Posts Tagged interview

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — Author Interview


Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a fun feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Got a little tickle in your throat? Nose running? We’re all familiar with the common cold, the ferocious flu, and all kinds of illnesses, but did you know that animals struggle with sick days, too? It’s true!

In Sick!: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs, Heather Montgomery explores different stories of animals getting sick: what causes it, how they get better, and what we can learn from it. Let’s take a look!

book cover for Sick: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal GermsAndi Diehn: I love all your examples of scientists collaborating – does this happen often in the science world?
Heather Montgomery: Yes! No scientist (successfully) works in a vacuum and all scientists build on the earlier work of others. In addition to the scientists there are: managers, janitors, editors, illustrators, library researchers, dishwashers (yep, labs use a lot of glassware), and a whole host of animals.

AD: In each chapter you do a fantastic job of breaking down the scientific process into real steps taken by the scientists – discovery, hypothesis, research, testing, conclusions, and beyond. Why include all these stages?

HM: The research for this book opened my eyes to the fun and value of each stage of the scientific process. Most of us (myself included) have a favorite part, but—just like discoveries are made possible by a team of people—new understandings of our world are made possible thanks to the every stage of the process.

AD: I love this quote: “One scientific study doesn’t give us an answer—it gives us a piece of the puzzle.” Why is this an important concept for kids to understand?ants around the word epidemic

HM: Because the human mind likes clarity, we can all fall into the trap of believing that one study, statistic, or statement is THE answer—especially if it supports what we already believe. But science isn’t about belief. It is about asking questions, collecting evidence, and probing deeper into the puzzles of our world.

AD: This paragraph was wonderful: “And the reason we now understand the power of camel anti- bodies? Not a bunch of experts doling out answers. Nope. It was students asking genuine questions. Students who pushed them- selves past the same old easy experiment. Students who embraced a challenge, then challenged our understanding of mammal antibodies.” What do you hope kids take away from this paragraph?

HM: Anyone can participate in science! As a child I remember thinking that all the fun science was done. That we had all the answers, that all the facts had been figured out, and that all the best discoveries had been made. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. All a discovery really needs is a solid question and a brave someone to follow where it leads.

AD: The story of Chausiku the chimp was fascinating – it made me realize how much we still don’t know about the world. Why might kids find this inspiring?Not so fun fact

HM: Animals are awesome! And their “knowledge” of the world—whether that be innate, learned, or some other form our big brains can’t understand—is fascinating. What if we could sense the world as a chimp can? What if we could know what an ant knows? Kids don’t let preconceived ideas of what we can and can’t do stop them. And that is pretty awesome, too.

AD: The chapter about vultures was just one example of my whole understanding of bacteria being turned on its head! How do scientists keep their minds open to all the possible causalities and correlations? What can students learn from this?

HM: Right?! We have this idea (this bias) of what is “bad” and what is “good.” When a scientific discovery flips that idea over, it’s like flipping a rock and finding a whole world underneath it. And when that kind of discovery comes from the belly of a buzzard, you can’t help but dive in and explore!

AD: Symbiotic relationships with bacteria – this feels like a very new way to think about our bodies and the world around us. How long have scientists been exploring this concept?cartoon of different relationships

HM: In the early 1900s, scientists were hypothesizing that mitochondria (the power houses in our cells) were of microbial origin. But where was the evidence? Sixty years later Lynn Margulis proposed that the cell is actually a community of microbes. It wasn’t combat, she said, but networking that allowed complex life to thrive. Her peers considered her a radical. It wasn’t until we developed more advanced genetic tools—and saw that the DNA in mitochondria is different than the DNA of the cell the mitochondria is in—that this concept of symbiosis within a cell took hold. And now we are seeing it everywhere!

AD: I know you touch on this in your author’s note, but what was your inspiration to write about animal germs?

HM: In 2020 when the world was in lockdown thanks to a “germ,” I needed some hope. One day I realized that every animal species still surviving on this planet had survived an epidemic. How? So I dug into databases, Zoom-interviewed cool scientists, and started drafting. I got so deep into the science that I churned out a book too complex for my audience. Three years later, after scrapping the second half of that draft (don’t worry, I squirreled it away to use later), it all came together as Sick!: The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs.


