11 Books to Upskill and Make More Money as a Freelance Science Writer

By Sheeva Azma

Disclosure: Fancy Comma, LLC has affiliate partnerships to support its blog content. We may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

Learning new skills and gaining new experiences that can help you deliver value to clients is a great business strategy.  Gaining new skills and experiences, also called ‘upskilling,’ can help you deliver more value to clients. Because you can do more, you can also charge more for what you do.

Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash

There are numerous ways to upskill. It’s common to gain on-the-job experience, but if you are trying to branch out into new areas, consider reading books by the experts. That was a large part of what I did to upskill to meet clients’ needs in the pandemic.

The pandemic made public-facing science communications a necessity. Suddenly, a new class of marketer and strategic communicator was needed: one who could navigate both the fields of science communications and marketing/strategic communications to help people understand COVID-19 and its impacts. The challenges I faced included communicating how the COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and therapeutics work; discussing preventative measures such as masks and handwashing; examining supply chain issues for personal protective equipment or PPE; and discussing impacts of COVID-19 on the supply chain, economy, financial world, and more. So, I had to quickly become comfortable in the mainstream communications and marketing world, despite having no formal training in that space.  It was a tall order, but luckily, I love to read and learn.

Scientists turned science writers are voracious readers and lifelong learners. They may find adapting to the marketing and communications world to be an exciting challenge! #SciComm #MarketingTwitter

Currently, I work at the intersection of science communication, content writing, copywriting, marketing, journalism, and strategic communications. I didn’t start out working in all of these different areas. In 2013, I had just started out as a freelance science writer after 10 years in academic science. Over time, I learned new skills and branched out, applying my writing and digital media expertise to marketing, strategic communications, and journalism. I even wrote my own book for aspiring freelance science writers.

Here are some books by the experts that have been helpful in establishing Fancy Comma, LLC’s unique space in the science communications, marketing, and strategic communications world over the course of the pandemic (and, yes, I did raise my rates after reading these books and upskilling).

Must-Read Books about Science Writing, Communication, and Journalism

Getting to the Heart of Science Communication: A Guide to Effective Engagement by Faith Kearns

Getting to the Heart of Science Communication is a guide to empathic communication involving complex information in science and medicine. Kearns starts out explaining why science communication is needed to deal with current and future challenges. She then provides the tools needed to do so. However, the tools aren’t things like spellcheck or grammar software. They are essential soft skills such as relating to people and the world, being a good listener, and so on. Given that scientists place much emphasis on hard skills (learning to do a specific lab procedure, analyze data, etc.) and not as much on soft skills, this is a must-read for scientists in science communication.

The Craft of Science Writing: Selections from The Open Notebook by Siri Carpenter

The Open Notebook (TON) is a free website where anyone can learn about science journalism. It is a great resource for science journalists. The Craft of Science Writing is a compendium of some of TON’s best insights, and is a great starting point for science journalists and other science storytellers. What I found most useful in this book was the advice on structuring stories, whether short-form or long-form, as well as the ‘behind-the-scenes’ interviews with science writers about how their writing features originated. Reading this book, I learned that what most people think of as journalism actually has a lot of unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work that can take months or even years to come together. The lessons in this book helped me produce my first “real” journalism article, which you can read here.

The Science Writers’ Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age by Writers of SciLance

Produced by the National Association for Science Writers, The Science Writers’ Handbook is a must-read for anyone with a science background who is involved in writing but lacks journalism experience. The book provides details on how to structure written pieces, conduct interviews, work with editors, run your science writing as a business, and consider the ethical aspects of your work. 

Must-Read Books about Content Writing

Scientists are, in a way, the ideal scientific content writers.

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

Scientists are, in a way, the ideal scientific content writers. They know lots about their field, and can explain it well. Yet, most scientists interested in science writing probably do not think of themselves as creators of content; they are scientists, working on the tough scientific issues of the day and explaining them to people. That’s why this book is helpful for scientists turned science writers, like me, who have some writing experience but could use a primer on content writing in a way that advances their branding and digital marketing skills.

