Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Let’s say you’ve been slaving over a novel for years, dreaming of the day of publication and imagining the cover image splashed across the front page of The New York Times as a bestseller. Oprah wants you for her Book Club. Other writers envy you. And copies of books are flying off the shelves faster than the publishers can print…
Let’s rephrase that last sentence a bit: And copies of the books are being digitally downloaded onto all sorts of electronic reading devices, computers, tablets, phones, etc.
And it was all made easy by publishing with Amazon, specifically Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
But wait, it gets better…instead of self-publishing through Amazon, you can, in fact, be contracted through Amazon the Publisher and lo and behold, your books can go flying off the shelves. How you ask? Because if you sign up with Amazon today, not only will your book be sold digitally, they will print your books physically, keeping the tradition of turning real bark-and-wood paper alive.
But will they really? Already an online bookseller, Amazon has now entered the competition with big names like Random House and Houghton Mifflin as a publisher. Only Amazon’s doing things a little differently.
Here’s the traditional route of how books get to readers: Author → Agent → Publisher → Seller → Reader
Here’s how Amazon wants you to think of the route: Author → Reader
Just cut out the middlemen. According to Amazon, there’s no need to run around in search of an agent who will then seek out a publisher. It’s too much trouble. If you’re a writer, Amazon’s your one-stop shop. Sure, they’re walking off the beaten publishing path, but authors like Laurel Saville have no complaints.
Saville was like most writers. Struggling. Told her written words were wonderful by publishers but with no actual offers of printing, she turned to Amazon and found hope.
Her book, Unraveling Anne, a memoir about her former beauty queen mother whose life ended as an alcoholic on the streets, published on Nov.1, was “the No. 3 bestselling memoir in the Kindle Store, right behind Joan Didion” by Nov. 4.
Yet, what about sales figures for print? Or figures at all? According to David Strietfeld, New York Times writer, “it is difficult to tell how Amazon books are doing except relatively, and sometimes even then.” While the memoir is apparently doing quite well, in Saville’s interview with Strietfeld she said, “how that translates into absolute sales figures is a question that will take just a little more time.”
Aside from being nontraditional in being able to map success by determining exact numbers, Amazon made a few other nontraditional moves. First, when Amazon offered Saville a contract, they did not also offer money upfront as is the usual way with publishers. Secondly, they forbid Saville to discuss details and kept all the plans for the publishing and publicity of the book under wraps.
Whether these decisions are setting a precedent for the future or not, only Amazon knows. As of now, being an unpublished writer, I’m ambivalent toward the entire venture (and that’s probably not going to stop).
If Amazon were to offer me a deal, right here, right now with the promise of guaranteed sales, would I take it? And if I did, would I feel like a sellout to the traditions I’ve always dreamed of experiencing? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. But I’ll say this: If we want to keep some traditions alive, we writers and publishers have to stick together and know what’s up in each other’s worlds.
Until next time,