My newest book is The History of the Computer!

It's an illustrated overview of the computing machines that have changed our world—from the abacus to the smartphone—and the people who made them!

Watch me read a robot my newest book

Since 2016 I have been publishing books, puzzles, and postcards with Penguin Random House. You may know me from my first book: Women in Science.

Or maybe you know me from my other books: What’s Inside A Flower?, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth, Women in Art and Women In Sports.

My work is inspired by history and science. I believe that illustration is a powerful tool that can make learning exciting. I use my graphic design background to make dense information fun and accessible.

EDIT: This AMA has been a blast! Thank you everyone for a wonderful introduction to reddit! I have been on this site a couple days and it is officially my fave place on the internet! Signing off and goodbye!

Comments: 220 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

MikeoftheLiving135 karma

Is it better to get an agent to help in dealing with major publishing houses?

RachelIgnotofsky98 karma


eternal-hoptimist69 karma

Is the digital world a boon or a bane to you?

RachelIgnotofsky79 karma

A total boon! It opens so much opportunity for artist like me to show my work.

Enoxitus60 karma

Since learning about the past helps you understand the future, what do you think is the future going to look like in the next 10-20 years in terms of computers? Considering it keeps getting harder to improve transistors and all

RachelIgnotofsky168 karma

Looking at history, big leaps forward in technology only happen when there are well funded, big-scale science projects, that prioritize discovery over profit.

After researching the book I think we are in a period of stagnation. Historically, when tech monopolies are in control leaps in invention doesn't really happen. I don't see something on the level of SAGE or ARPANET, or even Xerox PARC in the 70s, happening right now. Transistors are about as small as we can get them, thats for sure! (the width of DNA!) To break through that or move away from classical computing to functional quantum computing, is going to need the same effort as the Manhattan project.

tapo44 karma

I love computer history, what's the most interesting thing you've learned?

RachelIgnotofsky98 karma

For me, it was learning about Douglas Engelbart and the Mother of All Demos that showed off his team's work creating the oN-Line System (NLS). It was wild seeing how futuristic their ideas were over 50 years ago and how this was a blueprint for our modern user interface that we use today.

But more importantly it was Engelbart's radical ideas that inspired me: His thoughts on collaboration and working to create tools that "augment human intellect" with goals to make humanity as a whole smarter.

Shift_Tex23 karma

How did you get into writing? What do you find easy and difficult about it? Sitting down and putting my thoughts into pages and pages for people to read sounds like an impossible task!

RachelIgnotofsky41 karma

I felt the same way for a very long time. I began my writing career with my first book-- Women In Science. The publisher approached my because of my illustrations about the topic and then asked me if I was a writer. I said yes, because I knew I had something important to say--so I bit the bullet and began writing seriously (500-1200 words a day) I see it as exercise. It hurts! But it is worth it and gets easier with time.

firigd19 karma

It's easy to start a book, but how do you finish one?

RachelIgnotofsky45 karma

The pressure of deadlines and discipline. I have a huge year long calendar taped up on my wall with self imposed due dates for each week and each month. I only use it to mark my progress on my books.

dahlia-llama15 karma

Welcome, amazing work! What is your secret to keeping the story clear, with an engaged writing style, when you are sifting through so many facts and weaving a narrative?

Thanks for being awesome :)

RachelIgnotofsky18 karma

The layout and design is the glue that holds it all together. I can't help but be a graphic designer first. I create levels of information with a typographic hierarchy-- which is a fancy way of saying different hand done fonts and illustrations, and pop out fun facts.

This lets people approach the page on whatever level they want-whether they are a 7 year old who wants to just read the fun facts, or an expert who wants to comb through the book front to back. This way people can learn at their own pace and gain confidence while learning new information.

Gingerman42411 karma

What is your favorite historic period and why?

RachelIgnotofsky35 karma

That is a tough question! Right now I am consuming a lot of art made in the 80's and early 90s, that reminds me of being a dorky goth kid in high school. That is what I am doing for fun-- listening to NIN's Pretty Hate Machine, and albums by New Order and Bronski Beat while re-reading Sandman and Black Hole. This has nothing to do with the kind of work I make, but is what I like to do for fun!

bhegh10 karma

Oooh so cool to see you on here! I ordered some biology themed posters for my sister in law from your Etsy shop aaaages ago when she first started studying biology (after working in vet care for years), and she has now graduated with a Master's - I like to believe that your art helped in that!

