SHAKEN Shakes Things Up

Shaken_CoverArt  Joe Konrath is breaking new ground on the e-front yet again. Today Amazon announced that Amazon Encore is publishing SHAKEN, his latest Jack Daniels novel, first as a $2.99 ebook in October and then as a traditional trade paperback in February 2011. 

Up until now, Amazon Encore has only reprinted books that didn't make a big splash in their initial release and had fallen out of print. This is the first time they are publishing an original novel. 

Joe took the deal after Hyperion dropped the Jack Daniels series and no other publisher stepped up to publish the new book…and after his extraordinary success selling his other unpublished manuscripts as ebooks on Amazon. 

There's no doubt Amazon has noticed how well Joe's books are doing on the Kindle. From their POV, this deal had to be a no-brainer (though I suspect they would have liked to charge more than $2.99 but less than $9.99 for the ebook).  It certainly was a no-brainer from Joe's side. On top of that, Amazon will find no better cheerleader for the Kindle than Joe, which should lift up sales of all Kindle titles across the board as he works tirelessly to promote SHAKEN. In the Amazon press release, Joe says:

“My Kindle readers have been incredibly faithful fans and I’m excited to be able to release the Kindle edition of ‘Shaken’ several months before the physical version is available to purchase,” said Konrath. “Since it’s easier, faster and cheaper to create an e-book than it is a physical book, Kindle owners will get to read the seventh Jack Daniels before everyone else. The ability for authors to reach fans—instantly and inexpensively with a simple press of a button—is the greatest thing to happen to the written word since Gutenberg.”

He elaborated in on the deal, and why he took it, in more detail on his blog. He said, in part:

Traditional publishers had a chance to buy SHAKEN last year. They passed on it. Their loss. Their big loss. Their big, huge, monumental, epic fail.[…] I signed a print deal with a company that can email every single person who has every bought one of my books through their website, plus millions of potential new customers. I've never had that kind of marketing power behind one of my novels. I'd be an idiot not to do this.

I think it was only a matter for time before Amazon reached out to Joe to aggressively capitalize on his success instead of passively (they have been getting the lion's share of the money on his ebooks by doing nothing but hosting him). 

Joe is calling this deal a defining moment in publishing and so are his many fans. I'm not so sure that I'd go that far, but it was certainly inevitable. I think the only real difference between what Joe has been doing up with his ebooks and this Amazon Encore deal is that now he will have the full promotional might of Amazon behind him. As an e-venture, this will surely be a massive success, but as a print-publishing venture, I am not so sure. There's no doubt, though, that it's a win-win for Joe, who is bound to see the sales of his current slate of ebooks skyrocket as a result of the Amazon push for SHAKEN (including, ironically, the books still held by Hyperion).

UPDATE 5-18-2010: I woke up this morning to a bunch of emails asking me why this is a significant development in publishing. How is this any different, they ask, than what Joe is already doing self-publishing  his unpublished work on the Kindle?

In essence, Amazon Encore is a publisher that has picked up Joe's mid-list series from Hyperion. They are publishing the book first as an ebook then later as a trade paperback. The difference here is that the publisher is also the largest bookstore on earth and will put their considerable promotional and marketing might behind his book. But there's a bit more to it than that. Here's how Joe explained it in the comments section of his blog post:

"In this case Lee, it's a bit more complicated.

This bookseller is the number one online bookseller in the world, and they've created the number one dedicated ereading device.

Publishers need authors to write books, then booksellers to sell those books.

In this case, Amazon owns the bookstore, and the platform for the ebooks. And by cutting out distributors, publishers, and brick and mortar bookstores, they can offer a professional product faster and cheaper–and give the author better royalties–than a traditional publisher could.

In other words, Amazon is cutting out just about all the players in the traditional publishing industry, and directly connecting reader with author. 

If ebooks, and Amazon, continue to gain popularity, will there still be a need for the Big Six? Or would authors do better by either self-publishing, or dealing directly with the sellers of the new technology? I think this is pretty significant in the publishing world." 

: Jason Pinter, author and former editor, shared his worries on The Huffington Post about what this deal means for the future. He said, among other things:

Amazon and other online retailers have made it incredibly easy to publish books on their servers. They give each author the ability to format books price them how the authors themselves see fit. There is certain freemarket sensibility here that is inspiring, and in a way each author becomes the proprietor of their own small business. However, I feel that the example of Konrath will inspire other, less successful and even less talented authors to publish their works online. They might see the Kindle as a bypass, a way to showcase their works that the Evil, Stupid Publishing Overlords in New York were too blind to realize are, in fact, literary masterpieces.

Now, publishing is not a perfect industry. And the examples of books that were rejected numerous times or even self-published that went on to become great successes are many. Because book publishing is a wholly subjective business–the only books that are published are the ones that editors truly love (let's ignore celebrity and cynical publishing). Many wonderful books are rejected because one or more editors simply didn't 'get' it. There are plenty of books I passed on as an editor that went on to be published to tremendous critical and/or commercial success. Every editor has their list of books that they kick themselves for having passed on. That is a flaw inherent in the system, only now it is easier than ever for authors to circumvent the system.

