Saturday, April 26, 2008

Introducing Spencer Ellsworth...

I'm the new agent, and I'm invigorated by some of the amazing books I've rescued from the slushpile. But there's a lot of things I'd like to see that I'm not. Some specifics:

Mormon historical novels. This is a rich and deep vein that hasn't been explored. I'd love to see a well-written book about Zina Huntington, a secret wife to Joseph Smith and faith healer, in the vein of Orson Scott Card's Saints.

Crusades historical or fantastorical novels in the vein of George R.R. Martin, Jacqueline Carey or Bernard Cornwell. Give me blood-drenched battles, intricate politics, good old steamy sex and bring the religious frontiers of the medieval Mediterranean into it.

Victorian, Edwardian, or Regency fantasy. Given the massive success of this genre lately, I'm surprised at how little we see it in the slushpile. If you have the next Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, send me an email.

These are all genres where I'd accept the breaking of the traditional "word ceiling" for new authors, usually set around 100-120,000 words. Historical and fantasy novels need to be long and absorbing, and some new authors can pull it off. For shorter works, I'm always in the mood for a good memoir, particularly if it can deal with painful events through a good sense of humor. I also love Chuck Palahniuk and Dave Eggers, so if you can do literary satire, drop a note.

You can reach Spencer at

Monday, April 21, 2008

No Returns: No Advances and Author Minimum Wage

HarperCollins recently announced a new publishing imprint that will stop paying for returns.

Reserves against returns is one of the dirty little secrets of the publishing industry. It's a practice that was established after the Depression to entice book stores (once mom and pop stores, now chains) to order more books in the hopes that something would fly out of their stores. The way it is set up is that the stores can order as many copies as they want and then return what they don't sell for credit. No other industry I know of does this, so it's actually an out-dated practice.

The way this actually works is that in order to make sure the publisher doesn't overpay the author on books that might be returned (God forbid!!), 25 to 33% of an authors' book sales are not paid to the author until 2 years after the book is published just in case the books are returned.

So what this means is that in order to fund the publishing industry, authors lend a quarter of their book sales income to the industry until so much time has gone buy that there is no excuse not to pay them.

The reserve against returns policy, and returns in general, is something authors (and agents who make their living from a percentage of author's sales) should be over-joyed to see disappear from the industry.

But the model that HarperColliins has put forth is just moving the burden of author funding from the back end to the front end.

Let me explain.

They want to do away with author advances, which means that authors should write a completed manuscript and then wait up to a year and a half after signing a contract to see any money (because it takes at least 9 months to go from manuscript to published book, and sometimes, another 9 months to do an edit/rewrite before that).

This too is wrong.

I believe that even the never-before-published author should receive at least minimum wage for a completed novel. As a former journalist who can write to fit and under deadline, if I were to write 300 pages nights and some weekends, it would take me at least 300 hours (probably over a year). At minimum wage ($6.55), that would be $1955. Add in another 10 hours for editing and round up $2500 (so you can pay a 15% commission to your hard-working agent), and the absolute minimum a publisher should pay an author in 2008 is $2500.

I also believe that authors with a track record should be compensated accordingly.

And, for what it's worth, as long as I am posting my publishing beliefs here, I believe that authors should be paid within 30 days of sales, not every six months, since we now live in a universe where publishers can track book sales down to the minute.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What We Love to Read

Bible is America's favorite book: poll Tue Apr 8, 3:07 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - When it comes to literary pursuits in the United States most people agree on at least one thing -- the most popular book is the Bible, according to a new survey.

It came in first in a Harris Poll of nearly 2,513 adults but the second choice in the survey was not as clear cut.

"While the Bible is number one among each of the different demographic groups, there is a large difference in the number two favorite book," Harris said in a statement announcing the results.

Men chose J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and women selected Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" as their second-favorite book, according to the online poll.

But the second choice for 18- to 31-year-olds was J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, while 32- to 43-year-olds named Stephen King's "The Stand" and Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons."

Picks for second-favorite book also varied according to region. "Gone With the Wind" was number two in the southern and midwestern United States while easterners chose "The Lord of the Rings" and westerners opted for "The Stand."

Whites and Hispanics picked "Gone With the Wind" as their second-favorite book after the Bible, while African-Americans preferred "Angels and Demons."

"Finally, they may not agree on candidates, but one thing that brings together partisans is their favorite book. For Republicans, Democrats and Independents, the top two books are the same -- the Bible followed by "Gone With the Wind."

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown, "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand and "Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger rounded out the top 10 favorites.