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Amazon’s Publishing Program Picks Up Steam

AmazonEncoreAll of you know Amazon as a seller of books. What you may not have heard outside of book circles is that Amazon is moving into publisher territory. Over the past two years, it has launched several imprints. Three announcements have come in quick succession this month, showing that Amazon’s publishing program is picking up steam. All signs indicate the company is just getting started.

Amazon’s publishing debut came in May 2009, when it launched AmazonEncore and announced its first title, a previously self-published fantasy novel by 16-year-old Cayla Kluver. According to Jeff Belle, Vice President of Books for Amazon, the purpose of AmazonEncore was “to connect readers with great books that were overlooked the first time they were released.”

In May 2010, the company added AmazonCrossing, an imprint for translated works. Just as with AmazonEncore, Amazon announced its intention to monitor sales data to select the books it wanted to publish. Says Belle, “Our international customers have made us aware of exciting established and emerging voices from other cultures and countries that have not been translated for English-language readers.”
This past month, Amazon unveiled two genre imprints: Montlake for romance titles and Thomas & Mercer for mysteries and thrillers.

Now comes news that Amazon has hired Larry Kirshbaum, former CEO of the Time-Warner Book Group, to “assemble an editorial team that will develop and manage new Amazon imprints ‘with a focus on acquiring the highest quality books in literary and commercial fiction, YA, business and general non-fiction.’”

The careers page for Amazon Publishing currently shows 10 open positions ranging from Senior Acquisitions Editor to Publicity Manager. Very clearly, Amazon intends to continue developing imprints beyond the ones already launched, and it’s heartening to see business and non-fiction being specifically mentioned since so much of the current focus is on fiction.

What does all this mean for you as a non-fiction author?

To date, Amazon has not accepted manuscript submissions, instead using the power of its retail algorithms to cherry-pick existing books that are popular with readers but have so far not received widespread recognition or distribution. I can’t imagine its approach will change anytime soon. To open its doors to general submissions would flood the company with unimaginable numbers of unvetted manuscripts. Amazon’s retail data is its advantage over traditional publishers, who must assess manuscripts on gut instinct and best guess forecasts.

That means you won’t be able to actively pitch your book for Amazon to pick up. It does mean, however, that if you’re promoting your self-published book effectively, getting lots of positive reader feedback and achieving decent sales numbers, the Amazon eye might fall on you.

So far, there’s been very little available information about the terms Amazon offers as a publisher, so it’s unclear how an Amazon contract might stack up against a deal from a traditional publisher. More favorable? About the same? (If anyone knows details, please leave a comment.) Amazon’s press releases promise authors “marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.”

Definitely a development to watch.

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