Eric Rosenfield.com

literary vs commercial fiction

Tuesday May 23rd 2006, 6:09 pm

Promotional Intelligence - New York Times

The pride and joy of publishing, literary fiction has always been wonderfully ill suited to the very industry that sustains it. Like an elegant but impoverished aristocrat married to a nouveau riche spouse, it has long been subsidized by mass-market fiction and by nonfiction ripped from the headlines. One supplies the cachet, the others the cash.

The divide between sales of literary and commercial fiction has always been vast — the 345,000 copies that Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2004 novel “Gilead” sold in hardcover and paperback is an impressive figure, but not when compared with the more than 18 million copies of “The Da Vinci Code” in print in North America, and more than 60 million worldwide. These days literary fiction has to contend with two factors that are increasingly central to the publishing process: timing and volume. In a market dominated by the big chain stores, if a novel doesn’t sell a healthy number of copies in the first two weeks after its publication, its chances of gaining longer-term momentum are slim.

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