Editor / Agent Spotlight

Editor Spotlight: Interview with Krista Vitola

Krista Vitola is a Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Follow her @kav_tepedino.

What books were you reading at 11 or 12? Do you think those books influenced your taste in children’s literature?

As a child, I read anything I could get my hands on. I would go through the stacks of books and pick out title after title. I read so many wonderful stories that would transport me out of my small suburban town on Long Island. I didn’t care where the author took me, so long as I could escape from the world where I currently lived. The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia, Number the Stars, novels by Louis Sachar, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl.  These books took me under their wing.

My characters didn’t care that I had glasses and braces and frizzy hair. They didn’t care if I had the newest Adidas sneakers or Gap jacket in jolly rancher grape. All that was required of me was that I listen and learn. They taught me many precious nuggets of information on life and love and relationships. It was definitely the age in which I relied on books the most. They were my friends as much as any human sitting next to me in the classroom or playing with me on the field.

Working in publishing now, I hope that every title I acquire will do the same.

When you speak about middle grade books, it sounds like you have a real soft spot for that age level. What is it that appeals to you specifically about middle grade?

There are so many shifts that occur when you’re in the middle-grade age range. You’re not yet an adult but you’re definitely not a child and you relish in these moments of autonomy. Your parents listen more to what you have to say, and yet there’s only so far you can push. The world you live in takes on a different hue and you want to read about characters that feel the same way. Things aren’t as black and white as they were before you turned this age, everything is complicated and feelings are messy; you begin to explore the world of your own accord.

And with all of these balls juggling in the air that is your life, there are, of course, so many questions that arise. This is the meat of a middle-grade novel. Answering these questions that seem essential for you as you age another year older and start to understand how all these factors—friends, family, school and feelings—of loss, shame, need, anxiety, happiness— fit into the life puzzle. You still need help but the answers you find are your own and arise when you’re ready. You’re not too self-aware yet or jaded and it’s chaotic and hard and beautiful.

How have middle grade books changed since you have been editing and publishing?

Middle grade novels have always been a pillar in children’s literature. But I think they’ve recently been receiving more recognition in the marketplace. And rightfully so! Middle grade will always have its audience, but I would say it’s widened in the past five years. More readers are coming to these books and weekly numbers have seen an increase. This may be a slow effect of the Harry Potter novels or the beauty of Wonder. Novels that transcend age.

I also think that the world we live in isn’t always kind or safe. Middle grade books have a way of holding your hand through these dark periods.

What themes or subjects remain constant?

One of the many reasons why I love editing middle grade is that, for the most part, they don’t follow “trends”. At the core of every middle-grade novel are these questions about who we are and how we fit in the fabric of our everyday lives. They touch on the importance of family—and friendship and siblings and teachers and coaches. It’s exploring new places and making your own choices. And above all learning more about yourself and those values, beliefs, and joys that make you tick. Adventure stories, sibling stories, and realistic fiction are additional subjects that will always appeal in this age range.

Is there a disconnect between the MG books that win awards and books most kids are actually buying, requesting, or reading?

I wouldn’t say there’s a disconnect per se, but there are certain titles that appeal to a wider audience of readers. Books that win the Newbery may not be every reader’s cup of tea–the language may be challenging or the subject matter esoteric, so a more straightforward, comedic novel may be more appealing. A novel that wins an award does so for a reason–it stands out in the genre. And to do this, there needs to be a quality present that may not be as highly valued by the target audience.

How much have the recent movements helped bring more diverse writers into children’s publishing?

Each and every day we try to do better, to find those talented voices whose stories must be shared with the world. Organization like We Need Diverse Books and twitter trends like DVpit have provided a forum for diverse authors and content to find a pathway into the publishing sphere, and the more outlets are available to writers, the better able we are as agents and editors to acquire this content and share it widely.

What kinds of books are you looking for now to round out your list?

I would love to acquire more middle grade graphic novels, novels that focus on girls turning their hobbies into grassroots businesses, and novels in verse. But I will always buy more novels that make me cry and question and wonder.

Are there any controversial or dark topics that you try to steer clear of?

There are a few topics that I’m unable to take on as an editor: novels about abuse (whether that’s verbal, physical or substance) and eating disorders.

Is there any one piece of advice you give again and again to the authors you work with?

Stop comparing yourself to other authors!

