Monday, November 8, 2010

Interview with an Author: Rosslyn Elliott

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have an agent or to be signed by a major publisher? We have author Rosslyn Elliott here today to answer these and other questions!

Rosslyn has recently signed a three-book deal with Thomas Nelson and her first book, Fairer than Morning, will be published in April 2011.

Rosslyn, welcome to the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood!

1. Could you tell our readers what your novel is about?

Fairer than Morning tells the story of a saddler’s daughter who dreams of marriage to her poetic, educated suitor—until a runaway apprentice shows her that a truly noble man will risk his life to free the oppressed.

My novel is an adventurous, inspirational love story based on the Hanby family who lived in Ohio and worked to free slaves before the Civil War.

2. I know that you recently visited the site where your novel takes place and even the house where one of your characters lived. Could you tell us what that experience was like?

I was really moved by my visit to Westerville, Ohio this September. I lived in Westerville from 2002 to 2006, and my initial visit to the Hanby House museum in 2006 inspired me to write this trilogy.

Before this visit, I had not returned to Westerville in the four years since my family’s relocation to the southwest, and so going back at last was a momentous occasion for me.

Two things really hit home. The first was the gratitude I feel to all those who have preserved the Hanby legacy over the years. Our local history in America stays alive primarily because of the efforts of thousands of volunteers across the country. Were it not for historical societies, many of our historic homes would be long gone. Pam Allen is the director of the Hanby House now, and I’m sure she knows more about the Hanby family than anyone else alive. Bill and Harriet Merriman run the Westerville Historical Society. These leaders and their volunteers are saving our past from oblivion, and I see my mission as a joint effort with theirs. Amateur historians save our physical artifacts and historical records, while novelists breathe life into the stories of our ancestors.

The other major event of my visit was seeing the graves of the real people who appear in my novels. Most of the Hanby family is buried in the Otterbein College cemetery. I’ve lived with this family for four years now, thinking about them and getting inside their heads in order to portray them. My visit to their graves was almost like seeing the resting places of old friends or great-grandparents.

3. How did you find your agent and how long did it take you to find her?

A national writer’s organization (ACFW) sent out word on its email loop that Rachelle Gardner was seeking quality historical romance. I had just finished my first novel, and I sent a query letter to her. She was exactly the kind of agent I thought would be a good match for me. She was able to see past the very rough edges of that novel and detect long-term potential, so she signed me as her client. That first novel garnered some interest, but in the end, it wasn’t contracted. As it made the rounds (a process which takes months in the publishing industry), I was writing my second novel, which would eventually be titled Fairer than Morning. I knew it was much better than my first, and that if I had a chance to be published, this was probably it. This was the best I could do. So I was immensely relieved and delighted when Thomas Nelson offered me a three-book deal beginning with Fairer than Morning.

4. What can writers expect from an agent/writer relationship? How often do you communicate with her?

My communications with Rachelle vary widely depending on what’s going on in the publishing cycle. Right now, for example, my edits are finished and we are waiting for the first book to be typeset. There’s really no reason to communicate with my agent—I just need to keep working on my second novel for the series, which is due in January. The last time we emailed and spoke by phone was about my novel’s cover. When the design came out from the publisher’s art staff, I consulted her to see what she thought. Fortunately, we both thought it was a lovely design that would attract readers.

Different agents have different strengths. Rachelle and her agency, Wordserve Literary, are known to be strong editorially. Rachelle was formerly a top-level freelance fiction editor, so she really knows what she’s doing with narrative. Other agents may have legal backgrounds, or marketing backgrounds. Of course, an agent should be competent in all areas, as Rachelle is, but I think several of her clients would give her credit for helping them get contracts as a result of her excellent editorial advice. In my case, she didn’t give a lot of editorial feedback because the story of my novel naturally lent itself to a strong plot and theme. But I certainly will consider her editorial opinion should she offer one in the future!

5. Once you sign a contract with the publisher, what is expected of you? How often do you communicate with your editor? Is it necessary to meet in person?

Communication with my editor is also on an as-needed basis. This usually means I will exchange emails with my editor an average of once a month. But when we do contact one another, it often is a four-or-five-email conversation, as novels are complex and discussion takes time. We’ve also spoken by phone a few times. I met her in person at a conference recently. I highly, highly recommend that an author meet her editor in person as soon as possible after signing a contract. My dinner with my editor and the Thomas Nelson publishing family was a valuable time to get to know one another and establish fellowship and trust. My editor is wonderful, and I’m not at all surprised that she was the ACFW 2009 Editor of the Year.

6. Writers often wonder what will happen to the title of their novels once a publisher buys them. Can you share with us your experience with your book title?

My debut novel’s working title was The Saddler’s Daughter when it was contracted by Thomas Nelson. I wasn’t wild about that title, but it was the most obvious choice for a novel in this genre. My editor asked me to come up with some new titles for the books in the series. She suggested that they sound like scriptural poetry, given that my writing has lyrical tendencies. I was really excited by this suggestion, and I invented six sets of titles by looking in old hymnbooks for ideas. My editor and my agent each picked the set that included Fairer than Morning, so I had confidence we had found the right titles.