Heather MontgomeryHeather Montgomery’s interest in nature led to a B.S. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Education. For years she developed curriculum and directed the McDowell Environmental Center. Later, she taught in the classroom, directed summer camps, and finally discovered writing! She’s published 18 books for young people and owes much of her publishing knowledge to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, particularly the Southern Breeze Region.

Interview with author Joan Marie Galat

Known as the “Star Lady,” thanks to her interest in astronomy and outer space, Joan Marie Galat is an award winning and bestselling author of more than 25 books for kids, including the Dot to Dot in the Sky series, which combines the science of the night sky with the ancient myths that give the constellations, planets, and other night sky phenomena their names.

Joan has also written extensively on such topics as light pollution, ecology, volcanoes, nature and wildlife, printmaking, cultural traditions and history as well as a middle-grade novel, Mortimer: Rat Race to Space, and a biography on human rights activist Malala Yousafzai. Her latest book, Make Your Mark, Make A Difference: A Kid’s Guide to Standing Up for People, Animals, and the Planet, is a Junior Literary Guild selection and has been lauded by Kirkus as “a hands-on, practical, wide-ranging and information-packed handbook for budding activists.” It launches on February 13, 2024 from Beyond Words/Aladdin.

And now, without further ado…

Joan Marie Galat: The Interview

MR: Hi, Joan! Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files. We’re so happy to have you with us!

JMG: I’m delighted to spend this time with you!

MR: As stated in the intro, Make Your Mark, Make A Difference is a practical guide for kids who want to promote and stand up for issues that matter to them, whether it’s the environment, human rights, animal welfare, gun violence, and more. What inspired you to write this book, and why is the subject of social activism important to you?

JMG: The inspiration for this book came from my daughter after she became aware of the plight of child soldiers. She was ten years old when she learned that children in war-torn countries–her age and even younger–were being forced to carry and use guns. She wanted to help kids escape this tragedy, but it was difficult to determine how to help faraway children trapped in such a complicated situation. Since then, I became drawn to news about the many ways children, as well as adults, can find ways to tackle the causes they believe in. You might say this was early research for a book I didn’t yet know I’d write!

Fair Is Fair

JMG: Social activism is important to me because I value fairness. Activism delivers the opportunity to live one’s principles. It is not enough to hold beliefs for a better world; we must live our convictions and demonstrate the courage to lead change. Engaging this way inspires others to demonstrate their values and participate, too. My experience with my daughter showed me that while kids want to help, working out the best way can be tricky. I hope to make it easier for the compassionate kids who also care about people, animals, and the planet.

Support for the Reluctant Activist

MR: As you alluded to, engaging in social activism can feel daunting, particularly for kids who typically have limited access to power and resources. With this in mind, what would you say to a child who wants to get involved in a specific cause but feels reluctant or anxious to do so?

JMG: Reluctance sometimes stems from the belief that a problem must be fully solved, or change must be monumental, for it to matter. In fact, small steps can lead to meaningful and significant change. My advice for the child who feels reluctant or anxious is to look at the problem and find a way to make one part of it smaller. For example, you might find it difficult to make sure every child in your community has school supplies, but you might be able to make sure every student in your class has what is needed.

One of the best ways to reduce the anxiety that can come from doing things you’ve never done before is to set goals that are specific and achievable. Small or large, a success is a success, and making a difference in a smaller way will build the confidence and expertise needed to widen that circle of helping.

(For a list of MG books from the Mixed-Up archives that delve into the issues of activism, protest, and reform, click here.)

Social Activism: Let’s Get Started

MR: As a follow-up, what are five simple things a budding activist can do to get started?


  • Make a poster that highlights a few key points about an issue and includes a specific request for action. Place the poster where your audience will see it.
  • Volunteer with a nonprofit organization, such as a shelter that needs help caring for animals, or take part in an event, such as a roadside cleanup. Bring a friend and double your impact!
  • Help victims of bullying feel less isolated. Greet them by name when you cross paths. Issue an invitation to join you in an activity.
  • Help the climate by preventing food waste. Take only the portion you will eat, and let others know how reducing the energy needed to produce and transport food helps the environment.
  • Use recycling to create a sculpture that makes a statement about a cause that is important to you. Include a card with a title and explanation. Ask your school or public library to display your masterpiece.

