The following article is one of many included in the ASA Task Force on Social Media’s Promoting Sociological Research: A Toolkit, which provides tips and testimonials about promoting sociology.
My first book, What Is Sexual Harassment? From Capitol Hill to the Sorbonne, based on my doctoral dissertation, came out in 2003. At the time, I was an assistant professor and feeling pressure to show that I was making headway on a new, postdissertation project. I was also negotiating the demands of caring for a new baby. As a result, I did not feel that I could afford to spend too much time promoting my book, something that I regretted later. After spending a decade researching and writing a book, it’s a shame not to spend the time necessary to make sure that book gets as wide an audience as possible!
When my second book, What’s Wrong with Fat?, was published in 2013, I vowed not to make the same mistake. This time, I promised myself, I would give myself permission to spend time promoting the book. For me, prioritizing the work of book promotion was the first step to success. This meant reserving some time each day, during the first months after publication, to spend on book promotion tasks. It also meant being willing to drop everything if an opportunity, say, to write an op-ed presented itself.
In September, when my book was in press, I began planning for the January 2013 release. I reached out to supportive colleagues to help organize author-meets-critic panels at regional conferences, including the Pacific Sociological Association and the Southern Sociological Association, and at UCLA. I also submitted my book for consideration for an author-meets-critic panel at the 2014 ASA meeting and was deeply honored that my book was among 19 books (out of 350 submissions) to be accepted. I let my colleagues at other universities know that I would be delighted to present a book talk in their seminar series.
Becoming a Media Source
Importantly, I enrolled in an all-day workshop on op-ed and other public writing, provided by the Op-Ed Project, a “social venture founded to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world.” Not only did this workshop provide me with an effective crash course in op-ed writing, but it also came with year-long access to mentors, who would read and comment on my drafts within 48 hours.
As pressures to be thin and dieting were important themes in my book, I saw the upcoming New Year celebration and associated resolutions as a great hook for an op-ed piece. As this was an event that could be predicted with certainty, it provided me with ample lead time to write, solicit feedback, rewrite, solicit more feedback, and rewrite again.
After several drafts, “Why we Diet” was published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed section on January 4, 2013. I continued writing op-eds in the months that followed, including a piece on “size profiling”—the tendency of doctors to assume that any ailment suffered by a heavy patient is due to their weight without doing proper tests—in the Washington Post.
As I published more, editors began to seek me out to comment on current events related to the topic of my book. Thus, when the American Medical Association (AMA) decided to define obesity as a disease, TIME asked me to comment. I had many other demands at the moment, but I dropped everything to write 550 words on the topic.
Following this publication, the U.S. News and World Report asked me to take part in an online debate on the same topic. Via listservs, I encouraged colleagues working on similar topics to vote and was gratified to receive the greatest number of votes of the seven contributors!
During this time, I also created a Facebook page and Twitter account that I updated regularly with interesting links related to the topic of my book. At one point, I had an undergraduate research assistant help identify and post relevant content. I created a personal webpage, where I posted the first chapter of my book and links to media coverage.
Oxford University Press and UCLA publicists also worked hard to get the word out about my book. Oxford sent books to various news outlets and the UCLA publicist Meg Sullivan helped me write a press release. While it is impossible to know for sure, I suspect this work was instrumental in the New York Times review of my book and the invitations I received (and accepted!) to be interviewed about my book on various NPR affiliated channels.
Now 18 months since the publication of my book, I am doing less to actively promote it. I do not update my Facebook page or Twitter feed as regularly. However, I do continue to accept invitations to speak about the book and to write op-eds, even when these invitations arrive at inconvenient times and have opportunity costs. I recently wrote two pieces for Zocalo Forum, both of which ended up being reprinted by larger media outlets, including TIME and USA Today. I would like to conclude by saying that I believe that it is important that sociologists take part in public debates about issues on which we have expertise. It is a privilege to spend one’s life conducting research and analyzing the world in which we live. I believe that it is a crime to hoard the fruits of this labor. We owe it to society to share what we have learned in a variety of forums. One important venue is, of course, undergraduate teaching. Op-ed–and other public writing is another. I would love to see even more sociologists in the pages and screens of various media outlets.