Jon P Fine, Director of Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon, talks about self publishing and how technology is changing what and how we choose to read
On self publishing: I often get asked, ‘What’s the future of publishing?’ Most of the time, I tell people that if I say anything to predict the future of publishing, they should ignore me because who knows? The one thing I do believe is that, from an author perspective, the opportunities are just growing, there’s a proliferation of options. That means all publishers are going to have to think about serving authors more effectively than they have.
Five years ago, when you talked about self publishing it was viewed rightfully as the place people who couldn’t get published would go to publish themselves. Over the course of those five years that stigma has really been alleviated in many ways. Sonny Mehta still makes jokes to me about self-publishing and he has a right to but the fact of the matter is that most of the publishing world realises that these selfpublished authors are a great annotated slush pile. It’s a way for me, as an agent or an editor or a publisher, to say, ‘Wow, this guy published this book himself; I like the reviews; it’s got good sales ranking; maybe we should publish it.’ This past year at Book Expo America I was on a panel with Robert Gottlieb of the Trident literary agency. All he could talk about was the great young authors they were finding in the self-published ranks. So it’s really seen a sea-change.
Bezos at the supermarket!
When we launched Kindle, Jeff Bezos made a comment that made me laugh: “We’re building a system where I will be able to stand in a checkout line at the supermarket and read a book on my Blackberry”. I thought that was hilarious for two reasons: One, I couldn’t imagine Jeff on a checkout line at a supermarket, but the other one was reading on a Blackberry! I mean I couldn’t do it and I have one! (But) It is so true. Half of the people standing in checkout lines are reading books not playing video games. In subways, on buses… It’s awesome. I think, to me, this is the most powerful aspect of this.
One of the great things about Kindle Direct Publishing is that anybody who has a device is going to be able to read your book. They don’t have to spend money on a special device to do so. A crucial part of that ecosystem is that 200 million people are buying books or shopping on our site globally every day. Those two key facts make KDP a compelling choice for authors.
New vistas for even longer form journalism
With KDP, it’s super easy for an author to get his book up there. His book will be published and available in a couple of days. I don’t think fast-to-market is by itself a benefit or a good thing. If you’re writing a novel, it’s not about speed, it’s about making it really good. In journalism, there are plenty of topics that would warrant a book or a long magazine piece but if you wait a year or two years — if you go by traditional publishing process — it’s going to lose its audience. What KDP does is take the stuff you couldn’t do on your own before and make it possible.
Of transmedia storytelling
I’m lucky to be working with authors who are doing transmedia storytelling. The idea is you build a universe and that universe might have books, a video game, movie. There’s a summer camp in the US for high school students called Shared Worlds where authors of science fiction and fantasy teach these teenagers to create the world that the book will exist in. If you’re creating an Avatar type of world, you really need to create that universe inside your head before you start writing it. Otherwise it won’t work. It’s really cool to see that sort of stuff happening.
The return of the novella
But it’s not just newfangled stuff that this technology is helping liberate. I think shorter works, fiction and non-fiction, magazine articles, novellas, stuff that’s very expensive to publish in traditional forms because it is very hard to economically sustain that model, is seeing an incredible comeback. We created Kindle Singles to provide a platform for authors with works that were longer than traditional magazine pieces, but shorter than books. It is doing incredibly well whether it’s Stephen King, Jodi Picoult or John Krakauer. And so, because the technology lends itself, shorter forms of writing are experiencing a regrowth.
The thirst for stories
We’re seeing all of these great opportunities being jumpstarted by this technology. The demand for the stories and the demand to tell the stories was always there, but there was no way to satisfy it, no way to indulge it. Now there is.
I’m not saying anything about writing a book is necessarily easy. This is the easy part. To be an author you have got to have a story, and trust me, have somebody else read it. And not your mom!