Hi there, Everyone!
Long time no see!
I realize summer is technically not quite over, and my blog won’t be back to regularly scheduled programming for a couple weeks, but when a debut debuts, you’ve got to be there with the spotlight! And I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to introduce you to today’s Tuesday Debut, Lindsay H. Metcalf, and her gorgeous and interesting book, Beatrix Potter, Scientist! which has its book birthday TODAY!!! 🎉🎉🎉
Title: Beatrix Potter, Scientist
Author: Lindsay H. Metcalf
Illustrator: Junyi Wu
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Date of Publication: September 1, 2020
Fiction Ages 4-8
Synopsis: As a child, Beatrix Potter collected nature specimens; as a young adult, she was an amateur mycologist presenting her research on fungi to England’s foremost experts. Like many women of her time, she remained unacknowledged by the scientific community, but her keen eye for observation led her to an acclaimed career as an artist and storyteller.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Lindsay! Thank you so much for joining us today! We are so looking forward to learning about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
LINDSAY: I read this Brain Pickings article and immediately became entranced with the scientific side of the author I’d always known as an all-caps name on the cover of some favorite books from childhood. After Googling, I saw that there would be a rich amount of primary and secondary sources for me to draw upon. I considered traveling to the UK for research (which still hasn’t happened yet). Before I committed too much time and money, I ran the idea past my agent, Emily Mitchell at Wernick & Pratt, to see if it was marketable. She was all in from the beginning because she knew this period of Beatrix’s life hadn’t explored fully in a children’s book.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
LINDSAY: About nine months, from idea to the draft that was accepted. I sent that email to my agent on September 13, 2017, and had my first draft about a month later. Along the way I reached out to a mycologist who had been quoted about Beatrix Potter’s studies, as well as an expert with the Beatrix Potter Society in the UK. Both agreed to read and vet my manuscript, and I made small changes based on their feedback. The offer came in May 2019 after being on submission and mostly out of my mind for about a year.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
LINDSAY: I have about 11 distinct drafts of this manuscript on my computer. For me, a draft is when I feel like I’ve finished revising based on any amount of feedback, so I may pop into the same draft and tinker for a week or two.
My first draft came quickly in an experimental question-only style modeled loosely after Patricia MacLachlan’s exquisite THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS. My critique partners wisely called my approach obtuse, in nicer words, because I am not Patricia MacLachlan. I purchased a conference critique from a nonfiction editor when I felt the manuscript was ready. She asked to see a revision, but declined to buy the book. Her encouraging feedback helped me polish and eventually sell what would become BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST to an editor at Albert Whitman.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
LINDSAY: When my editor bought it! LOL. I always think a manuscript is ready when I send it to critique partners and bristle a bit when they tell me it’s not. It’s like, can’t you people see the genius here?! Just kidding. They’re usually right. I revised based on the comments that resonated with me, and when they told me it was ready, I sent it to my agent, who had more suggestions. When she told me it was ready, we sent it to a handful of editors, and I submitted it for the conference critique. That editor even more suggestions.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
LINDSAY: My agent submitted on my behalf in the spring of 2018, and several editors politely declined. My agent sent the revision exclusively to the editor who had done the conference critique, but unfortunately, we never heard back from her. Even agents get ghosted sometimes. Then in the fall of 2018, I attended the Kansas/Missouri SCBWI annual conference, where I had purchased a critique with an editor at Albert Whitman. She gave solid feedback on the rhyming, fiction picture book manuscript I had submitted, but it still needed a lot of work. During her conference talk, though, she mentioned that if she weren’t an editor, she would be a literary tour guide in England. Bingo!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
LINDSAY: It was an email from my agent—on her birthday! I doubt I’ll ever top that as a birthday gift to her. The offer came in May 2019, a year after first going on submission and six months sending to Albert Whitman. The offer actually came from a different editor at Whitman—Wendy McClure. We learned that the editor I had met at the conference had left her job, but the offer would not have happened if I hadn’t met her at our regional conference. Overall the manuscript went to only about five editors, but it was because I had other projects circulating at the time and was also heavily working on the first book I sold—NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY. That book, a poetry anthology edited by me, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, sold to Charlesbridge on proposal almost a year before BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST. But because of publishing mysteries I don’t understand, BEATRIX will release a few weeks before NVTS. 😊
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
LINDSAY: 1) I shrieked. 2) I ran into my husband’s home office, told him, and jumped up and down. 3) I danced in my kitchen and proceeded to be unable to do anymore work for the day. 4) I think I took my kids for ice cream after school and then the family to our fave Mexican restaurant that night. And I probably 5) cleaned up cat puke or something equally glamorous along the way.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
LINDSAY: I probably shouldn’t get into specifics, but the contract came with a modest advance along the lines of what I would expect from a small publisher and a standard royalty split, and I think my agent negotiated a bit better deal on some aspects. I can’t remember how many author copies I’m getting – maybe 20? They haven’t arrived yet as of this writing on August 23!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
LINDSAY: A few months after the offer, my editor sent a lovely two-page editorial letter. I had completed my previous revision about 15 months prior, so it took me awhile to wrap my head around her notes and re-immerse myself in the research. Once I dug in, I realized that her changes were largely to clarify and tweak. She did suggest some cuts to my extensive author’s note that helped bring the important parts forward. I love the final version! Once I heard from her at the end of August 2019, I was shocked to learn they wanted to release the book only a year later. They already had an illustrator working on cover sketches!
