Special Feature: Interview with Literary Agent Ethan Ellenberg
Your agency approached us for networking regarding new writers. This is really exciting because we've long viewed Electric Spec and markets like us as a "feeder team" for the pro league of novelists. We think this is especially true in genres like speculative fiction and romance. But we do hear contrary opinions from others in the industry. What's your opinion regarding writers paying their dues and building a reputation with short story sales? How important are pro sales verses mid-rate sales?
I do believe that publishing in small markets, at whatever length, is a wise thing to do. It's very hard for writers to find their voice or find their best stories and develop them, so anything that increases their craft and exposure is certainly valuable.
I don't see a big difference between pro sales and mid-range sales. The important thing is to develop what would be that first novel that is sellable.
Some newer writers tend to build an online presence not through fiction, but through social networking. Do you have any advice regarding these efforts?
I really don't believe that social networking is that significant. Ultimately, it's the quality of the writing and having a special project that will get you going. Writers do some marketing these days based on social networking, and downstream that might have some value though it shouldn't be exaggerated. Authors have to concentrate on their writing, not their marketing skills.
There's a lot of industry-wide chatter regarding the impact of the Internet on publishing. e-books, e-presses, and alternate sales routes, including self-publishing. Your client list indicates you're working with some electronic presses and sales. Where do you see the future of publishing and representation headed with respect to electronic media?
This is really a question that is too big to give an authoritative answer for, but I will try to answer some of it. I believe big commercial publishing and the printed book will persist because it remains an extremely good format to read and the distribution network, despite all the pressure that it is under, remains sound.
Below the world of the large trade houses there is a vast new world based on the internet and electronic publishing. I applaud that world and I think it's quite interesting. I think it will persist and grow, and I think it will run parallel to the large trade houses which have major distribution. There will be interaction between the two, as there already is, but I wouldn't try to make any global prediction about one world "conquering the other" or anything remotely like that. I believe they will exist parallel and feed each other in different and interesting ways.
All the talk claims the publishing industry is in "flux." But one steady trend has been urban fantasy with vampires and "kick ass" heroines. Now we're in TWILIGHT madness, which is a more romantic take on the vampire mythos. Is the urban fantasy trend still hot, or do you think it has reached its peak?
I do believe urban fantasy still has additional stories to tell and will remain popular. It really depends on the talent of individual writers, but urban fantasy has a lot of story elements that people clearly find very appealing, and I do not believe it has peaked.
What, in your opinion, are some upcoming trends? What do you wish you would see more of in terms of genre and style?
I really would not make a prediction about trends, and I tend to have some skepticism about trends. Authors certainly have to have a sense about what stories are appealing to their audience. They certainly can't work divorced from their audience, but in many ways they have to work apart from their audience and tell stories that they think are important and meaningful.
Anything you're seeing way too much?
We are seeing way too many vampire stories.
Some claim horror is dead. Is horror still a sellable genre? Is there a marketing difference between horror and "dark speculative fiction"?
In many ways I'm afraid it is dead. It has ceased to be bought and marketed on an ongoing basis by houses who used to do a book a month or every three months. Even though it has collapsed as far as a specific area of publisher interest, there are still horror novels being published and there are elements in horror fiction that are worth publishing. But clearly, just as the Western has essentially disappeared and lost its slots, the horror novel has almost suffered a similar fate.
We, like every other magazine out there, advise submitters to read our issues to determine what we're buying lately. We think the advice holds for agents as well. So, what are a few projects you are working on now that you're really excited about and what are your "recommended reads" to determine your interests?
I would prefer not to mention specific authors or projects, as I represent an entire list of people and I tend not to want to push anyone in particular. I remain very excited about the potential in fantasy, in all its forms, urban and classic. I'm always looking for exciting thrillers of different kinds, although that is a market that has also tightened considerably. I remain confident that popular fiction continues to connect with audiences in a very profound way and has as much potential as it ever had.
Thanks for talking with us!
Editorial Note: Please note we're not currently recommending any clients for the Agency, nor are we affiliated with it in any way, but we did want to take the opportunity to pass along the information to interested readers. Please check with the Agency for information regarding their policies and expectations. Below is part of the original letter we received from Mr. Ellenberg's agency:
We're actively acquiring new clients. The ideal submission for us is an introductory letter, synopsis and the first 3 chapters of manuscript. We welcome electronic submissions to email@example.com. We also welcome submission by mail with a self addressed stamped envelope for response. Please check our website (ethanellenberg.com) and follow the directions carefully so as not to fall afoul of U.S. postal regulations.
We remain upbeat, active and committed to the highest standards of professional conduct and representation. We are members in good standing of the Association of Author's Representatives and consistently receive high marks from all the top professional writer's organizations. We look forward to your submission.