Issues that Matter Most

MR: While researching the book, which social issues resonated most deeply with kids? On the flip side, which issues seem to be getting the short end of the stick?

JMG: Kids truly care about a diverse swath of problems. They are taking action to tackle everything from poverty, education, and gun violence to equality, the environment, and climate change. Social issues relating to animals, however, particularly resonate. Whether the issue is puppy mills, endangered species, habitat loss, wildlife in captivity, or other topic, children and teens want to see animals treated better.

Some concerns, however, are not on the average child’s radar. I’m thinking of outer-space issues—the threat of space becoming militarized, the risk of asteroids striking Earth, and the hazards of space junk. Make Your Mark, Make a Difference includes a full chapter on concerns about space. I hope it will help grow the understanding that the world above is an extension of our environment, and that it must be protected, managed, and explored for the benefit of all humankind, as promoted by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).

Profiles in Courage

MR: Profiles of young social activists are included in the book, including Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Prize-winner who stood up to the Taliban to defend girls’ education (and whose biography you wrote in 2020); Bana Alabed, a Syrian girl who wrote about the horrors she witnessed in war-torn Aleppo; and Alex Scott, who was diagnosed with cancer and started a lemonade stand to raise money for childhood cancer. (Sadly, Alex died in 2004, but Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, the non-profit that continues the work Alex started, has raised more than $250 million.) Besides finding inspiration in other kids’ stories, what are you hoping readers will take away from these profiles?

JMG: Along with providing inspiration, I wanted young readers to know that age need not deter them from tackling issues they care about. I also hope readers will discover that there are countless approaches to making a difference, and that they should choose the style that best fits with their personalities, interests, and circumstances. Activism can be loud, but it can also be quiet. Soft approaches, such as illuminating a cause through art, can be meaningful and effective. My wish is that readers grow comfortable with the idea that they can be themselves as they explore the best ways to make change.

Joan’s Causes

MR: Speaking of activism, which issues matter most to you on a personal level?

JMG: Thanks for asking! I do have a few fixations. Literacy and the environment are two big ones. The abilities to read and write are tied to so many issues including poverty, gender equality, employability, health, and safety. Reading makes it easier to solve problems, manage finances, and get job training. It builds responsibility, empathy, and creativity. It also enriches quality of life. My own experience reflects this. The nonfiction books I read as a child reflect the interests I still enjoy today, as well as the subjects I explore in my own writing. I want everyone to experience the benefits and pleasures!

And Now, the Environment…

JMG: I love to spend time outdoors and appreciate natural landscapes. I’ve been interested in wildlife and conservation since childhood, and I often use my writing to promote science, especially my love of nature and the night sky. Writing Make Your Mark, Make a Difference allowed me to spotlight concerns for animal welfare and the environment.

Author visits at schools, libraries, and other venues give me the opportunity to promote literacy and science. My message to kids is that there is a special book for every child, and that it is not enough to know how to read; you must actually do it. And if you do, you might find that reading leads to new interests and even adventure.

Joan’s Personal Shout-outs

JMG: My shout-outs are for Room to Read, which promotes literacy and gender equality, DarkSky International, which works to restore the night environment and protect people and animals from the negative effects of light pollution, and Plant-for-the-Planet, which leads a movement to plant trees and fight the climate crisis. You can learn more about their work in Make Your Mark, Make a Difference.

Secret to Success

MR: You’re an incredibly prolific writer, Joan, with more than 25 books under your belt. What’s the secret sauce to your success? Also, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to writing? The greatest rewards?

JMG:  My secret recipe is to write about topics I’m passionate about. If I’m going to spend months or longer on a project, my heart and attention must be fully engaged. When I discover amazing people, compelling facts, and irresistible stories, I want others to feel the same  interest and excitement I feel. Writing about talking about books gives me the opportunity to engage with others on the themes that compel me.

