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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > March 2016 > RISKY BUSINESS


Publisher caution and bottom-line decisions are forcing some Canadian authors and agents to look outside our borders to sell their work

For J. Kent Messum, the publication of his first novel seemed auspicious. Bait – a high-concept thriller about a group of heroin addicts kidnapped and abandoned on an island where they are required to fend for themselves in a survivalist scenario for the sport of a group of rich voyeurs – appeared with Penguin Canada in 2013 to generally positive reviews and solid word of mouth. Though sales were modest, the book went on to win the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel. Not bad for someone who abandoned the music industry after 15 years to dip his toe in the precarious waters of Canadian publishing.

Yet even the prestige of winning a fairly major award did not help Messum when he and his agent shopped around his second book. Husk is another high-concept novel, set in a near-future version of New York City. Technology has become so sophisticated that scientists have developed a way to maintain consciousness after a person perishes. Living vessels, called “husks,” offer their bodies as hosts to wealthy buyers who want to experience a kind of life after death.

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