Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Why Are There So Many Editors??? by Fran Hodgkins

When you sell your book (notice I’m saying when, not if!), you become part of the collaborative team that works to make your book the best it can be. As you work with them, the number of editors may confuse you. Why are there so many editors? What makes them different? What follows is a field guide, of sorts, to editors. (Note: There are more people involved in the publishing process than just editors; we’ll discuss them in another post!)


Acquisition Editor: This editor is the person who acquires manuscripts. At many houses, the acquisition editor has a special area of expertise—for example, graphic novels or 19th century philosophy. Will this person be hands-on and help you shape your book? Most likely, no. Instead you’ll work with the . . .

 Developmental Editor: This editor is the one who shapes the manuscript. They’re the one who identifies plot holes, for example. They may suggest you restructure your manuscript. You may well curse this editor as you follow their comments and requests, but in the end, your manuscript will be better for it. Trust me.

 Line Editor: This person focuses on the language of the book, thus the name “line editor.” While the Development Editor is the macro view, the line editor is the micro. This editor will also have comments and questions, and you may curse this editor as well. But again, it all comes out better in the end.


Note: Sometimes the developmental and line editors are called “editor” or “senior editor.” It all depends on the publisher. Also, the position of “acquisitions editor” may not be a separate job, but done by editors/senior editors. Their days are often filled with meetings, emails, and phone calls, so their time is tight (never, never, call and pitch an editor over the phone -- unless you know them well and have a history -- because, well, do I have to say?) Between all these daily duties, editors work on mauscripts (both reading and editing), coordinate with production and design about covers, paper, and other details; work with marketing; and a million other things. There are so many tasks to be done to create a book and get it into a reader's hands that it's no wonder that there may be so many editors.


Copy Editor: These are the mysterious house-elves of the publishing world, the people with a deep knowledge of the old magic language. These are the people who know the difference between affect and effect, stationary and stationery, and confident and confidant.  For them, Chicago Style is not a pizza. They are your friends.  They may also have questions for you.

 Proofreader: Proofreaders and copyeditors are not the same. Proofreaders look for errors (often they’re the last line of defense). As they read, they look for typos, such as missing words, transposed letters, misspellings, and so on. Again, possibly more questions will come from the proofreader, but the editors may address these in house rather than send them to you.

Assistant/Associate Editor: These are editors who are early in their careers; they may have been promoted from editorial assistant positions (see below). Often, they are beginning to build their own lists and as a result are often open to new writers, so meeting and building a rapport with them can be mutually beneficial to you, as the writer who wants a career, and the editor, who is building one.

 Editorial Assistants and Interns: These young editors are often recent college grads or, in the case of interns, college students who working in the industry for experience. Generally speaking, they love love love books (honestly, so does everyone else on this list!). They do all the stuff that has to be done but everyone else in the office is too busy to do, including sending PDFs of your book for your review. They are invaluable. I don’t know how anything gets done without them.

 Managing Editor: These editors are the ones who keep the trains running on time. Schedules are their milieu. They don’t have much contact with writers and illustrators in the normal course of things.

Executive Editor: This is the person in charge. Sometimes called editor-in-chief, they hire and oversee everyone else.


So, will you encounter all these people? Maybe not as individuals; editors (especially at small houses) wear many hats, and perform different functions at different times. The key to working with editors is to remember that you and the editors have the same goal: to make good books. Remember, they are on your side.


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Be a "Rule Breaker" with Jessica Fries-Gaither and Nature’s Rule Breakers: Animals that Don’t Fit In by Kathy Halsey

What fun to be interviewing an Ohio author and SCBWI friend, Jessica Fries-Gaither this week for the GROG! We both love NF picture books and are educators. I’ve always admired the gorgeous books that come from Millbrook Press and editor Carol Hinz! Let’s take a look at Nature’s Rule Breakers: Animals that Don’t Fit In

Book Review

There’s still such a market for engaging science nonfiction, and Nature’s Rule Breakers: Animals that Don’t Fit In fits perfectly onto a school library shelf, a teacher’s bookshelf, or in the hands of curious kids who love unusual creatures. As Kirkus says this is “not your ordinary display of interesting and appealing animals, this offering has an important message for young readers and the adults who care for them."

