Interview with Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary Agency
I’ve been following Karen Grencik’s return to the world of agenting, from seeing that she had reopened her own agency, then reading the news about her forming Red Fox Literary with Abigail Samoun. I think it must be pretty amazing to come back to being an agent in the midst of all the big changes going on in publishing, and I had a few questions simmering in my mind.
So I was really happy when Karen agreed to answer those questions here. And even more grateful when I saw the honesty and detail she put into her answers.
And here are those answers.
BL: You stepped out of agenting in 2006. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing for the past few years?
KG: I stepped out of agenting in order to retire with my husband part-time in Costa Rica. At that time submissions were made through regular mail, and the little town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica did not have a post office. After several years of going back and forth between Tamarindo and Shell Beach, my husband and I parted ways. I am quite happy to be back living full time on the lovely central coast of California, and he is very happy to be spending the majority of his time on the beach in Tamarindo.
BL: What brought you back to agenting?
KG: At the time of our separation, I had several interests I was pursuing. I was court reporting again, had been hired to accompany wealthy people on vacations to video their adventures, had tried my hand at making book trailers, and thought about going back into agenting. When I joined Sarah Wilson at the 2010 SCBWI summer conference to test the waters of the children’s book business, I felt like a war hero who’d just returned home. It was a perfect fit. From August through the end of the year I studied all I could about the current market trends, then relaunched the Karen Grencik Literary Agency on Jan 3, 2010. Little did I know that just six months later I’d be partnering with Abigail Samoun and launching Red Fox Literary!
BL: Publishing has gone through some dramatic changes in the past five years. What is the biggest difference you see in children’s publishing, now that you’re back and digging in again?
KG: The biggest difference, obviously, is the e-book component and the new publishing platforms that are available. But for me as an agent, I’d say the biggest change is the increase in the number of high quality manuscripts I see compared to the decrease in slots available for publication through traditional means. Authors are working so hard to improve their craft, and it really shows. Unfortunately, it’s harder to make a sale today because everyone at an imprint needs to be on board, along with the marketing people, and it’s tough to win over so many people no matter how good something is.
BL: Do you think the agent’s role in publishing has changed? How? Are you approaching the business differently than you did before?
KG: I think it has changed in that we have to wear even more hats today than we did before and it takes a lot more time just to keep current with the daily changes in the industry. So much more time is spent at the computer with social networking, and I have a really hard time doing that. I just want to read submissions, make submissions, be in touch with my authors and editors, and live my life. I don’t want to live at the computer or be on my Blackberry 24/7. I have dogs to hike with, yoga to do, and friends and family I want to spend time with. You won’t see me tweeting, and I’m rarely on Facebook, but I will be working hard for my authors!
My approach really isn’t much different. I agent because I love it. I love my authors. I love their books. I love the editors with whom I work. I love everything about the industry. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved with. I never know when it’s going to be Christmas morning and I’m going to open an email that makes my whole body quiver. That is the BEST part of the business for me! I just love people and I enjoy being their cheerleader.
BL: When would you recommend that a writer seek representation? What do you look for in considering whether to sign an author?
KG: I think a writer should seek representation when the majority of their critiques are very positive and supportive. Agents and editors in the children’s book world are very kind and encouraging. We want to see authors and illustrators succeed. Unfortunately, with so many people seeking representation before they’re ready, it plugs up the pipeline and makes the waiting time insanely long for everyone. And although it costs money to attend conferences and to get critiques, it really is necessary in order to have a barometer against which to check your skill level.
As for who I’d like to represent, first and foremost, of course, I look for talent. My second requirement is a good attitude. I don’t have a minute to waste, so complaining and pity parties are lost on me. I just want to keep moving forward, and I want authors who can pick themselves up, shake off the dust, and get back in the game. I’m kind of tough that way. We have work to do!
BL: Do you have a current wish list of the kinds of books you’d like to see?
KG: I want to see beautifully written books that will make me grow as a human being and increase my understanding of the world in which I live. Dystopia, paranormal, high fantasy and science fiction aren’t for me. I prefer reality-based stories that will show me a world I would not otherwise have the opportunity to know or a picture book that will literally take my breath away or make me laugh out loud.