At the Southern Breeze SCBWI conference in Atlanta in March 2015, agent extraordinaire Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary shared with us 101+ reasons for rejection. She has kindly agreed to be interviewed by MGM.
Middle Grade Mafia: You have an extensive database of rejections. Why? How has it helped you as an agent?
Karen Grencik: Most agents apprentice in the publishing field and work their way up the ladder. I tried to get a job in the industry but was not successful, so I had to learn it from scratch on my own. I took on stories I loved, tried to sell them, received incredibly kind and informative rejections back, studied the craft behind the stories I was trying to sell, and learned what made stories marketable. The rejection letters have taught me what to beware of in the manuscripts I consider, and have given me a much sharper eye for what editors today are looking for.
MGM: At the conference, you talked about how difficult it is to get the middle grade voice right. Have you found that to be a common reason for rejection from editors? Is it a common reason for you to reject a manuscript?
KG: It is a very common reason for me to reject a middle grade manuscript. No matter how good a story line might be, if it isn’t in the voice of the character, I can’t find it a home.
MGM: Have you seen a reversal in the reasons for rejections over the years or have they stayed pretty much the same? For example, maybe publishers didn’t like switching perspectives, but now they want to see them.
KG: I’ve only been in business as Red Fox Literary for four years, so I haven’t seen a lot of cyclical changes. I think everyone knows that the most significant change today is that editors for middle grade and young adult material are looking for realistic, contemporary fiction rather than dystopian and high fantasy. And in the younger market, the call for straight nonfiction and narrative nonfiction is much higher than it was in 2011.
MGM: In your opinion, what is easier for you to sell, a unique concept or quality writing?
KG: A unique concept, definitely. I see a lot of beautifully written manuscripts that I can’t sell for one reason or another. An editor who is passionate about a unique concept will do whatever it takes to make a story work for them.
MGM: How often do you receive an invitation for an author to revise the manuscript and send it back to the publisher for consideration? Is this a rarity?
KG: Maybe 5% of my submissions will get a request for revision and resubmission. It is very rare.
MGM: What was the weirdest/funniest/strangest reason for rejection that you’ve received?
KG: It would take a full page to describe. Suffice it to say that manuscripts are analyzed in ways that an author could never imagine, from angles they could never think of. Much like a wine connoisseur evaluates a glass of wine and looks for certain marks to be met, editors do the same thing. I can enjoy a glass of wine that an expert cannot because they are looking for something I don’t even know exists. Editors are looking for things that an amateur writer does not know exist.
MGM: Get on your soapbox and tell us three things writers should do before querying?
KG: Study the agents to be sure they want to work with them. Don’t query an agent, get a yes, and then say, “Well, I need to know more about you.” There is a lot of information about all of us on the Internet.
Thoroughly study the craft of whatever kind of story you are writing and run your stories through a critique group.
Make sure the manuscript is as professionally presented and squeaky clean as it can possibly be. No one wants to work with a lazy author who expects her agent or editor to clean up her messes.
MGM: What are you looking for right now and what is your submission policy?
KG: I am closed to unsolicited submissions and only accepting from conference attendees where I present or through industry referrals. I look for beautifully written stories with tremendous heart, and I operate strictly by instinct. I know the second I read something if it’s right for me. I literally get the chills. And then I know that I will love it enough to make the Herculean effort it takes to find it a home. And yes, it is a Herculean labor of love on an agent’s part to try to place material.