Grace Doyle, editorial director for Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer, negotiated the five-book Dean Koontz contract. Image: Amazon Publishing
By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Shatzkin: ‘A Sign of Things To Come’
Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.
For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”
And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.
Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.
On Tuesday, Shatzkin wrote in a well-timed addendum to a column on publishing’s past decade, “If this is a sign of things to come, and it is hard to see why it wouldn’t be, some profound changes might be just around the corner.”
As Shatzkin tells it, “Between the time this post was started and when it was finished and published, another sign of disruption took place. Amazon Publishing signed the bestselling author Dean Koontz to a multi-book contract. At the beginning of this decade, Amazon Publishing had ideas about signing up big authors. But they were stymied then by the pretty stubborn refusal of the rest of the supply chain to stock books published by their biggest retail competitor”–before, in other words, more books were being sold online than off.
And while Amazon Publishing spokespeople aren’t able, of course, to talk to us about the size of the advance and other financial arrangements that were used to come-hither Koontz, Shatzkin has a good point to make about how money can be apportioned at Amazon’s trade operation and its 16 imprints.
“Whether they will successfully sell Koontz … remains to be seen,” Shatzkin writes. “But,” he goes on—the italics are ours—”their no-middle-person structure enables them to
“Half the sales or more can generate than a publisher without its own retailing capability can deliver selling a larger number of units.”
That’s a reality check. And the word from authors who have worked with Amazon Publishing is that they love the experience. Frequently they talk of highly dedicated editorial staffers.
“They’re so professional,” Mark Sullivan told us, after his came out from Lake Union. “They’re so smart.”
On Thursday (July 25), Amazon ended its record quarterly profit streak in its earnings report, its Q2 profit reaching US$2.63 billion, a 3.6-percent rise. However, as Dana Mattioli reports at the , the company’s sales growth “reignited in the quarter after shrinking over the past four periods,” with revenue rising 20 percent (over the last quarter’s 17 percent) to $63.4 billion. And Seattle says that once they’ve worked through a costly adjustment to one-day shipping for most Prime customers, things will stabilize.
So while APub declines to tell us what they’re paying Koontz, it may be worth taking Shatzkin’s point to heart. When Koontz says, “This new arrangement” with APub “is so exciting,” it may be because “the Big Sixth,” as some quietly refer to Amazon Publishing, can forward more money to an author because it sits atop the largest retail powerhouse in history.
It was almost eight years ago, in October 2011, that David Streitfeld was writing, “Amazon Signs up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”
What Amazon Publishing is Saying
Grace Doyle—she of that Mona Lisa smile—is editorial director for Thomas & Mercer, the mystery, thriller, and true crime imprint of Amazon Publishing that has the new five-book contract with Koontz, the first book, , to arrive in the spring. And her colleague Julia Sommerfeld is editorial director of the Amazon Original Stories imprint that’s bringing out Koontz’s collection of six short thrillers, and tells us that author Andy Weir is included in an upcoming sci-fi collection–as are Amor Towles of , and Veronica Roth of the series.
started by asking Doyle and Sommerfeld whether when Koontz talks about a “smarter and more ambitious” marketing plan, he could be referring to the double-header effect of the short story collection and the novels.
Grace Doyle: We’re thrilled that Dean has chosen Amazon Publishing, and excited to introduce his millions of fans and new readers alike to the stories in his collection, as well as his next five novels. While and are not related stories, they share the trademark suspense, action, and humanity that have made Dean’s books so beloved around the world.
Julia Sommerfeld: Like Dean’s will be available free to Prime and Kindle Unlimited members on pub day [November 12]. the graphic novella, helped introduce Dean to new readers, and we thinkwhich is a truly unputdownable series of short story episodes—will grow his audience even more.
freepicker: What else can you tell us about marketing plans in store for Koontz’s new collection and novels?
GD: While I’ll have to ask you to stay tuned for our specific plans to launch and , I can tell you that we’re always looking to innovate on behalf of our authors and readers.
For example, in anticipation of our upcoming release of Patricia Cornwell’s on October 1, we’ve invited readers to “begin the countdown” to the launch, [using] special content featuring Patricia and astronaut Peggy Whitson, introducing the new series and Patricia’s new heroine, Captain Calli Chase.
We also created an animated cover for the Kindle ebook to give readers a taste of the new places this story will lead, and there will be some special features within the ebook that we think will really capture the groundbreaking nature and suspenseful atmosphere of the story. [The animations in Cornwell’s 2017 were the first look for many at the Kindle in Motion technology.]
These are the kinds of things that will inform our thinking about how to launch Dean’s works with us in the most exciting way.
JS: Dean helped launch Amazon Original Stories. He was one of our first authors, and truly set the bar as a collaborator, and one we were of course eager to work with again.
His imagination keeps driving us to innovate in new ways and expand our creative toolkit; gave us a unique world that helped inspire visual enhancements to Kindle ebooks, including mesmerizing animations, and his vision for is driving our first foray into episodic short fiction.
PP: The work has been out since the very end of 2017. Is that when the conversation with Koontz began about doing more together?
GD: I’ve been a fan of Dean’s since I first picked up a paperback copy of at the age of 12. Our senior editor, Jessica Tribble, who is editing , discovered at about the same age. Having had this long-term, one-way relationship with him as readers, it’s been a dream for us to get to know Dean through the work we’ve done with him so far on as well as getting to know his wife, Gerda, and his incredible golden retriever, Elsa.
With all the stunning success he’s had, he’s still genuinely interested in creating new worlds, trying new things, and finding new readers. We’re thankful that he’s put his confidence in us and can’t wait to introduce these books to readers.
PP: Are there more talks with big brand authors such as Koontz ongoing at the moment?
GD: We’re really excited to launch on October 1, and starts a new series from bestselling author Robert Bryndza on December 1.
And we just closed on a new deal with award-winning author Brad Parks, whose new thriller will release in 2020. We’re lucky to publish a really incredible group of authors and there are lots of exciting things on the horizon.
JS: We just announced an essay collection with Mindy Kaling.
We’re always exploring ways to share the work of beloved authors with our readers.
The six singles in the forthcoming ‘Forward’ collection from Amazon Original Stories, releasing September 17