A network of editorial expertise
A network of editorial expertise

Book Publishing in the 21st Century, with Jon Fine of Amazon.com

Seattle
Day of Meeting: 
March 12, 2012


Topic:
Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon.com, discussed book publishing in the 21st century. He gave us insight into the editorial roles and responsibilities at Amazon.com and fielded a bevy of questions from the crowded room of about 70 Guild members and others.

Speaker: Jon Fine has worked with Amazon for more than six years. He moved from New York to take up his original position with the company as a lawyer. Prior to working for Amazon, he worked as the head of legal affairs for Knopf. Over the course of his career, he’s worked for a number of companies, including NBC, for which he worked with such shows as Saturday Night Live.

In his position at Amazon, Jon gets out and talks with folks a lot. (We did find out later that we’re the first group of editors he’s spoken with, though!) He works with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct staff, as well as with Amazon Publishing and its imprints. He also directs a grant program focused on supporting not-for-profit organizations that help spur the creation of new works and new writers. Basically, Jon serves within Amazon as an advocate for authors. He has an appreciation for how difficult the process of creation is, and also understands the crucial role editors play in that process.

Contact information: Jon gave us some important contact information for those interested in doing freelance work with Amazon. For more information on the subentities of Amazon, see notes further below.

  • For developmental editing with Amazon Publishing, email a resume and cover letter to: freelance-editors@amazon.com
  • For proofreading or copyediting with CreateSpace, email a resume and cover letter to: vendorhiring@createspace.com

For all submissions, Jon specified that you should let them know what you enjoy working on. Their managing editors (especially with Amazon Publishing) work to pair writers and editors so that they can have a lasting, productive working relationship.

Amazon Publishing

Amazon Publishing started because they identified a “white space.” There are many worthy authors who are not getting published through today’s publishing houses.

With Amazon Publishing, authors get:

  • Editorial expertise
  • A business model with highly competitive terms
  • Faster publishing (a compressed timeline after the book is ready for print—not a rush through the writing and editing process)
  • Everything authors expect from a publishing house, such as:
  • Editing
    * Editing
    * Design
    * Production in all formats
    * Involvement at every step in the process
  • Some things authors might not expect, such as:
    * An author relations team
    * Monthly royalty statements and quarterly payments
    * An “author-centric” business model

Kindle Singles: “Compelling ideas expressed at their natural length” (tagline)

We’re all operating during a time when anybody can be an author—there are both pluses and minuses to that. However, Jon believes that more speech is better, although the “tidal wave of content” makes it hard for authors to be seen.

Jon refers to Amazon Publishing as ”same, but different” from a regular publishing house.

Successes include:

  • The Hangman’s Daughter, Oliver Pötzsch (translation from Hungarian)
  • A Scattered Life, Karen McQuestion
  • Republishing of books by Ed McBain

Amazon Publishing is still working on:

  • Physical sales and distribution
  • Digital distribution beyond the Kindle
  • Bestselling reporting
  • Maximizing global sales
  • Keeping it simple to do business

Amazon Publishing has expanded its definition of “customer” to include authors (and Amazon has always been a customer-focused business).

The company understands that if it makes authors happy, the authors will write more and Amazon will subsequently sell more.

Amazon Publishing Imprints

(Note that Submissions email addresses below are for works, not for editing credentials.)

AmazonEncore (www.amazon.com/encore)

For self-published or out-of-print books that deserve a wider audience.

  • Amazon’s publishing team looks for good online customer reviews of their products, then cross-references other purchases by these customers in order to determine a potential fan base for the reprint.
  • The publishing team also looks for good critical feedback on a book that may not have sold well, then reads the book themselves and if they like it, move forward with the process to determine if there’s an audience for the book.
  • Upcoming releases: Jean Naggar, Sipping from the Nile; Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Rediscoveries
  • Submissions: encore-submissions@amazon.com

AmazonCrossing (www.amazon.com/crossing)

  • Another “white space” that Amazon has discovered is in the realm of translations.
  • AmazonCrossing focuses on translations of commercial and literary fiction from around the world.
  • Only 3% of world books come to the U.S. market—Amazon aims to change that.
  • They see what’s doing well in their overseas stores and look at those books for potential translation.
  • Submissions: crossing-submissions@amazon.com

Montlake Romance (www.amazon.com/montlake)

  • For contemporary, historical, paranormal, and suspenseful love stories – really for the entire panoply of romance genres.
  • Romance is the #2 selling genre on Kindle.
  • Don’t underestimate the market power of genre readers who just want to keep on reading—great for the e-book format.
  • Submissions: montlake-submissions@amazon.com

Thomas & Mercer (www.amazon.com/thomasmercer)

  • Addictive, one-sitting, hand-wringing reads (mysteries and thrillers).
  • They try to publish only “things worth publishing.”
  • Looking for repeat readers.
  • Submissions: tm-submissions@amazon.com

47North  (www.amazon.com/47north)

  • Groundbreaking, genre-bending sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.
  • Submissions: 47north-submissions@amazon.com

The New York imprint (unnamed as of yet)

  • Will focus on narrative nonfiction, literary fiction, memoirs, business, and books that start conversations.
  • Jon confirms that the NY and Seattle teams work together—they are not separate entities.

The children’s/YA imprint (out of New York)

  • From picture books for toddlers to YA fiction, will have programs and lines for all ages.

Self-Publishing Options

Amazon wants to make it easy to be an author (that is, publish one’s writing). Their self-publishing options include:

  • CreateSpace (for print)
  • Kindle Direct (for digital)

Outside self-publishing options are Lightning Source, Lulu, Blurb, and others.

