Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA. Kelly gives each client personal attention, including editing. She’s in the top 10 of the Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, a two-time nominee and this years winner for the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” Award, and her agency is Romance Writers of America recognized. Kelly is also President and CEO of Underdog Press.


The market I’m referring to isn’t the one where we buy lettuce...

“Readily salable”: That’s the definition of marketable in my dictionary. Hmm. I guess I’ll look up saleable—–“suitable for sale; marketable.” Okay, we could do this all day, and I don’t have time.

What makes a book marketable, or something the publishing house can sell? If only I had the answer, maybe I’d earn my wings and get to Heaven sooner. I hear they don’t have blogs there. (Sorry, inside joke.)

When I was writing manuscripts, I shook my head when I got a rejection letter that said, “This isn’t quite right for my list. It’s not marketable.” (I shoulda written back that they used a qualifier. Say, that might be a good word for a future column.)

My question was “Why?” I never got the answer. We hear it all the time. “The market’s dead,” or “How would I market this?” (Ah, don’t you know? You’re the one who works for the publishing house.)

I’ll give it a whirl and try to answer. Oops, I forgot. I don’t allow the “T” word. Triers try; doers do. The market I’m referring to isn’t the one where we buy lettuce, it’s the one that, hopefully, gives us cabbage (a word I often used in ancient times—means m-o-n-e-y).

In this less-than-stellar economy, fewer publishing houses are willing to take a chance on a writer with no track record. (Did I ever mention I went to the state finals in track? Sorry.) So, if you have yet to publish a book, how do you convince an editor or agent your book is marketable? (Hint: Godivas help.)

This is tricky. ([Code word for frustrating.) Agents and editors cry out for something different. Something unique, please! Then you pitch your idea about the woman who falls in love with a three-headed man. New technology has made it possible to sever two of the heads and have one viable man. (Come to think of it, it probably takes at least three men to find one viable one.) The heroine has a dilemma. One head spouts funny stories that keep her entertained. One head has the intellect of a scholar and stimulates her mind. The last head is the best kisser. What’s a poor gal to do? (My thoughts? Who wants to laugh or talk when you can make out?)

The agent-editor (no, this isn’t a two-headed person—you know what I mean) looks mystified. “Well, um. Yep, that’s different, but how would I sell it? It doesn’t fit into any of my little boxes, so I haven’t a clue what I’d do with it.” (They say they want different, but have ya ever tried to sell a Regency set in China? Sorry.)

That’s where the frustration part kicks in. You have to write a book that’s different, but not so different it fits into a tiny niche. In today’s market, the word niche is as dirty as lit. My best guess would be to write something tried-and-true, but with a twist—something that makes your book unique but will appeal to a larger audience than women with three heads. (Not me; I’m bipolar. I have only two heads.)

If you figure that out, great; you’re halfway there. Now you haveta be marketable as well. Publishing houses have X number of dollars to spend on advertising your book. Here’s a shocker. They expect you to help them. Say what? I waited all this time to tout, “Hey, everybody, I’m a big-time published author!” What’ll people think when your publishing house turns ya into a salesperson? That’s downright nasty.

Let’s see . . . cost of printing bookmarkers, time spent planning and writing for blog tours, and you’ll haveta arrange book signings. (Code word for a party where you’re the only guest who shows up . . . besides your mother. Fortunately, I’m Italian. I have a couple hundred I can count on. And if we could all convince our plastic surgeons to come, that could bring in staggering numbers! Sorry.) Oh, and I can’t forget the ever-popular public speaking engagements. First, ya gotta find someone willing to give you the podium, then you haveta figure out how to pry your hands off the sides so you can flip your index cards.

No easy answer here. Make your book marketable, then go the extra mile and make yourself marketable. Sigh. How to turn that unpleasant ordeal into a happy affair? It’s obvious. No one can expect you to go out and market in your old, ratty clothes. (Yes, I’ve seen some of your ensembles. Trust me. You need to get to the mall, ASAP.)

If your spouse complains, tell ’em to pipe down, or you’ll cut off two of his heads.

Kelly Mortimer