For today's Friday's Features, I'm interviewing my lovely agent Karen Grencik. Karen transitioned from a career as a court reporter to that of an agent, specifically to see the story Double Luck, Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan, written by Lu Chi Fa with Becky White—a project near and dear to her heart—published. And that, in essence, is what makes Karen so wonderful to work with: if she truly loves your project, she'll do what it takes to see it to fruition.
In 2006, Karen left agenting to "pursue adventures in the tropical forests of Costa Rica," but returned to agenting in early 2011. In the summer of 2011, she joined forces with former Tricycle Press editor Abigail Samoun to form Red Fox Literary, a boutique agency specialiazing in picture books, middle-grade, and young adult titles.
Here, Karen shares her top 3 advice for aspiring writers, the most common writing and submission mistakes she sees writers make, and the kind of manuscripts that call to her:
1. Tell us a little about your path to becoming a literary agent.
I became an agent because of a life story that I wanted to see published. Double Luck, Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan, written by Lu Chi Fa with Becky White, was published by Holiday House in 2000 and opened doors for me to transition from a court reporting career to a fulfilling and exciting career as a literary agent. In June 2011 ex-Tricycle Press editor Abigail Samoun and I joined forces to create Red Fox Literary and we’ve been working at top speed ever since.
2. What kind of manuscripts are you looking for?
I look for heartfelt stories that are beautifully written. I gravitate more toward literary material than commercial. A manuscript has to literally give me the chills before I can commit to it, so I look to be moved emotionally or to learn something about the world I would not have known had I not read the manuscript.
3. Can you share with us a recent project you acquired and what attracted you to the project?
I’ve just signed an author who originally submitted to me in early 2011. She is adorable and professional and works really, really hard. She received seven offers for representation on her most recent manuscript and after considerable discussion she felt that Abi’s editorial skills and my personal skills were the best package for her. She has written the first novel of a YA trilogy that has a fresh, compelling concept and we look forward to going out with it.
4. What are some of the most common mistakes you see writers making when writing and submitting their work?
I think the biggest problem are the manuscripts submitted by people who think writing for children is easy and they don’t need to have any training. Having, myself, made many mistakes when I first started out in 1999, I am very patient and tolerant of mistakes made by people who are doing their best and simply don’t have all the information they need yet. But I devoted every possible moment to learning all I could about the industry and I would hope others would as well.
5. Are you still accepting new clients and how can writers best approach you for representation?
Unfortunately we have had to close to unsolicited submissions and we only accept submissions now from attendees at conferences where we present. I spent an average of 100 hours a month reading and responding to unsolicited submissions for an entire year before we finally closed, and I feel badly that people can’t have access to us without spending the time and money to attend a conference, but it was simply unmanageable for us. We know the attendees at conferences are serious and committed to their craft and those are the kinds of people we want to hear from.
6. What upcoming conferences/events will you be attending where writers can meet you?
I will be in Las Vegas, Nevada at the end of January; Tulsa, Oklahoma in April; and Springfield, Massachusetts in May. Abi is taking a much needed break from conferences as she adjusts to being a new mom and juggling her new responsibilities at home.
7. What is your top 3 tips for aspiring writers trying to break into the very competitive field of writing and publishing children's books?
Study, study, study, work, work, work, and...be nice!
8. What are your thoughts on e-books and the role agents play in this market?
I know that several agencies are getting into the business of assisting their authors in publishing e-books and taking the standard 15% royalty from sales, and I have no problem with that. Abi and I are not ready to transition into that market yet. We both love to see our books come to life on paper and to hold them in our hands.