The Perks, Pitfalls, and Paradoxes of Amazon Publishing

Amid a boycott and bicoastal culture clash, Amazon has created a new model of publishing. Where does that leave authors?

One day in 2012, Megan Chance, a historical-fiction writer from the Kitsap Peninsula, arrived at’s South Lake Union headquarters for a meeting. The retail giant’s sleek new campus was bustling with software engineers of various nationalities, marketing mavens, and MBAs. The floor Chance visited, though, was practically empty. “There were, like, four people there,” Chance recalls. “It was bizarre.”

The two-decade-old online retailer was still getting a relatively new and little-understood division going—one devoted not only to selling books on the vast digital platform it had created, but also to publishing them. With the frenetic speed of a start-up, Amazon Publishing had in a few years launched a series of imprints devoted to different niches: mystery, romance, historical fiction, science fiction, and more. Now, the company’s fledgling imprint devoted to her genre, Lake Union Publishing, wanted to publish Chance’s latest work, Bone River, a novel about a 19th-century ethnologist who develops a mystical connection to a mummy.

Chance, in her early 50s, was at a low point in her career. She had spent two decades writing books that languished on bookstore shelves, caught in what she believed was a “vicious cycle” common to the publishing world. She had sold her first book to Hachette, which saw enough promise in the work to give her a big advance. The book sold poorly, though, and the publisher paid for a smaller print run the next time around, according to Chance. Those numbers weren’t great either. After that, she says, Hachette “was done.” She moved on to another publisher, where the downward spiral continued.

She was ready again for a new publisher with Bone River, but the New York publishers she approached didn’t bite. “Come back to us when you have better numbers,” she recalls being told.

Amid the cavernous space at Amazon, the team of editors, marketers, and publicists assembled for the meeting gave her a markedly different reception. “We don’t care,” Chance says they declared in reference to her previous sales figures. “What we do has nothing to do with traditional publishers. We can get your books into the hands of the people who want to read them.”

Chance signed up. And the Amazon team—bolstered by free access to prominent placement on Amazon’s website, strategic use of the enormous amount of consumer data at its disposal, and clever e-mail and Kindle marketing campaigns—made good on its promise. Bone River sold roughly 70,000 copies—a sevenfold increase over her previous best-selling book. Another book she released in August through Amazon, Inamorata, has already sold 120,000 copies, according to Chance. “Having a readership after so many years of not having one has been a joy and a blessing,” she says.

Chance has had to give up some things, however. She can’t, by and large, see her books in stores. Most won’t carry Amazon titles because they’re fed up with being undercut by the Seattle behemoth, which they believe is out to destroy them. She is also sacrificing prestige in the traditional, New York­-based literary world, and some amount of recognition in the world at large. Amazon has created a new model of publishing that is almost entirely self-contained.

It sells “a majority” of its titles as e-books, usually publishing them exclusively on the company’s own Kindle platform, according to Amazon spokesperson Katie Finch. It also draws many authors from its popular self-publishing platform, Kindle Direct. Amazon then promotes its titles on its website and the Kindle. And the company sells the books primarily through one vendor: Amazon.

It is not exactly the model to which Amazon once aspired, which is why the rap on the company’s imprints in New York is that they are, as author and Amazon critic Douglas Preston has heard it, “a dismal failure.” The company has signed few big names, produced little that critics have felt compelled to review, and rarely propelled its titles onto The New York Times’ best-seller lists.

Yet the model has proved surprisingly profitable for a certain kind of midlist author left behind by big publishing houses. For instance, Los Angeles suspense writer Deborah Reed has sold more than 100,000 copies of her Amazon titles. “It’s crazy,” she muses, “because it seems like nobody has ever heard of me.”

Sales figures like these can look attractive even to better-known writers. Robert Dugoni, a New York Times best-selling author of legal mysteries, came out with his latest book, My Sister’s Grave, this month. The publisher: Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. “I’m a working guy” is how Dugoni explains his choice of publisher and the economics behind it. “I have two kids who go to private school, who hopefully someday will go to college.”

Robert Dugoni with his Amazon-published book, My Sister's Grave. Photo by Morgen Schuler

If that sounds like Amazon is a path to certain riches as an author, it isn’t. Some find themselves working for almost nothing. And the hurdles to success, especially in the self-publishing market, are getting harder by the day. In May, Aaron Shepard, who has written three how-to books on Kindle self-publishing, blogged that he owed it to his readers to deliver this message: “The party’s over.”

Enriched or not, the self-published authors seem to be serving the greater Amazon universe, which of course is preoccupied with selling not only low-cost books but electronics, clothes, kitchenware, movies, and more.

Whether that universe is a habitable place for even established authors is an ongoing concern. Take the company’s current fight with Hachette, believed to be about the terms by which the veteran publishing house will supply its books to Seattle’s mega-retailer. Amazon has flexed its muscles in such an aggressive way—through delaying shipping, pulling buy buttons, and throwing up other roadblocks on its site to buying Hachette titles—that roughly 1,000 authors signed two open letters since August protesting what they see as a threat to their livelihood.

Now the Authors Guild and a Preston-led group known as Authors United are seeking recourse from the U.S. Department of Justice, which they are hoping will launch an antitrust investigation. “Amazon Must Be Stopped,” concurred Franklin Foer in The New Republic last month, adding to a growing chorus of voices branding Amazon a “monopoly.” And that’s the polite way of putting it. “It’s a rapacious, awful company,” one local bookseller told me, speaking on condition that his name not be used. Amazon is feared, in some circles, as much as it is hated.