Also, back then there was some hickup with the delivery so you ended up sending the same posters again to make sure they'd get to me. I eventually also received the initial bunch and sent them back to you again, and overall it was my most memorable and nice Etsy experience ever (obviously, because I still remember your name :)). Thanks for being a cool seller!

So, how does it feel having moved on to all of these great accomplishments? Do you feel different than you did in, say, 2012?

RachelIgnotofsky12 karma

Wow! Thank you so much! Honestly it is because of supporters like you who have bought my art that I am able to make my books today!

I feel just as excited to make my work as I did in 2012, but with the bravery that comes with financial security! It took a lot of hard work over the past 10 years, but I am so happy that I am an independent artist.

Sorry_Deer_416210 karma

How is business in 2022? What's the main challenge of being an author? And how do you start writing about a story from a basic idea?

RachelIgnotofsky16 karma

Business in 2022-- for everyone in the book biz it has been a challenge. Supply chain issues, a global pandemic, the list goes on--it is more important than ever to support your local indie booksellers. Your local book seller does events, employees people in your neighborhood, and provides a cool place to meet people. You're not gonna meet your favorite author on amazon.

Challenges on being an author- Every job has its challenges and work is always hard. This is a dream job and no one wants to hear my complaints.

How I start writing a story from a basic idea-- The research always comes first. Research will drive choices made in the illustration, even how you draw your typography. My art and my words are always done simultaneously.

TheBlueSlipper10 karma

What woman made the greatest scientific contribution, in your opinion? (Or a couple of them, if there's no clear cut winner.)

RachelIgnotofsky41 karma

There are SO many but I will tell you my favorite-- Lise Meitner. With her lab partner Otto Hahn, She discovered the element protactinium. While she was a refugee from the Holocaust she continued her work and went onto discover nuclear fission. She wasn't given proper credit during her life, but we can celebrate her now.

Maxnwil7 karma

I got to write a report on her in college. She always seemed like such a powerhouse- it’s a bunch of malarkey that Hahn got the Nobel prize and she didn’t.

RachelIgnotofsky8 karma

Couldn't agree more!!!!

eltimeco3 karma

grace hopper?

RachelIgnotofsky6 karma

Yes! Her too! She is in both of my books Women In Science and The History of the computer.

Andose9 karma

What is your favourite medium to work with?

How much do you work digitally, do you work mostly inside a computer or is that where you make your finishing touches?

Edit: extra word removed

RachelIgnotofsky21 karma

I go back and forth, and back and forth! I like planning my compositions and type layout on the computer using Adobe Illustrator--which I then print out and draw on top of--Which I then scan in and draw digitally using an astropad set up with a logitech crayon (cause I'm a baby!) --Which I then print out and draw textures on top of- Which I then scan in and touch up digitally. Use all the things! All the time!

ExpressCurve8 karma

Hi, thank you for this AMA. What do you think about the science journals mostly inaccessible to the public? Is there something that can be made against the big publishing company (Taylor & Francis, Springer etc.) to easily and freely bring science to the public? Right now I dont even have access to my own research papers, and I wonder if its gonna change anytime soon. Thank you!

RachelIgnotofsky14 karma

Information wants to be free! I think all science publications should be subsidized and made free online- like Wikipedia is.

eltimeco8 karma

Have you read about Vannevar Bush and his early web concept of the Memex?

RachelIgnotofsky15 karma

Yes! I have and I drew both him and the Memex in my new book!

xXMasterKOFSXx8 karma

Who was your inspiration and why?

RachelIgnotofsky23 karma

What really kicked off the project that started my first book was a conversation I had about Marie Curie at a party. I was shocked by how no one in the room knew who she was-even though she is the most "famous" female scientist. I then read a report about the 2010 census (it was 2014 at the time) that talked about how more women were graduating with STEM degrees but were not being placed in jobs. I felt mad and frustrated. Even though I am an art-kid I knew science research is important to solving our world's biggest problems and women were being left out of those conversations- which scared me.