9 thoughts on “SHAKEN Shakes Things Up”

  1. Maybe I should post this on Joe’s blog rather than here, but there are a couple things that I’ve been thinking about this. First, seems like a fantastic deal for Joe, and the timing is very helpful, because since he’s apparently the first one they’re promoting this way, they’re really going to want it to be a success, so I think Joe’s going to benefit from it in a way that subsequent authors may not. Good for Joe.
    Second, someone commented on Joe’s blog that they were disappointed that Joe chose to essentially have his book only available through a single bookseller, i.e., Amazon. Hmmm. I agree with his response, or someone else’s, that other publishers had their chance and chose not to, and I think you have to realize that Amazon is acting as both a publisher AND a bookseller here, which is an interesting paradigm shift. And with Borders and B&N both having e-readers, it makes me wonder just how much time there will be before those 2 corporations follow suit and either authors and their agents have some really great venues to approach for publication, or e-publishing contracts start to get locked into single non-compete clause structures that you only get published by whichever bookseller/publisher you’ve contracted with. (Either way, it sounds suspiciously like traditional publishers will get locked out if they’re not careful).
    Third, and perhaps most interesting to me (and disturbing as well), is Joe’s agents must be totally awesome. I discussed some of the Kindle self-publishing things for a couple manuscripts I have (they’ll be out soon) with my agent a couple weeks ago, making sure she had no further markets in mind for them. And she said, “I really don’t know much about e-publishing.” That’s a bit of an indictment of her, I’m afraid (maybe not a “bit” actually; maybe “clueless” comes to mind), but I wonder just how many agents out there are essentially locked into the traditional publishing mindset and would never, ever consider anything like what Joe and his reps have done. That’s their problem ultimately, because things are really shifting under everyone’s feet right now, but I wonder how many agents, editors, publishers… and writers … are going to get totally left in the dust if they don’t try to stay on top of these trends. And I’m afraid that reading about them weeks later in Publishers Weekly or the New York Times or Wall Street Journal is going to be too late. Most writers I know were well aware of the battle between Amazon and Macmillan within hours of it happening, while traditional news outlets didn’t report on it for a week or two.

  2. Quality is the elephant in this room. I am skeptical of any publishing that does not involve intense editing, copyediting, and market evaluation. About fifty years ago, Allen Drury wrote a best-selling Pulitzer-winning novel called Advise and Consent (with a very modern theme). The lesson I’ve heard over and over from publishing friends is that Drury began to reject the editing of his subsequent novels, and as the novels grew slow and fat and tedious, reviews became hostile, and sales plummeted. In the end, his unedited sequels earned little and damaged a once-gifted novelist. So let’s see how authors’ sales and reputations stand up ten years from now.

  3. But the normal publishing house does a better job of promotion. I would bet that your ebook would be lost in the jungle of other ebooks.
    How can you have a signing session of ebooks?

  4. Lee, I would have to think this would be significant if Amazon outbid a NY house for a book, especially if they did it for a mega-bestseller like Jame Patterson or Stephanie Meyer. But that they’re doing this for a book that none of the big 6 wanted (from what I could tell from Joe’s press release), I don’t see this as being that different than the 1000s of other authors who are self-publishing for kindle. Have any of the Amazon Encore trade paperbacks gotten much reach or sales? Has Amazon’s mighty power help make bestsellers into any of their other Encore books?

  5. Joe’s company as an AmazonEncore author are Amazon breakthrough novel contest top 100 entries, and most of those were self-published after losing the contests. This year self-published books could be entered for the first time. As Richard said, what kind of quality control will this business model have? I wouldn’t trust an Amazon editor. What are the qualifications for the job? List books online? Copyedit the Web pages? Yet, they pick the winners of the contests all the way through. It’s a giant leap to the bottom.

  6. I don’t see this as being a game changer but it is interesting. It really depends on what Amazon do next. I doubt this will be a one-off but are they willing to go down that road where they compete with other publishing houses?
    I think the big point is like Pinter says, Konrath would not be selling as many ebooks as he is now if his books had not already been traditionally published. Same with you Lee, your books and movie and TV work spurred the success of your ebooks, along with your blog. This advantage is what seperates you from anyone who tries to self-publish their novels.
    So it is interesting news for established authors who are fed up with traditional publishing or interested in exploring the new model, but for newbies, I don’t see it changing much. It is like Radiohead giving their music away for whatever people want to pay. That is alot easier to do after you have already sold millions of albums.

  7. I like Pinter’s points, actually, although as I’ve written on my blog, this new potential paradigm seems to be saying, “Don’t let the agent and/or editor decide what’s good or not, let the market (AKA reader) decide what’s good.”
    “Good” of course, is a rather difficult thing to define. My biggest worries about all the e-publishing going on is what it’s going to do to book prices overall and how difficult it’s going to be to sift through all the crap. On the other hand, the market will bear what the market will bear, and it’s not necessarily all that easy to sift through the crap now.

  8. Unless you are a Stephen King or Janet Evanovich the “normal” publishing house does very little promotion.


Leave a Comment