Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Hi everyone! I'm Charlotte Dillon, owner of the on-line writing group RWC.

During April, Deidre Knight was kind enough to join the group and spend a few days on the hot seat answering questions from the many members there--more than a thousand romance writers from beginners to published pros. They came up with some great questions and she replied with wonderful answers. I thought blog readers might like a chance to read over some of those questions and answers. Of course, there’s not room for all, but I did pick out twelve.

By the way, thanks again Deidre for giving so freely of your time. I can't tell you how much it meant to everyone on RWC to get so much time to pick your brain. (Smile)

Charlotte Dillon ~*~ Resources for Romance Writers

Question by Crystal Inman:

What are the three most important things you look for in a writer you will take on as a client?

Answer from Deidre Knight:

Excellent question, and assuming I love their work enough to offer representation, I'd say:
1) Team mentality
2) Mutual respect
3) Professionalism

(but would sneak a fourth--a sense of personal "spark.")


Question by Brenda Bradshaw:

My question lately is always the same, and each answer I receive is, of course, different from each person that answers it. Right now I'm looking at the differences between romantic comedy and chick lit (written in 3rd person, not 1st), and the voice that carries each of them. Oh, and do you read queries and submissions yourself, or do you employ "readers"?

Well, hmm. I just read what you wrote in the sub-genres you like, and romantic comedy was not listed! My luck runneth as usual! lol

Answer from Deidre Knight:
Actually, I LOVE romantic comedy! I have chick lit author Cara Lockwood, whose I DO BUT I DON'T I also sold as a lifetime movie. And I have the wonderfully funny Beverly Brandt. She moves into trade paper at St. Martin's this summer with THE TIARA CLUB (which is a FABULOUS southern romp!) and also writes comedy at Berkley, as well as suspense as Jacey Ford.

****When I say my tastes are diverse, I mean it. In the next few days, perhaps I'll tick off some of the books in my nightstand as a way to illustrate that point. :)

I actually look at ALL the queries myself. It's something that I can't give to anyone else, b/c I have a strong instinct for what sells. Now, I have people that open them for me. And sometimes people who forward my own verdict via email, but the decision itself is always me.

With submissions, it varies. Sometimes I look at things and pass them to Pamela, but other times Pamela or Nephele will receive material directly. Right now, Nephele's list is wide open so must submissions are going to her, although if I find something that really attracts my interest--or that I think will work for Pamela-- then we take a look. But it does start with me looking at queries myself, and then we have a kind of "flow system" from there.


Question by Gina Welborn:
What would a historical need to have to make you fall in love with it? And what would immediately turn you off?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
For a historical to make me fall in love, it needs to feel *different*. I need to know I can pitch it as something fresh and unique, otherwise the editor won't give me time of day. Well, unless it's a Scottish historical, which some eds seem to still be seeking (see, back to my earlier posts, where I keep saying No Hard And Fast Rules!) :) But really, if I find a historical with something different to it, and it has a fabulous voice--and hopefully is really sexy--then that gets my attention.

I am turned off when a historical query could be about any other five thousand zillion manuscripts I've been queried about. I'm looking for a real spark of imagination in historicals right now.

Question by Carol Preflatish:
My question is that if an agent turns down a first manuscript, is it okay for the author to submit a different manuscript to the same agent?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
Absolutely that's okay! One caveat I'd issue, though, is unless they specifically asked right then if you have something else, or if their feedback wasn't really positive, that you wait. Sometimes it's better to give it a few weeks and just hit them anew if it was a general pass. But, if positive, or "open" ("send me something else!"), then I recommend immediately querying on whatever else you have. You just NEVER know what they might be looking for, even if it seems a field of their stated interests.

Which would be a good time to mention that I'm actively seeking fantasy right now, something I haven't really looked for in the past. But my love of the genre seems to be overtaking me, so I'm now open to fantasy, even though querying authors might think otherwise. So hit that agent again, with all the above in mind.


Question by J L Wilson:
What do you want to see in a submission to your office?
Query letter and 2-page [4-page] [longer] synopsis? Is there a maximum length on the synopsis you'd like to see?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
We only accept e-queries. I believe we're out of the norm in this regard, but it allows SUCH a faster response time.

In the past months we've integrated everything onto one dedicated server (no more AOL which was causing problems with submissions and the like.) So query letters should be send in the body of the email (no attachment) to I try very hard to look at queries within a matter of days--sometimes same day--unless I get behind. And that does happen, unfortunately, especially when I have a heavy travel schedule. My objective, however, is to stay as on top of submissions and queries as best I possibly can. Last year for a while we got HORRIBLY behind after a very close family member passed away, and I was executor of the estate, driving back and forth three hours round trip, etc. Had to sell my relative's home, liquidate their business... but that was a rare time.