Write. Enjoy the writing process. Thrive in tapping into your amazing and vast imaginations. The writing process is a long and arduous one, yet it is also one of the most gratifying. No one goes into publishing for the fame and the fortune. You do it because you love it and there’s no other profession that will offer as much joy on a daily basis.  Your book will find its way into the hands of a young reader needing it. You’ll receive your first fan letter or be asked to sign your novel. And you’ll remember why you started typing away at your computer. To share your story. Not anyone else’s.

Can you talk about a couple of books you have forthcoming this year and next? What you love about them?

Sure! I’ve been working on a fabulous book about cadaver dogs called What the Dog Knows. It’s brilliant and reads like a dog and his owner adventure. I have a sweet young middle-grade novel called Meena Meets Her Match about a girl who’s dealing with the everyday ups and downs of third grade, all while dealing with epilepsy. I’m working on additional books in a chapter book series, Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist that follows an eccentric and hilarious young lady who loves science and likes to perform experiments in her bedroom (these experiments also have a habit of running rampant in her hometown). I have two middle grade novels coming out in Spring 2020—one that discusses important topics on immigration, the other about the power of kindness and community—both have a dash of magical realism. And finally, I recently bought a beautiful historical fiction novel about The Merci Train (if you don’t know what this is, I highly recommend you look it up!).

Thank you, Gail!

Interview with Nicole Resciniti, President of The Seymour Agency!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today! We have with us, Agent extraordinaire and all-around nice person, and I’m not just saying that just because she happens to be my agent, Nicole Resciniti!


Hi Nicole, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an agent and also about Seymour Agency?


NR: My path to agenting was definitely unconventional. I grew up in a motorcycle dealership—yes, I sold bikes and boats and even did my fair share of service work. I was a consummate tomboy. School was a full science track—pre-med, resulting in degrees in Behavioral Neuroscience and Bio. Much to my parents’ dismay I didn’t stay on that path (not sure Dad has forgiven me yet, LOL). Resulting in several years as high school science teacher which aligned with when I began interning with my mentor, Mary Sue Seymour. Once Mary Sue offered me the chance to come aboard full time, I never looked back. Sooo, yes, roundabout to say the least, but I can say with certainty that there is nothing I’d rather do. I LOVE my job.


JR: Okay, I have to look at you in a new light, I had no clue that you used to work on motorcycles!

JR: What was the first book you sold?

NR: Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. series to Leah Hultenschmidt at Sourcebooks. Julie has gone on to hit the NYT Bestseller’s list her and Black Knights series just released its twelfth book this past summer.

JR: That’s amazing. What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

NR: So much! There are more opportunities than ever—and competition hasn’t been fiercer. It’s a really wonderful time because there are so many options, so many paths to publication and so many subrights to explore. I’m thrilled by all the new formats and technologies and even as the industry continues to evolve, there will always be room for new, great reads.

JR: I’m certainly glad to hear that. What do you enjoy the most about your job?

NR: My authors. Hands down. They are the most talented, intelligent, driven people. They possess a love for what they do and an enthusiasm for each word they put down on the page. It’s humbling to work amid so many incredibly talented people. Like my interviewer/client, for example. Your sense of humor is brilliant!!!

JR: Awww, thank you. It’s true, but thank you for saying. But, getting back to what others who aren’t me want to hear, what sort of books do you look for?

NR: I handle a wide range. YA, MG, mysteries, thrillers, cozies, romance of every variety, inspirational, cookbooks, historicals. I’m fortunate in that I can focus on just about any title that really grabs my attention. So long as I’m passionate about the project, I’m in!

Not that I’m partial or anything *wink, wink* but books in the vein of your Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies are right up my alley. I adore your humor, wit and the way you craft unforgettable characters. Devin Dexter is a protagonist I can’t get enough of.

JR: And believe me, I’m grateful for that aspect! ? But, as I can attest, I also know that you’re very dedicated to all of your authors. What do you look for in an author/agent relationship?

NR: Communication. It’s vital. Most of the hiccups that occur in the industry can be overcome if we have a plan in place. And knowing what my author needs, wants and aspires toward allows me to formulate that plan.

JR: In your opinion, what’s the state of publishing right now?

NR: In one word: flux.

JR: What’s going on in Middle Grade?

NR: The MG market is still strong. I think we largely have librarians, booksellers, and teachers to thank for that. There is such a concerted effort to bring great books to the market and to talk about them and/or put them into children’s hands. It’s a really fantastic genre in how the authors network to support each other, and in how the publishers push for marketing, publicity, and placement.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

NR: Enjoy every moment. Writing is a gift, a talent, a craft that can be honed over time. And no matter the road to success—be it a trebuchet bolt to the top or a slow and steady climb, take the time to savor each milestone. The books you create have the power to inspire (and entertain, educate, influence, provide an escape, etc…) and to literally impact someone’s life. That’s a pretty wondrous thing.