Then I thought about what I could do as an art-kid. I could help with the hearts and minds campaign and I could use my skills as an artist to help tell stories about women in science and make tools for teachers to inspire all of their students to get into STEM. And that is the idea that started my publishing career.

BigBoyGoldenTicket6 karma

Hi Rachel! I actually watched your TEDxKCWomen talk a few weeks back on a friend's recommendation. I'm dyslexic and struggled to absorb info from books as a kid, so I think what you're doing is super cool!

To me, your visual style is fun and accessible. What illustrators inspired you or would you recommend to someone who enjoys your illustration style?

P.S. I work as a software engineer taking after my father. He started on the Atari 800! I'm going to order a copy of The History of the Computer as a gift for him. Thank you

RachelIgnotofsky8 karma

Graphic novels that have inspired me are a lot from my childhood. I used to sit on the floor of my library when I was a little kid reading Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia. I even called myself an art historian to my elementary school teacher. Books like that and Magic School Bus changed my young life.

If you like my books here are some cool recommendations of other authors that I really dig in the non fiction space: Owen Davey's About Animal series is awesome. So is the Welcome to the Museum series by Big Picture Press

Thank you so much for your support and buying my new book!
Plugging myself again here for readers:

smutketeer6 karma

Hi Rachel! I've read many of your books (I'm a fan and they make great gifts) and they look really labor intensive. How long is the process from first ideas to completed manuscript? Thanks for doing this AMA.

PS- My nieces love your books!

RachelIgnotofsky9 karma

Thank you! The History of the Computer took be about 2 years to make. My other books like Women in Science took me about 1 year and my new picture book series for elementary school science (starting with the book What's Inside A Flower) each take about 5ish months.

This is my full time job and when I work on a book it totally consumes me. I am so happy to hear that all the labor is appreciated!

rustyyryan6 karma

Whats your favourite science fiction books?

RachelIgnotofsky13 karma

I really love Ray Bradbury. I even did one of my senior projects in college creating a boxset of his work.

This is work I did as a baby designer still in art school if you want see it. (lol)

SnappyMcCracken6 karma

Do you believe the period we are living through now is unique in the prevalence of science denial, and what can be done about it?

RachelIgnotofsky26 karma

Is it unique in the scope of history--no. But our parents and grandparents lived through a time where experts were taken seriously and science was generally trusted in the USA. A lot of factors contribute to where we are at now. A lack of funding for schools, and big science projects (like NASA). Also a very frustrating media landscape that prioritizes sensationalism over facts.

For me, creating fun easy to read materials is how I try to move the needle towards a more science literate world.

We can all do our part- an it starts by not spreading misinformation.

amerikas5 karma

Hi Rachel! Love your work, first was introduced to it this past Christmas. I got some Mary Blair prints (one of my favorites, who she wasn’t familiar with) for my girlfriend, and my mom got her your book Women in Art. She was flipping through and immediately landed on the page for Mary Blair. It was a fun little coincidence that led to us both devouring the book!

This AMA was really informative and loved hearing about your digital>traditional>digital>etc process haha. I’m the same sometimes. Anyways, question time - what’s your favorite thing to draw?

RachelIgnotofsky2 karma

Honestly- silly faces. I try to sneak silly faces onto everything I draw.

So happy to hear you enjoyed Women in Art! It was one of my faves to write!

Codasseous5 karma

With Quantum Computers approaching, do you think average people will have a physical QC with them? Or do you think it will be an online service people will have to subscribe for?

RachelIgnotofsky10 karma

If it happens it is more than 40 years from now. Right now QC is comparable to where classical computing was in 1945. If I had to guess-- if it is available it is probably going to be heavily regulated and accessed remotely.

Slatedtoprone5 karma

Have you found any particularly interesting or shocking fact you have come across in your research that you want more people to know?

RachelIgnotofsky17 karma

Wombats poop cubes.

voltronrome4 karma

How did you decided to be an author as a career or is it just something you fell into? Aside from being an author and illustrator do you have other side jobs for supplementary income? Or would that just be illustrating/art for you? I’ve always imagined I would love being an author but it just seems very intimidating.

RachelIgnotofsky10 karma

I always wanted to create graphic books and when I was in art school (Tyler school of Art class of '11) I made sure to take classes that taught me layout, and book design and copy writing. When I graduated I worked for a major greeting card company drawing and designing birthday cards- which was a fun job and I learned a lot about business -- but it was not the kind of art I wanted to make.

