I have agents tell me that fiction is a hard sell for some of them. I don't quite understand that when I see bookstore shelves full of them. Readers read and devour fiction. They love it. However, it's all in the name.

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Non-fiction sells better apparently. Blame it on the fact that people get their self-improvement from books and their entertainment from T.V.
Then, explain Reality TV. No, seriously, explain it. I can't figure out why people want to watch those shows.
Yeah, that is more truer than you know. Sometimes it takes a book of non-fiction by an author in order to get readers purchase his or her crime fiction. Literary agents will fall all over themselves for good orignal non-fiction. Even agents who represents fiction, don't seem to want it.
It's incredibly hard to sell fiction right now. I walk into the bookstore and I also see a lot of discounted books. They've had hardcover George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard titles, amongst others, for $5 and $6 for months. The window for new authors is narrowing, and what I hear from others in the industry is editors are looking for any reason to reject. It means agents aren't going to be taking on as much. The publishing industry - like all industries - goes through these cycles, but yes, fiction is an incredibly hard sell right now.

People may love it, but they can get books via paperbackswap and libraries and they actually don't need much new material to keep them going, because there are so many authors nobody could have read them all. Imagine starting now with Michael Connelly and how long that would keep you going.
Ah, yes. The upfront money is known in the industry and directly responsible for buzz and reviews. Bookstores place their orders based on this info (and the print run, which often parallels this). The publisher, who is heavily invested, spends to promote. All in all, that upfront money has a lot to do with the success of a book.

Then, of course, agents take a cut.

Good fiction has an awful time selling because word of mouth is incredibly slow and unreliable.

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