Category Archives: book publicity

Blogmania

I started this blog back in 2008 at the suggestion of the publisher of my first book. I have posted 372 items that have generated over 3,700 comments. The numbers are ok (700,000 visits) but if you really want to make an impact you need to blog on sites that have huge volumes of traffic.

I have just published my first blog for the Huffington Post which has been an exciting experience and have a steady start on the Psychology Today site. I will keep writing blogs here and of course, it is a handy website to load up showreels and pictures but it will be difficult to keep generating new material. I note that many of the bloggers out there are chasing original material which is why any new science story is immediately snapped up. In my field it is easy to spot where fellow bloggers are getting their stories, mostly from the top journals such as Psychological Science. Their job is made all the easier by many associations providing press releases on home websites.The trouble is that there is only so much information that can go round and many writers end up recycling items in a world that expects rapid online publication as described in Nick Davies in his book on the phenomenon of “churnalism.”

I have to also admit that some of the blogs I write have ended up in my books. For example, one of my personal favorites about being followed by a troll claiming to be Helen Mirren last year ended up in a chapter in The Self Illusion about how the internet is changing the way we portray our selves in the new social media networks. However, unlike churnalism, I have authored much of the material though I accept that this is mostly based on my research of other people’s work.

But there is a danger of trying to write too much to satisfy demands. Only this week, Jonah Lehrer attracted flak from journalists who accused him of self-plagiarizing his own work. He was forced to make a public apology but I fully understand how he came to end up recycling his own writing. I too have done this on occasion as when you write something that really works and then use it again.

So it would be wiser to stop writing for so many outlets. However, this blog is mine and I write it for freedom of expression and no financial gain. (I also don’t get paid for blogging on the other sites FYI). I am also effectively unedited here so I can say what I want and that is a luxury that I will not give up. It may mean fewer postings in future but do stop back for thoughts that I would hesitate to publish publicly on other sites. After all, this is my little baby

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Finally,”The Self Illusion” eBook is Out

Normal blogging services will soon be returned but I am pleased to announce that the Kindle eBook version is now available here on Amazon.com. Apologies to all of you who have been frustrated trying to get an eBook version and I hope that you still have the enthusiasm for it. So far, the signs are all promising. In the meantime, there is an forthcoming episode of “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” being aired this week in the US that I believe will cover some of the material my book deals with. It’s a shame the producers did not know that my book was available. If you are a US viewer and do watch the show, post here to let me know what you made of it. We don’t get the show in the UK until next year I guess.

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US Publication Day!

At last it is publication day in the US. Here is an interview that I did with Sam Harris talking about it. If you have come to this site then you are probably already very familiar with Sam who is one of the most influential and brilliant thinkers today.

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A Cross between David Tennant & Keanu Reeves?

Click here to hear my dulcet tones woo you to sleep

I just received my copy of the audiobook of “The Self Illusion” which I recorded some weeks back in deepest Leicestershire. As I noted in my earlier post, recording an audiobook is much harder than it might seem but I am pleased to say that I love the finished product. Not because I am in love with hearing my ‘self’ speak (who is?) but the guys at WholeStory audiobooks have done such a fine job of making me sound good. So good in fact that one of my Tweeter followers (@seansterooney) said I sound like a mix of David Tennant (Dr. Who) and Keanu Reeves. Boy those guys at WholeStory must be wizards!

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Psychology Today

I have just started a blog on Psychology Today. Why write two blogs you might ask? Well Psychology Today is an edited site that has certain rules about what can be blogged so I want to retain my own independence. I also want the freedom to talk about the more unsavory side of humanity that might be considered too risque for Psychology Today. On the other hand, they have a much larger potential reading audience so I want to be able to access that demo.  Anyway, here is my first blog for them reproduced below.

Well, what should be my very first blog for Psychology Today? I have had a look through the help pages and the do’s and don’ts of blogging on this site. Rule 2 is that there should be no “Blatant self-promotion.” That’s a bit of a tough one for me at the moment given that my blog is all about the illusion of the self and this is also the very week that a certain book on this very topic by this very same author has been launched in the UK. At the danger of incurring the wrath of the editors (they do have the power to pull any blog that defies the rules), then let me briefly write about something that I had forgotten was the negative side of publishing books.

I published my first general audience book two years ago. The first time round, I experienced a whole set of emotions and expectations that I simply put down to virgin author nerves. However, over the past day, I have discovered the very same thoughts and feelings returned all over again with my second popular science book, which shall remain nameless here to appease the Psychology Today editors (hint: don’t you think that’s a snappy title for my blog?).

I published my first general audience book two years ago. The first time round, I experienced a whole set of emotions and expectations that I simply put down to virgin author nerves. However, over the past day, I have discovered the very same thoughts and feelings returned all over again with my second popular science book, which shall remain nameless here to appease the Psychology Today editors (hint: don’t you think that’s a snappy title for my blog?).