Author-science teacher Fries-Gaither has crafted a lyrical, engaging book with questions that hook the reader and an SEL theme that can also be a point of discussion in a classroom/library setting. That theme applies to the animal kingdom as well as with humans– no one fits the parameters of rules perfectly. That quality makes us unique. As Jessica states in her newest picture book, “Some rules are meant to be broken, even those in the animal kingdom”! 

As a proud rule breaker, an “inbetweener” who has felt that I don't belong, this is an affirming book for more than the target audience of 5 - 9 years, K - 3.  Go find out more about garden snails, tardigrades, and Sacoglossan sea slugs and other inbetweeners. This is an engaging, informative read with useful backmatter that will delight educators! 

Craft Chat wit Jessica Fries-Gaither 

Kathy: I’m always curious about the “process” of how text changes over time to become a publishable piece. In your first drafts of Rule Breakers did you write straight exposition and add all the lyrical elements later? Was it ever written in rhyme? 

Lines like “This feathered flier is crepuscular, swooping silently through sky at dusk or dawn” are so poetic, full of consonance and assonance. How did you arrive at this lyrical version and prose like it throughout the book? 

Jessica: My initial drafts were almost entirely straight exposition. I’m a science teacher by day, and so my “voice,” both in the classroom and on the page tends to be clear and matter of fact when I’m trying to explain a concept. Thankfully critique partners and editor Carol Hinz pushed me to jazz up the language to make it more engaging! 

Lyrical nonfiction is my absolute favorite, and it’s something I’m continually working on in my own writing practice.

As for rhyme…no. I’ve previously published two rhyming picture books with NSTA Kids, and it will take a special topic for me to want to go through that again. 

Kathy: The use of questions on spreads is another active aspect of your diction in Rule Breakers. How do questions help a reader connect with nonfiction?

Jessica: Again, I think this flows naturally from my life as a teacher. I spend my days asking kids questions to help them figure out and understand science concepts. I find that kids can rush through things, whether it be thinking through an idea or reading a book. Posing questions encourages them to pause, reflect, and engage more deeply with the content. 

Kathy: Ah, I love that “pause, reflect, engage deeply”. That is what scientists do! On another note, I’m curious if there has been any pushback with your inclusion of living things moving between female and male behaviors, such as the garden snail or even terminology such as “hermaphrodite.” The facts are true, but some adults are hypersensitive to word connotations in our “politicalized” world. As a writer, did these issues come up as you wrote?

Jessica: Including sex as a category was a very conscious choice on my part, and I chose to place those examples later in the book to allow readers to get comfortable with the rule-breaking concept before tackling it. The only note I’ve received on this to date was from a colleague who read an early draft and mentioned that the use of “hermaphrodite” with regard to intersex humans is stigmatizing and offensive. We talked about the differences between the use of the word to describe an animal like a snail versus a human and I ultimately felt okay about leaving it in (and apparently, so did my editor). Sadly, though, given today’s climate, I can’t say I will be surprised if some pushback arises. Disappointed and perhaps angry? Absolutely. But not surprised. 

Kathy: I am glad you took a stand and left the spread with “hermaphrodites” in. BRAVO. I’ve never thought about species that don’t fit in. Where’d you get this original idea? How did you decide which animals to include? Were there others that you didn’t include? Was there a process of elimination by you, your agent, or editor?  The photos are quite compelling, too. Did the “coolness” or “strangeness” of the creature make it a contender for the book?

Jessica: Believe it or not, my inspiration came from a tweet that simply read “Biology isn’t binary.” (Had I known where that tweet would lead me, I would have taken a screenshot of it back in 2021!) I kept thinking about it long after I liked and retweeted it, especially in the context of the way we teach kids about living things. It seemed like there was an opportunity for me to show them a new way to think.

I started brainstorming examples with a friend and science colleague and we came up with so many examples. Not just animals, but plants and human biology as well. It’s interesting to go back and look at my early drafts because there wasn’t a clear focus yet. Rounds of feedback from critique partners helped me start to narrow my focus. I worked on this manuscript with author Sara C. Levine in a virtual revision workshop through SCBWI Ohio North, and her expertise and feedback helped me continue to narrow. Some examples were more compelling than others, and the nuances of some categories proved to be too difficult to explain in the concise picture book format. 

I don’t know if I consciously considered “coolness” or “strangeness” of an animal besides my own interest in it. My editor and I had some discussion about whether or not to include the sea slug, but I pushed to keep it in because I’m fascinated and a little obsessed with them. Google “leaf sheep sea slug” to see why! I do know, though, that while I love mammals and birds as much as the next person, I challenge my students to learn about other types of animals as well. I’m sure that perspective influenced some of my selection process, whether conscious or not. 

