Meet Agent Kelly Mortimer

- by Dara Girard

Kelly - ACFW 2008Tell us about your agency and yourself.

My favorite subjects!

About Me: I’m a Jesus-lovin’, Bipolar, Italian gal. What I love: firearms, shoe shopping, wielding knives, bubble baths, hand-to-hand combat, Ann Taylor clothing, swingin’ nunchucks, making people laugh, killin’ rattlesnakes, designing handbags, ridin’ motorcycles, tractors, and horses; and getting’ decked out in eveningwear. As to being an agent: I just wanna help writers.

About Mortimer Literary: My agency isn’t typical to the industry. I only represent pre-published writers [I dislike the word ‘unpublished,’ as it has a negative bent to me.], or those who haven’t been published by a traditional house in the last three years. [Yes, I am crazy. Just ask Dr. Moon, my psychiatrist.] I keep a short list, as I three-way edit [content, line, and proof] my clients’ work until I snag ’em an editor. Extensive editing takes time. My agent-friends have roughly 40-50 clients, so most can’t do what I do. I represent clients who write for the inspirational market, and the secular market. [Even heathen-pagans deserve representation.] My authors [and what they think of me] are listed on my agency Web site. www.mortimerliterary.com

What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?

Several things. Actually, I don’t represent books; I represent writers. I’ve signed writers who’ve only shown me chapter one of their work. I even signed one on an idea. The point is, I consider the relationship, well, a relationship. I ponder: would I want this person as a member of my family? Who knows, mayhap it’s an Italian thing.

My clients are my extended family. As for the manuscript, I want whatever. Meaning, the subject isn’t as important as this: When I finish what the writer’s sent me, do I HAVE to read more? If not, why? Anyone can fix bad mechanics, but no one can teach a writer to have a voice, imagination, or an idea. If those are there, I may overlook the mechanics and work with the writer.

It also depends on how many clients I have at the time, or how many still need my editing help. If I “overbook” myself, I won’t be any good to anyone, and I also run a nonprofit organization [ www.joincma.org ], and a custom handbag business. [ www.4galsdesigns.com ] [I can do the work of three people, but only three.]

What makes a writer a good choice for you?

I want go-to guys and gals who have some self-confidence, who aren’t afraid of marketing, and who are willing to listen to my suggestions. I want writers who WRITE, not ones who have stacks of manuscripts they’re sittin’ on, and they won’t write fresh stuff until the stale stuff sells. I want clients who want a partner, not just an agent.

How much input do you expect to have on a client’s work?

Well, I give all the input I can. My clients and I have the same goal: to get them published. I also have a reputation to uphold with editors: that I send out clean work. I believe every writer should want to submit his or her best work, even if it takes longer. But, I give advice, not orders. [Darn it!]

Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?

Yes, I do wanna build careers [always liked Legos….]. I don’t sign manuscripts; I sign authors. Example: I might work with a writer for several months. Next, I’ll submit their work to a series/category house and get them published there first.

They have lower word counts, and an automatic audience, as readers “buy the line,” not just the author. When the writer is already published, it’s easier to then move them into the single title market. With good sell-through numbers, I can build their advances for their next books. Thus, their careers grows, as do their piggy banks.

What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?

Not just in the genres I represent, but any writer’s biggest mistake, is being impatient and sending their work out before it’s their best work. I see it all the time. I’ve turned someone down because his or her writing can’t yet compete with what’s out there. Next thing I know, I hear they’re published! But, with a no advance, tiny publishing house. Learn, practice, edit, and make sure you’re sending out your best work.

How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?

I advise my writers to write what they love. I can usually tell when my clients write for the market. [Writing something because it’s currently selling well.] The voice screams, “Forced!” Writing for the market rarely works, as it takes an average of 12-18 months to get a book out. By then, the trend can be over. Try different genres and see which voice is your strongest. It’s like being in love: when you’re there, ya just know.

Many authors write in more than one genre. I suggest writers use a pseudonym for each genre, so as not to confuse and/or anger the reader. If you write paranormal under your name, then use the same name to write a straight contemporary, the reader doesn’t get what they’re used to, and that can get the author into trouble. No one can afford to lose readers. [Not even J.D. Robb.]

What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?

Not exactly sure what you mean, but I’ll give it a shot. I support my writers several ways: through editing, phone calls, cards, e-mails, prayers, and sometimes I slap ’em around. It all depends on the situation.

How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?

Sorry, no can do. I’m not here for them, as stated in one of my other answers. The author would have to fit into the ‘hasn’t been pubbed with a traditional house in three years’ category.

Of course, I want my clients well established, and when I get ’em there, I don’t kick ’em out!

What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?

If I have a pulse. Seriously, I’m not thrilled with writers who don’t even bother to go to my Web site to learn my name, see if I represent what they write, or learn my agenting philosophy. Those writers waste their time, but they also waste mine, which makes me angry. [Hint: It’s not smart to get a bipolar Italian mad at ya.]

How would you handle a new mid-career client?

Once my clients have some published books under their belt, I may suggest they diversify [finance term—I have a degree in finance as well as contract law.]. if you’re writing for two houses and you lose a contract at one, you still have the other.

Or, if my client’s current house won’t up their advances or their support in the publicity department, I might suggest we look for a different house. Just gotta be careful. This is a small industry, and interwoven. Don’t burn bridges.

How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?

Honestly, [I’m dreadfully honest. Don’t ask me how your new outfit looks unless ya really wanna know.] It isn’t working for my present clients yet. Just hasn’t really had an impact.

Do you accept electronic submissions?

For queries and one chapter, yes, I prefer e-mail. I have double tennis elbow [If I had three arms, I’d probably have triple tennis elbow], and I’m supposed to stay away from the keyboard. [I said, “supposed to….”] I need a hard copy for longer submissions so I can edit them by hand, instead of by typing. [I had to answer these questions in three shifts on three different days. See? Aren't I dedicated!]

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It’s dangerous to ask a bipolar Italian if they have anything else they wanna say…. Just keep learning, keep your chin up, and stay in the game. Oh, and thanks for asking!

5 comments

  1. Great interview : )

  2. I loved this interview! I think there is something inordinately special about Ms. Mortimer, and I really hope she accepts my material! I also dig the fact that she represents authors, not books! I really want to become a part of her family! i happen to be a Jesus-lovin’, Prozac-poppin’, Lit-lovin’ Euro-mutt!

    Yippee!

    d.

  3. Nice Agent!

  4. I’d like to see you in evening wear killing a rattle snake.

  5. Some really grand work on behalf of the owner of this website, utterly outstanding content material.