Do you ever dream of working as a marine biologist? A veterinarian? A hairstylist? What if you could look over someone's shoulder as they master your ideal career? That's the idea behind Simon & Schuster's new Masters at Work series of career guides, launching in April.

Stuart Roberts, one of the Simon & Schuster editors working on the series, says he sends each of his writers—all well-known journalists—"on a mission to discover what it's like and what it takes." "They're actually shadowing masters at work," Roberts says. "The resulting books are full of insight, wisdom, and actionable advice. But they're also a delight to read."

What makes this series special is how it turns the old advice-and-examples career guide formula on its head. These are the professional life stories "of people who've made it to the top in a given career, with advice and tips baked into the narrative," says Gary Rivlin, author of Becoming a Venture Capitalist. "Picking up my guide, readers can play a fly-on-the-wall for pitch meetings and in sit-downs with entrepreneurs and get a rounded feel of what it means to be a venture capitalist."

John Colapinto, author of Becoming a Neurosurgeon, says his book works like "a long, intimate, detailed New Yorker profile: character studies, deep dives on fascinating people who aren't world-famous for what they do but who do it at an unimaginable level of mastery and grace and dedication."

His book jumps right in, opening with a harrowing scene in the operating room in which a neurosurgery resident performs the final operation of his training. Colapinto follows his story from there, with plenty of stops along the way for useful advice. "A TV series about the life of a hospital might give a fantasy sense of what it's like to be a neurosurgeon," Colapinto says, "but I wanted to give the reader a vivid and accurate sense of what it's like to train for, and perform, that particular job, hour by hour, day by day."

Becoming a Marine Biologist by Virginia Morell is a perfect example of a practical guide to an unlikely career. Morell points out that marine biology covers a vast range of possible specialties, so one needs to narrow one's interests. "Most marine biologists study the organisms that live in the sea," Morell says, "organisms that vary greatly, from microscopic viruses, plankton, and bacteria to Earth's largest creatures, the blue whales." The book follows the burgeoning career of a young man determined to turn his love of whales into his life's work.

"The core readers," Roberts says, "are those considering and reconsidering their professional lives, but there are sure to be others who pick up one of these books out of sheer curiosity, wanting to briefly inhabit another job." Hence, the books are designed to be equally entertaining and useful. "They reveal the joys and rewards of each job," Roberts says. "But they also bust myths. They're frank about the frustrating aspects, failure, the money."

Simon & Schuster is launching the series in April with six titles on a range of very different careers: the three discussed above as well as Becoming a Hair Stylist by Kate Bolick, Becoming a Real Estate Agent by Tom Chiarella, and Becoming a Veterinarian by Boris Kachka. Five more books will be added in May.

For more information and a complete list of titles, visit