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Agent Advice: Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency

This installment features Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency. The founder and president of the Christian Media Association, she has received the 2008 American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award as well as a spot in 2008’s Top Five on the Publisher’s Marketplace list of “Top 100 Dealmakers” in the romance category. She is seeking: contemporary romance, contemporary inspirational romance, mainstream fiction, paranormal, comedy, thrillers/suspense, young adult, and has eclectic tastes in nonfiction.

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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency. The founder and president of the Christian Media Association, she has received the 2008 American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award as well as a spot in 2008’s Top Five on the Publisher’s Marketplace list of “Top 100 Dealmakers” in the romance category. She also has a Web site for writers called Perils of Publishing and a Yahoo group that follows her agency.

She is seeking: contemporary romance, contemporary inspirational romance, mainstream fiction, paranormal, comedy, thrillers/suspense, young adult, and has eclectic tastes in nonfiction. She is not looking for: chick lit, middle-grade, children’s books, picture books, cozy mysteries, erotica or romantica, fantasy, novellas, poetry, sci-fi, or historical westerns.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

KM: I was a writer, and my editing partner kept buggin’ me. She thought I’d make a great agent. Then I got a nudge from The Big Dude Upstairs. Actually, He whomped on my head for nine months, and I finally said, “If You insist…”

GLA: You have described yourself as “the Extreme Agent” and “the un-agent,” and the tagline on your agency website is: “Diabolically Diligent. Maniacally Moral. Defiantly Different.” Can you tell us what you mean? What sets you apart from other agents—other than your masterful use of alliteration?

KM: I’m extreme because I’m fearless. Inside, I’m on fire. There’s no one I won’t walk up and talk to, no risk I won’t take if the reward can be great, and nothing I see as impossible. I’m the un-agent, as I haven’t forgotten the client hires me and I work for the client; it isn’t the other way around.

My three-sentence tagline explains who I am. By diligent, I mean I answer e-mails and calls right away. When a client sends me work, I edit it and send it out right away. My clients get a monthly report showing them where their work is, and how many times I’ve followed up. When I can’t get to something in a timely fashion, I explain and apologize. Moral means what I do has to be moral as well as legal. I’d rather hack off my arm than cheat someone. Defiantly different means I’m vocal about my views, and my views aren't always the popular ones. What makes me different? Many things, I think.

1) I only sign pre-published writers (I hate the term “unpublished”), or those not pubbed at a traditional house in the last three years. That doesn't mean I’m looking for newbie writers—I can only mentor so many. I sign writers who are just shy of ready—or are ready, but can’t get a break.

2) I keep a short list of around 15 active clients.

3) I’m not in this for the money. When I sign a client, I don’t worry about how soon I can get them published and collect my commission. I make sure their best work goes out, even if it takes longer to make it cleaner.

(Learn how to write a novel synopsis.)

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

KM: The last two books I sold were for a writer who’s been with me since July ’07, Kelly Ann Riley. I told her to keep writing, and I’d keep editing/submitting, and if we hung in there, we’d get published. She won RWA’s Golden Heart Award in 2009, and I later sold that manuscript, titled Firestorm, to Steeple Hill Love Inspired for their romantic suspense line. I also got her a deal with another publisher, Guideposts, to write for their mystery series. So, now she has contracts with two houses.

GLA: You won American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award in 2008, and you represent several inspirational writers. Would you say you specialize in Christian literature? As well, what draws you to it?

KM: I’m a Jesus-lovin’ woman. Big time. I also have a heart for Jewish people. God draws me to certain writers, and God brings certain writers to me. I think the manuscripts some inspirational writers write are harder to sell. They may need more help than secular writers. I wanna help those who need it most. I wanna give back. In the first half of my life, I charged up a huge debt there was no way I could pay. (Dropped outta high school, ran away from home, and was a drug addict). Then Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, Kel—walk away. I’ve already paid that debt for you. You can still make something of yourself. I want you to help a truckload of people. I’ll give you what you need to succeed. Trust Me.” I trusted Him. No rehab, no AA, no patches required. I’m one stubborn broad. I never fail, because I don’t quit until I succeed. I have God in my corner. By the time I hit my 30s [long gone now…bummer], I’d earned multiple degrees with honors and changed my life. I have a goal for my second half: when I get to Heaven, I want God to say, “Ya done good, Kel. It ain’t about how you started the race, it’s about how you finished it.”

