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 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.


I think the burning at the stake thing can go—sorry!

Agent Kelly Mortimer here. So glad to be a part of this magazine, and so happy you’re taking your valuable time to read my column. Thanks!

Yet another term writers have to learn. Who invents these words, anyway? Where do they come from? Is a super-secret society gathering in someone’s basement, rubbing their hands together in glee while thinkin’ up more definitions to torture us?

So, what’s “emergent,” also called “emerging”? Emergent has different meanings in different situations. In the publishing industry, emergent usually pertains to the inspirational market. Not new—the word’s been around for ages, but for the past few years it’s been emerging (pun intended) in the literary world as the church movement of the same name gains slight momentum.

Technically, the emergent church movement involves a diverse, loosely knit group of people in conversation about who the church is, and what the church does in a postmodern, post-Christian culture. (Yeah, I know; this column is supposed to be humorous. Gimme a break—there ain’t a whole lot to work with here, people!) And whaddaya mean, you need me to define the definition?

Members of emergent churches gather in small groups, disdain denominational hierarchy and structure, lack organization (that’s the deal-breaker for me, being a type A personality, with a capital A), and shun rituals and religious practices (I think the burning at the stake thing can go—sorry). They also help the poor, welcome outsiders, and are active in their communities. Some of their practices sound good; some, not so good.

So, how does “emergent” as a term affect the literary world? Which authors are claiming to be emergent, or are labeled as such, and is being an emergent writer a positive, or a negative?

One such writer is Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, Anchor, 2006). Being emergent didn’t hurt his sales. Many in the emergent church movement see no harm in The Da Vinci Code, stating it’s just a story, and readers should be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. (Sometimes I can’t. Fantasy: My clients get paid for their work. Reality: They make about 10 cents an hour.) The emergent take cracks me up.

They say the book is just a story, but their movement reveres storytelling! One of the themes of emergent is conversation, or using the narrative instead of going by standard church dogma. Ah, well.

The Da Vinci Code sold huge, but were the phenomenal sales because someone said, “Hey, dude, ya gotta go buy this book—it’s emergent!” (Sorry, I had to take a break to giggle.) Not likely. Eighty-two percent of the readers who bought Dan Brown’s book were unaware of the term “emergent” at the time of purchase. (I made that number up, but I’m sure it’s close.)

Some have tagged Ted Dekker as being emergent. Is he? I don’t think so, but what do I know? (Uh, since this is my column, I guess I’m supposed to know. I’ll give it my best shot.) I wouldn't consider Mr. Dekker emergent—more like “edgy.” (Don’t worry, I’ll cover “edgy” in another column.)

Do emergent authors have a different, fresh, and creative approach to writing, or do they just want the “brand” because it’s a buzzword (don’t worry; I’ll cover “brand” in another column); are they activists who wanna slam the church and church principles, or all/none of the above? Obviously, not every author who labels himself or herself “emergent” is a whining, complaining dissident (only the men—sorry). Actually, I’d say the church-slammin’ authors lean toward nonfiction, such as Pastor Brian McLaren (The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, Thomas Nelson, 2006; and Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, 2007).

My belief is that being emergent neither helps nor hurts a writer. It’s a nonevent that starts a fad, and we all know fads end or else we gals would still be wearin’ our hair in beehives. (Not actually in beehives; that was a hairstyle back when Bob’s Big Boy was a restaurant.) If I get a query letter from an author stating he or she is emergent, I shrug. Not a big deal. Doesn’t mean the book will be another gigantic seller.

I wish The Da Vinci Code had become a mega-hit because of a word. If such were the case, I’d hire Nancy Drew to find that basement and tell the super-secret society to think one up for my clients.

Perils Of