Welcome to today’s installment of Tuesday Debut!
I’m delighted to be introducing you to Heather Ferranti Kinser, the talented author of Small Matters: The Hidden Power of the Unseen, a nonfiction picture book about the tiniest details of animal adaptation. I believe she has the distinction of being the first debut author in this series to have a book “illustrated” with high resolution photographs from scanning electron microscopes (cool, right???!!!)
So let’s hear what she has to share!
SMALL MATTERS: THE HIDDEN POWER OF THE UNSEEN
Written By: Heather Ferranti Kinser
Millbrook Press (an imprint of Lerner Publications)
April 7, 2020
Take a super-close look at animal adaptations too tiny to be seen with a light microscope. High-resolution images from scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) show shark skin, bird feathers, gecko toes, and more—proving that tiny details can make a BIG difference.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Heather! Thank you so much for joining us today! We’re so excited to hear about your book’s journey! Where did the idea for this book come from?
HEATHER: The initial credit goes to Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm challenge. In 2018, idea #12 on my StoryStorm list was “Magnify Me!” What was on my mind when I wrote that? Probably my older daughter’s love of insects, and the times she went into our yard (as a preschooler) to observe ants, mites, mosquito larvae—whatever tiny living things caught her interest.
The following month, I expanded on that idea for Vivian Kirkfield’s “50 Precious Words” contest. I posted my 50-word entry, Magnify Me, on my blog (you can read it here: http://www.heatherkinser.com/blog/archives/03-2018). It didn’t win, but the real ‘prize’ came later, when I expanded the concept once more.
The final push came from an open call for submissions, which Millbrook editorial director Carol Hinz posted on the Lerner blog in early 2018. My long-time critique partner, Gabi Snyder (author of Two Dogs on a Trike), alerted me to it. I thought I’d try to expand my little Magnify Me poem. A little research on magnification quickly brought up images from scanning electron microscopes, and wow! I thought it would be incredible to share those high-resolution images with young readers.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
HEATHER: From the time I sat down to expand on my “50 Precious Words” poem, to the time I submitted—about 15 days. During that time, I saved my document under 30 different names! I’m not sure if I would officially call that 30 revisions, but suffice to say, I was putting in a lot of work. After I submitted, I received an invitation from Millbrook editorial director Carol Hinz to revise and resubmit the piece in a prose format (the original was in rhyme). Boy oh boy, did Carol’s note get my attention! In roughly 20 days—with loads of advice from my fabulous critique partners—I produced not one but two new manuscripts. One was a longer, more expository option, and the other was a shorter option with a literary tone and layered text.
Heather’s nearly non-existent work space – kitchen table by day, living room chair by night!
SUSANNA: What was your research process like? And did you go through many revisions?
HEATHER: Absolutely! My ever-ready critique partners saw them all and generously offered their time and opinions. Meanwhile, I was writing, revising, and madly researching each animal feature. In the revise and resubmit process, Carol had asked me to include just a few more creatures and a bit more information about how each nano-sized adaptation helps its animal to thrive.
Developing that new layer of depth proved challenging. In the world of nano-sized animal features, the minute you begin to describe an adaptation, you’re plunged into complex physics—topics like tensile strength, drag, lift, iridescence, thin-film reflection, friction, and van der Waal’s forces. Luckily, I discovered the Google Scholar search engine, and my husband is a rocket scientist with an undergrad degree in physics. We had plenty of fascinating consultations during the writing/revising process—often about a small but critical word choice. For the back matter on SEMs, I wrote the material first and then consulted with an expert at Stanford University. And much later on, during the editing process, Millbrook searched long and hard to find the perfect technical consultant—the director of a SEM lab specializing in biomimicry—to review the book in its entirety. I’m so glad to have received her stamp of approval.
My decision process for which animal features to include in the book began with Internet searches for fascinating SEM photos. First and foremost, the visuals had to pop. Very early on, I made a decision to only write about animals that kids had some chance of being familiar with. I didn’t want to get too obscure. So that was another criterion. And there needed to be something cool and surprising that had recently been discovered about that animal feature—the discovery had to address a previously unanswered “how” or “why” question.
Once I found a promising animal feature, I’d research it through a combination of news articles and reports from scientific journals. As I mentioned, the Google Scholar search engine was a lifesaver. There, I found scientific research reports pertaining to each animal feature in the book. (And if I couldn’t find research reports, that animal was dropped, and I’d go back to the drawing board.) I didn’t need to understand every nitty-gritty detail or calculation in the reports. For my purposes, I could usually gain enough information by perusing the Abstract, Introduction, and conclusions. (To get to the Google Scholar search engine, all you need to do is type “Google Scholar” as a search term. This search-engine-within-a-search-engine will pop up as the first option!)
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
HEATHER: For my longer manuscript (Zoom In!)—I knew because my critique partners had fewer and fewer critiques and started telling me it was good to go. Also, I was up against a deadline. So, ready or not, here it came! For my shorter manuscript (Small Matters)—I knew because I felt the work pulling at my heartstrings with a deeper level of meaning that was hard to quantify.