I began creating illustrations about SciComm on the side. I started to freelance and created a successful art print business on Etsy. 4 years out of art school i was able to go it on my own. I was always thinking about creating books- every poster I made was a book idea. But I waited until I was funded by a publisher to start these project-- books take time and require a proper advance so you can support yourself.

Since 2016 I don't do any freelance, or have any other jobs other than making my books and creating my art! I have an agent who helps me negotiate with publishers. The key is to always be pitching new books--and have multiple contracts lined up for 2-3 years out.

Hope my story helps you on your own book journey!

infamemob3 karma

Did Isaac Asimov inspired you somehow ? Or perhaps .Dick?

RachelIgnotofsky5 karma

Issac Asimov is such an important scifi author and he gets a shout out in my new book The History of the Computer. I also mention William Gibson. It was super fun drawing some of their book covers in my style.

eltimeco3 karma

Have you read about Charles Proteus Steinmetz?

He made solving steady-state differential equations easy with the use of complex variables - sort of magic.

RachelIgnotofsky2 karma

I am reading about him now and his story sounds so cool! Thank you for this awesome recommendation!

NoNutNorris3 karma

Would you ever eat a pizza like this?

PyareJi3 karma

What is your writing process for new book or content ?

RachelIgnotofsky7 karma

I start with what I call "sunflower mode" where I just try to absorb as much as possible while researching without stressing about the end goal. I read a ton, visit museums, find primary sources out in the real world. It is super fun and ideas bubble up to the surface. I do this all while I am working on whatever current book is due. This informs my pitch, a loose outline and the "thesis" of each of my books. I then jump right into the layout and design process.

Like all graphic books the illustrations and the typographic hierarchy is as much apart of the story telling as the written words. I will write a first draft and fully design and illustrate one of the chapters before I start the real first draft. Once that is nailed down I begin the deep work of writing the entire book all while sticking to an illustration schedule so it prints on time.

ergonaut3 karma

Did you go to art school?

RachelIgnotofsky8 karma

Sure did! Tyler School of Art at Temple University. I have a BFA in graphic design. I can't say enough good things about the program, they really prepared me for working in the real world.

UrbanOutfisters2 karma

Love to see a fellow Tyler grad thriving. Major props

RachelIgnotofsky1 karma

Yeah! Tyler is the best!

exactorit3 karma

If you would advise someone who has never heard of you to buy one of your books which would it be? This is meant in a completely nice way as I mean to buy a book written by you and have no idea where to start. So which is your absolute best and favorite book?

RachelIgnotofsky6 karma

I would say buy my newest book The History of the Computer!

Also depends on what you are interested in the most. Like Women's History: Try Women in Science and start with that series. Think animals are cool? The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth. Are you reading with kiddos-- try What's Inside a Flower. Hope that helps!

exactorit3 karma

I'm on it. The wondrous workings of planet earth and what's inside a flower have been ordered at my local bookshop. Thank you for your reply and advice! Good luck with your future endeavours.

RachelIgnotofsky2 karma

Thank you so much! And I wish you happy reading!!!!

somebody_was_taken3 karma

How do you get inspiration?

RachelIgnotofsky6 karma

Every book I do addresses a problem I can't stop thinking about.

For example, I created the History of the Computer because despite having access to the greatest tool in human history--a lot of people are feeling a growing frustration around their devices.

Many people treat their computers like magic boxes, that they don’t fully understand. At the worst people don’t feel like they are in control of the technology they own and need, or even feel manipulated by some of the apps they use. I hear a lot of people, looking around at the technology and information landscape with the intense feeling-- "of how did we get here?" And we can answer that question--- by learning history!

My hope is that readers will walk away from this book understanding more about computers and to approach them as a powerful tool capable of deep work and collaboration.

This is how i make all my books-- a problem gets stuck in my head. And I think about what I can do with my art to help people talk about it in new ways.

somnamomma2 karma

I wrote a tongue in cheek rhyming adult bedtime story - where do I start searching for an illustrator?