The biggest challenge is that it’s necessary to spend time on the administration of life—like paying bills and buying socks—when I’d rather be writing. The greatest reward is learning how my books impact readers. I also appreciate the new places I’ve been able to visit to share my book from Canada’s Arctic Circle to South Korea and Australia. Great perks!

Writing Process: It’s for the Birds

MR: What is your writing process like? Do you have a daily routine or does it vary from day to day? Also, do you have any special pre-writing rituals? 

JMG: My pre-writing ritual is to feed Peekaboo and Lollipop, the two budgies sharing my office. If I delay, they land on my computer screen or my head, which is as distracting as you might imagine. (Note: I’ve not yet needed to wash my hair as a result of serving as a landing pad.) Once everyone is fed, my daily routine is to turn to yesterday’s writing and revise it. It’s a relaxing warm-up that eases me toward getting creative with the new content I want to produce.

I set specific word-count goals. If a book is meant to be “x” number of words and I’m writing to a deadline, I’ll calculate how long that should take and add a healthy buffer to allow for life’s interruptions, as well as multiple passes. No decent book was ever written just once! When a day’s writing is going well, I continue beyond my goal. This helps me meet my weekly quota early and frees up time for my end-of-week reward—an afternoon swim and visit with my author buddies.

(For a video of Joan’s best writing tips, click here.)

Author on Stilts!

MR: Rumor has it that you have another talent besides writing: walking on stilts. Care to elaborate?

JMG: It all started with reading Juggling for the Complete Klutz, which led to taking my children to the annual Edmonton International Street Performers Festival. The stiltwalkers amazed me. How could they stay balanced on those tiny points? Years later, I read a story about the National Stiltwalkers of Canada in the Edmonton Journal. It said anyone could come and try it out. That’s all I needed to know. I found my balance and became a costumed stiltwalker at festivals and events, including a young authors conference. Upon request, I bring my stilts to author visits, and put them on for the Q & A portion. I make sure my student audience knows that I never would have acquired the skills of juggling and stiltwalking if I didn’t read. This is how I make my point: reading leads to new adventure!

Next Up…

MR: What are you working on now, Joan? Enquiring Mixed-Up readers want to know!

JMG: I’m immersed in writing captions and alternate text for the photos in my next middle grade release—Wildlife Crossings: Giving Animals the Right of Way (Orca Book Publishers). Roads provide essential human benefits, but they have a negative impact on animals, particularly those that need to cross roads to reach habitat. This book explores how roads impact wildlife, and shares innovative solutions from smart roads that can help reduce roadkill to landscaped overpasses and underpasses that help reconnect animal populations and boost biodiversity. Wildlife Crossings will be in bookstores October 15, 2024.

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred snack? Chocolate! My current love is chili-flavored chocolate.

Favorite planet? I’m torn between Jupiter and Saturn. I love how I can see four of Jupiter’s moons with binoculars, but Saturn’s rings make me gasp in awe.

Favorite book? I couldn’t possibly pick!

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nope, not worried.

Superpower? I can zip through a crowd without touching anyone.

Favorite place on earth? On or near water. Give me waves.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A dictionary, a solar refrigerator that self-replenishes with chocolate and other necessities, and a satellite telephone.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Joan. It was a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readerswill agree!

JMG: Thanks for all the great questions. I might need to think more about that desert island.


Although she started making books at the age of nine, Joan Marie Galat wasn’t published until she was 12 years old, when she became a paid weekly newspaper columnist. Today she is the award-winning author of more than 25 books, with translations in eight languages. Recent titles include Mortimer: Rat Race to Space (DCB), Absolute Expert: Space (National Geographic Kids), Stars (Scholastic), and The Story of Malala Yousafzai (Rockridge Press).

Joan shares her love of the stars in the Dot to Dot in the Sky series which combines the science of the night sky with the ancient myths that give constellations and planets their names. Her first title, Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories in the Stars, became a best seller within six weeks of its release. As well as astronomy and mythology, Joan’s books for children explore light pollution, ecology, nature, volcanoes, wildlife, engineering, printmaking, cultural traditions, and history. Her titles include both fiction and non-fiction, often with a focus on STEM or STEAM topics.