White Papers For Dummies by Gordon Graham

White Papers for Dummies is a must for any aspiring white paper writer. I wish I had read it before I began writing white papers several years ago. I have my own processes for writing white papers, and was curious what experienced white paper writers do. Graham, who has written white papers for companies like Google, breaks it all down in this book. For example, I learned that there are actually many different types of white papers, each with different goals. Furthermore, I learned that white papers can be very valuable to companies, so experienced white paper writers can make tons of money. Yes, I raised my rates after reading this book.

Must-Read Books about Strategic Communications

As science communicators, we have a tough job in communicating complex ideas. Here’s a list of books that can help.

Find Your Red Thread: Make Your Big Ideas Irresistible by Tamsen Webster

As science communicators, we have a tough job in communicating complex ideas. The more complex the idea, the more daunting the task, especially if the ultimate goal is to boost science literacy or trust in the scientific process. “Great ideas aren’t found, they’re built,” writes Webster, a professional idea whisperer and message strategist, in Find Your Red Thread.

The red thread, originating from Greek mythology, serves as a useful metaphor to connect ideas with solutions or goals. Reading this book can help transform ideas into action, and, as Webster writes, “even change the world.” If you’re, like me, a science writer who is interested in applying your scientific knowledge to create better science-informed marketing and advertising, this book is for you.

Indestructible: Reclaim Control and Respond with Confidence in a Media Crisis by Molly McPherson

Crisis communications is an indispensable skill in one’s strategic communications skillset. In this book, Molly McPherson relates stories about her time in communications, and provides helpful insights on ways to create an “indestructible” professional presence – one that can weather the storms of viral cancel culture and rebuild reputations in the case of a media crisis.

The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Content Marketing, Podcasting, Social Media, AI, Live Video, and Newsjacking to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott

It’s pretty safe to say that the internet has changed all aspects of our lives, including how we interact with brands. In The New Rules of Marketing and PR, David Meerman Scott explains how the internet era has changed marketing and public relations, and offers advice on ways to adapt to the digital age. It’s a comprehensive overview of all aspects of digital media these days, including social media, blogs, search engine marketing, news releases, podcasting, and more.

Must-Read Books about Life as a Freelance Creative

The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid by Jake Poinier

An essential aspect of freelance science writing is pricing your work, knowing your worth, and making sure that you have set the right boundaries with clients. Yet, it can be stressful figuring out the scope of the work, what your client can afford, how much you need to pay the bills, and ultimately, setting the right price. Reduce your pricing anxiety by reading this book by Jake Poinier, who goes by the name of Dr. Freelance. By the end of this book, you’ll know everything you need to price your projects properly.

The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: Find your perfect clients, Make tons of money and Build a business you love by Jennifer Goforth Gregory

According to Jennifer Goforth Gregory, Many writers loathe the term “content marketing,” but as a scientist-turned-science writer, I was actually unfamiliar with it until I read this book. This is a book that can be helpful to science writers like me who are interested in working at the intersection of science and marketing (for example, writing public-facing science content for biotech companies), but are a bit wary of the marketing world.

In The Freelance Content Marketing Writer, Gregory relates her best tried-and-true strategies to thrive as a content marketer, but cautions that persistence is needed to make them work. She also encourages freelance writers to adopt a business mindset to be successful, which she credits as key to making six figures. The book breaks down finding clients, writing, and other aspects of freelance content marketing. As someone who is seeking to work smarter, not harder, I found the chapters about negotiation, setting rates, and secrets of six-figure freelancers to be useful. If you aspire to make six figures as a freelance science writer, this book is for you.

How to Start a Successful Creative Agency: Essential Business Guide for Graphic Designers, Copywriters, Filmmakers, Photographers, and Programmers by Andy Strote

Depending on your goals as a freelancer, you may wish to start an agency of like-minded freelancers. Andy Strote is a freelancer turned agency owner. His book is full of insights that can help creatives start an agency. If your goal is to start a freelance creative agency, you definitely need to read this book.

What books would you add to this list of must-read books for science communications freelancers? Feel free to chime in below in the comments!

To read reviews of more books we’ve discussed on the Fancy Comma blog, click here.


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