Volume 5
An Online Literary Magazine
March 31, 2011


Editor's Note: Is Amazon a Friend or Foe of Book Publishing?


Nick O’Connell


Nick O'Connell

veryone knows that Amazon.com sells lots of books. In fact, a recent Los Angeles Times article reports the Seattle-based company now accounts for 22 percent of the total U.S. book sales for key stores, thumping rivals Barnes & Noble and Borders. And that’s just print books; Amazon’s share of the fast-growing e-book market jumped to a whopping 90 percent as of last year, according to the Author’s Guild.


The Author’s Guild and others have sounded the alarm over Amazon’s dominance of book sales, arguing the company has become a near monopolist. This controversy over its retailing practices has often obscured its forays into the publishing world, which are of particular interest for authors, aspiring and otherwise. To learn more about these programs, I invited Jon Fine, director of author & publisher relations for Amazon, to speak to my winter 2011 Seattle writing class. Fine provided a fascinating overview of Amazon’s publishing programs.


“We saw this ability for people to write and make their voice heard,” says Fine. “I embrace the idea that everyone should have the ability to express themselves. We have a wealth of tools and services for authors at any point in the career, or any point in the life cycle of a book. Whether you’re an aspiring author, or you’ve published in digital or in print, at any point in that spectrum we hope to have something to help you with.”


Fine discussed Amazon’s three publishing programs in detail:


CreateSpace – This approach provides a quick, easy economical way to publish, distribute and sell your book on Amazon.com and other channels. It's essentially a self-publishing option, though the company prefers to call it independent publishing. The main difference between this program and many others lies in Amazon’s ability to market and distribute your book. You won’t have to sell copies to your family, your mother or pass them out for Christmas presents.


Breakthrough Novel Award – The winners of this contest, juried by publishers and authors, will receive one of two grand prizes. Each consists of a full publishing contract with Penguin to market and distribute your manuscript as a published book. One grand prize will be awarded in the young adult fiction category, and one grand prize will be awarded in the general fiction category. Upon the full execution of the publishing contract, Penguin will pay each winner $15,000.


Encore Program – This is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.


“We try to provide the resources to sell your book,” says Fine. “Amazon is the whole earth catalogue for books. The means of production is democratized, and that’s great.”


Jon Fine of Amazon speaks to The Writer's Workshop writing class.

None of these programs will replace a traditional book publisher, but they highlight the promising directions Amazon and other companies might take in the future. Many authors have lamented the changes in the book publishing industry, which is undergoing a transformation as profound as that remaking the music industry. But there’s no going back. Authors must find ways of surviving and thriving in the new digital world. You can lament the changes or you can surf the wave, as we’ve tried to do at The Writer’s Workshop Review.


The current issue of The Writer’s Workshop Review features an excerpt from Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Annie Proulx’s new memoir, Bird Cloud, and other literary riches: “Stuck in the Sacristy,” Dave Buchanan’s hilarious account of serving as an altar boy at a historic turning point in the Catholic Church; “Last Days: The Bitter and the Sweet,” Alexandra Garfield’s moving memoir of helping loved ones prepare for death with dignity; “Glencolumcille,” Robin Curtiss’s dark tale of retribution among the troubles of Ireland; “True Power,” Paul Lewellan’s highly original story of prisoner rehabilitation through the Great Books and exotic dancing; and, finally, “The Heart of Hospitality,” my Dispatches column on Domaine Tempier, the Provençal winery that served as inspiration for Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Restaurant and much of the American organic cuisine movement.


I'd like to thank the following people for their help with this issue: all the writers who contributed to it; Brian Belfiglio of Scribner for his permission to publish an excerpt from Bird Cloud; Managing Editor Kathleen Glassburn, Irene Wanner, Scott Driscoll and Thea Chard for their careful reading and editing of manuscripts.


We hope you enjoy the fifth issue of The Writer's Workshop Review. Please let us know what you think, and if you have a story that might work for us, please send it. We read all year and welcome submissions at any time. We look forward to hearing from you!



All best,


Nick O’Connell


Publisher/ Editor


The Writer’s Workshop Review







Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List iconSign up for our Email Newsletter








Home | Search | About Us | Submissions | Mailing List | Links | The Writer's Workshop