A prolific writer and relentless promoter of reading, Joan loves to use storytelling to connect with audiences. Speaking engagements have taken Joan across Canada, as well as to international events such as the United Nations Environment Programme in Seoul, South Korea (2016); the International Dark-Sky Conference in Snowbird, USA (2018), and an international book fair in Seoul (2005), where she presented Korean translations of her books. In Australia (2019), Joan spoke to child, family, and adult audiences. Closer to home, she has been part of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival (2015) and toured at schools and libraries across Canada. She is the 2018 recipient of the Martha Weston Grant, awarded annually to one member (worldwide) of the USA based Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Joan operates MoonDot Media, a communications business offering writing and editing solutions in broadcast, print, and multi-media. Her freelance jobs have encompassed writing radio and video scripts, a cartoon, magazine articles, exhibit text, speechwriting, grant applications, annual reports, and other projects. She also provides corporate training and public workshops, as well as consults for writers on query letters, manuscripts, and the submission process. Follow Joan on Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky, and X, and find her on Moondotmedia and on her website. Oh, and if you’d like to follow Joan’s budgies, Peekaboo and Lollipop, they’re on X, too! (But only because it was formerly called Twitter! 😀)

Editor/Agent Spotlight: Editor Rachel Stark of Disney-Hyperion

I’m so excited to welcome Rachel Stark, editor at Disney-Hyperion, to the Mixed-Up Files!

Rachel (they/them) is an editor, marketer, and activist with almost a decade of experience in children’s and young adult publishing at houses including Disney-Hyperion, Macmillan, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Bloomsbury, and Sky Pony Press. The award-winning and bestselling authors they’ve edited include Alexandra Bracken, Erin Bow, Jason June, Pablo Cartaya, Jen Wang, Rainbow Rowell, Faith Erin Hicks, Ben Hatke, John Patrick Green, Zach Weinersmith, and more. Books they have edited have been #1 New York Times, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly bestsellers; been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature; won the Goodreads Choice Award, Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature, and Christopher Medal; been shortlisted for the Schneider Family Book Award; received multiple starred reviews; appeared on the Kids’ Indie Next List and myriad state award lists, and been listed as best books of the year by NPRKirkus ReviewsSchool Library Journal, and more. Not only that, but (unbeknownst to me when I first reached out to them) they were the editor for our very own MUF member Natalie Rompella’s novel Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners!
MMD: Hi Rachel, thanks so much for coming onto the Mixed-Up Files. 

RS: Thanks so much for having me! I’ve been reading this blog for so long, it’s kind of wild to actually be featured. 

MMD: What was your path to becoming an editor? Did you always represent children’s books? 

RS: I was a big reader as a kid, and I always knew I wanted to work with books—I just didn’t realize that there were ways to work with books other than writing them. As a freshman in high school I picked up Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees, which is an editor’s advice to writers. Reading about what Betsy herself did as an editor was a lightbulb moment, and in the way of a fourteen-year-old gifted kid who’s pretty sure they know everything and can do anything, I set my sights on editing then and there.

My actual path to the role I’m in now was, of course, far more complicated than my fourteen-year-old self imagined. After several internships I worked in textbook editorial and then children’s book marketing, and by the time I started editing full time I’d been in the industry five years already. 

And no, my path wasn’t always aimed at kids’ publishing! At fourteen I wanted to edit adult literary fiction, but one of my first internships was at Scholastic’s former Arthur A. Levine Books imprint, and after I moved on to the next thing I found I couldn’t stop thinking about the books I’d read and the community of optimistic, brilliant creators I’d discovered there. I dove into kidlit and never looked back.

MMD: What were some of your favourite middle grade books to read when you were growing up? Would you say that has influenced what you look for in terms of representing MG books?

RS: This is always a fun and slightly embarrassing question to answer, because though I was a huge reader as a kid, what I liked to read then is only a fraction of what I love to edit now. As a kid I read almost exclusively books with unicorns, horses, or wolves on the cover. I loved Jean Craighead George—I still want to train a falcon like Frightful in My Side of the Mountain, and if I could trade everything to go back and be raised by wolves, I would. Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred series made me dream of being a jockey until I grew way too tall for it. And I treasured Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns and Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher; if I branched out from horses and wolves, it was usually to fantasy.