RachelIgnotofsky4 karma

The first thing you need to do is look at the standard pricing for hiring an illustrator. The AIGA has a lot of great resources and guidelines for this. Then you can create your budget. After that, look at portfolios that you like online and contact those who are asking for work (you will know if they are, it is often front and center on their website) once you find some one to pair with, you will make a contract with them. Agree on that and then start working to create a pitch to present to publishers. Hope that helps! Good luck and have fun!

somnamomma1 karma

Thank you so much!! Am I naive or correct for assuming the author and illustrator split their total royalties or earnings from the book?

RachelIgnotofsky2 karma

I have only been both the author and illustrator on my books so I can't speak from experience. It is my understanding it depends on the deal you are doing.

HI_PhotoGuy2 karma

ImA photo illustrator (and photographer) you have any suggestion in getting into designing book covers?

RachelIgnotofsky3 karma

Working for the right design/ad agency is a great place to start designing book covers before going it on your own. I know a lot of talented artist who got their start with book covers while working for companies like Headcase Design or Louise Fili.

Sacague2 karma

Whats the best way to go about finding an agent? Is it an ok idea to look outside of “local” representatives? From what I’ve looked at so far (im not giving up yet!) a lot of the agents / agencies that are in Canada are not accepting manuscripts OR are not looking for my genre. Is it a good idea to look within the US or the UK for an agency?

RachelIgnotofsky4 karma

My Agent approached me when I had a significant following on etsy and instagram, I was also doing a lot of freelance work a decade ago that had positive attention. I personally don't have a lot of experience finding one because they found me. So put your work out there!

I would work with an agent in US rather than the UK. Advances, generally are bigger and just because the market is so much large in size.

ovoxoyoh2 karma

Have you ever cried or felt emotional reading a book ?

RachelIgnotofsky11 karma

Who hasn't!? But I am quick to cry when consuming media. My most embarrassing cry was during a movie. It was Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. I wish I was joking-- but a friendship romp of self discovery through my home state of NJ got to me.

Edened2 karma

You like wordle?

RachelIgnotofsky5 karma

nope! Spelling is not fun for me. I like puzzle bobble.

Edened2 karma

I don’t know that one, I’ll have to try it out

RachelIgnotofsky3 karma

You may have to hunt it down in your local laundromat.

trust me it's worth it!

Chad_Thundermember2 karma

Rachel, what's your advice for an aspiring non-fiction writer who has yet to get anything published?

I do have dreams of writing a non-fiction book and I honestly think I have what it takes. But I haven't published anything yet.

For what it's worth, I intend to write philosophical books.

I'm currently in college for Exercise Science.

RachelIgnotofsky4 karma

Start with short form content for a large audience, whether that is online, or your local school paper.

Making a large scale book takes time--and your efforts will be lost if no one then sees it. But, Lots of short form content will allow you to make mistakes, feel out your audience and find your voice without dedicating a year or two to one idea. Start pitching articles to online magazines, and try to get paid for the short form content while building an audience that will come with you for your big book.

For illustrators I recommend the same thing-- but with poster series instead of going for the big book first. You will get a bigger advance if you have a "proof of concept" with real sales from smaller art that you know is part of your big idea.

fredrichnietze2 karma

ok so lets say you are a author you have your book you want to publish, you have already said get a agent.

what does a good deal with a agent look like? and bad deals? what do you want to avoid?

what does a good deal with a publisher look like or a bad one?

when does self publishing make sense? ever? how about using a platform like amazon ebooks?

i ask because this seems to be a step a lot of authors get stuck at.

RachelIgnotofsky6 karma

First you need a good pitch for a good book deal. Your agent will work with you on that. A good book deal will usually start with multiple offers. If you have a bidding war going for your initial first book, that is a good sign of the interest and then you will get a good deal. A good agent will help you navigate the bidding war while listening to what you want from a creative partnership with publisher.

nevaraon2 karma

How do you correctly pronounce your last name?

RachelIgnotofsky6 karma

I pronounce it in my voice over in the video that you can watch here:

drmike27912 karma

Do you like Bill Bryson books?

RachelIgnotofsky2 karma

I am not familiar with his work but thank you for the suggestion! Always love a good book recommendation!

jwreddit12 karma

How to get into science writing/publishing? Where can one find gigs or positions? I have experience science blogging and science 3d illustr

RachelIgnotofsky4 karma

I got a lot of my first freelance gigs from my online etsy shop. By putting SciComm illustrations for sale it was easy for companies and foundations to see me as a professional that they could reach out to.

