Monday, April 16, 2007

Meet Kelly Mortimer, of the Mortimer Literary Agency. Kelly, thank you for being here. Let’s start by telling people how many proposals you receive in week:

Kelly: Haven’t you heard? I’m not accepting queries at this time. Strange, it seems you’re not the only one who hasn’t heard. I got so snowed under with queries, a St. Bernard couldn’t have found me—and I could’ve used the Brandy! I became an agent because I felt there were great authors out there, and not enough agents to represent them. I was correct. Unfortunately, I can't represent them all. I can do the work of three people, but only three. How’s that for taking a paragraph and not answering your question? I have specific guidelines on my Web site. There are only a select few ways I’ll accept a query right now. With those, plus the rogues who disregard the rules, I get about ten a week. Not too bad, but it’s still 40 a month, which adds up if you’re not supposed to be accepting queries. And being the soft-hearted gal that I am (don't believe those other things you hear...), I try to give everyone a chance, so most get a request.

EL: Can you tell me what kind of things you look for in a proposal?

Kelly: I can tell you, but then I’d haveta kill you.... Sorry, couldn't help it. My fingers have a will of their own. Seriously, in a query letter, I look for the genre/sub-genre, the word count, the author’s credits, and contest placements. Your next thought is, “That can't be right. What about plot, conflict, and characters?” I work differently than some agents; I have my reasons. Truth is, no matter how great a query reads, it doesn't usually translate into a great manuscript. I’m not even looking to evaluate a manuscript, but an author. Does the writer work in a genre I represent? Do I already have enough authors in that category? Has the writer ever sold a short story? Article? Anything to show me someone thinks their work is publishable. The word count tells me where I can sell the manuscript, and the contest info can hurt or help.

I know how hard it is to final in a contest, but things are changing. Being a final round judge in several contests, I know some of the material I’ve read isn’t publishable. There are so many contests now, the competition isn’t as stiff as it once was. The ultimate goal in entering a contest is to snag an editor or agent. If the manuscript has finaled in 10 contests, but nobody’s bought it or offered to represent the author, what does that tell me? The first three chapters are hot, and the rest has problems. I know the business is subjective, but at some point if a manuscript is that good, someone will want it. A few wins in the more major contests like the Golden Heart and the Genesis, or non-RWA National contests is better than finaling in a dozen smaller ones.

If I ask for a proposal, it’ll be the prologue (if applicable) and the first chapter, plus a short synopsis. If I don't like the work enough to represent the author, I know it right away. Why do I only ask for one chapter instead of three? The plot never falls apart by chapter three, and if I want the full, by the time I receive it I forget what I’ve previously read and have to start all over again. I figured I might as well re-read one chapter instead of three. If I ask for the full, I’ll want a complete marketing plan. As Jerry Maguire said, “Help me, to help you!” In this competitive market where more doors are closed to first-time authors than ever before, the writer needs to show the editor what they’re willing to do to help sell the book.

EL: On the average, how many new clients do you take on in a year?

Kelly: I evaluate very carefully, as I’m more of a partner than an agent. Each clients’ manuscripts get complete line edits, and that takes time. I’ve never read a manuscript that was completely error-free. I catch things, some small, some big, but every edge you can get, you need to take. The editors I submit to know I’ve gone over the manuscript, and it’ll be clean because I have more at stake than an agent who’s sent a client to a paid editor. Most agents don't have the time or inclination to edit. I think of this business as a war. Each client is different, and each needs their own battle plan. But one thing always holds true. A person fighting for their own country or beliefs is worth three mercenaries. I know, TMI! I’d do a terrible job on a lie-detector test. Can you imagine me giving a yes or no answer?! Actually, I have taken one. Off the track again.... There’s no reasonable answer. I might find one client in four months, or four in one month. But I have to stagger them, as I want each to get my full attention. I’ll know when I have more than I can properly care for, and then I’ll stop until other clients don't need as much of my time.

EL: What are the biggest reasons for rejecting a manuscript?

Kelly: I’m having a bad day. Okay, I have a lot of bad days, but that isn't the real reason. This one’s simple: The writing isn't good enough. Most manuscripts either need too much editing, or the manuscript (plot, characters) aren’t original enough. I’ve taken on a few authors who have great potential, but need some guidance in the editing area, but most writers submit way before they’re ready.

EL: What is the one thing you wish more authors did?

Kelly: Come on, I gotta pick one? Sheesh. Okay. I wish more authors would realize that agents are people just like writers. We have families, lives, and insecurities (well, some of us do...). We don't wanna hurt anyone’s feelings, and we’d love to say yes to everyone. We can't, and it’s nothing personal. What do I wish they’d do? Give a simple thank you, take any comments meant to help them with grace, and still like me as much as I like them, even if I have to pass. I know, dare to dream!

EL: Awesome feedback, Kelly. Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed.

Want to know more? Check out Kelly’s website at


Pammer said...

Great interview Kelly!

Thanks for sharing with us.


Dineen A. Miller said...

I'm on of the fortunate ones to call Kelly my agent. She's an amazing encourager with a mighty red pen. LOL! She pushes me to improve, and I am so grateful for that. Even if I do whine sometimes. ;-)

Rhi Neeley said...

Great insights, Kelly. A lot of writers don't take criticism well, even when it's meant to help them. When an agent or editor takes the time to give me actual comments on a submission or query and not just send off a form letter, a writer should at least take the time to see if the comments made on their work makes sense. I know I do.

Angie said...

Great interview, Kelly. Loved the humor! And the caution about submitting too soon. Blessings!

Caroline said...

Love Kelly's fun side that really gets in those serious hints! Thks for the great interview.

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