I had to go back as an adult and read a lot of the classics that came out when I was younger, but I’ve since fallen in love with a much wider array of genres, and my list reflects that. I do think my childhood reading influences me; my taste leans literary and layered, and quote-unquote animal books sometimes get excluded from that category—but I still have a soft spot for the stories I know I would have loved. Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners is a great example of a book I’d have picked up for the dog on its cover, and then fallen in love with for its wonderful characters and impeccable representation of neurodivergence. And if you keep your eye on PW you’ll someday hear about a series I just acquired that perfectly marries the kind of story I loved as a kid with the kind of empowering narrative I want the kids of today to have.

MMD: What are some favorite middle grade books you’ve worked on in the past? And what are some you’ve worked on recently that our readers should look out for?

RS: Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners is the first book I ever acquired and will always hold a special place in my heart. I recommend Jen Wang’s Stargazing constantly—it’s such an empathetic, sweet, and funny story with wonderful characters. Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack & Zita the Spacegirl and John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators were both so much fun to work on, and I love cheering for those creators and series as they keep finding more fans. The middle grade I’m most proud of by far is Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow, which came out in January and has gathered a host of award nominations and fabulous reviews. It’s a wildly ambitious, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenchingly timely novel about a kid finding himself, his friends, and his voice again after surviving gun violence at school. It sounds like a downer but it’s full of heart and levity thanks to Erin’s genius for finding light in darkness and using it to keep on going. I could talk about it forever.

MMD: What is your top advice for writers?

RS: I’m struggling to come up with one single piece of advice because that’s so dependent on each writer’s strengths and needs. But I’ll share something small that goes a long way toward building goodwill at your publisher: When writing your acknowledgments, ask your editor to send you a list of the people in house who worked hard on your book but who you may not have known were involved. It takes a village to make a book, and you likely don’t realize how many people have poured their energy into yours. Editors and publicists are often the people whose work is most visible to authors and so they’re used to being thanked, but for the sales assistant who really rallied behind you, the marketer who handsold your book at every con, or the managing editor who saved everyone’s butt when it came to making printer deadlines, it means so much to have their work seen and valued.

MMD: What advice would you give to a debut author? Both in terms of working with their editor and in general?

RS: Broadly, I think my biggest advice is to focus on the things you can control. There’s so much that’s out of your hands, that’s out of even your publisher’s hands. You can write an award-worthy book that happens to publish in the same year as many award-worthy books, or in a year where the award committees are interested in something other than what you’re doing. Market conditions and buying practices can change in a heartbeat, budgets can be slashed or imprints consolidated, key cheerleaders could move to other jobs, delays or paper shortages or pandemics or any number of unpredicted obstacles can suddenly topple the best-laid plans. . . . 

You’ve likely been dreaming for years about what your debut experience will be like, and now that it’s here you’ll want all the stars to align just right. But remember that you can’t control the stars. 

What you can control is writing the best book you can write, and then writing the next one, and the next one. That first book is just the start of what for most writers is a long and winding career, where the models for success are as many and varied as the books on your shelf. If it doesn’t go the way you hoped? Get to work on the next one.

MMD: After the high of having sold a book to a publisher, many authors I know, myself included, have a big cry when they receive their editorial letter. I think that as much as authors know that however many drafts they’ve done on their book it kind of gets set back to zero once they begin the editorial process, seeing that letter can be demoralising no matter how gently it’s written. Whether it’s a debut author or an author working with you for the first time, do you find that the relationship requires managing expectations and building trust?

RS: The editor-author relationship requires a huge amount of trust! It’s intensely vulnerable to receive critique, and I find that the process of digging deep into a story to make it the best it can be often demands that the author and I dig deep into ourselves. It takes both trust and care to create a space where we can do that. 

With regards to that initial shock you feel on receiving feedback—it’s incredibly hard to write a novel and incredibly hard to revise one, and of course cresting one mountain to realize there’s another ahead is going to be daunting! Whatever you feel in that moment, it’s understandable. But remember that your editor chose to work with you on this project, and feedback is a show of our investment in your work reaching readers and being well received. We wouldn’t be putting so much time and emotional energy into your work if we weren’t wildly in love with your writing and excited about the story you’re working to tell.