Response time (which wasn't part of the question, but this is a good time to mention it) runs: Queries: roughly a week on average, possibly longer if backlogged, often shorter

Partials: 6-8 weeks (again, sometimes shorter/longer)
Completes: these take the longest often b/c we're giving serious consideration and you may go through several readings. Plus, our first commitment on a complete has to be our clients, before we can look at new possible clients.
But usually on completes two to six months, unless we're so in love that we jump all over something. Last week I signed a client within a week of her initial query (I think from query, but definitely from partial.) Right now, I think I only have three or four completes in house, and those will be read in the next few weeks.


Question by Maria Shanti:
When would a writer know they're ready for an agent?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
When they have a work (or works) that are completed, as polished as they can possibly be, and they truly believe they are ready to seek a publisher.


Question by Brenda Bradshaw:
I'm looking for a difference in romantic comedy and a "chick lit"
feel to it. I know the line that defines chick lit is growing very blurry.
And it's my understanding that chick lit does NOT have to be done in 1st person. (I don't like 1st person all that much.) I guess what I'm really trying to figure out is what separates the VOICE of romantic comedy vs. chick lit. If one's writing comedy, and she already has that snarky, pissy chick-litty voice (it is too a word), then what would define it besides which tense it's in? Does that make sense? And, could you give examples of romantic comedy vs chick lit? Thanks!

Answer from Deidre Knight:
Chick lit is evolving constantly. Right now, the catch phrase I'm hearing more and more is that it doesn't have to resolve neatly and should be "about the character's journey to self-actualization." So it's a woman's journey, and while the heroine MIGHT end up with the guy, she doesn't have to and that's not the dramatic structure of the story.

A romantic comedy is a romance that's funny. As the classic definition of romance says, it's the outworking of the love relationship between the hero and the heroine as they overcome obstacles to their love. The conflict in a romance hangs on this premise, whereas chick lit can HAVE romance, but that's not the whole story, only a portion. Hope this helps.


Question by Lynn Wood:
Is there anything you might see in a query that would turn you off and cause you to immediately reject the submission?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
As for turn offs, I'm sure there are many! LOL! But a few would
1) Saying you've written the next X, or that you're my next Best seller. This may sound innocent, but it's just annoying for some reason--all agents agree. Probably b/c we all know how hard it is to BECOME a bestseller.

2) Asking me to sell myself when they're pitching me.
3) Being longwinded
3) "Based on a true story" when that story's not that great, ie "A true story of how I suffered abuse..."
4) Complaints about your previous agent. :)
5) Weird appearance--hard to read font, stinky aromas (it happens!), gag gifts or strange tie-ins in a mail package.


Question by Mary Eason:
How do you feel about receiving submissions from authors for manuscripts that are already under consideration at publishing houses?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
It's fine, but it's a drag if I find out the manuscript has been exhaustively shopped. B/c then what could I really do with it? :)


Question by Ellen Fisher:
How do you feel about authors who write more than one subgenre of romance? Does this dilute their ability to sell to New York editors, or does it enhance it? Would you tend to advise authors to stick to one subgenre until they've established themselves, or do you encourage authors to stretch themselves and write in various subgenres?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
I actually like it when authors are writing in more than one genre b/c it gives us more than one area to pursue while we're trying to launch them, and plus, it grows them in more than one market once they are publishing. This is only a big positive for me. I have a number of new authors writing in more than one genre. To list some of my own agency's examples, Gena Showalter is writing paranormal romance for HQN and sort of edgier women's fiction for Downtown, as just one example. Robin Owens writes futuristics at Berkley and fantasy at Luna.
Jennifer St. Giles is writing Gothics and contempt paranormals.
These are just three that popped to mind. Beverly Brandt is writing romantic comedy under her own name and romantic suspense as Jacey Ford.


Question by Mary Eason:
Inspirational Romances seem to be on the rise. There are some great authors out there doing chick lit, women's fiction as well as romance. Does your agency represent a great deal of inspirational authors.

Answer from Deidre Knight:
We have a very strong presence in the CBA (industry shorthand for the Christian marketplace.) My author Lauraine Snelling has millions of books in print and is a very well-known author within the Christian market. We also represent a number of other authors, in both nonfiction and fiction. In fact, our strongest nonfiction presence is honestly in CBA these days. We have a book 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN that is selling 20,000 copies a month right now. A tremendous story that I'd recommend to anyone on this list about a Baptist minister who was killed in a brutal car accident and was pronounced dead for 90 minutes--until another minister friend came upon the accident, and prayed for him despite the evidence of his eyes, and Don (the author) came back to this world. In the interim he had an incredible experience in heaven, which he describes in the book.