7. Do you have any input on what the book cover will look like?

I gave them a one-page description of several of the main characters, plus some important objects and scenes (sidesaddles, pistols, etc). Other than that, I left it up to them. However, I know other authors who have suggested very specific scenes for their titles and had their suggestions accepted. That can depend on the publisher and their way of operating. But most authors have only a little input on their covers.

8. How has your life changed since you were signed? Or has it not?

Not too much. I suppose I receive a little more understanding from casual friends, now that I have a contract. They realize that a published writer needs to spend time writing, and so I don’t get funny looks if I say I can’t do something because I’m on deadline. But I had to take myself seriously as a writer before I had a contract in order to work hard enough to get that contract. So I encourage all pre-published writers out there not to be discouraged by those who don’t take your writing seriously. You have to treat it as a real job if you want it to become a real job. :)

9. Are there any tips you can give other writers on how to become published?

First, study the craft and write good fiction. I was signed by an agent in mid-2008, but I didn’t get a contract until eighteen months later, after I had written the best novel I was capable of writing.

I also recommend looking for agents who are just entering the business, as long as they are well-qualified. One good move is signing with a new agent at an established agency. They will be hungry for good work and not overloaded with clients.

10. Do you think Inspirational Fiction is a promising market (more so than the secular market)?

I think inspirational fiction is flourishing, but I also have a friend who just signed a contract for middle-grade fiction in the secular market. So it all depends on the quality and marketability of an individual writer’s work. The inspirational market is smaller, which means it’s easier for a new author to make connections, but also that there are fewer ‘slots’ for debut authors. Also, my genre is hot right now in the inspirational market. For those trying to publish inspirational sci-fi or fantasy, the going is much tougher. Even contemporary romance is less popular than historical romance in the inspirational market. But as any publishing insider will tell you, these genres cycle in and out, and what’s hot today may be out tomorrow, whether you’re in the inspirational or the secular market.

11. Have you ever considered writing for the secular market?

Not yet. Because I love historicals, and because I’ve been Christian for ten years (though I spent my young adulthood as an agnostic), the inspirational market was a natural fit for me. I knew that clean, thoughtful historical romance would be an easier sell in the inspirational marketplace. I don’t preach to readers, but my historical characters were sincere Christians and that informs the way I characterize them in my novel. That worldview plus the fact that I do not have any interest in writing explicit sex scenes would make my work uninteresting to some types of secular publishers. The fact is, inspirational publishing exists not because Christian authors want to segregate their books onto a different shelf, but because so many mainstream publishers won’t publish novels featuring a positive Christian protagonist who thinks about faith in her everyday life.

Someday, I might like to write some crossover historical novels for a wider audience, but right now I have my hands full with a looming deadline and parenting! :) Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

Thank you, Rosslyn, and best of luck with your new book!

Rosslyn Elliott

For more information about Rosslyn, please visit her website:

(Don't forget to stop by her popular blog:


  1. Super post, Lorena. Exactly the kinds of questions for which any author on the road to the publication would want answers. Ms. Elliott was very gracious. Kudos to both of you, and thanks.

    Btw, I was totally off on my definition of 'high-concept.' Thanks for setting me straight!

  2. Great interview, Lorena! You asked some good questions that aren't usually asked. And Ms. Elliott was so forthcoming in all her answers. It's good to read a well put together interview. So many times, they feel so surfacy, but this one had some great depth.

  3. Fantastic interview, Lorena. Ms. Elliott's description of her interactions with her editor and agent were especially informative. Sounds like she's well on her way, with a fantastic agent and a great book deal.

  4. Thanks for a great interview. I enjoyed getting to know more about my agency mate, Rosslyn, and her journey to publication.

  5. What a great interview. I loved reading about Rosslyn's journey to publication :)


  6. Krista, thank you for stopping by. Coming from an 'interview expert' like yourself, this is a big compliment ;)

    Keli, welcome to our blog and thank you for your comment (sounds like you have a great agent!)

    I'm glad you enjoyed the interview, Rachel!

    Aurora and Mary, as usual, thank you for your comments. Aurora, I am myself just learning about "high concept." I may write a post about this in the future.

  7. Sister Lorena is a great interviewer and kudos to her and her subject.
    It´s always a pleasure reading a success story, particularly one about a writer who focuses in such a restricted genre. I liked what Rosslyn said that inspirational publishing exists not as a self-segregated market, but because mainstream publishing industry has a beef with anything that smacks of religion. Although I am not a Christian, religious faith plays an important part in my novels, and one of the reasons why I switched languages was to seek a more welcoming industry. Alas, Spanish publishing houses are as obsessed with secularism as their American counterparts.

  8. Thanks so much for all your comments and for taking an interest in the craft of writing! I look forward to hearing more from you here on Divine Secrets. You all have great topics.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this interview. It is always interesting to hear about people's journeys to publications and their relationships with their agents/editors.


Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are the sole responsibility of each sister and do not reflect the opinions of the entire sisterhood.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.