JR: I hate that slow and steady climb speech! ? But, yes, you’re right.

JR: Before we go, what was your favorite book as a child?

NR: Oh, I had SO many. Tolkien, for sure. I loved the classics too—Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Hemingway.

I was about to have you do the essay portion of answering in 10,000 words or more about why I’m so great to work with, but Dorian Cirrone has sent me yet another memo about being self-indulgent in my posts.

To Follow Nicole on Twitter


Thanks again to Nicole Resciniti for joining us today and to all of you for reading!

Until next time . . .

Interviewing Brent Taylor, Literary Agent, Triada US

Brent Taylor is a literary agent and subsidiary rights manager at Triada US, founded in 2004 by Dr. Uwe Stender. Brent joined Triada US in 2014; he was promoted to agent in April 2017. While we were interviewing, we found out we had a lot in common–one of Brent’s authors (K. D. Halbrook) was my first literary agent, and another (Rajani Narasimhan LaRocca) is in my Novel19s debut group. Plus we’re both wild about The Westing Game. Brent describes his reading tastes as “upmarket: I’m passionate about books for young readers that are extremely well-written, robust with emotion, and appeal to a wide, commercial audience.” 

Can you tell us a little about the road to becoming a literary agent? What sparked your interest in the business? And why children’s lit in particular?

As a kid, my reading level was always a grade or two lower than it should have been. I really struggled. Then, in middle school, all my friends started reading Twilight. Desperate to be able to participate in their conversations, I read it too and was hooked—I could not stop reading for fun. In high school, I became friends with someone who was a book blogger and would get advance copies of all the YA novels I was dying to read. She introduced me to the online book publishing community. During my sophomore year of high school, I started interning for a literary agent. I read middle grade and YA queries and manuscripts and wrote reader’s reports on them. I knew instantly that I wanted to work in book publishing, to have a hand in making books that would make young readers feel seen and heard. A few years later, I joined Triada US and started building my own list.

In your agent bio you list Charlotte’s Web, The Thing About Jellyfish, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and The Westing Game as some of your favorite books (these are also many of mine!). What do these titles have in common, in your mind?

My taste is so eclectic that it’s hard to find a common thread between my favorite books, but all of them meant a lot to me when I read them for the first time and haven’t left my mind or heart since. Charlotte’s Web was the first time that I cried during a book, but also the first time that a book left me with joy. In Please Ignore Vera Dietz, the teen protagonist unravels before your eyes and in her messy truths, I found something profoundly identifiable. The Vast Fields of Ordinary lit my world up because it portrayed a gay teen in a small town pulling himself through all of life’s darkness. I guess what’s common about all of these books is that they changed and shaped me as a kid and teen, and continue to do so when I re-read them as an adult.

What’s changed about the middle grade books you see being published and/or recognized since you have been in the business, or watching the business? What do you expect will remain the same in middle grade, for all eternity?

When I was an intern, there were not many middle grade novels that accurately portrayed the many identities and backgrounds in our world: non-white, non-straight, etc. I feel so happy to be working in publishing at a time when all of my colleagues are just as passionate as I am about truthfully reflecting the richness of our vibrant world.

What’s on your wish list for middle grade now? 

I love novels in verse and would love to represent a middle grade one. Most of the middle grade novels in verse are historical, so I’d love one that’s contemporary. I also love books in fresh and exciting formats: an author-illustrated novel, a graphic novel, a story told entirely through texts, stories told in reverse-chronological order.

Any genre you simply can’t stand? Or if that’s putting it too harshly, is “not your thing?” Verse? Vikings? Vampires (well, obviously not vampires)…

“Obviously not vampires” is right! I’m so proud to represent FAKE BLOOD by Whitney Gardner, a middle grade graphic novel about vampires out September 2018 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. There’s really no genre I don’t love, especially in middle grade. Historical middle grade doesn’t get me as excited as other genres, but I still find the occasional one that I love.

What’s missing in the middle-grade marketplace now? The big sinkhole in the room that we’re not seeing?

Drug addiction is such a real and serious problem at this moment in history that I wish I saw more middle grade novels handling that issue, and showing kids navigating it, in a delicate but authentic way. Adults don’t give children enough credit for being the complex and thoughtful people that they are, and to not portray this issue or discuss it with children for fear of it being too mature for them does a great disservice to the kids who deserve to see their struggles and hope and love reflected back at them.

