Space enthusiast, former math teacher, and award-winning nonfiction author Loretta Hall received the Communicator of Achievement Award from the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) in 2016. Her newest book The Complete Space Buff’s Bucket List: 100 Space Things to Do Before You Die (Rio Grande Books) was awarded the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the travel book category (2016). You can find Loretta at her websites SpaceBucketList.com, NMSpaceHistory.com, SpacePioneerWords.com, and AuthorHall.com.
What is your elevator pitch for The Complete Space Buff’s Bucket List?
Space buffs want to do more than revel in someone else’s achievements. We want to be involved. We want to participate. This book has a hundred ways to experience space exploration without being an international astronaut or an unmanned space probe.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I found it challenging to search out 100 space activities that weren’t all visiting museums, reading books, and watching TV shows or movies.
Tell us how the book came together.
My publishers at Rio Grande Books decided to produce a series of bucket list books on many different topics. Since they know how spacey I am, they asked me to write a bucket list about space exploration. It’s a short book, only about 12,000 words. The research, writing, and finding photographs took about two months.
Any “Oh, wow!” moments when doing research for this book?
Searching online, I discovered some really cool activities I had never heard of or imagined. For example, I didn’t know you could buy jewelry that contains bits of meteorites or that there are several resources for helping you learn to speak Klingon. And I discovered citizen science projects for furthering knowledge about things like planetary formation, formation of galaxies, and searching for impact sites of several artifacts on the Moon that haven’t been located yet.
How many things on the bucket list can you cross off? What thing on the list do you wish more than anything you could do?
So far, I’ve done 59 of the 100 items on my list. I’d love to spend three or four days at the US Space and Rocket Center’s adult space camp.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I enjoyed discovering space activities I didn’t know existed. And I particularly liked cutting loose and writing text that would be fun to read.
You have two other nonfiction books dedicated to the topic of space—Out of This World: New Mexico’s Contributions to Space Travel (2011) and Space Pioneers: in their own words (2014). What was the most rewarding aspect of writing these books?
I wanted to make space exploration and its history interesting to people who didn’t think they wanted to know about it. Instead of focusing on the technologies, I wrote about the experiences of the people who developed them. I tried to humanize the topic. When I give talks based on my books, I’m really gratified by the comments that indicate I’m accomplishing that.
What marketing techniques have been most helpful to you?
Giving talks related to the topics of my books works well for me. That way, I’m sharing fascinating information with people rather than just asking them to buy my books. Here’s an example I enjoy sharing: In a half-hour social period before a presentation to a small audience, three people bought copies of Out of This World; after my talk based on Space Pioneers, five people bought that book, which costs twice as much.
What is the most important part of a nonfiction book proposal that a writer needs to get right?
All of it! But seriously, I think it’s being realistic about what readers want. Authors can get enthused about a topic, do the research, and write a great summary; but if the author is the only one who’s interested in it, a publisher won’t buy it. For the proposal, we have to understand and explain why a significant number of people will be interested in our topic. Then we have to keep that in mind as we write the sample chapters and, ultimately, the book. If we think we’re providing worthwhile information, it’s up to us to write it in a way that will attract and hold interest.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.