(Read some tips on how to write a darn good query letter.)

GLA: Inspirational and secular romance can be polar opposites in terms of subject matter, yet one of the areas you seek is contemporary inspirational romance. Can you help define for writers what this is and give a few examples of what you’re looking for here?

KM: People have a misconception that romance novels are all about sex. They aren't; they’re about romance. Secular romances and inspirational romances have a lot of things in common: they deal with emotional attraction, they have characters who fall in love, and they always have a happy ending. There are also differences. Secular romances build more sexual tension and describe the “hot-and-bothered” stuff to different degrees while inspirational romances concentrate on the emotional reasons men and women fall in love—they don't address physical attraction. The characters need marriage to “seal the deal,” and writers haveta close the door on the love scenes. To me, that doesn't detract from the romance; it adds mystery to it. So, if you're writin’ romance for the secular market, I want the love scenes as fiery as possible—short of erotica, which is a sub-genre I don’t rep—and if you write inspirational romance, I want writing that’s squeaky-clean when it comes to sex, although there are exceptions.

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GLA: Concerning your interest in young adult literature, what are you looking for right now and not getting?

KM: I’m lovin’ all kinds of young adult right now. I don’t need historical/classic fantasy YA; I have enough irons in the fire there. I’d love to see contemporary stuff: paranormal, suspense, comedy, drama. I like third-person point of view better than first. I get a lot of first-person submissions.

(Learn how to work with a freelance editor.)

GLA: If a new writer asked you how to build his platform, what would you suggest?

KM: Pray. Okay, more than that. Here are some things editors look for in an author platform:

  • A great hook. An interesting hook holds some weight. Find an angle that’ll perk an editor’s interest.
  • A national radio or TV appearance pumps the jam. No, it isn’t impossible to get on a show. Believe it or not, producers need to fill tons of TV minutes and are always hunting for interesting guests for their shows.
  • Get something published. Submit articles to magazines and newspapers. You can start with local publications, and then expand. Writing credits show someone thought enough of your work to publish it.
  • Have a strong presence in online communities like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, ShoutLife, etc. If you have thousands of “fans” or “friends” and a ton of people are following your tweets, they are all potential buyers of your book.
  • Ask high-profile authors to endorse your work and sing your praises. [No, publishers won’t consider your mother high profile.] 
  • If you don’t know any such authors, start networking. It’s never too early to meet people who can help you in the future. Hook up with a local writers’ group and attend the meetings. Remember this mantra: Contacts, contacts, contacts = Contracts, contracts, contracts.
  • Create a blog and drive traffic to it. You need a mountain of hits. [We’re talkin’ Everest, here.] Write on interesting topics. Also, ask well-known writers, agents, and editors to guest blog, and then promote the heck out of it. E-mail everyone you know [and ask them to e-mail everyone they know]. Post announcements on every loop that will let you do so. 
  • Plan a blog tour. It’s like a book signing tour, except you “tour” prominent writers’ blogs.
  • Be willing to place a Facebook ad. One of my clients did and doubled her sales.
  • Put up an eye-catching website, and give people a reason to come back. (Excerpts, articles, contests, etc.)

GLA: You have eclectic tastes when it comes to nonfiction; however, you specify that, when dealing with nonfiction book proposals, you prefer conservative writers with purpose and author platform (though you also specify you believe everyone deserves representation). Can you talk to us a little more about that?

KM: I list an extensive amount of nonfiction topics because I have an extensive list of interests. When it comes to politics, I prefer conservative topics. I like purpose and platform, meaning I favor proposals that have a higher purpose—possibly to teach, inform, or help others—but, I also like interesting topics, whether they have a purpose or not. I need proposals with a strong platform because editors require one. For areas other than politics, proposals don’t need to have a conservative point of view.

GLA: How hands-on are you in terms of hands-on editing? How much input do you expect to have with your clients’ work?

KM: I do what I call “triple-threat editing.” When I sign a new client, I give their manuscript/proposal a content, line, and proof edit. My purpose is to sell my clients’ work, not edit it; yet, the cleaner the manuscript, the better the chance I have to sell it.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

KM: I have a schedule on my website.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

KM: “Rise, and rise again; until lambs become lions.” [From Ridley Scott’s 2010 film starring Russell Crowe: Robin Hood.]

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:

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