Lauraine writes women's fiction in both contemporary and historical. We also have authors in category like Irene Brand and Mae Nunn who write for Love Inspired. Our author Denise Hunter also writes women's fiction. I just sold a three book historical series to Bethany House by newcomer Tamara Alexander. So, we are doing quite a lot in this area.


Question by Jami Worthington:
Of the queries you receive, about what percentage of those result in a request for a partial? And of the request for a partial, how many result in a req for a full? And now for the $60,000 question (or maybe like a $6000 question, given what I know about first book advances) how many of those full reqs result in you or your colleagues taking on a client?

I know it ultimately depends on the writing, but as an author about to send out a requested full, I somehow feel I'll be better able to bear the wait if I have some idea of the numbers.

Answer from Deidre Knight:
Ah, see this is the quest of all writers, to somehow pin down their chances. :) Rather than a percentage breakdown, just know that any request for a full is a big deal. It doesn't mean "you're in" by any means, but you've made it through a tremendous number of obstacles. Now only your writing can sell you.

Just to make a try at your question, we receive roughly 200 queries a week or so. Of those, I typically request partials on 10-15% if we're lucky, sometimes a much lower percentage.
Of the partials each week, I might ask for 0-1 complete unless, again, it's some kind of banner week.


Question by Jorge Posada:
I would like to know if the agent's role in finding new authors is always passive, or if an agent will sometimes be active about it, for example, by lurking in online critique groups or using any other strategy that may come to mind?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
The only time it's not passive (at least that I know of) is when an agent may go after a big project, i.e. someone in the news or a major band's authorized book or the like. In terms of fiction and new authors, the huge volume of potential material that comes through an agent's doors really doesn't warrant lurking on loops or trying to find new talent that way. Unless an agent is new, in which case they might want to visit some of the big internet sites for general writers.


Question by Marjorie Jones:

Do you, or agents in particular, keep a file of writers (mental file, computer file, great big huge black book) who you've written off completely?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
On this one, I'd say several things. First of all, no little black book. You can query as much as you want unless it's the SAME QUERY! :) That's the only time I get annoyed, is with people who won't keep track of their agent hunt and keep hitting me again and again with the same query (which is usually whacked out anyway...)

The only time I write someone off is if they are rude or weird or make a bad impression at a conf or on the phone--or they might badmouth me b/c I reject them (this HAPPENS) or who knows what else. I only want to work with someone where I believe there will be mutual respect, which I'm sure is understandable, but otherwise I'm usually very open to future queries. You can always query, and that's one thing I've been trying to say here over and over about publishing in general.

Why write anyone off--agent or editor--until you're further down the line. They might like what you think they won't like, they might be able to answer a concern you think is overwhelming (like that I agent/author, for instance, or the woman who mentioned an agent charging expenses.) This business is hard enough without ruling out a bunch of people before you get going. That's just MY take. :)


Question by Brooke Wills:
What is the most important question a writer can ask the agent before signing an agency agreement? Is there any question that just makes you cringe?

Answer from Deidre Knight:
SUCH a great question. Ask about length of their agency agreement, i.e. don't commit if it's a long-term agreement without serious consideration. Our agency agreement is terminable upon 30 days notice. Not everyone does that, but why would they want to KEEP you for two years if you want to be somewhere else? And what happens if they lose interest and enthusiasm, but there are twelve months left in your contract?

Also, be sure that while they are agent of record for the life of the book (once they sell it) that it's not LIFE OF COPYRIGHT-- which means no matter where it sells, they still get a 15% cut, even if the place where they sold it no longer pubs it.

I'd also ask how they like to communicate. Not surprisingly, we're a big emailing agency. :) Juggling all that I do, that's my main mode of communication. So, if an author were really big on lots of phone calling, that wouldn't jive with my style. Ask how they like to work? How often they communicate?
All agents have different styles and try to get a feel for theirs.
And, most of all, try to talk to a couple of their authors if you can. No better way to get a feel for them than that way.

Makes me cringe? Hmmm... when someone expects me to explain that I'm a credible, professional agent when they should've known that much going in, i.e. just those niggling questions that wouldn't apply to any self-respecting agent.
Example: "Are you sure you have contacts at all the major publishing houses? I mean, do you really know people at Warner Books?"

It begins to feel like a job interview then, and that does make me groan. Lol! D


Blogger Joely Sue Burkhart said...

Deidre, thanks again for sharing your time and expertise with us! I had a great time (loved the comment about stinky submissions), plus I learned so much. Many thanks,

Friday, April 22, 2005 at 11:24:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Lynn said...

I lost internet access for a couple of days, and just my luck, it died before I could thank you for answering my question over at RWC. I hope this belated thank you will suffice!

Thanks a bunch for all your time and energies spent answering our questions at RWC.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 at 5:33:00 PM EDT  

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