CreateSpace (www.createspace.com):

  • Gives the author a space on Amazon’s Internet real estate for his or her book.
  • Print on Demand means that customers can purchase the book at any time. It’s always available for immediate printing and shipping.
  • Offers extended distribution—through catalogs, too.

Each copy does cost more, so the profit margin is smaller, but there are no remainders to deal with.

While some of Amazon Publishing books aren’t carried at other bookstores (B&N, indie shops), oftentimes CreateSpace books are.

When it comes to selling books, it’s important to note that today’s readers find books through search terms (metadata).

  • The metadata for a book is crucial: who/what/when/number of pages/synopsis/biography.
  • Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature essentially creates more metadata for the book, allows broader search terms to find the book.
  • The more information that’s out there about you and your book, the better. More information = more people finding your book.
  • Your audience finding you is what’s important nowadays.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): kdp.amazon.com

Even if you’re not self-publishing something, you might want to take advantage of the vast amount of information and advice available on the community boards at KDP and CreateSpace.

Freelance Opportunities

See above for contact information.

CreateSpace enables authors to self-publish their works in print, using print on demand technology.

Authors can opt to pay for additional services such as editing, design, etc.

Company is based in Charleston, but hires editors from all over the country.

Jon could not give us pay rates, but stated that all of the rates are competitive.

Amazon Publishing is looking to publish over 2,000 books next year, so they’ll definitely be looking for help.

Every book goes through copyediting and proofing

The relationship between authors and editors is very important to Amazon Pub. They put a lot of emphasis on finding the right editor match for their authors.

Q&A

How do you think Amazon would sell a book that is cross-genre (starts as a crime novel, ends as a fantasy novel)?

Depends on the book, and on who brings it in from the editorial side.

What editorial realm is Amazon getting into?

Kindle Singles allows Amazon to publish things electronically that didn’t make sense in print.

Yes, they’re edited by a small crew right now, but that could grow.

Will Amazon keep publishing in Seattle?

Yes.

Will Amazon continue having freelancers do developmental editing work?

Until we can do it better in-house, yes.

If an editor is working for Amazon, is the editor still working directly with the author?

Yes! Amazon doesn’t want to get in the way of that relationship.

Amazon values feedback from the authors regarding their editors.

Is the editor hired by Amazon?

Yes. They hire editors to work with authors, but of course there is still the delivery and acceptance procedure as with any publisher.

Is Kindle Singles doing fiction work, too?

Yes. There’s great benefit for authors by publishing interstitial work through Kindle Singles. It’s a way to stay in the public eye when in between novels.

Can you talk about Amazon Publishing’s operations internationally?

  • Amazon is committed to taking authors and editors to an international audience. The specific strategy depends on the author’s best interests.
  • Amazon would consider licensing the rights to a book to other publishers in specific countries if it felt those companies could do a better job.
  • One of Amazon’s goals is to make every book available everywhere. To bring authors and readers together is the reason it got into publishing.
  • See Amazon’s Author Central for an example. The author pages are originally automated, but can be customized by each author. These pages become the author’s footprint on the web.

Can you tell us about submission guidelines?

See information above for submission email addresses.

Where does Amazon see places to trim in its timeline?

  • The main problem is physical distribution networks and limited shelf space.
  • The company feels that physical sales and bookstores are important, but digital sales are the strongest.
  • Advantages of digital sales are that the publisher does not have to convince stores to stock the books.
  • On the negative side of the shorter timeline, there is less time to build buzz and market the book.
  • Amazon has not heard complaints from either authors or editors about pushing editors to work too quickly.

In terms of freelance, what is Amazon looking for?

  • Folks who have some experience working with published work.
  • A good match between authors and editors.
  • They don’t have any particular set of experience requirements.

Did I hear correctly? Do some people at Amazon work as matchmakers?

Yes, that’s it. Each author works with one of Amazon’s acquisition editors, who chooses a developmental editor for that author.

Terry Goodman is one of the senior acquisitions editors at Amazon; he works with a group of developmental editors he selects personally.

If you want to be a developmental editor with Amazon, submit items that best communicate your expertise or interests. Resumes, examples, etc.

A substantial number of Amazon’s editors are not hired through agencies.

Is the NY publishing arm fully independent?

No. The entire publishing department is run out of Seattle (Jeff Bell).

How many people work for them?

Approximately 20 to 25 acquiring editors. Jon has no idea how many freelancers.

Does Amazon’s definition of developmental editing match our own?

[An editor from the audience chimes in]: Yes. It does. We’ve worked with them. They operate on a very high level. Very professional.

Jon says that he has very high respect for the acquiring editors.

Amazon’s editors manage very well. They work with the author, then direct questions to the editor.

The process is very author-driven. If the author is happy, then the acquisitions editor is happy.

How would one get work for copyediting or proofreading at CreateSpace?

Just submit your credentials and you may end up working for a number of different areas.

How does Amazon see the future of the physical book trade?

Jon laughed at this one. He hopes it’s good! There are more people reading now—and more people reading more items.

Jon’s more worried about other “eyeball competitors” (television, video games, etc.) than he is worried about digital books eating into the physical book trade.

The main item of importance is to get books to people.

Bottom line is that Jon can’t predict the future, but he’s optimistic. He loves bookstores, and hopes they will thrive.


Meeting organizer: Helen Townsend, board member
Notetaker: Amanda Vail
Location: Hugo House