Literary fiction a hard sell these days

Published: Tuesday March 21, 2006

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Sales for literary fiction have dramatically dropped forcing many major publishers to resort to paperback-only releases, according to a story set for the front page of Wednesday's New York Times, RAW STORY has learned.

Excerpts from the article written by Edward Wyatt:


Knock-offs of "The Da Vinci Code," made-up memoirs and accounts of life with ornery pets are selling tens of thousands of hardcover copies a week. But publishers say there is no harder sell in the world of books these days than literary fiction.

Even critically acclaimed literary novels often have a short shelf life in hardcover, with one-half to three-quarters of the books shipped to stores often being returned to the publisher, unsold.

That has a growing number of publishing companies, from smaller houses like Grove/Atlantic to giants like Random House, adopting a different business model, offering books by lesser-known authors only as "paperback originals," forgoing the higher profits afforded by publishing a book in hardcover for a chance at attracting more buyers and a more sustained shelf life.

"In the last four or five years, it's gotten hard to publish fiction by lesser-known authors, and even by some better-known authors," said Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic. And when a book fails in hardcover, booksellers often will limit their orders for a paperback edition, making it harder to sell the author's next book. "When you're taking back 50 to 70 percent of the hardcover copies you shipped," Entrekin said, "the stores -- rightfully so -- are not willing to take another chance."


"It has been more of an evolution than a big jump," said Jane von Mehren, publisher of trade paperbacks at Random House. "Getting somebody to spend $22 on a book by an author who they've never heard of is hard, but getting them to spend $23.95 on a paperback is much easier."


New York Times subscribers can read the rest of the article at this link.