Need help with a book?

Book editing and development

After an impressive number of requests (well, a couple) I’ve decided to get a little more businesslike about book editing and consulting.

It’s something I’ve done informally over the years, when people asked for advice about something interesting. Mostly it’s been just that, advice, and happily passed on if folk thought it might be useful. But there is a lot more one could do – Helping develop a proposal, and an MS. Focussing a project. Finding the right style. Editing the draft work.

I’m talking non-fiction, always. My experience after four decades covers writing a variety of books – with a trio of prize listings or awards to persuade me I know what I’m doing. You can look at them on this site. I’ve also commissioned books, edited writing at every length, designed and taught a Master’s in non-fiction writing, and been, at times, a busy critic. (To keep count, you’d need a personal archiving obsession even stronger than mine, but I reckon I must have written 500 book reviews.)

So if you’ve a project in mind I can help with, I’m happy to quote for a written report and critique, (and a Skype chat), or an actual edit if you’ve already invested effort in a whole MS.

I’m open-minded about discipline. My focus has usually been science, but in my days as features editor on the Higher Ed Supplement I covered all the disciplines, and enjoyed it. I think almost everything is interesting if you take a close look.

In the past I’ve had conversations with people who wanted to think about whether an academic book might appeal to a wider audience (usually, the answer’s “no”, but one can sometimes change that with a shift in focus or framing), and with writers with a project – often research-based – that they want to turn into a trade book but aren’t quite sure how to work up into a proposal. I’m also happy to work with people who just want to make an academic book as readable as possible, because that’s always worthwhile in any discipline. Clarity is all!

What else? Well, my guess is I can be more help to you with developmental or structural editing, but if in time you want a line-edit as well, that’s fine. Most people I’ve dealt with are looking for a publisher. I still think that’s the best way to go, but self-publishing continues to gain traction. That’s good, because it means there are lots of folk out there offering other, related services if you need a package of help – I’m not offering copy-editing, for instance.

I am working on a tariff. It’ll depend on the project so I’m not posting it here (yet). Tell me where you’ve got to and I’ll be happy to quote. If you want a ballpark, the rates quoted here (for fiction) seem reasonable to me, but you’ll see they give themselves a fair bit of latitude.

Oh, and if you want general advice, there’s at least one good book to start with, Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato’s Thinking Like Your Editor – a little old now, and US-focussed, but still good, and only a tenner.

And while I’m recommending books (a habit around here) if you want to get a sense of how the publishing business works these days, John B Thompson’s Merchants of Culture is the best place to begin. It’s also a nice example of an academic book that others can read with profit.

Finally, experience suggests the earlier in the project we talk, the more useful to you. Just email me: jonturney (at)


Cracking Neuroscience

My entry in this chunky illustrated series from Cassell – due September 2018

More here

Also appearing in the US as (ahem) The Neuroscience Bible…

First review on says:
5.0 out of 5 stars
A really accessible introduction to the state of neuroscience
22 November 2018
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I read this as I was completing my own book on the history of our understanding of the brain, and found it highly readable, really accessibly and very accurate. It’s really well presented, making this an ideal gift for anyone – in particular the young at heart – who doesn’t have any specialised knowledge and wants to understand where neuroscience is at the moment, and where it is going. A great piece of popularisation.

I, Superorganism

The first popular book to synthesise all the new research on the human microbiome, published by Icon in Feb 2015. The subtitle, Learning to Love your Inner Ecosystem, indicates that I am hedging my bets on metaphors. I do really think we are superorganisms, though. On the other hand, so is every other complex species…  Amazon page is here. And you can read a shortened version of the introduction here!

Early comments include: “a really important milestone in our understanding of the complexity and variability of our inner landscape, and as such is a must-have addition to the popular science bookshelf” (Brian Clegg);

and “I have read quite a few popular science books. Some are interesting, some enlightening, some enjoyable. This book has all of these qualities and it does something that good popular science books should do: it makes us think about the world, and in this case ourselves, in new ways; it makes us see ourselves as something else.” (Brigitte Nerlich).

And some other reviews:

“a terrific romp through our non-human inhabitants” (Helen Bynum, Times Higher)

“if you’ve heard the term ‘microbiome’ and wondered what all the fuss is about, I, superorganismis a good place to start” (Hayley Simon, Chemistry World)

This one was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Biology book prize in 2015.

Seeing Further – The story of science and the Royal Society

Why is this here, with Bill Bryson’s name on the cover? I was the managing editor for this splendid 350th anniversary project for the Royal Society. So I got to commission and edit all the great writers here, and do the blurbs for their pieces. The result is richly illustrated and very handsome.

I also learnt, when we discussed one or two of the, er, less completely brilliiant drafts that B. Bryson is a fearsomely good copy-editor.

Sci-Tech Report

An anglo-makeover of a massive French project on contemporary science, technology and politics, which I edited for Pluto Press. I seem to recall I ended up (re)writing quite a lot of it.

Ancient history; cool format for 1984.

Fifty Years at the Heart of Health

This is the book Dr Julie Clayton and I co-wrote for the British Heart Foundation’s 50th anniversary in 2011. The development of treatment and prevention for heart disease in that time has been pretty staggering and is, I believe, under-appreciated. Fascinating to research. And beautifully produced, too.

Darwin Now

This is the text of the Darwin Year travelling exhibition in 2009, but as it runs to 60 pages and looks beautiful, I’m counting it as a book. It was printed separately. Not for sale but if you ask the BC nicely they may give you a copy, and downloadable as a PDF from here… (link to my pages as the original is no longer on the BC website).

Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture

Published by Yale back in 1998 and was a kind of academic/popular crossover. That is, I was working in a university department at the time. Those things don’t usually work, but this one seemed to be received OK – it even won an award from the BMA for “popular medical book of the year”.

It is also still my main (only?) claim to academic fame – an examination of the Frankenstein frame as the governing myth for debates about life creation and biotechnology over two centuries. The same examination has been done a few times since by others, but I prefer my version – which is still in print. University Presses are good that way.

Winner of the British Medical Association prize for popular medical book of the year in 1999.

Reviews: (lots of reviews for this one)

“An important book, elegantly written”. Lewis Wolpert, The Times

“A serious and fascinating contribution to cultural history”. Mary Warnock, THES

“Jon Turney tries to extract lessons from some great examples of popular culture, a task he undertakes with insight, scholarship and courage…. Turney has to pick and choose his examples from the flood of recent biological developments, but his narrative maintains continuity and makes for a gripping, if terse and disturbing, read”. — Brian Goodwin, New Scientist.

“With lucidity and serenity, Turney re-tells the Frankenstein story as a history of apocalyptic anxieties and preposterous prognostications. His narrative provides good cause for alert calm.”—Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkley”With lucidity and serenity, Turney retells the Frankenstein story as a history of apocalyptic anxieties and preposterous prognostications. His narrative provides good cause for alert calm.”—Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkeley

“In this thought-provoking treatment, Jon Turney demonstrates that Mary Shelly’s classic novel and the myth it spawned have provided images incorporated into popular debates about advances in biology from the early 19th century to the contemporary furor over genetic engineering.”—Paul Northam, American Scientist

“The book provides a lucid and useful precis of popular attitudes and cultural artifacts regarding humanity’s real and potential manipulations of life, from the Golem to the genome and beyond.”—Philip Gold, Washington Times

“Turney has many interesting things to say about how biological science is communicated to the public, how the story of Frankenstein has conjured up in popular culture certain images of science and scientists, and how those images have changed over time. That we can learn from something how sf and film influence public perceptions of science is a very good notion and an important one to consider, especially in light of recent experiments on monkey head transplants and sheep cloning.”—Library Journal

“Jon Turney’s Frankenstein’s Footsteps offers a history of public images of biology organized around the image, myth and use of the story and metaphor of Shelly’s Frankenstein. . . . [Turney] gracefully and incisively traces the use of Frankenstein and subsequent popular works explicating the hazards of science. His close readings of the texts provide new understanding about the power of the Frankenstein myth and its relevance to the promises and threats of the new genetics.”—Peter Conrad, Society

“Turney devotes most of Frankenstein’s Footsteps to a splendid, quirky history of the 19th and 20th-century life sciences. Turney keeps at least two balls in the air at all times, describing both contemporary biology and the public reaction to it as reflected by contemporary fiction and popular journalism. . . . Turney’s eye and hands are sure, and what emerges is a complexly layered story of struggles within the lab to comprehend life; and struggles outside the lab to comprehend just what the scientists were up to, and why.” —Noah J. Efron, Boston Book Review

“Turney produces a welcome contribution to the cultural history of images. . . . Turney writes in a clear and direct style to produce a narrative that flows smoothly among the scientific, literary, and social strands of his theme without bogging down in any one domain. . . . Turney gives valuable understanding of the historical links between biology and each of social concerns, literature and movies, the media, the political actions.”—Patrick Colgan, Science Education

“This is a fascinating book, interweaving accounts of literature and popular culture with accounts of the growth of modern biology. . . . If one role of history is to enable us to learn from the misunderstandings and mistakes of the past, then Turney’s well-researched and thoughtful account will be of real value to us in addressing the problems of the present.”—John Polkinghorne, Crucible (Quarterly Journal of the Board of Social Responsibility)

“This is a thought-provoking account of a controversial subject.”—Lorn Macintyre, Herald (Glasgow)

“Turney is admirably qualified to trace journalists’ responses to the intellectual and technological leaps biologists have made in this century. . . . Frankenstein’s Footsteps should be read by all who are concerned about the social and ethical implications of DNA experimentation and, even more importantly, by those who are not.”—Roslynn D. Haynes, Nature

“The work is thorough, and Turney is quite evenhanded in his treatment of the scientific community and the lay public.”—Russell F. Trimble, Science Books & Films

Frankenstein’s Footsteps is original, provocative, instructive, and consistently interesting. Its appeal to historians is self-evident, but molecular biologists, geneticist, and physicians with literary inclinations will find this book worthwhile.”—Robert S. Schwartz, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine“[An] innovative book.”—Robert Schwartz, New England Journal of Medicine

“An attractively produced and engaging study of popular images of the biological sciences in nineteenth and twentieth century America and Britain.”—M. Susan Lindee, Quarterly Review of Biology

“Jon Turney’s book is a heroic canter through the dark and muddy landscape in which myth, metaphor, and matters of fact seem to co-exist. . . . A valuable book.”—Tim Radford, Lancet

“[A] nuanced and highly informative account. . . . Turney has provided a valuable perspective on the powerful images and metaphors that continue to inform policy and public debates in the life sciences.”—Susan E. Lederer, ISIS

Frankenstein’s Footsteps is a great read. Turney has a wonderful ear for a telling quote, uses vivid metaphors and sustains the chronological narrative at a rattling pace. . . . The book presents readers with an exceptionally rich and diverse range of texts.”—Jacquelin Burgess,Public Understanding of Science

“A delightful book that evokes in a reader the need to answer back. This is one of the reasons it has been put on the syllabus of ‘Good Breeding’, the Open University’s course on the eugenics movement. The organizers are sure the students will want to read it, and will want to discuss what they have read.”—Pauline M.H. Mazumdar, Medical History