Kathy: Have you begun author visits yet? I bet kids will love the “coolness” and "strangeness” of these rule breakers. So, how do the kids react to the creatures? What are their favorites? Any tips to pass on to GROG readers via school visits?

Jessica: I’m doing a “visit” with my own students this week—gotta take advantage of a built-in audience—and have a virtual visit scheduled with a school in California next month. So I don’t have visits to draw on yet, but I think they’ll be fascinated. And ironically, even though I’ve been in the audience for many an author visit, I’m feeling very much a newbie when it comes to being on the other side of the microphone! 

Kathy: What are you working on now? Please share any virtual presentations or in-person events that are on your fall-winter calendar.

Jessica: My writing always slows down in the late summer and fall with the return to teaching and coaching middle school volleyball. I’ve been working on a proposal for a middle grade science nonfiction book that I’m excited about getting back to. I’ve learned that November-March is a typically productive time for me as a writer, and I am excited to see what comes from it this year.

I will be at the NCTE conference (here in Columbus) November 16-18. I’m part of a panel discussion, All Hands-On Deck: Creating an Active, Climate-Literate School Community with authors Keila Dawson, Jeanette Bradley, Laura Gehl, Lindsay Metcalf, and fellow educator Alex Edelmann, although my involvement is around the books I’ve published with NSTA on science notebooks. I will have a book signing foNature’s Rule Breakers at the Lerner Booth (Booth 307) from 1:30-2:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 18. 

I have other presentations and conferences focused on my writing for science teachers, but not much for Nature’s Rule Breakers, yet . . .

Check out Jessica's professional books for educators, too!

Jessica is an experienced science educator and an award-winning author of books for students and teachers. Her titles include Nature's Rule Breakers: Creatures That Don't Fit In, Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings, Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Drawings, and Science Notebooks in Student-Centered Classrooms.

Find Jessica here!



Instagram: @JessicaFGWrites

X (for now): @JessicaFGWrites

Blue Sky:

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Roundtable on Structure in STEM picture books

  by Sue Heavenrich
 Last month over at Archimedes Notebook, Elizabeth Shreeve said, “Structure is so important for nonfiction! Otherwise we’re just relaying facts.” So this month I invited her, along with Heather Montgomery, here to the GROG so we could hang out around the kitchen table and chat more at length about writing nonfiction and structure. 
I was first introduced to Elizabeth through her book, Out of the Blue, which highlights evolution. Her most recent book is The Upside-Down Book of Sloths, which you can totally read sitting right-side-up.

I met Heather through her books, initially, and then in person at a Highlights science and nature workshop in 2022. Her picture books include Bugs Don’t Hug and What's in Your Pocket? She’s also written about roadkill and three years ago, when we were locked down for the pandemic, we had a great talk about poop right here at the GROG.
So, let’s all grab our coffee and introduce ourselves before we dive into shop talk. I’ve taught science in the classroom and in my kitchen (homeschooling) and was a science/agriculture reporter for local and regional papers. I write because I’m curious about all kinds of sciencey things, but I’m particularly passionate about bugs! And fungi. And flowers. What about you?

Heather: I am a curious person who loves to share my passion for nature with kids of all ages. I love all parts of nature but have a special place in my heart for bugs and am particularly fascinated with the way bodies work. I have a B.S. in biology, a M.S. in environmental education and over 25 years of experience teaching inside and outside of the classroom. Research is my life!

Elizabeth: I consider myself a student of nature. To me, the history of life on Earth offers the most compelling and fascinating stories imaginable. There’s so much to learn! In college, I majored in geology and went on to a master’s degree in landscape architecture. After working for 35 years in a design firm (plus raising kids and writing a few books along the way), I decided to put that hodge-podge of science and art into full-time writing. I’ve always been a big scribbler, and working in the architecture field taught me the discipline of spare, concise writing. One more essential ingredient—I love children! I admire their joyful, open “beginners minds,” their curiosity and how they relate to the natural world without any sense of separation. My goal is to create fun, informative books that nurture those connections.

