Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 22, 2017

December’s Featured Editor: Rachael Stein – Part Two Interview

Rachael Stein  is an acquiring Assistant Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She works on books for kids of all ages, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult and both fiction and nonfiction.

She is a voracious reader and children’s books fanatic. Some of the amazing authors she works with are Linda Sue Park, Gary D. Schmidt, Kate Milford, Ronald L. Smith, and Sarah Beth Durst. Before joining the Clarion team in 2016, Rachael worked at Scholastic, Lee & Low Books, Macmillan, and the Fox Literary Agency. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachaeljstein.

I discovered Rachael while writing up Monday’s post sharing Mira Reisberg’s new online course for writers and illustrator interested in improving their skills writing and illustrating chapter books and middle grade novels. So I asked if she would like to be our featured editor for December and critique four first pages for us and she said, “Yes.” Rachael will be critiquing  in December.

If you have submitted a first page this year and didn’t score a critique, you should try again this month, since the amount of first page submissions are always lower in December. In other words, your odds increase in December.


Would you be willing to work with an author on an interesting manuscript that needs changes?

Yes! If a story is compelling, I would absolutely want to work with the author to make it stronger. That said, there are certain issues—particularly with regards to how diversity is represented on the page—that if present in a manuscript would make me less likely to pursue working on that project. These sorts of problems, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are red flags for me, even if the project is has other merits.

Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer’s manuscript has a few misspelled words?

I can overlook a few misspelled words, especially if the submission is compelling. However, excessive typos can sometimes be indicative of the overall quality of the manuscript.

How long does it usually take to respond to a submission?

I try to respond to agented and solicited submissions within a month of receiving them. Unfortunately, for unsolicited submissions, I usually only respond if I’m interested and that may take up to three to four months. 

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

Some misconceptions I’ve seen with regards to books for kids include forcing the story to have a lesson or moral (it’s more important to write something kids will connect with than to teach them something) and thinking that it will be easy to write based on the audience (kids are some of the most discerning readers out there!). 

Any pet peeves?

I dislike when people spell my name incorrectly, when writers tell me that I will like a manuscript as the main reason for why I should read it, and most instances of made-up science in stories. 

Are you open to working with new agents?

I am definitely interested in working with and developing relationships with new agents!

Are you allowed to work directly with the author who is represented by an agent?

Yes. For titles under contract, I am often in direct contact with authors and their agents. 

Are you open to working with debut authors?

Absolutely! As I previously mentioned, I’m passionate about working with writers from marginalized backgrounds, and I very much hope I can champion some of their debuts.

Do you feel authors should stick to the same genre once they have a successful book?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer to this question! There’s certainly something to be said for writing in a particular genre once you have an established audience, but I don’t think writers should feel confined by that. Trying something new is full of uncertainty, but it could also be very rewarding.

How did you get involved with the Children’s Book Academy for their Chapter Book/Middle Grade Online Course?

I connected with Children’s Book Academy and the lovely Mira Reisberg several months ago when I filled in as a guest for the picture book writing course. I had such a blast participating in the webinar and doing critiques with students, so I was thrilled when Mira asked if I would be interested in co-teaching an online course on writing middle grade and chapter books with her and Hillary Homzie. The obvious answer was yes! I’m super excited to dive into all things middle grade and chapter book for this course, which starts January 15 and should be very informative and fun:

REMEMBER: Rachel will be working with Chapter Book and Middle Grade Authors at the Children’s Book Academy’s on-line course on January 15th.


Talk tomorrow,


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