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
LINDSAY: On the first call with my editor, Wendy, I told her about all the visual research I’d compiled in a secret Pinterest board, and she was excited to pass that along to Junyi Wu, the illustrator. I also snapped pictures of a few descriptive passages in Beatrix Potter’s journal, as well as samples of Beatrix’s fungi artwork, to have my editor pass along to Junyi. Beatrix is well-understood and revered historical figure who has a whole society dedicated to her scholarship, so I wanted to make sure we got the book right. Fortunately, the team at Albert Whitman did, too. They looped me in for feedback at all stages of the illustration process, and I was able to annotate the PDFs for accuracy and request changes before Junyi went to final art. One example: Beatrix Potter’s mentor, Charles McIntosh, had severed several fingers in an accident, and was known to hide that hand. One of the sketches showed both hands and ten fingers. Another example showed Beatrix illustrating a character that would have been created decades after the scene that was depicted. They were happy to make changes like that. I absolutely love the way Junyi made this book her own, not mimicking Beatrix’s style, but providing enough detail to render the botanicals accurately and with a hint of nostalgia.
I had a lot of art notes because I wanted the book to be accurate, so whenever I had a specific scene in mind, I included quoted descriptive passages from Beatrix’s journal. We removed some of the art notes for submission purposes, but after the first call with my editor, she requested to see the original version with all my art notes. The team was very good about doing what was needed to get the details right.
Here’s how I wrote one scene:
“She wrecks her parents’ kitchen in her hunger for answers. Day and night, she zooms in with a microscope to check and record her specimens. She can taste the breakthrough that is sure to come.
[ART: She turned her kitchen into a messy lab for spore germination. She checked and recorded her specimens of basidiomycetes spores every six hours using a Beck’s microscope with 600x magnification.]”
This art note included historical and scientific details that would have cluttered the manuscript but were important for visual accuracy.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc.? What was that like?
LINDSAY: Yes! The wait for reviews was nerve-wracking. When they finally came in, all positive so far, it was thrilling!
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
LINDSAY: It was exactly 51 weeks from offer to the day I unboxed advance reader copies of BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST. (And yes, I asked: the paperback, stapled copies I received are called ARCs and not F&Gs, or folded-and-gathered copies that picture book publishers usually print in advance of publication.)
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
LINDSAY: The publisher has sent my book to all the major reviewers, to ARC-sharing groups on Twitter, Bookstagrammers, and fungi lovers! They have submitted it wherever I have asked as well, and probably done a lot behind the scenes that I’m not aware of. I was surprised and impressed when I was contacted by a reporter from FantasticFungi.com for an interview, and their Instagram post about my book racked up more than 1,600 likes. Publisher support for the win!
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
LINDSAY: The best thing I have done is join a group of highly motivated and talented fellow debuts. The Soaring ’20s have been a godsend for marketing. We share speaking opportunities and team up on conference proposals; we review one another’s books; we request books from libraries; set up blog opportunities and maintain a group website. If you have a book coming out, comarketing is effective and much more fun than going it alone. Some of my Soaring ’20s colleagues are conducting a virtual ShopTalk for NESCBWI on September 22 if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts.
I have spent a lot of time applying to speak at conferences, since teachers and librarians will be such a big part of my market. Over the summer, I participated in nerdcampPA, nerdcampCT, and the Missouri Association of School Librarians book festival. This fall I’ll be at virtual events for the National Council of Teachers of English, the Association of Rural and Small Librarians, and a few others.
Other than that, I hired an expert to create a standards-aligned discussion and activity guide, set up a blog tour, and ran a handful of giveaways on Twitter for teachers and librarians to grow my following there as well as my newsletter audience.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
LINDSAY: That depends on how you calculate it. I have been writing seriously since 2001, when I took my first paying job as a writer. I was a newspaper reporting intern and went on to have a career as a reporter and editor at The Kansas City Star. But children’s books? I started getting serious about those in 2015—the very day my youngest went to preschool and I had time to myself. Shortly thereafter I took Making Picture Book Magic from you, Susanna. So the answer is either 17 years or three years, but probably a mix of both.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
LINDSAY: I never imagined I would debut in the middle of a pandemic. But I’m trying to take things in stride and still find joy in the process. The advantage is that the prevalence of virtual events has opened up opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to access before. And I get to celebrate with all my friends, wherever they are! Thank you for having me, Susanna — it’s such an honor to be here after learning so much from you over the years!
Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books: Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020); Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (Calkins Creek, 2020); and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, a poetry anthology co-edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets. You can reach her at lindsayhmetcalf.com and @lindsayhmetcalf on Twitter and Instagram.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much, Lindsay, for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We so appreciate getting the opportunity to benefit and learn from your experience!
Readers, if you have questions for Lindsay, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Lindsay’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– sharing their books on social media
Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 🙂
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)