Sue: We all start with ideas and scribbles, but sometimes it takes forever to figure out how to write the book. When I first wrote 13 Ways to Eat a Fly it wasn’t much more than a list. Like, yeah – here’s all these different ways to dine on diptera. An agent at a retreat said, this is great but it’s not a book. It took me a long time to figure out how to make it into something kids would enjoy listening to.

When do you start exploring possible structures for your story? And how many different ways do you try writing it out?

Elizabeth: For me, the discovery of structure depends on the initial idea. I start with a deep dive into research. Once my head is full, a structure usually emerges from the gloom when I’m first waking up or walking the dog. Sometimes it seems obvious. For example, a chronological sequence worked best for Out of the Blue. But the approach seemed boring, until I found a question that precedes the title page. For The Upside-Down Book of Sloths I was struck by the differences between modern tree sloths and their amazing prehistoric relatives, the giant ground sloths. So I fooled around with charts until a pair/compare structure emerged.

thinking about structure for Out of the Blue 

Heather: Figuring out the structure has been my greatest challenge.  And the shorter the book, the greater that challenge is. When I can't ignore the idea that one of my questions might need to become a book, my mind typically jumps to a structure right away. That's not a good thing because the brain has a way of latching on and not wanting to let go—and that first idea has never been THE structure that finally works. Take Bugs Don't Hug for example. The first time I submitted it was to Ranger Rick and it was a list of insect parenting behaviors written to celebrate Mother's Day. It took me about 3 years to let go of that idea. Sigh.

Sue: What are some of the tools and techniques you use to explore structure? For example, I use word banks because sometimes that will help me see connections. I also use storyboards to look at page turns and see whether there’s enough space for the illustrator.

Heather: I use sticky notes. I put one idea/concept/example on one sticky note, post them all on my wall or a huge piece of foam board. Then I move them around to see how I can put them together to build to one big idea. I'll often take a photo before I mix the notes all together and make myself re-arrange them in a different structure. I also do this digitally in PowerPoint to make it easy to save my work. I set up PowerPoint slides as spreads of a picture book and map out ideas (one per page or spread).

Elizabeth storyboarding Upside-down Sloths
: I’m a fan of storyboarding, too. It’s something I learned from working in a design office. When an idea for structure pops up, I grab it! I outline and sketch in notebooks. Next I lay a picture book template on the table, roll out trace paper, and make a nice big storyboard. This helps with page turns and balancing content between spreads. It’s useful for revision, too, when you’re reviewing a sketch dummy.

Sue: In addition to doing research about my book topic, I also spend time reading and studying other books to glean ideas for structure. When the idea for The Pie that Molly Grew started germinating in my brain, I began looking at other books that adopted the "House that Jack Built" as a structure. And I always look at what authors add in their back matter, both content and how they present it. 

Elizabeth: Want to know the best way to spend the day? Visit local libraries and bookstores for picture books to study and read. (I’ll also buy picture books - supposedly for our granddaughter, but actually for me.) If a book impresses me, I’ll type it out word for word. By typing, I absorb the flow and can analyze word count, page turns, repetition of key phrases and metaphors. When people ask me to critique their drafts, that’s my advice—get yourself ten books that you admire, type them out, and then come back. It’s helpful for understanding the pacing and content.

Sue: I do that, too … typing them out.

Heather, probably studying structure of a book...
: I spend tons of time studying and teaching about the structure of other trade books. One of my favorite things to do is to find a structure (such as the mirror structure in Liz Garton Scanlon's One Dark Bird where the second half of the book presents information in the reverse order as of the first half) and try to apply that to one of my projects.

Sue: When I wrote The Pie that Molly Grew, I thought I was writing about the growth process of a pumpkin plant. After I finished, I realized I was writing about connections – both natural and human. Do you ever discover something unexpected when you are writing your book?

Heather: All the time! When I wrote Bugs Don't Hug, I thought it was a book about insect and human parental behaviors, but I discovered that my big idea about families could humans connect to each other as well!

Elizabeth: I often cram too much information into a draft. As my brother, also a writer, says…sometimes it’s best to unpack an idea or a page. With The Upside-Down Book of Sloths, I’d included too much information on each page. That led to a major revision which made me realize I need to find the space between the facts.

Sue: Well, my coffee’s gone and there's nothing left of the muffins but crumbs, so it’s time to skedaddle. A huge thank you to Elizabeth and Heather for joining me today. Please visit their websites to learn more about them and their wonderful books:

Elizabeth at
Heather at