Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Kimberly Ridley Talks About Writing for a Small Press

by Sue Heavenrich

One of the best things about reviewing books is that I get to meet so many interesting people. Usually by phone - I'll read a book and think: "I must find out more about why they wrote that book!" And all of them, writers and illustrators, have graciously shared their wisdom, trails to publication and trials, and their excitement about their subject.

For Kimberly Ridley, it's animals that have lived on earth for millions and millions of years. Horseshoe crabs! Goblin sharks! Tardigrades! Comb Jellies! They have lived through extinction events and keep on going...

I was first introduced to Ridley's writing through her first book, The Secret Pool. She wrote another about an estuary (The Secret Bay), and now this, Extreme Survivors, out last fall. Like her others, this book is published by Tilbury House, a small, award-winning publisher tucked somewhere in the town of Thomaston, ME.

Since it's her third book with Tilbury, I invited Kimberly to share what she likes about writing for this small press. Also, because she is a science journalist like me, we had a wide-ranging conversation - some of what you can find over at my Archimedes Notebook blog this Friday.

Extreme Survivors is part of the "How Nature Works" series. There are a number of very interesting titles in the series, and I wondered how Kim got a book included in the series.

Kim: After The Secret Bay came out, I was brainstorming with editor (and co-publisher) Jonathan Eaton. I felt like I had a relationship with Tilbury House, and I was interested in doing another book. So we began talking about horseshoe crabs - Jonathan has a background in marine sciences - and he mentioned the "How Nature Works" series. I checked out other books in the series. I really love the idea of asking "how does nature work?" - this is a question all scientists are asking - so my ideas evolved in that direction.

Kim with salamander eggs in a frisbee
I started wondering what animals, other than horseshoe crabs are ancient? What other animals haven't changed in a 100 million years? And what adaptations helped them survive? I jotted down a list of about 20, and made a timeline on a wall by posting photos and notes.

GROG: What attracted you to Tilbury in the first place?

Kim: I think it was the response I received when I pitched ideas to (editor) Jennifer Bunting. Having worked as a science journalist for a few years, I sent a letter pitching a handful of ideas for a children's book. I said that I work with scientists and wanted to write for children. Jennifer was familiar with my writing, so she acquired The Secret Pool, my book about vernal pools.

Working with a small publisher was a good fit for me. I appreciate the back and forth with editors through the revision process. The editors at Tilbury House work closely with writers, and they take tremendous care with the book through the writing and revision process. They also pay a lot of attention to detail. A good example is the care they put into acquiring the high quality photos for Extreme Survivors.

GROG: Speaking of photos, was part of your job to secure the photos for the book?

Kim: They asked me to help find preliminary photos, and then they followed up by purchasing the rights to use photos. The people at Tilbury House were also receptive to my feedback on layout and design. I admit I can be opinionated, having been an editor myself.

Kim shows wood frog eggs to students.
For Kim Ridley, doing research for a nonfiction project is "like dessert." She loves finding things out, coming across cool facts, and discovering amazing photos. Her advice to writers: go ahead and check out small presses, especially if you want to write science and natural history books for kids.

You can learn more about Kim and her projects at her website. And if you think you might like to submit a manuscript to Tilbury, take some time looking through their website.

Photos of Kimberly Ridley are from her website and used with permission.


  1. Great info re: Tilbury and Kim's writing journey. I will check into this small press. TY both.

  2. I'm familiar with Kim's books; they're just wonderful. Thanks for the fun post.

  3. Thank you, Kim and Sue, for this informative interview.

  4. So many avenues to explore. Thanks for giving us a peek into working with a smaller press.

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