A Quick One, Then We’re Away

April 26th, 2005 · 3 Comments
by Booksquare

Oh yeah, the cranky machine is running at full capacity. We may require a time out. There is, out there (there being someplace we can’t pinpoint, but it surely exists) a problem with the sales of literary fiction. Now, we do not have at our fingertips a graph of historical sales, but, we suspect, literary fiction has always sold to a lesser degree than genre fiction. If this is not true, then do not tell us as we’re going with that as our thesis.

Now, readers are faced with increasing choice and limited budgets. So when we read stuff like this. . .

Mr. [Paul] Slovak, who also runs the publicity department at Viking Penguin, is realistic about the difficulties of selling literary fiction today. “Steve is a writer everybody here believes in,” he said, “but it’s gotten tougher than ever to sell writers in hardcover. There are a handful of books that sell and sell, but the others suffer.”

Robert Weil, the executive editor of W. W. Norton, considers the situation to be even more dire. “If you speak to publishers about the sales of literary fiction – I mean we’re in real trouble in this country,” he said. “Sales are shocking these days, even compared to 10 years ago. And publishers are seriously cutting back.”

. . .we want to shake some sense into publishers. What are they doing to increase the sales of someone like Steve Stern? Well, clearly they’re pricing him out of the mainstream. That always helps. Is it possible that authors would set aside the cachet of hardcover for a chance to reach more readers? Just a thought.

Over at W.W. Norton, they’re saying that sales are shocking these days. Again, we ask, what are they doing to help their authors? If very few literary novels become blockbusters, then maybe the time has come to explore the reasons why. Starting with the notion that the books, no matter how deserving (and, if we may be blunt, this happens in every genre, not just literary fiction), have a certain audience, why not do more to build upon that? A little more publicity, better promotion, more clever approaches to problem solving (no, we don’t lead seminars). Rather than wishing for an audience to magically appear, create one with the mental derring-do that typifies…oops, sorry, got carried away there.

Steve Stern will continue to write — he doesn’t have much choice. If his publisher believes in his work, then his publisher will follow through on the financial commitment they made via the advance and printing costs by building a more robust readership. Not every published novel will become a bestseller, but many more published novels can reach sales expectations if they’re given sufficient support. We don’t think Steve Stern is planning to become the next Stephen King (though we do not presume to know his fantasy life), but we think Steve Stern deserves more than a sink-or-swim push from his publisher (oh yeah, a New York Times story doesn’t hurt.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

3 responses so far ↓

  • KathyF // Apr 27, 2005 at 11:00 am

    Slipping sales…could it be because they’re not publishing writers like me?

    I just got a rejection letter, and I’m a bit cranky myself. Even though I quit writing, well over a year ago, there’s still some lingering bitterness.

  • Booksquare // Apr 27, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    I’m sorry about your rejection. I’d say they get easier, but, well, you know.

  • KathyF // Apr 28, 2005 at 2:41 am

    Well, it was probably my last one, unless any of the agents and editors I gave up on get around to replying.

    Frankly, that’s a big reason why I quit. The dead silence after quite a few submissions, even agented ones (which is one reason I fired her!).