Hello Mixed-Up Filers!
We are in for a treat today! We have with us, Executive Editor from Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, Kristin Daly Rens!
I met Kristin years ago, and I can honestly say that she’s one of the nicest people. So, if you don’t know her, sit back, relax, and get to know her now!
JR: Hi Kristin, thanks for joining us today!
KDR: I’m so happy to be here—thanks so much for asking!
JR: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor in children’s books?
KDR: Sure! My path was a bit roundabout, while also somehow feeling predestined, in a way. I’ve always been a reader, but my interest in publishing as a career really began my freshman year of high school, when I got a job shelving books in my local public library. Nobody else ever wanted to shelve in the children’s room, for one simple reason—skinnier books meant more books per cart, and thus more work—but I found myself drawn there. I loved to flip through the picture books as I shelved…I definitely spent a lot of time hidden in the stacks reading when I should have been shelving! Once I got to college, though, I found myself sidetracked by a love of German literature, so after graduation I actually moved to Germany for several months to learn the language, and then came back to get my Master’s in Comparative Literature. But children’s publishing kept calling to me, and every time I was in a bookstore I always seemed to wind up browsing the children’s section—looking back, I think part of me knew even then that I would “grow up” to work in children’s publishing.
JR: Getting to live overseas for any amount of time is an amazing experience. We share that in common. What was the first book you worked on?
KDR: Oh gosh, let’s see, the first books I ever had a hand in editing were two Golden Books Road to Reading titles—the first was Shred It Up! by Craig Carey, a nonfiction book about snowboarding, tied to the Winter Olympics, and the second was Beans Baker, Number Five, by Richard Torrey, which I co-edited with my boss at the time—I actually went on to work with Rich on three picture books after I moved to Harper. The first books I ever acquired on my own were at Harper—an I Can Read Book called The Just-So Woman by Gary Blackwood, and a picture book called My Mom is a Firefighter by Lois Grambling. Both were illustrated—in very different styles!—by Jane Manning, a wonderful, versatile artist who I’ve worked with a number of times over the last fifteen years or so.
JR: That book looks really cute! How did you land at Harper Collins?
KDR: Through luck and the kindness of others, really! Shortly after Golden Books was acquired by Random House, one of my bosses—the editorial director for the Road to Reading line—decided to leave the business side of publishing to write full time. As she was making her phone calls to authors and agents to let them know, she happened to talk to an agent who mentioned that Harper was looking for an associate editor to work on I Can Read Books and picture books—my boss recommended me to the agent, the agent passed it along, and here I am, almost seventeen years later, still at Harper! Though my job has changed a good deal over the years—I now acquire and edit for the Balzer + Bray imprint, and work primarily on YA and middle-grade novels, with a smattering of picture books.
JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?
KDR: Everything and nothing! The most obvious change has been the advent of ebooks, which didn’t even exist in 1999 when I got my first job in publishing. And on a related note, there’s no more lugging around of big stacks of novel submissions, as agents now submit projects via email, and most editors read them electronically. There’s also the importance of social media for networking and promotion—both for authors and publishers.
JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?
KDR: There are so many things that I adore about this job—from brainstorming with authors, to collaborating with designers on cover visions, to offering ideas and suggestions to an author that may open up the possibilities of their story or the world they’ve created and help them to see their manuscript in a new and exciting way. Hands down, though, my favorite part of the job is the fact that on any day I could fall in love with a new manuscript and get the chance to work with the author and help them build a career doing what THEY love.
JR: What sort of books do you look for?
KDR: B+B is all about publishing bold, creative, groundbreaking books with fresh voices—so that’s always the first thing I’m looking for in a project. Even if a story addresses a universal theme that’s been written about before, we always want to make sure that the project is adding to the conversation in a new way. Genre-wise, I read a little bit of everything so my editorial tastes are also pretty broad—but what really draws me into a story, no matter the genre, are character and heart. In terms of middle grade in particular, there’s so much I love—great magical realism, classic-feeling fantasy or adventure, humorous middle grade stories along the lines of Andrew Clements (I adore Frindle!). More than anything else, though, I’m an absolute sucker for a heartfelt middle-grade friendship or family story that tugs at my heartstrings.
JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?
KDR: Yes! I’m sure some of them would say too much so, haha! I work very closely with my authors on revisions for their books—I usually take each manuscript through several rounds of edits with the author, with the edits going in order from large (character, plot, pacing, voice, world-building) to small (word choice, fixing grammar, etc) before we’re ready to send the ms to copy editing. Once the manuscript is off to copy editing, I remain very involved—as do most editors—working with our cover designers, marketing directors, and publicists on every stage of the publishing process.
JR: What’s going on in Middle Grade?
KDR: It feels like an exciting time for middle grade! It’s one of the categories that has been experiencing the most growth over the last couple of years, and as a result more agents and editors seem to be looking for great middle-grade manuscripts. Personally, I especially love the fact that these past few years seem to have seen a surge in interest in the kinds of standalone, heartfelt friendship and family stories that are my favorite types of books for this age group.
JR: What advice can you give to authors?
KDR: Don’t worry about what is trendy—write what interests YOU. So often at conferences, etc, editors and agents get asked what the current trends are in children’s and teen books, but the truth of the matter is that the best way to make someone—whether that someone is an agent, editor, or reader—care about your book is if the author is writing something they believe in and care about themselves. When an author is passionate about what he or she is writing about, readers can see that passion on the page—and it makes them fall in love with that story as well.
JR: That’s great advice, because I do still see people chasing trends. What books do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
KDR: Well, that’s not really a fair question at all! Editors are excited about all their books—after all, this is a business driven by passion for reading. But here are a couple by new (or new to me) authors I’m excited to be working with:
- NOCTURNA is the first book in an own voices YA fantasy series by debut author Maya Motayne. Set in a Latinx-inspired kingdom, it’s the story of two very different characters—Finn, who possesses magic that allows her to change her face at will, which comes in handy, since she’s also a talented thief. And Alfie, the kingdom’s crown prince, who’s obsessed with finding a way to bring back his murdered brother, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic. When Alfie unwittingly unleashes a terrible, ancient power, the two must race to fix his mistake before it leads to the destruction of everything & everyone they love. The world here is so richly, vividly drawn—it positively crackles with life, as do Finn and Alfie themselves! And there’s a magical card game that is one of the most fun scenes I’ve ever read in YA fantasy.
- SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES by Margaret Dilloway is a middle-grade story about a girl who is sent to live with an aunt she’s never met in a quaint mountain town—and, when she learns her aunt’s pie shop is failing, she decides to do everything she can to save the first real home she’s ever known. This book is heartfelt, and moving, and unexpectedly funny in spots—and also includes lots and lots of PIE (with recipes at the back of the book!). Every time I read it, I just want to hug it to my chest, I adore it so much.
JR: Those both sound great! Can’t wait to read! What was your favorite book as a child?
KDR: I had so many! Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Trixie Belden mysteries, the Chronicles of Prydain—but my FAVORITE favorite books were the Chronicles of Narnia. I was one of those kids who spent half their childhoods knocking on the back wall of every closet in the house, looking for a door to another world.
JR: The Narnia books were among my favorites, as well. I was living overseas when I first read them, and also tried to find a way to another place. And speaking of childhood, before we go, I have one last question. What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could make a comeback?
KDR: Well, I wouldn’t say no to an amazing YA paranormal romance—while there was definitely a glut in the couple of years after Twilight hit, it’s been a few years now and every once in a while I find myself longing for a great paranormal read. On the flip side, with the current craze for remakes of classic TV shows and movies, there are also a lot of things that I don’t want to come back, or at least don’t want them to be remade. In particular, if anyone ever considers a remake of The Goonies, they’re dead to me—why try to remake perfection?!
JR: Amen to that!
Kristin, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today and I hope you have a very Happy Holiday and New Year!
You can find Kristin at: