Whenever people ask me about my agent Lucienne Diver I tell them that I write stuff, she sells it, and she’s really nice. But here’s her official bio:
Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York City’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over six hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense and erotica. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Heart, and the Romantic Times Reader’s Choice, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. She’s also an author in her own right with her debut YA Vamped released in May 2009 by Flux. Further information is available at The Knight Agency, her author site, and her blog.
Everything I Need to Know About History I Learned from Roberta Gellis.
Okay, this isn’t entirely true, but it’s not terribly far off the mark either. Have you ever read a Roberta Gellis novel? Full of fantastic history and characters who are truly products of their time. The men are not necessarily enlightened, appreciating the heroine’s wit and independence at first banter. They’re as they would have been—largely focused on their estates and their wars. The women often start out as conveniences or distractions and end up earning every ounce of the hero’s respect.
This is not to say that I have trouble with historical heroes who are sometimes forward thinking. I’m sure they existed as well. I love the truly wonderful banter of men and women who give as good as they get. But I think it has to be kept in perspective, because what makes a historical romance truly remarkable and memorable to me is being transported to another time and place. I don’t just want to imagine the trappings, I want to run my fingers along them, breathe them in. Do they need airing out? Is the scent of the sachets they were stored with still redolent in the air?
I think that part of the reason the Regency era is so popular in romance is that it was such a rich time. It covered less than a decade of actual history, but so much happened within those years. The Napoleonic Wars, riots, decadence, reform, Jane Austen, Byron and Shelley (both of them), balls and banter and rakes, oh my! So much material to mine, it’s no wonder writers and readers never grow tired of it.
But what about other periods? The middle ages, with the invasions, crusades, Knights Templar, black death (okay, maybe the latter isn’t the stuff of romance) is equally rich, potentially missing only the glittering, over-the-top decadence of the Regency. The middle ages were a little more down and dirty and the church a little more…present…in everyday life.
Speaking of down and dirty—what about the old west? Pioneers and pistols, outlaws, lawmen, braves, snake oil salesmen, gutsy women….
You know, there’s just something to love about every time period. Been hearing that historical romance is a difficult sell? Well, I look on the New York Times bestseller list and at the sales on Publishers Marketplace and historical romance is still selling. But there are a lot of great stories well told already on the market. Sure, if your voice is amazing, the romance gripping and the action visceral, the sheer page-turning readability of your novel may be its own hook, but now more than ever it’s important to make your work really stand out. If I can’t think how I’d write a pitch letter or what a publisher might put in the back cover copy to distinguish your novel from a dozen others on the shelf, there’s a good chance I won’t take it that far.
So, what says excitement to agents and editors?
I asked Keyren Gerlach from Harlequin, who says that super-sexy historicals, like Courtney Milan’s January 2010 debut PROOF BY SEDUCTION, really stand out for them.
Kate Seaver from Berkley mentions Robin Schone’s erotic historical CRY FOR PASSION, which came out in March 2009. The author, she says, really knows her time period, has a distinctive voice and pushes the boundaries of her genre.
I’m going to mention a few more names, authors with very unique, chicklit voices in historical romance: the fabulous Janet Mullany (RULES OF GENTILITY), Kasey Michaels (THE BUTLER DID IT) and Kathryn Caskie (A LADY’S GUIDE TO RAKES).
Sometimes originality comes from the way disparate elements are combined, like the history and humor, sometimes it’s in the heat coming off the pages or the way a particularly intriguing event or historical figure is spotlighted. I love to learn even as I’m entertained! The important thing is to find that which makes your work special and unique and to give the reader a transcendent reading experience. There’s always room for transcendence!