By the way, I labored over Zoom In! for weeks, but I wrote the first draft of Small Matters in a single evening. I had Zoom In! all polished and ready to submit. The only task left was to spend an evening with the Chicago Manual of Style, creating a reference list. I took my work with me to my daughter’s choir rehearsal. Maybe it was procrastination (I did not want to create that reference list), serendipity, or the angelic voices from the girls’ choir drifting into the room, but something magical happened that night. I started over, with the title Small Matters as my inspiration, and wrote the lyrical piece that eventually became my book—all within that two-hour choir-rehearsal time period. Roughly a week later, after two short days of back-and-forth with critique partners, I submitted BOTH manuscripts to Carol. She was “taken with” the shorter one, brought it to an acquisitions meeting, and the rest is history.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
HEATHER: I don’t have an agent yet. I submitted via email, directly to Millbrook’s editorial director, Carol Hinz, in response to and open call for submissions which she had posted on Lerner’s blog in early 2018. (That open call has ended, by the way, and Lerner is not generally open to unsolicited work.)
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
HEATHER: On October 24, 2018, I received an email from Carol, informing me that things had gone well at the acquisitions meeting and Millbrook wanted to publish my manuscript. It was the day after my older daughter’s birthday. What a gift, to be able to tell your kids that mom’s hard work has paid off, and she’s going to be an author!
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
HEATHER: I believe my critique partners were first to know. They are my biggest cheerleaders, and I love sharing successes with them. I rejoiced with my family (squealing and dancing around) and privately enjoyed a big root beer float (with chocolate ice cream, never vanilla) on my patio. But there was still lots of work to be done to develop the book’s highly condensed back matter, so I didn’t pause to celebrate for long. I remember being too newbie-nervous to let my hair down until the revision process was done.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
HEATHER: I received a fair advance, a percentage of the net royalties, and 15 copies of the book. I don’t have an agent yet, so I negotiated on my own, with a little guidance from my neighbor and his sister, who are both lawyers. (I think I owe them each a bottle of wine). My contract was just what I would expect, considering that Small Matters is my first book and the publishing house put loads of work into seeking out excellent photographic images and purchasing the rights to use them.
SUSANNA: Tell us about the editorial process. . .
HEATHER: During the editorial phase of production, I worked with Allison Juda at Millbrook. Allison went through my text with a fine-toothed comb, kept me honest on every fact and word choice, and made sure my language was on target for our young reading audience. It was an intense time of cordial communication, careful fact checking, thematic refinement, more careful fact checking, lots of particular wordsmithing, still more careful fact checking, and thoughtful attention to the needs of our future readers. We worked on edits for a little over three months.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?
HEATHER: My book is photo-illustrated. I knew it would be, even at the concept stage, because that was one of the parameters of the call for submissions. Just prior to the acquisitions meeting, Carol asked me to provide suggestions for the types of photos they might include. Once the book was in production, the photo-acquisitions team at Millbrook took over and worked magic in hunting down high-quality photos and obtaining permissions.
We ran into a few snags along the way. For instance, there used to be an octopus in my book, but good SEM photos of octopus skin in the process of changing its texture could not be found. (Go figure!) So, after a bit of a research scramble, I swapped my octopus for a snake!
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
HEATHER: I did get to see an advance review from Kirkus. I received it roughly two weeks before publication. What a thrill! As pleased as I have been with the book’s production process, it’s a different feeling to have that first glimpse of a book entering the world—and being well received. I hope there will be many more reviews to come! But the best reviews will be (I hope!) from kids loving the book.
SUSANNA: I’m sure kids are going to love it, Heather! How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
HEATHER: I received my offer letter on October 25, 2018 and first held an advance copy of the book on January 13, 2020. So altogether, about a year and 3 months.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
HEATHER: So far… My book is listed in Lerner’s Spring Catalog. They have submitted it for review to Kirkus and a number of other journals. Early copies seem to have gone out to some bloggers, too. And Lerner displayed Small Matters at their booth at the ALA Midwinter conference. I’m not sure what other marketing tricks they have up their sleeve, but I can’t wait to find out.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
HEATHER: I’ve created bookmarks to promote Small Matters. I’ve joined a book debut group, the 2020 Debut Crew. We help promote each other’s debut books on social media, and I run the Twitter giveaways for the group (follow us: @2020DebutCrew). Additionally, I’ve created a book trailer, which I’ll post in early March. And I’m working with my daughter’s school librarian to plan a book-talk presentation. Oh, and thank you, Susanna, for allowing me to tell my story here! I’ve also reached out to a few other bloggers, and to KidLit411.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
HEATHER: About 5 years. I’ve identified as a ‘writer’ since I was in the third grade. But I started seriously focusing on studying picture-book craft once my youngest child entered grade school.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
HEATHER: The best moments of this experience so far have been with my daughters. When I received my contract, my older daughter picked it up and began reading long passages of the ‘legalese’ in a formal British accent—while I was in hysterics. And when I received my big box of advance copies, my younger daughter opened it with me, lifted out the first copy, and said, “It’s Mommy’s book!” I know this book is not about me. It was a group effort in every sense, and we all hope the real benefactors will be young readers. Still, it’s been a dream come true to share these moments of hard-earned success with my daughters, who are among my most valued readers, critics, and supporters.
My Website Link: www.HeatherKinser.com
Find me on Twitter here: @hethfeth
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with us, Heather! I think we’ve all enjoyed the opportunity to learn something not only about your journey to publication but about nonfiction research, so thank you so much for expanding our knowledge! We wish you all the best with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Heather, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Heather’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)