Literary Fiction’s Open Secret

With the publication of my second book, ‘Little Known Facts,’ lightning seemed to strike. This novel was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and went on to receive other good reviews. Not long after ‘Little Known Fact’s’ publication date, Bloomsbury acquired a second novel and a story collection. The advance for these two manuscripts was $10,000 more than what they paid for ‘Little Known Facts.’

The open secret is that literary fiction does not pay big dividends. At least not to most of its writers and publishers. Even with excellent reviews, there’s no guarantee that your book will sell. ‘Little Known Facts’ had a mid-five-figure advance and it has earned about three-fifths of it back so far. It was reviewed in several major-market newspapers and won a couple of awards. I did readings in cities all over the country to promote it, wrote many guest blog posts, and all told, it has probably sold about 23,000 copies. That figure includes paperback, hardcover, and e-books. Not bad, but by the publishing world’s yardstick, not a standout, not at all.

— Author Christine Sneed, writing in the Billfold about the difficulty of earning a living as a writer of literary fiction—even with multiple book deals.

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