We had a discussion recently in our debut group about character-driven books versus action books. A lot of the male writers I know personally (and some female writers!) like to write hilarious, fast-paced, zany books that don’t spend a lot of time examining feelings and motivations. Yet these authors tell me that their agents and editors are pushing them to put more “heart” into their books. What’s your take on that?

This is not surprising to me, and it is something I push my own authors (all genders) to do all the time as well. The perfect balance has to be struck between action and emotion in order to engage kid readers. I think it’s a myth that reluctant readers, or kids struggling with reading, just want action. It’s the emotional layers that will touch their hearts—and it’s touching their hearts that will turn reluctant readers into passionate ones.

What’s the one thing that really makes you roll your eyes when you open up a fresh query letter from an aspiring author?

“I’m retired now, so I finally decided to write a children’s book.” This really gets me. On the one hand, I think it is amazing to explore new hobbies and artistic expressions at any moment in your life. Lord knows I’ll try to become a fashion designer when I’m retired. However, when most people say this, you can tell that they mean it in the sense that children’s books are cursory to them and this is just something they decided to do on a whim, not because it’s a real dream or passion. From a query letter, I can very clearly tell whose lifelong dream this is and who just woke up one morning and thought they would try to publish a book.

What are your weird literary passions? Or non-literary ones?

Literary passions: My authors. Beautiful sentences that will make me cry and smile. Books that remind me why it matters that we become our truest selves.

Non-literary passions: Spending time with my family. Babysitting my ill-behaved cousins. Swimming. Beaches. Luxury skincare. Spending my Sephora VIB points.

Describe your favorite kind of workday. What are you spending most of your time doing?

In addition to representing and selling novels to U.S. publishers, I handle my agency’s foreign rights. I wake up in the morning to a lot of emails from Europe and Asia. I’ll drink coffee while I’m answering questions for foreign co-agents and publishers. After the important emails from outside the country are handled, I’ll get ready for the day. I usually try to respond to a lot of queries in the morning. Around lunchtime, I like to break up the day and go on a walk or run along the Ohio River and listen to an audiobook. I always end up getting a lot of phone calls, either from authors or my colleagues, which interrupts the audiobook. I usually return to my computer with an iced coffee and try to answer enough emails before doing some editing, reading a manuscript, pitching a book to editors, or reviewing a contract. After my big tasks for the day are completed, I spend 5:00 to 5:30 clearing out my email.

What keeps you up at night?

A lot of things! Politics, the scary crime TV shows I like to watch, my own ambitions that are oftentimes too big for my own good. The feeling that if there were more hours in the day, there are so many more things I could be accomplishing. But after a very busy and stressful year, I’ve re-centered myself and I’m sleeping a lot better at night. Because my only goal right now, in this moment, is to have as much fun as I can for as long as I can. Making books for young readers that will empower them to become their truest selves—that will make them laugh, and cry, and feel so much joy that they are nostalgic for the future? Being able to do that is the most fun thing I could possibly imagine. I am having the time of my life.

Anything you’d like to elaborate on that I haven’t asked you? How’s life treating you?

I want to tell you about all the middle grade novels I represent that are coming out soon. As I mentioned earlier, FAKE BLOOD by Whitney Gardner is a middle grade graphic novel about vampires. In a starred review, Kirkus said of it: “While many might say the vampire genre bled out years ago, Gardner has imbued it with new life, poking fun at well-known tropes—especially Twilight—in a manner sure to inspire hearty belly laughs. Her full-color illustrations are eye-catching, and her plotting is tightly wrought; think Raina Telgemeier with a Noelle Stevenson slant.”

I’m very excited for SMOKE AND MIRRORS, K. D. Halbrook’s first middle grade novel, out from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster this September. It got a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “Halbrook writes a heartbreaking account of a young girl’s spirit buckling under her longing to be accepted and her negotiating of a complicated legacy. The novel’s wistful prose and a relatable search for the Light will be rewarding for readers who can see in the Smoke any number of metaphors for the things that haunt us.”

A total book-of-my-heart, ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD by Eric Bell, came out last year. Its sequel, ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE, is out from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins this October. Of the first book, Gary D. Schmidt said: “There are books in this world that show us why it matters that we become our truest selves. This is one of them.”

Look for Brent on Twitter @btaylorbooks and visit his Publishers Marketplace page.