Story time! In January 2008, I received a query for a historical romance novel from an author who was friends with one of my clients and critique partners with another client of the agency. I do represent romance novels and have expressed that I’m open to historicals, but it’s not a subgenre I work in often. That aside, the author, Darcy Burke, had crafted an excellent query, and it didn’t hurt that she had references. So I requested and read her novel Glorious.
The novel was quite strong, but I decided to pass. For a real peek behind the curtain, here’s the letter I sent Darcy passing on the project:
Thanks much for the opportunity to consider Glorious, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time.
This was a tough one for me. You’re obviously a talented writer, and this could very well be a marketable manuscript. That said, historical romance is a category that I really don’t know. When I venture into new genres for the first time, it has to be with a book that I’m completely blown away by. Without that driving passion, my inexperience in the category prevents me from being the best possible agent for the project. Though I did very much enjoy this read, I’m not ultimately convinced enough in my own ability to place this successfully in order to offer you representation.
Sorry not to have better news on this one. I do hope you’ll keep me in mind in the future.
Happily, Darcy did keep me in mind. Over the next year or two, she worked on a new novel, still historical romance, called The Earl's Obsession, and she queried me anew on December 21 of last year. I requested it the day before we closed for the holidays and read it over Christmas in Colorado.
The Earl's Obsession did exactly what it needed to do for me. It introduced me to two incredible lead characters—the arrogant Earl of Saxton, Jasper, and the orphaned seamstress Olivia—who registered so fully and naturally that I couldn’t help rooting for them, even as they often provided their own biggest obstacles. They were flawed, passionate, obstinate people, matched in the strength of their convictions, if not the convictions themselves.
But then Darcy did herself one better: rather than just give me characters that felt fresh and new, she conquered the greatest challenge of genre writing: making the outcome of the plot unpredictable while also managing to satisfy the reader. It might come as a surprise in a romance novel if the two romantic leads don’t end up together, but it wouldn’t be a happy surprise. On the flip side, if you’re slogging through 300 pages just waiting for the inevitable, you’ll be bored silly. Darcy kept me on my toes with enough flips, twists, and turns to keep me fully engaged all the way, while also knowing that I was in the most confident of hands.
I offered to represent Darcy the day we got back from the holidays. Happily, she said yes! Right now, she’s working on some light editorial feedback that I sent her way, and we’ll be taking the project out to editors shortly. Fingers will remain tightly crossed.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I only sign on people who were referred. Sure, Darcy knows one of my clients. Still, if I didn’t love her novel, it wouldn’t be to either of our advantage for me to offer to sign her on. Most of my clients did come straight from the slush pile. What I think this particular story illustrates, though, is that if an agent leaves a door open to resubmit in the future, they mean it. Trust me: I’m not asking everyone to send me more material. Just because the fit isn’t right yet doesn’t mean it won’t be.
I’m excited to share Darcy’s work with editors in the near future and hope to have that happiest of endings to report soon. In the meantime, you can get Darcy’s reaction to getting an agent and lots of insight into her writing process and background over at Romance Writers on the Journey.