I have been a fan of Sarah C. Campbell's scientific picture books for years now. From WOLF SNAILS to GROWING PATTERNS: FIBONACCI NUMBERS IN NATURE (which I use in my classrooms to teach design). I'm thrilled to help Sarah celebrate her latest - MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS: FINDING FRACTALS IN NATURE. She stopped by to tell us more about it...
My greatest stroke of luck in creating MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS: FINDING FRACTALS IN NATURE was securing the help of a mathematician who was a colleague of the discoverer of fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot.
Michael Frame, who teaches math at Yale University, checked my writing and photographs for accuracy and wrote an afterword that included stories and photographs of Mandelbrot as a child and discussed ways we use fractals today.
How without Michael would I have learned that when Mandelbrot died of cancer in 2010, he believed one piece of his unfinished business was a book for children?
I found Frame through an online course on fractals he taught in person at Yale.
During our recent correspondence, Frame mentioned his desire to share MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS with Mandelbrot’s widow, Aliette.
“She knew a project for this audience was on Benoit’s mind, but he died before we could get to it. That the project was done, and done so well, would have delighted Benoit, and will delight Aliette,” Frame wrote.
Having an expert review a manuscript for accuracy is a critical step in the process of publishing nonfiction. Based on my experience with three nonfiction titles, all published with Boyds Mills Press, here are a few tips for finding an expert and working effectively with him or her.
Experts.Last autumn, after the book had gone to the print house, Richard and I were in Boston visiting family and friends so we took the train to New Haven to meet Michael in person. In this photograph that Richard took, you can see that Michael has a patch covering his left eye. Through all this time we’ve been working together, Michael has been living with an inoperable tumor. I remain in awe of his generosity in sharing his energies with me, and with all the readers of MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS.
Expert review is a step that happens very late in the publishing process – after the text, images and design are complete. This is because all the elements contribute to understanding – or misunderstanding. As a writer of nonfiction, however, I begin interacting with experts long before the final draft. In the case of my first book, WOLFSNAIL: A BACKYARD PREDATOR, I first interviewed Dr. Melissa Harrington, a neuroscientist who studies wolfsnails in her lab, and consulted numerous print sources. When it was time to have the final manuscript reviewed, however, my editor and I agreed I should find a snail scientist. At Harrington’s suggestion, we asked Dr. Timothy Pearce, a malacologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Know the financial terms.
With my first two books, Boyds Mills Press asked expert reviewers to review manuscripts without compensation. In my experience, many people are very generous with their time – especially for a children’s book. The hardest part of asking for people’s time without paying them is dealing with the vagaries of publishing deadlines. By now, I more or less know what I’ve signed up for – shifting deadlines, seemingly impossible turnaround times, etc. But it’s hard to pass that kind of uncertainty along to someone who is doing you a favor. With MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS, we had a small stipend to offer. Also, even though I suggested Michael Frame as our expert reviewer, it was up to my editor, Sarah Zhang, to do the formal asking and handle the correspondence. Sarah also edited Michael’s Afterword.
Don’t be afraid to ask.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the term “expert review.” It sounds a little like a test that you’ll either pass or fail. In reality, I’ve had good back-and-forth discussions with experts. Knowing an expert will come into the process down the line does not excuse you from doing your homework. For example, I was having a hard time explaining how clouds are fractals. I had a small debate with myself about whether I should admit to Frame that I didn’t fully understand how clouds were fractals. When I wrote to him, I explained why I was confused, using two examples from difference sources. In his reply, he acknowledged that clouds could be difficult, and that Mandelbrot’s mathematical proof (with Shaun Lovejoy) was too complicated for most college freshmen in Frame’s classes. He suggested a possible approach. In the end, I had to cut clouds as an example because I couldn’t get the explanation and an accompanying photographic example just right. If anything, my willingness to share my unease with the cloud aspect of fractals probably helped Michael see me as serious about getting it right. When the final draft was finally ready, he found one thing I had gotten wrong. And, I was grateful he did.
Be open to new ideas.
I’ve already said that Michael wrote an Afterword. What I didn’t say was that it was his idea. By the time Michael came into the process in April 2013, Sarah Zhang and I were already worrying about how we were going to fit everything into the 32-page book. When Michael offered to write a section – either a foreword or an afterword – I was worried we didn’t have the space. I understood, however, that as a colleague of Mandelbrot, he could write about him in a way I could not, and he was offering to get childhood photographs from Aliette Mandelbrot. I agreed that his contribution could make it a better book. And it certainly did. Each of the book’s reviews thus far, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, has mentioned the Afterword.
Sarah has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of MYSTERIOUS PATTERNS to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US or Canada to win - enter below.
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