An Interview with Jennifer Margulis

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a former Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, is an award-winning travel, culture, and parenting writer. Her work has appeared in many of the nation’s most respected and credible publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Smithsonian Magazine.

Her book, Your Baby, Your Way, was just published in paperback. We checked in with her this week to find out more.

EB: Scribner recently released the paperback version of your book: Your Baby, Your Way. I can’t help but notice the new title. It’s no longer The Business of Baby. Why the title change? Are you aiming for new audiences?

JM: The publisher’s marketing team decided to change the title to give the book a fresh and more accessible feel. About 4 million babies are born every year in the United States, so we wanted to appeal more to first-time moms and dads.


EB: What else is different in the paperback?

JM: It has a completely different introduction, which is friendlier and more mom-to-mom than in the hard cover version. The content is also revised and the research is updated. You may have noticed, too, that the baby on the cover is turned vertical instead of horizontal. Same baby, different orientation. The thought on that was to make the book more appealing and less daunting.

EB: I know that your book has evoked strong feelings. Were you surprised?

JM: One Cornell University trained M.D. contacted me through my website to say she bought 14 copies of the book and that she was making it required reading for all her pregnant patients. I’ve also had moms tell me it was the best book they’ve ever read. Then there are the naysayers on the book’s Amazon page. One reviewer hated it so much his suggestion was to shred it and use it in the hamster cage. So, yes, the book has evoked very strong reactions!

I present information about the overuse of C-sections and the harms of the birth dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine. Readers who had C-sections they really did not need seem to have one of two responses: kill the messenger (me) and trash the book or feel totally empowered by having their eyes opened to a maternity system that puts profits over people and find the support they need to have a gentler, more evidence-based birth the next time.

EB: Getting the word out about books takes a lot of effort. What did you find was the most successful author-marketing tool?

JM: Good question. I’ve worked hard to build social media platforms. Your Baby, Your Way’s Facebook page has about 6,700 likes on it. I have over 750 followers on Pinterest, and strong networks on LinkedIn and Facebook. (Your students and colleagues are welcome to connect with me, by the way.) But what is the best way to translate those numbers into actual book sales? I don’t market my book to my readers and followers because marketing makes me cringe (and my book is about why we should not be trying to sell new moms and dads things but rather be educating them about best practices for healthy outcomes.)—but I do provide them with excellent content on-line and hope their interest will lead them to read the book.

Market researchers say being on NPR is a great way to sell books, as is being mentioned by popular bloggers, especially when they recommend your books. When a popular L.A. blogger did this interview with me, we saw a mighty spike in book sales. I am often invited to speak at conferences and we’ve sold out of books at this one and this one (the profits benefited the conference organizers, not me), so public speaking is very effective too. Word-of-mouth is also tremendously important. If you like a book, recommend it to a friend or write about it on Facebook and chances are your friends will want read it. Here are 7 ways to best support a friend who has just published a book.

EB: You’ve got a new project started. Can you tell us about that?

JM: I’m teaming up with one of the country’s foremost pediatricians to write a book that will revolutionize children’s health in America. We’ve had a very exciting couple of weeks when the book attracted a lot of attention among New York publishers. I’m not at liberty to reveal the details but I will be soon. Check back with me in a couple of weeks!

EB: What is your writing schedule like? You always seem busy, with interesting projects.

JM: I have an office with a treadmill desk so I am always standing and often walking (s-l-o-w-l-y) as I work. My best writing time is in the morning. The earlier I get started, the more productive I am during the day. I like to work from 8:30 to noon, take a break for lunch, and then put in two hours in the afternoon if my brain is still working.

EB: Any advice for aspiring non-fiction writers out there?

JM: We could spend the next hour talking about this, Ed, but here are three pieces of my best advice to get non-fiction writers started: 1) Read like a writer. If you want to be writing for newspapers, pitch the ones you read every day, since you are their audience and know what their readers are looking for. If you want to write books, read as much as you can and analyze the ones you like to figure out why you like them and what the authors are doing right. Then emulate them in your own work. 2) Be professional. Take writing seriously and be businesslike in all your dealings. Don’t ever write for free. Always meet your deadlines. Address editors you do not know formally. Dress up. Don’t wear jeans and a T-shirt to interview a source. 3) Join ASJA and attend their annual conference in New York City. You have to apply to get in and you need to have clips, so this can be a good goal for the aspiring writer.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

JM: Always a pleasure.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology was released by Oxford University Press in June of 2014.
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