I have been writing for years as a scientist, but edited academic volumes and textbooks don’t count—hardly anyone buys them and they are rarely critiqued. Of course, we all get emotionally invested with our journal papers but so long as they get accepted, then publication is simply a moment of pride. Actually, for me, that moment of joy on publication day for journal articles has somewhat evaporated. I vividly remember the exhilaration of receiving the proofs of my first scientific paper in 1986 (I was child prodigy). Nowadays, it is usually an attached electronic PDF file from an automated website that lacks the humanity of that triumphant moment of scientific achievement. More often than not, the final publication appears online well in advance of any physical paper and I only discover it when someone in some obscure part of the world, that does not have library access, sends me a postcard requesting a hard copy. I then have to download it from the Internet, print it off and send it by post.

Maybe the automaticity of journal publication over the recent years explains why scientific journal papers thrill me less. Or maybe I am simply getting a bit long in the tooth when it comes to the problems of difficult reviewers, journal politics and the sheer rip-off of academics time and effort in the whole academic publishing world. Of course I will continue to publish my research and I still enjoy the editor’s letter of acceptance with minor revisions, but trade books are a totally different game. They are much more real world, more risky, more edgy—a bit like releasing your new album.

A number of us academics are doing it now. Probably too many as we vie for the same territory that has been more skillfully occupied by the professional journalists who know how to write for the general public both in terms of accessible style and what is going to sell. We all know who they are. However, we academics should not feel too aggrieved. We have full time jobs whereas these guys have literally got to write for their next paycheck. We all make uncomfortable bedfellows as we look for angles and topics that have not already been covered. It is getting very hard and as soon as something interesting appears on the scientific horizon, you can bet it will end up in a trade book within six months—the minimum time it takes to go from final proof edits to publication.

So we push on with the trade book wars. I am sure that many authors will agree, when starting out, publication day is a double-edged sword. Yes, there is the sense of completion and achievement but those positive vibes are soon replaced by anxiety about how your efforts are going to be received. After all, what’s the point in writing when it is going to be panned by critics or worse, not read at all. Some writers are OK with negative criticism if their books sell well because they can always take comfort that critics are failed writers and the public knows best. Well at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Then there are those books that receive positive “critical acclaim” which is a euphemism for “didn’t sell well.” Inevitably, we try to remain aloof from the process of evaluation by market forces but really we are emotionally distraught by negative reviews and elated by thumbs up and five star ratings. I would like to say that I am above that, but I know that I will be checking my Amazon ratings on the hour for the next week or so. Well at least until the next book idea and offer comes along.

So there it is.. fairly  non-controversial. But do take a visit to the site if you can. Apparently they might pay me.

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Publication Day

Today is the official publication day in the UK of my new book, “The Self Illusion.” 

I have some kind, generous comments from David Eagleman, Michael Shermer and Robin Ince on the cover and so far, the first reviews have been positive. However, one reviewer has expressed some existentialist angst reading it but it’s ok, you can’t easily get rid of the grand illusionist that my colleague Dan Wegner has called “The Great Selfini.”

If you decide to buy it, you can order it from amazon. The US and Canadian versions are being published next month. If you do get a chance to read it, let me know what you think. I am hoping it will stimulate minds and debate.  I am sure it will annoy/upset/depress/ liberate (delete as appropriate) a number of you but it should most definitely not bore the reader. And yes, I know the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe is considerably more than 1081. If you read it, you’ll understand why.

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Voice Over is No Push Over

I am holed up in a tiny B&B about 7 miles outside Leicester in the village of Mountsorrel for four days. What can an international jet-setting man of my stature being doing in the Midlands you might ask? Well, I am reading a book – my book, “The Self Illusion” for an audio version. I was so unimpressed with the audio version of my last book, “SuperSense” that when the invitation to record the audio version of my new book was made, I jumped at the opportunity to give it my personal delivery. They said it would take four days and I reasoned that I would be done in two. I mean, how difficult is it to read a book? Especially one that you wrote yourself? Well, I have had a large helping of humble pie. Doing audio books is a really tough gig and I am lucky if I finish in the four days. We never appreciate how much we miss and slur our words when we read and the audiobook engineers pick you every lost syllable.

Pat (Archer) Gallimore and Me after a hard days reading

The studio in Syston where I am recording my book has an excellent set-up and I was totally surprised to discover that a fellow reader was none other than Pat Gallimore. When we were introduced, I knew she sounded re-assuringly comforting and very familiar. She explained that I might recognize her professional persona of Pat Archer. Gasp.. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Archers,” it is and has been the leading Radio Four soup opera for the past 60 years and Pat Archer is one of the main characters. The show has one of the strongest, most loyal fan bases in the world.

So Pat and I have been hanging out and discussing the difficulties of voice artists.  I now have a new found appreciation of what they do and more importantly, the difficulty of understanding the written word. For example, I have a problem with the word, “similarly” and vow to avoid this in future books of mine.  I dare say this will be the last time I do an audio reading of my book but it has been a valuable learning experience. But I have come to loath the sound of my own voice.

