise other students to explore similar avenues that will nurture all of their passions, rather than forcing themselves to choose one.
- Break large goals down into small, actionable ones. Once you develop a large project idea, think about the necessary steps required to accomplish the goal and begin to scale it down to the first step you can accomplish. “What we did in the very beginning, in terms of our book, was create a plan that would help us accomplish the project,” Kim said. “We had this basic outline of what we wanted to do and how to do it. Break anything into accomplishable bite-sized pieces that will help you to move toward your goal.”
- Build strong writing skills. “Whether you’re interested in creative writing or applying for research funding … writing skills are essential,” Zureick said. He noted that a strong writer can better craft grant proposals, communicate the significance of a project, and secure valuable partnerships and funding.