Fri 22 November 2019
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Authors feel Pinch in an Age of eBooks
"Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption."

When literary agent Sarah Yake shopped around Kirsten Kaschock's debut novel "Sleight" this year, she thought it would be a shoo-in with New York's top publishers.

"Her project was one of the most exemplary in the last decade or so," said Jed Rasula, who has taught in the English department at the University of Georgia since 2001. "I certainly thought she'd find a New York publisher."

But the major New York publishers passed on "Sleight," a novel about two sisters trained in a fictional art form. Coffee House Press in Minneapolis, a small independent publisher, now plans to publish the book, offering Ms. Kaschock an advance of about $3,500—a small fraction of the typical advances once paid by the major publishing houses.

It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers.

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Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers. Most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

"Advances are down, and there aren't as many debuts as before," says Ira Silverberg, a well-known literary agent. "We're all trying to figure out what the business is as it goes through this digital disruption."

Much as cheap digital-music downloads have meant that fewer bands can earn a living from record-company deals, fewer literary authors will be able to support themselves as e-books win acceptance, publishers and agents say. "In terms of making a living as a writer, you better have another source of income," says Nan Talese, whose Nan A. Talese/Doubleday imprint publishes Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood and John Pipkin.

In some cases, independent publishers are picking up the slack by signing promising literary-fiction writers. But they offer, on average, $1,000 to $5,000 for advances, a fraction of the $50,000 to $100,000 advances that established publishers typically paid in the past for debut literary fiction.

For the full article

Source: The Wall Street Journal


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