Mikyla Bruder doesn’t anticipate any surprises when she takes charge of Amazon Publishing in July, following the departure of Jeff Belle, who has headed the operation since it began in 2009. “We’ve worked together for so long, I expect it to be an easy transition,” she said. June marks her 10th year with Amazon Publishing, and she has been publisher since 2015.
Prior to joining Amazon, Bruder worked at a number of West Coast publishers in several different roles. She was executive editor and publishing director at Chronicle Books and then associate publisher/director of sales and marketing at Workman’s Portland, Ore.–based imprint Timber Press. Like many West Coast publishers, she believes being outside of the New York City metro area has given her a different view of the book world. She said she sees her mission as helping Amazon Publishing, which she described as a midsize publisher, take the next steps forward in its evolution while remaining “an author-centric publishing house.”
Though Bruder does not see a shift in the overall vision for Amazon Publishing, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes. Most importantly, she brings a completely different life experience to her job than Belle did. Bruder, who is Asian American, said she has lived as an “other” in the largely homogenous world of trade book publishing and knows how tiring that can be. “I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to work in that environment,” she added.
Bruder has no doubt that the types of books that are published reflect the sensibilities of the editors who acquire them, making it imperative that publishers, including Amazon, hire people from diverse backgrounds. Her goal, she said, is to release titles that reflect the makeup of American society.
Bruder also hopes to be a role model other people of color can follow as they enter the publishing industry. She sees herself as being a problem solver, and as the leader of Amazon Publishing, she said she will encourage more debate about the best steps forward to make the company and the industry more inclusive. She knows that making some of the necessary changes won’t be easy, but it must be done. “We need to do it together—people need to be willing to be uncomfortable in facing some of these issues,” she said.
Noting that publishing is a business of words, Bruder said the industry has a responsibility to develop a more inclusive vocabulary when discussing diversity issues. “This needs to be an industry-wide conversation,” she added.
As publisher, Bruder has already taken steps to diversify Amazon Publishing’s list, including the 2018 launch of Topple Books, which is overseen by filmmaker, writer, and LGBTQ activist Joey Soloway. Part of Amazon Publishing’s literary imprint Little A and named after Soloway’s production company, Topple is focused on releasing works by women of color, as well as writers who identify as queer and/or gender nonconforming. Its debut list in 2020 had three titles, and in July it will publish I Have Always Been Me by Precious Brady-Davis, in which, Amazon said, the author “shares her profound journey as a trans woman.” Set for October is The One You Want to Marry, a memoir by Sophie Santos, host of the Lesbian Agenda series of stand-up shows.
Other Amazon imprints also include books from diverse authors. This month, the YA imprint Skyscape released Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, a novel by Jonny Garza Villa that draws on their personal experienced growing up queer in the Latinx communities of Texas.
Since its launch in late 2017, Amazon Original Stories, which publishes new short fiction and nonfiction, has become one of the pillars of Amazon Publishing, releasing more than 150 stories. Bruder said she sees Amazon Original Stories as a “playground for writers to tell stories. They love it.” Among those who have published under the imprint is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose Zikora was released last fall and who has a new story coming from the imprint later this year. All Amazon Original Stories are available for free for Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscribers, and Bruder called the imprint “hugely successful.”
Amazon Publishing has had its share of commercial hits, and Bruder said she is prepared to make some bets on new books. Mark Sullivan, author of one of Amazon’s bestsellers, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, has just published The Last Green Valley through the Lake Union imprint. In July, the Thomas & Mercer imprint will publish Choose Me by Tess Gerritsen, writing with Gary Braver. On the nonfiction list is Mothertrucker, a true story from college professor and writer Amy Butcher about the connection she forged with Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, an Instagram celebrity and the nation’s only female ice road trucker, over their shared history of spousal abuse. It will be published in November by Little A.
Though book publishing has been slow to diversify, Bruder feels fortunate to be in the industry at this time, as there appears to be opportunity to effect real change. She said she’s working with people who are passionate about addressing the questions involving the lack of industry diversity. And while there’s no simple answer to the question of how to improve things, she noted, bringing in diverse talent in the form of new staff and new authors is critical to success. After all, Bruder added, “storytelling is for everyone.”