We’re so happy to have a guest on the blog today, Kristin Ostby. Kristin is a Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and we adore her taste – especially since she’s publishing three Bent Agency titles (see below for more info on that)! But more than that, Kristin is a real pro – and for this month’s focus on revision, we knew we couldn’t do better than to chat with her about how she got her start in Editorial, her own history as a reader, and her approach to working with writers on revising:
This question is a three-parter on your book history: Was there one book that started it all for you—inspired a love of reading in you?
I don’t know that I could pinpoint just one. The first book I read on my own was Green Eggs and Ham—but I might have just had it memorized. I also recall repeat bedtime readings of Corduroy, Make Way for Ducklings, The Snowy Day, and The Story About Ping.
Is there a book that changed your life?
I cite this book so often, but Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech shattered me when I read it as a kid. I think it was the first book I read where the ending pulled the rug right out from under me. You laughed the whole way through, until suddenly, you were in tears. I am always searching for middle-grade like this book.
Is there a book that you turn to again and again?
With some exceptions, I am not a big re-reader. There are always too many books I haven’t read!
Did you always know that you wanted to be a children’s book editor? Can you tell us how your career evolved?
I did not always know I wanted to be a children’s book editor. At a certain point—probably high school—I knew I wanted to work with words. I figured that meant I’d be a journalist of some kind—in college, I wrote for the school newspaper, interned at a fashion magazine and a TV news station. But, thanks to a suggestion from a friend who knew how much I loved kids’ books, it finally occurred to me that a job as a kids’ book editor could be perfect for me. I received a summer internship at a major house, and it all fell into place from there.
What are the parts of your job that you least expected?
I was surprised by how little manuscript editing gets done during the work day, and in turn, how little time there is for free-reading at home. Because editors wear so many hats, we spend our days fielding various requests from Sales, liaising with Marketing and Publicity about plans for upcoming books, preparing to take projects to acquisitions, making and negotiating offers, presenting our books at meetings, connecting with Design about covers and interiors, or reviewing passes of various stages of books. It means editing time and reviewing submissions mostly happens on nights and weekends.
In your opinion, what makes a good editor?
For me, that means being available, responsive, supportive, and encouraging with my authors, as well as providing feedback that helps them develop their best work. It also means I’m a big advocate for their books in-house.
Editors have the great skill to read something that they can see needs work, while seeing what the manuscript can become. How do you do this—how do you intuit the story lying inside what’s on the page?
I’m drawn to voice and character first. If I connect with those two things, but the story isn’t quite there yet, I can usually see the potential. While the process of intuiting the best way to shape a story varies by book, it often comes down to looking at the overall story arc and trying to figure out ideas for how to build it to an exciting climax and a satisfying conclusion, with lots of tension and character development along the way. Hopefully either the author can get on board with your ideas, or they help to spur other ideas that might help to achieve a similar goal.
This month on the blog we’re focusing on revision. What advice do you have for writers on this part of creating a book?
Try your hardest to be flexible and open to the feedback you’ve received. This is not easy, but it’s crucial to being effective at revising. Even if you don’t exactly connect with a particular piece of feedback, it most likely signals a larger issue in your story that needs to be resolved. I’ve found there’s usually a way for an author to stay true to their story and to find a solution to the problem at hand, so long as they’re open to ideas.
Would you tell us about some of your favorite upcoming titles?
I’ll take this chance to brag about my Bent Agency titles! Next spring, I’m looking forward to the release of Poison Is Not Polite: A Wells and Wong Mystery by Robin Stevens, the follow-up to Murder Is Bad Manners, which published in April. Poison Is Not Polite is a fantastic middle-grade murder-mystery set at a 1930s English manor, when someone gets poisoned at tea. It’s spectacular. I am also working on two books for next summer from TBA, including Edward Gets Messy by Rita Meade, illustrated by Olga Stern. It’s about a very neat little pig who is afraid to get dirty, and it’s crazy-cute. And, last but not least, The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere is a middle-grade mystery-comedy about a girl who is frustrated she didn’t inherited the family business (a.k.a., the mafia) when her grandfather passed away, and along the way she discovers what it really means to be “bad.” (The Bent Agency rocks!)
Just for fun:
What did you want to be when grown up? At different times I wanted to be a singer, an oceanographer, a cartoonist, or an astronaut.
If you could sign one song on American Idol what would it be? “Damn Cold Night” by Avril Lavigne. Sure, why not.
What are some of your favorite movies? Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Princess Bride, What About Bob?, Almost Famous, The Jerk