Almost exactly 10 years ago, in May 2009, Amazon expanded from selling books to publishing them as well with the launch of Amazon Encore, a publishing program for promising self-published books and out-of-print works from major houses.
Since then, Amazon Publishing has grown. It now consists of 16 imprints and has between 200 and 300 employees. According to Mikyla Bruder, Amazon Publishing’s publisher, Amazon typically publishes about 1,000 books a year, though that number can be higher in years when the company experiments in new areas. The company, which now has a backlist of over 10,000 titles, has largely grown organically and has bought just three properties, the most important of which is Brilliance Publishing, which not only serves as Amazon Publishing’s audiobook arm but also handles physical distribution of its print books.
Although many bricks-and-mortar booksellers have refused to carry Amazon titles, including books by local authors self-published through Amazon, Amazon Publishing continues to attract authors, among them a number of big-name writers. “We are very transparent with our authors about our model, which may not be for everyone,” Bruder acknowledges. “We want a stable of happy authors.”
Going After Big-Name Authors
Earlier this month, the company’s Montlake imprint signed bestselling author Sylvia Day to a seven-figure advance for Butterfly in Frost, a 203-page novella to be published in August. Bruder says that the deal reflects her ability to spend the money on authors she believes will fit into the program’s ecosystem. “I have no problem going after big authors,” Bruder adds, noting that late in 2018 Patricia Cornwell signed a two-book deal with the company’s Thomas & Mercer imprint for world English rights to two new thrillers, beginning with Quantum, which is set to publish at the beginning of October.
Bruder believes Amazon’s ability to reach millions of readers online offsets the loss of physical retail opportunities (though she did point out that there are now 19 Amazon Books outlets). By tapping into Amazon’s various divisions, more than 40 authors have reached over a million readers, a figure that includes print, audio, and digital sales, as well as borrows through Kindle Unlimited.
Another step in the evolution of Amazon Publishing came in February, when the publishing group, in conjunction with Amazon Studios, signed a deal with Michelle Miller for world book, audiobook, and all global media rights for a series of short stories titled The Fairer Sex. The Miller signing was the first joint deal between the two Amazon divisions, and while the two don’t have a formal first-look agreement, Bruder says the publishing group will work closely with the studio when signing new authors. She regards the Day, Cornwell, and Miller deals as reflecting the operating principle that was established at the creation of Amazon Publishing: to work in synergy with other Amazon properties to create new and different types of opportunities for authors.
Bruder says that she believes authors appreciate what Amazon can offer both domestically and overseas. As part of the Day deal, Butterfly in Frost will be published by Amazon Publishing’s translation imprint, Amazon Crossing, which will publish the book in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. (Of the publisher’s 10 offices, six are overseas.)
Amazon Crossing has become one of Amazon Publishing’s biggest success stories and now publishes more titles in translation in the U.S. than any other publisher. The company will add to that number with the July launch of Amazon Crossing Kids, which will publish children’s picture books in translation. “It is important that children are exposed to different cultural perspectives,” Bruder says.
Children’s books, which are published in Amazon Publishing’s Skyscape and Two Lions imprints, is a relatively small part of its overall business. So, too, is adult nonfiction, which Bruder estimates represents about 10% of the company’s total output. “We’re just getting started here,” she says. The company has had some noteworthy nonfiction successes, however; The Tenth Island by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Diana Marcum, for instance, has reached 380,000 readers since it was released last July by Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A. However, adult fiction is by far the publisher’s strength, and its three largest imprints are Lake Union (book club fiction), Thomas & Mercer (mystery, thriller, and true crime), and Montlake Romance.
Amazon Publishing will broaden its program next year when it releases the first titles from Topple Books, an imprint overseen by Jill Soloway, creator of the Emmy-winning television series Transparent, which was produced by Amazon Studios. The imprint will focus on publishing voices of women of color, along with gender-nonconforming, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer writers. Its first title, Raising Them by Kyl Myers, is set for release in June 2020.
Though Bruder wouldn’t disclose revenue for the publisher, she says Amazon Publishing is a “strong and profitable business that continues to invest in new authors.” She adds that one way she measures success is “growing the audience for our authors book by book.”
Tomorrow, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke will sign galleys of The Two Lila Bennetts (Lake Union) at Table 10. Friday, 1–2 p.m. Catherine McKenzie will sign copies of I’ll Never Tell (Lake Union) at Table 5.