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 the American Christian Fiction Writers awarded her their “Agent of the Year” award for 2008.  Her agency is Romance Writers of America recognized. In addition to her column here, Kelly also writes the "Ask An Agent" column for  Romance Writers United newsletter

All Lit Up

So, what’s “Lit”? I always thought it was short for “Literature.”

Literature: writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays (

Hmm. Not. At least not in the genre sense. I’ve read Lit. (Okay, one and one-half.) I’m no expert, but they seemed formulistic. Yes, I mostly rep romance, which is formulistic. Boy wants girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. I can deal with that.

The formula I saw with Lit was: Girl whines. Girl whines to girlfriends. Girl has to shop at Saks. Girl likes to have sex. On the Inspirational side: Girl whines. Girl whines to girlfriends. Girl can’t afford to shop at Saks. Girls wishes she could have sex.

Okay, so now I’ve made more enemies. Sorry. Really. I’m not tryin’ to knock Lit as a genre, just sayin’ it ain’t my thing. Even at the height of Chick Lit popularity, it was on my “Not Looking For” list.

Then Chick Lit branched out. We had Lad Lit, Latina Lit, and the ever-popular Hen Lit (for us older gals). Oh, can’t forget Frat Lit.

The market ate it up. The editors clamored for it. We suffered for it. Why? Not because of the authors. As with most commodities, if you glut the market, eventually, the market drives the price down, the quality of the product declines, and the demand decreases.

Lit was so popular, I couldn’t sell a Historical. (No, it isn’t “an historical.” When was the last time you said, “an house”? Only use “an” before a word beginning with “h,” if the “h” is silent.) Now that you’ve had a lesson in economics and grammar, on with Lit.

Back to formulistic: A Lit book makes big bucks. All publishers want books that make big bucks. Editors buy Lit and not much else, stating that’s what readers want. Readers have fewer choices of genre books to buy, as there are fewer genres on the market. Sales of Historicals fall. Readers already buying Lit keep buying; others defect. Some editors buy Lit manuscripts that

might not be up to their regular standards because they need to keep up with the high demand. Original Lit readers get tired of reading Lit, some noticing the quality isn’t up to snuff; those who defected wonder why they defected. Sales plunge. Editors cease buying Lit, treating Lit like a dirty word. I can now sell Historicals again.

I feel (Notice the use of the words I feel. This tells the intelligent reader the statement is the opinion of the columnist, not fact. Although the columnist is smart and insightful. . . .) it wasn’t lack of demand that made the sale of Historicals fall, but the lack of opportunity for readers to buy Historicals, since publishing houses weren’t putting them on the shelves.

Did I get off-track again? Sorry. Anyway, now a writer can’t use the word Lit if they care to sell a manuscript. Although a different animal, some Romantic Comedy authors even suffer the blight, having to rephrase how they categorize their manuscripts. I’ve seen some colorful options: Urban Romance with Elements of Comedy, Humorous Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Romance with Comedic Elements . . . no, I’m not kidding. Sigh.

Whether you write “Lit,” or Romantic Comedy, or whatever, writers shouldn’t be punished because of the way publishers manipulate the market. (Yes, I do wanna work in this industry, but I think how I think, and I call ’em as I see ’em.) Truth is Chick Lit started a runaway train that turned into a train wreck. Talented writers with viable stories can’t sell what some publishers “suggested” they write.

That ain’t right.

Kelly Mortimer