Behind the Scenes: “A Case Study in Collaboration” by Lindsay Metcalf

Lindsay Metcalf is having a big year! Today she takes us behind the scenes again with another new release: NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY. This anthology was a team effort. Thank you, Lindsay for sharing how this collaborative effort came together.

And also thank you for offering a signed copy as a giveaway! Leave a comment below for a chance to win NO VOICE TOO SMALL. 

The winner of a signed copy of FARMERS UNITE from last week’s post is Jilanne Hoffmann!

Metcalf_NoVoiceTooSmall_cover_webNO VOICE TOO SMALL, a Case Study in Collaboration

By Lindsay H. Metcalf

[illustrations © Jeanette Bradley]

Writing is a solitary endeavor. That’s the adage, right? So how do books get made collaboratively?

The way Keila V. Dawson, Jeanette Bradley and I came together to co-edit our picture-book poetry anthology, NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, can be a case study.

This project began with networking. All of us had joined the Kidlit Women private Facebook group in early 2018 to discuss issues facing non-male creators of children’s literature. At the same time, waves of young people were taking to the streets to demand gun-sense legislation following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Jeanette posed this question to the group: Would anyone be interested in collaborating on a book about contemporary activists?

I had been noodling with the idea of a survey book about protests. Jeanette and I had never spoken, but she and I were both represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Agency. I messaged Jeanette, and we immediately began bouncing ideas. She wanted to focus on contemporary activists because her young daughter had been reading a lot of picture-book biographies, and her takeaway was that she thought she had to be famous and dead to have made an impact on the world. Meanwhile, I had been filing away names of kids and young people who were speaking out on social media.

Jasilyn_Charger_web

illustration © Jeanette Bradley

That day’s Messenger conversation bled into the next day. And the next. We were both inspired by so many young activists’ passion. But how would we distinguish our book from other popular collected biographies such as SHE PERSISTED and LITTLE LEADERS? We knew other projects were probably brewing, given the political climate. How could we convey these stories in a way that felt fresh and irresistible?

We landed on poetry. Poetry would allow us to expand the knowledge base from just us to a host of own-voices creators who may be more equipped to bring forward the stories of the featured young activists. And poetry was the perfect bite-sized vehicle to convey the emotion and the power behind each story—like empowering literary vitamins.

Small problem: Neither of us was a published poet.

And another problem. We needed to track down and convince fourteen sets of parents, guardians and proxies, as well as fourteen poets, to participate in a project that was not yet written or acquired. We needed to throw together a proposal quickly. And we needed help!

Keila Dawson had expressed enthusiasm on Jeanette’s initial Facebook post. I knew that she’s a master genealogical researcher and active networker in the kidlitosphere. We had worked together on critiques. But we didn’t know each other well, and inviting her to collaborate on such a huge project was a leap.

Fortunately, Keila was our first yes!

Mari_Copeny_web

illustration © Jeanette Bradley

To get started, the three of us divvied up the list of contacts and crafted pitch letters that conveyed our experience and the passion of young activists like Marley Dias, founder of #1000BlackGirl books; Zach Wahls, founder of Scouts for Equality; and Mari Copeny, known as “Little Miss Flint” for her action toward securing clean water for her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Soon, the yeses began rolling in from both activists and well-published and award-winning poets, who, to our delight, wanted to share in our effort to inspire young readers to speak out for change.

With our team assembled, we wrote a proposal that showed how our book would differ from others on the market. The most extensive section of the proposal was a breakdown of competitive titles and exactly how our book would distinguish itself from each one. In the first round of submissions, Charlesbridge offered to publish the book in fall 2020, just before the election.

It was time to let the poets make magic. We connected the poets with the activists if they wanted an interview. We were amazed at the variety of poetic styles, the professionalism, and the craft in each submission. We set out to make a collected biography that functioned as manual for young readers to begin using their talents to make a difference. We also wanted teachers to be able to use the book in their poetry units. In the end, each spread features a poem, prose biography, and an activism tip—the latter two written by the editors.

The three of us continued to talk each day, moving from Facebook and email to Slack to better organize our conversations. We were a built-in critique group, spread across the states of Kansas, Ohio, and Rhode Island. We have still never been in the same room, but we quickly had to develop trust. Handing off work to the next person meant giving them power to rewrite. The beauty of our collaboration was that with three minds representing three different backgrounds and life experiences, when one of us got stuck, someone else could probably find a way forward.

Lindsay Metcalf headshotSo if you’re stuck—aren’t we all right now, in a way?—try collaborating with a friend. You’ll learn more than you could have imagined, and with any luck, you’ll push each other forward and have fun, too.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of NO VOICE TOO SMALL. [Continental U.S. addresses only, please]

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.


8 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: “A Case Study in Collaboration” by Lindsay Metcalf

  1. Yay! Thank you for Farmers Unite!!!! I’m so excited to gift it to a couple of youngsters I know!

    Thanks, Beth and Lindsay, for this post. It’s a fascinating look at a complicated process. But you three pulled it off in glorious fashion! Congrats!!

    Liked by 1 person

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