Born to a family of readers, Christen Karniski comes by her love of books naturally. “Growing up, I read a large array of books,” said Karniski, who counts Charles Dickens —whose work was introduced to her by her father—as one of her favorite authors. “Mostly, when I was younger, I read all types of fiction. I love reading young adult [fiction] still.” When she wasn’t reading as a child, Karniski was playing soccer; she was accomplished enough to play professionally for two years, spending the 2008 season in Uppsala, Sweden, and then the 2009 campaign with the Washington Freedom. Tiring of the road, Karniski looked for a way to marry her two passions and landed a position in June 2010 as acquiring editor in sports and general interest titles for Rowman & Littlefield.

Karniski, who is now an associate editor, would like to write a young adult novel one day, but for now, she’s happy to focus on sports and editing the books she acquires. When asked what she believes makes a great story, Karniski said, “I think for sports books, especially if it’s about an individual team or a player, people like to hear about someone who’s had to struggle to get to where he or she is and ultimately finds success. That’s an important element for people to read about and relate to.”

Relating to the books she acquires is key for Karniski, who majored in English at the University of Illinois. “One of the biggest things I like to look for is a unique story, one that’s written in an accessible style. We often compete with big publishers, and I want to find something that hasn’t been written about before, something that fascinates me. Those are the kinds of stories I’m always on the look out for.”

At the top of her list are soccer books. “When I first started with the company, it would publish one or two sports books per year. I’m looking for titles that offer a new take on soccer for people here to discover. I love having the inside perspective as someone who not only played but followed sports.”

Karniski became acquainted with R&L when she interned for the company’s Chicago-based imprint, Ivan R. Dee, in between soccer seasons. “When I moved to D.C. to play soccer, R&L was there and new possibilities opened up.”

She has acquired nearly 30 titles since arriving, and she has bought books in a range of areas. Her acquisitions typically “illuminate a broader picture of a sport or sports tradition while giving the reader lots of fun anecdotes and tidbits,” said Elaine Schleiffer, manager of publicity and advertising at R&L. Karniski’s current titles include A History of Women’s Boxing by Malissa Smith and The 1928 New York Yankees by Charlie Gentile—each set to come out in July.

Since Karniski’s arrival at R&L, its sports line has grown from a couple of books a year to 15–20 titles annually. She said her vision for the future of the sports line is to continue to combine sports and storytelling. She said she would like to develop the list so that it covers a variety of sports, and also find books that highlight the factors that make each sport unique. “Whether it’s reference or general interest, there are so many stories to be told.”

Age: 29

Current title: Associate editor, Rowman & Littlefield

Higher education: B.A. in English from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Favorite books: Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend; Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run; and Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times

Favorite soccer player growing up: Joy Fawcett—”an amazing defender for the U.S. national team”