Mentor Rie Neal

Carrie Pestritto, Laura Dail Literary Agency

Chapter Books & Middle Grade; Contemporary & Sci-Fi


Rie Neal is a children’s book author who loves all things space. Growing up, she was often dragged on her grandfather’s unauthorized tours of NASA Ames, which she didn’t appreciate enough at the time. Eventually, though, she became a full-blown space fan, and began to write space-related books for kids. She also has a doctor of audiology degree from the University of Iowa, and is nationally certified as an audiologist through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Today, she lives in the Silicon Valley with her husband and kids, where they drag people on (authorized) tours of the NASA Ames visitor center.

I’ve written for fun my whole life, but got serious about it at the end of 2015. I queried my first book (a middle grade) in 2016, and signed with my current agent after about 6 months of querying (and 2-3 R&Rs with her). That book didn’t end up selling, but soon after I signed with my agent, I landed a write-for-hire deal for The Major Eights, a chapter book series with little bee books/S&S. (If you’re not familiar with write-for-hire, it means that the publisher owns the concept, and they hire an author to write it, typically through the author’s agent.) Since then, I’ve also signed a four-book deal for an *original* chapter book series (ages 6-9) with Aladdin/S&S, called Astrid the Astronaut. (I write middle grade, too … I’ve been working behind-the-scenes with my agent on a few middle grade projects.)

My undergraduate degree is in Linguistics–I love picking languages apart, and have a (VERY LOW-LEVEL) understanding of a wide variety of languages, as well as general knowledge of how languages work. After college, I worked as a copy editor for CTB/McGraw-Hill for a couple of years, and did freelance copy-editing work as well. And, though not related to writing, I have a graduate degree in Audiology.

So many people helped me on my path to getting agented/published–one good friend in particular, who brought me up to speed on everything and remains a trusted critique partner. But the writing community in general has been so helpful, too, and I am thankful for every bit of feedback and guidance I received from other authors, mentors, and agents who turned me down. I want to pay all of that forward by sharing what I’ve learned with someone else. Plus, I’m really excited about the camaraderie of Author Mentor Match, and am hoping to build lasting friendships with other authors (including my mentee!).

I’d love to mentor someone with an upper middle grade contemporary with speculative elements. That said, I’m definitely open to straight-up sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal, as well as the other genres I listed! (Just not horror; I’m a wimp.) Would love to see *anything* #ownvoices deaf/hard-of-hearing!

Middle Grade

  • Contemporary
  • Fantasy
  • Sci-Fi
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Historical
  • Magical Realism/Fabulism
  • Urban/Contemporary Fantasy

No Evil Aliens: I love beings from other planets, but hate the stereotypical “evil alien” trope. Morally gray is fine (great, actually), and it’s okay to have “evil aliens,” as long as there are also good ones, and the good ones win in the end.

No Princesses Needing to be Rescued: There are spinoffs to this that are okay–the princess saving herself, the princess saving a prince/dragon/etc., the princess being part of her own rescue team, another girl saving the princess; but I hate the tired, old trope of males rescuing females. I want female characters who take charge of their own destinies.

Enemies-to-Lovers: I ADORE enemies-to-lovers in the rom-coms and YA fantasy I read; and that carries over into middle grade in a way … enemies-to-friends or enemies-to-crushes would be the MG equivalent!



  • Edit Letter (Big Picture developmental feedback)
  • Line edit (dropping notes into a Word Document)
  • Skype or phone call
  • Freestyle in chat

Generally, I try to respond to manuscripts how I want people to respond to my own–brutally honest, but with love and encouragement. I’ll tell you my true opinions of what I think isn’t working, but will also tell you what I think you’re doing well. I love giving publishing advice, too, but will also be honest when something isn’t in my wheelhouse.

My process itself may vary slightly from project to project, depending on the needs of the author/manuscript, but most likely, I will start you off with a big-picture edit letter, which I’m happy to discuss over phone, email, Google chat, etc. Then you’ll do a developmental edit round and send it back to me. My next round will be line edits, where I go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb (to use a tired metaphor that I’d flag if it was in your manuscript). I’d like to be generally available for questions/chatting throughout the process, too.


I would love to work with someone who is motivated to work! In my own middle grade projects, heavy revision is the norm, and it’s something you have to be open to if you want to move forward in publishing. Ultimately, your work is your own. I will never force you to change anything. That being said, I’m hoping to work with someone who WANTS feedback and WANTS to make changes in order to get their manuscript shined up and pretty. Ideally, we’d become friends through all this (yay, us!) and continue to support one another throughout our respective careers.


  • upper middle grade
  • diversity, accurately represented (see #ownvoices)
  • a mystery-adjacent plot or subplot
  • crush elements (straight or LGBTQIA)
  • spunky grandparents/elders who do not die
  • unreliable narrators
  • kids with big dreams/goals
  • dance, gymnastics, roller skating, ice skating
  • well-researched historical, especially if it has a speculative element
  • middle school awkwardness!!!
  • geeky or unusual hobbies
  • #ownvoices ADHD
  • ANYTHING #ownvoices deaf/hard-of-hearing


  • Horror or excessive gore
  • Animal stories (I know, many people love them, but they are not for me)
  • Child death
  • Contagious illnesses or pandemic stories (I am not ready yet)
  • Anything supporting racist, white supremacist, misogynistic, or ableist ideologies
  • Anything anti-LGBTQIA



Fave MG books: Song for a Whale, Amari & the Night Brothers, Show Me a Sign, Prairie Lotus, Stand Up Yumi Chung, Click’d, Ophie’s Ghosts, A Wish in the Dark, Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

Fave movies: Little Miss Sunshine, Troop Zero, The Martian, Jojo Rabbit, Captain Marvel, Enola Holmes, Passengers, Star Wars

Fave shows: Lost in Space, The Expanse, The BabySitters Club, Firefly, Star Trek, Downton Abbey, The Great

Other miscellaneous faves: NASA, travel, tap dance, iPhone photography, waterfalls, How to ADHD (YouTube channel), ice cream