Ultimately it was my self motivated work, created with science teachers and their lessons in mind that got the most attention.

OldTitanSoul2 karma

Hi? I'm studying to get my Bachelors in history, any tips?

RachelIgnotofsky3 karma

I have a BFA in graphic design. So I will give you art school advice that may apply: study hard, and be open to critique.

Kuntski2 karma

Hi Rachel. What is the hardest part in writing books?

RachelIgnotofsky9 karma

I would say the physical effort that goes into writing. Writing, in general is hard. You have to really get to know yourself and be honest about your habits if you want to make this your career.

Just as a contrast, for me, drawing has always been easy. I can be tired, sick, in a bad mood--but I can make myself draw like a pro for 12 hours straight if I need to.

Writing is not like that. I am only productive between the hours of 1-5pm. If the work doesn't get done then, it won't get done at all. I need complete silence, and a ton of motivational snacks. And sometimes it is really bad before it gets good--and that is ok. Re-write, re-write, re-write until it is right. All of this has to be accepted and scheduled around to get things done on time.

thycafighter2 karma

Hi Rachel, love your work!

Who are some of your biggest female role models in history that inspired you to write the "Women In ____" books?

RachelIgnotofsky0 karma

That's a great question! Some of my heroes include Frida Kahlo and Lee Miller from Women in Art, Rachel Carson and Katherine Johnson from Women in Science and Junko Tabei and Wilma Rudolph from Women in Sports!

SirMCThompson2 karma

Who are some other authors that you would love to work with and/or subjects you want to explore next?

RachelIgnotofsky3 karma

So I just finished The History of the Computer and right now I am completely switching gears and working on several books about backyard biology! I am currently working on What's Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon? and What's Inside a Bird's Nest? -- Both are for elementary school life cycle science. I am also gearing up for a larger book (ages 12-adult) all about prehistoric life starting with the primordial ooze and going all the way to early humans and woolly mammoths! So stay tuned!

For authors I want to work with--> Neil Gaiman! I would illustrate anything for him!

rickthecabbie2 karma

Are you familiar with the Bone Wars between Cope and Marsh? I love the story, but I think most people have no knowledge of it. Definitely worth reading about, and I think it is worth a book. A story like that could capture the interest if a younger audience.

RachelIgnotofsky5 karma

That is a great suggestion! I have heard about it but haven't really dove into it. One of my next books is about prehistoric life and dinosaurs--so their fighting may be fun to include as a spot illu or fun fact.-- I am excited to learn more!

DocPeacock2 karma

What do you think is the most unlikely historical event that ever happened?

RachelIgnotofsky7 karma

I like to think it was the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s through vaccination. It required the collaboration of every country in the world including the USSR and the USA at the height of the cold war. --you wouldn't have bet it was possible but it happened!

pass-the-word2 karma

I saw you keep a writing calendar, but what rituals or daily schedules do you have for writing? Also, how old were you when you realize you wanted be an author?

I really enjoy the concept of writing, but I absolutely despise the act of doing it. I’m trying to imagine what an author’s first session looked like that led to their first book and how they refined their process overtime.

RachelIgnotofsky5 karma

I was 25 when I started writing Women in Science, that was the first time i was paid to write. I realized I wanted to make graphic novels of some kind when I was 16. I started by making small accordion folded books and shoehorning them into class assignments for extra credit. (especially in my human anatomy class my senior year of high school)

Writing is tough! It is natural to feel a sort of block when starting. and the best way to start is to just do it, without fear of making mistakes (that is what edits are for) When I am having trouble starting i instead to voice to text and babble at the computer to get my ideas down. It can help jump start the process and get over that initial hump.

Pine_Barrens2 karma

I primarily read non-fiction, but I find it tough to find non-fiction that is written well enough that it almost feels like there is a narrative in the "fictional" sense. An over-arching narrative, if you will. One of my favorites is probably American Prometheus about Oppenheimer. As an author of history non-fiction, what are some of your favorites?

RachelIgnotofsky5 karma

Nobel Prize Women in Science by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. It really gets into the weeds with the science and it is awesome. I highly recommend.