MMD: That is really helpful advice, thank you.

I loved this interview with you at Kirkus. What are some pros and cons for being a freelance editor vs being in-house?

RS: An interesting question, and my pros and cons are pretty specific to me. For context, I didn’t initially choose to go freelance; I mysteriously found myself lacking a job after supporting a union drive 😊. But it was exactly what I needed after that experience. Being able to choose my projects and clients, working with people who enthusiastically wanted to work with me, and having enough flexibility to reinvest in other hobbies and give myself breaks from thinking about work were all wonderful. I was lucky to have a lot of opportunities to use my freelance work to get firsthand experience in genres and formats I’d always been interested in but not yet exposed to—the expertise I gained in graphic novels has proven invaluable in my job at Disney-Hyperion—and to work with editors and authors I’d always admired. The down side, beyond the obvious stuff like lack of benefits and the potential for the work to dry up, was that I wasn’t getting the opportunity to build a list and a reputation of my own. By the time Disney-Hyperion offered me a role, I was ready to take what I’d learned and start building a reputation for the books I acquired and ushered successfully to market. 

MMD: What kind of projects did you/do you work on as a freelance editor—for example are they projects where an author is trying to get their book to the level needed to get an agent, or are they at other stages? What are some reasons someone might be interested in a freelance editor?

RS: Because of the connections I had, I actually found myself in the position of working mostly on books that had already been signed up for publication, but that needed an extra perspective, someone to keep them moving while an editor was out, or just someone who could give that individual book more time and attention than the full-time staff who were torn between millions of priorities. So mostly I was being hired by publishers rather than by writers. I did take on a couple of projects from authors looking for an agent or a book deal, and I found that often they’d taken their manuscript as far as they could take it and still weren’t getting the responses they wanted, so they were looking for an outsider’s perspective on how they could keep developing their craft. Some writers reached out to me before even going on submission, just to have the benefit of feedback from a fresh set of eyes. The writing process is so solitary, it can be immensely helpful to have someone to bounce ideas around with and to help you see your strengths and areas to improve in.s

MMD: I know that in your long time in publishing you have also worked on the marketing side, including high profile campaigns for New York Times–bestselling books and series, as well as winners of the Caldecott Medal, Newbery Honor Medals, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Walters Award, and more. Do you find that your experience in marketing influences your editorial work and style?

RS: For a lot of the time I spent in marketing I was dying to become an editor, and it was frustrating to not be there already—but in retrospect that experience was so valuable. It changed how I think about what I acquire and what I hope success to look like for each book. And having worked outside of editorial I have an even greater sense of empathy and appreciation for how hard everyone is working in all departments to make books shine. Something folks don’t realize about editors’ role is that a lot rests on the relationships we have with colleagues, and how and when we’re able to get them excited about what we’re working on, our ability to brainstorm and build alongside each other, and what we can learn from them—so the added camaraderie I get from knowing what it’s like to be in their position is invaluable. I think the effects of my marketing experience are more visible on the publisher’s side than in my relationships with authors and agents, but it has brought me great books! Simon Sort of Says actually came to me because I had marketed one of Erin Bow’s books and we had a mutual admiration from that time.

MMD: What genres, themes etc are you looking for at Disney and where can people find out more details about this?

RS: I acquire original novels and graphic novels for middle grade and adult readers, and I have a wishlist I update regularly here: Unfortunately Disney’s policy is that I can’t accept unagented queries, unless I’ve specifically requested them at a conference or convention. But I do find that sometimes after writers find an agent they remember that I seemed like a fit and point their new agent in my direction—I hope Mixed-Up Files readers who liked what I’ve had to say and write in these categories will do that!

MMD: What are your socials and/or the best way for people to keep up to date with you?

RS: The best places to connect with me are Bluesky ( and Facebook (@EditorStark, I’m also (regrettably and half-heartedly) on the Website Formerly Known as Twitter as @syntactics. 

MMD: Rachel, it’s been such an honor and education speaking with you, and I know our readers will get so much out of your responses. Thank you so much for joining us!