I never set out to write a book about women in science. Heck, I didn’t set out to write a book at all.
While beginning to write the book and looking for counsel from professional writers (at, ahem, an undisclosed location), I saw a class titled “Telling Women’s Stories.” I immediately looked past it, thinking, What’s my gender got to do with the price of cheese?
It wasn’t until I got deeper into writing the book that I realized I might be the only person in North America who thinks that way. Going back through my memories, I realized my gender wound up affecting my work life so much I didn’t even notice it.
Maybe I should have taken that class. Oops.
The thing is, even now that women are allowed into the professions, it doesn’t mean everything is perfect the way it is, even though I told myself for years that it was. I was privileged to know some fabulous men in medicine who did great things for my career; one of them is the title character of the book. Yet even with kind mentors who never for a second trivialized me, we were still saddled with the uncomfortable environment that the societal legacy of harassment created. They had to treat me like I was plutonium, lest people falsely allege an inappropriate relationship. It was a pain for us all. The problem is the legacy of free-for-all harassment, though, not the fact that harassment is no longer okay.
I still maintain, though, that while there are issues of women in science in the book, they pale in comparison to the larger issues of corruption in medicine. I mean, it’s not like it all would have worked out dandy if I’d just been a guy. If you pick a fight with the drug companies, you find out just how egalitarian things are these days: a gal can get taken out and shot just like a guy. Progress!
Nevertheless, my marketing consultants, who are experienced, felt we should emphasize the women in science issues in the publicity, and I essentially said, “Ducky, whatever it takes to sell the book.” Come for the women’s issues, stay for the… holy crap, that’s what happens when you discover a cheap nontoxic drug with real potential in cancer?! Also, why do our drugs cost so much we’re all going broke? I felt these were the most critical issues.
So the marketing emphasizes me a lot more than I wanted it to. I thought the scientific content and its potential impact on society should be the primary issue, because why else would I go through all this? And I thought the non-scientific content should focus on the man I renamed Dr. Daniel Taylor. He is certainly the main character in my mind. He is the Last Rose of Summer.
But when it came time to market the book, I was still agonizing so much over the phrasing in the science passages, over communicating the ideas exactly right, that I actually had to be told we’d need to highlight the women’s issues, my nerd romances, and the danger I’ve been in, all of which I’d thought of as mere distractions because the discovery was all that mattered to me.
And that’s why scientists don’t do marketing.