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Beware the Spotlight

It has been sometime since I posted a blog rather than simply a link to some article or media clip related the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. The lectures were a great success with some of the best audience viewing figures both for the lectures and for BBC Four over the festive period. In fact, the lectures are being broadcast again next week on BBC2 which generally has a much larger audience, though with a time slot of 11.20pm, I doubt there will be many families staying up to watch. That said, it is the first time the Xmas lectures have been re-broadcast and everyone involved has been delighted.

So now I am receiving lots of emails, lots of enquiries and a few criticisms. Why did I dumb it down? Why did I not have more female scientists? How can I possibly say on national television that supernatural powers do not exist? People are interested in my opinion.

Today the Guardian newspaper asked me to write a commentary on the reports of the Italian captain who abandoned his ship before the passengers and generally behaved in a way that most would regard as cowardly. I was not there. I do not know this captain. I simply pointed out that if he panicked (and it sounds as if he did) then it is not too surprising that he was unable to control his urge to flee. That’s the definition of panic. I simply stated that panic is difficult to reign in with reason.

I agreed to write the commentary so that readers could reflect upon what they would do in the same situation. I have a book coming out on “The Self Illusion” – the narrative we all generate about who we are. Most of us have beliefs about how we would react but my point is that these beliefs are part of the self story we tell ourselves which may or may not match up to reality.

Anyway, the commentary has attracted a lot of mixed opinions. Most of the negative criticisms seem to think that I am condoning his actions. I am not. But it does make me question whether it is wise to place one’s self in the public light to face the brunt of criticism and focus of prejudices and grievances.

The trouble is that when you become a public figure, you become fair game. Guess I was asking for it.

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‘The Self Illusion’ is Revealed Today – A Dangerous Book?

To coincide with the broadcast of the Christmas Lectures, my UK publishers are giving away a free electronic extract of my new book, “The Self Illusion” today on amazon today. If you have an iPad or a Kindle, then you can read the opening chapters and a later one about the way we represent our selves on the internet.

I think that the message of “The Self Illusion” is going to be very controversial and upset a number of people. I already know that some colleagues disagree with the premise. In effect, I am challenging the idea that we are autonomous individuals but that rather we are a product of the history and influences of those around us.

The notion of no self will be familiar to Buddhists and philosophers alike. Buddha of course, taught that the path to enlightenment required attaining ‘annatta’ (no self) and Hume argued that there was no single core self but rather a bundle of experiences and sensations. There are not many neuroscientists who disagree with this as we are constantly reminded that the experience of the self is a product of the brain and as such, is an emergent property out of a constellation of separable processes – processes that can fail and fragment revealing the composition of the self.

I think the controversial aspect of the denial of a self is the implications and ramifications of this idea. However, there are many aspects of human experience that are similarly more apparent than real. Just because something is an illusion – not what it seems- that is no reason to try to ignore it. After all, it is there for a reason. We interact with individuals and selves – not apparitions and collective histories that define who someone is. And of course, the greatest illusion is the self illusion. Even when you know this, you cannot get rid of your self.

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Wellcome to My Charming World

This week the Wellcome Trust opened an exhibition in London called Miracles & Charms. It is actually two exhibits in one. The Miracle component, ‘Infinitas Gracias’ (Infinite Thank You)  is the first major display of Mexican votive paintings outside of Mexico. Votives are small paintings, usually executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, depicting the moment of personal humility when an individual asks a saint for help and is delivered from disaster and sometimes death. Over a hundred votives dating from the 18th century are in the exhibition. They are usually displayed in Mexican churches as gestures of thanksgiving, replacing powerful doctrine-driven images of the saints with personal and direct pleas for help. The religious imagery depicted in these vernacular paintings is at the heart of famous works of art by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera were avid votive collectors

Votives are an intimate records of the tumultuous dramas of everyday life – lightning strikes, gunfights, motor accidents, ill-health and false imprisonment – in which saintly intervention was believed to have led to survival and reprieve.

Charming. If only they could do something to stop the carnage of the Mexican Drug Wars that is currently destroying the country. When I troll the web looking for unusual stories and items for this blog, I am often shocked by the amount of grisly footage of killings that is being posted by the gangs and vigilantes. For such a devout country, where is religion in all this horror?

'I thank our Lord Saint Francis of Assisi for saving us from drowning on 27 Oct 1962'

The other component of the exhibition is “Charmed Life” made up 1400 amulets assembled by the Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett. The artist Felicity Powell who put the exhibit together describes how these objects seem to retain an insistent sense that they might yet hold some hidden magic. Does that sound familiar?

The front feet of a mole are permanently curved for digging, and this curved appearance is so suggestive of cramp that these feet are carried as a cure for cramp.

A BBC researcher called me this week to appear on national Morning television to discuss the exhibition as an expert of lucky charms. I was very tempted as this would have been great publicity for SuperSense but I declined the offer. I am now preparing for the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (which is why I have less time for posting blogs) and have moved on from my interest in supernatural thinking. I also have a new book coming out in the Spring so I want to shed the spooky scientist label that my interest in supernatural objects conjures up. However, I will be dropping into the exhibit when I am next in London on my way to the RI,  as it looks too good to miss.

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