Yet hundreds of writers have risen to defend Amazon too, some signing a petition that grandly claims that the company has “granted more authors their independence than we’ve had at any other time in human history.” Behind the petition is one of self-publishing’s biggest stars, Hugh Howey.

“I see authors being divided against each other—basically choosing up teams,” observes popular science-fiction writer Greg Bear, who lives in Lynnwood. He doesn’t like it, nor does he think it serves authors’ interests to get involved in a fight between two giant companies. He says the only thing he’s interested in is what helps writers the most.

When it comes to Amazon, that tale is still unfolding.

As some Amazon skeptics are eager to point out, self-publishing is not exactly new. In 1843, Charles Dickens, mad at his publisher and wanting a greater share of profits from his writing, self-published A Christmas Carol. Yet the success of the famous Christmas fable, by an already famous author, was long the exception to the rule.

“You may recall it was called vanity publishing,” says Mike Shatzkin, a veteran publishing consultant and blogger. “You got 1,000 books in your garage and good luck to you. . . . The idea that you could make a lot of money self-publishing was preposterous. Amazon made that possible single-handedly.”

It did so with its introduction of the Kindle in 2007. That year, Amazon released Kindle Direct Publishing. (Authors can also publish print copies through Amazon’s CreateSpace program.) Due to far lower production costs, e-books have allowed for a new type of self-publishing. With Kindle Direct, authors don’t pay any up-front costs to Amazon. The company takes a cut—30 percent—once the book is earning money.

That leaves writers with a 70 percent royalty rate, far higher than the typical 10 to 15 percent offered in traditional print publishing. That’s why a select number of self-publishing stars have been able to earn an income of more than $100,000 a year.

“Well over $100,000—which is like a million dollars here,” deadpans Kindle Direct author Carolyn Jourdan, speaking by phone one day last month from her home in the Appalachian countryside of east Tennessee. A former Congressional lawyer, Jourdan started writing after her mother’s heart attack brought her home and she ended up helping out in her dad’s small-town medical practice. Her funny, heartfelt account of that time, days that stretched into years, became a manuscript. It attracted a prestigious publisher, Algonquin Books, who published Heart in the Right Place in 2008. It went on to become a Wall Street Journal best-seller.

“Everything I wrote after that, for, like, 10 years, was rejected,” Jourdan recalls. She had shifted from writing straight memoir to humorous vignettes of Appalachian life. The vignettes, sometimes only a sentence long, were too “short,” she says she was told. Also “too ethnic, too quirky, and too religious.” She quips, in her self-declared “hillbilly” twang, “I mean, that’s just the culture here.”

She accumulated what she calls “this big slush pile of manuscripts.” For money, she relied upon a job with a marketing company that contracted with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And then, two years ago, at age 58, she got laid off.

She turned to her slush pile. “Let’s see if this Amazon thing is for real,” she says she thought. She uploaded Medicine Men: Extreme Appalachian Doctoring in one day, without even giving it another read. She didn’t charge anything for it. “There was no thinking going on. It was pure hysteria,” she says.

Within days, more than 20,000 people had downloaded her book, she says. In a few months, 100,000 people had. “Well, that worked,” she says she thought. She has since self-published five more books and stopped giving away her work for free. Able to set her own price, she now charges $9.99 for Medicine Men—three or four times the price of many self-published books.

She’s not above taking advantage of Amazon’s promotional gimmicks to drum up sales, though. For a week last month, she sold Medicine Men for 99 cents as a “Kindle Countdown Deal.” A clock, counting down the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds that remain, convey the impression of a barn-burner sale. Five days in, she tells me she has sold 7,000 copies and earned about $4,600.

Given her success, Algonquin has expressed new interest in her work. She says she might submit something that could use editing. But she’s not planning a wholesale return to traditional publishing. “I can’t afford it,” she says.

So far, Amazon’s imprints haven’t come calling. But Jourdan is the kind of author the company went after in 2009 when it noticed that some of the books released though Kindle Direct were attracting a sizable audience. “We started to read those books and we were impressed,” Amazon Publishing vice-president Jeff Belle tells Seattle Weekly one day last month.

“We reached out to those authors and we kept hearing the same thing.” The authors had been getting rejection letters, “but they were encouraging rejection letters,” Belle says. Agents and publishers liked the writers’ manuscripts, but for whatever reason didn’t think they could sell them. Amazon, which has made a science of selling, did.

And so the company launched its first imprint in 2009, Amazon Encore, targeted specifically at publishing writers discovered through the self-published market. That mission expanded to republishing out-of-print books, drawing in part on a series of “rediscoveries” by Seattle’s famed former librarian Nancy Pearl, who took considerable heat within the literary world for her Amazon deal.

“What are our other opportunities?” Belle says his staff then asked. Perusing Amazon’s websites around the world, he says they realized that a lot of great books in other languages weren’t making it into English. The translations imprint Amazon Crossing was born. An early hit was German author Oliver Pötzsch’s historical thriller about 17th-century witch-hunting, The Hangman’s Daughter. “We’ve sold about one-half million copies of that,” Belle says.

A flurry of imprints followed—more than a dozen in all, with the latest, Christian-oriented Waterfall Press, launching just this year. Altogether, the imprints have published some 5,000 books over the past five years, according to Belle.

From his home overlooking Lynnwood’s Lake Martha, Greg Bear describes how he came to be published by Amazon imprint 47North. Bear has worked with a variety of publishers, including his current, Hachette. And, yes, the current dispute endangers sales of the book he released last month, War Dogs, which is why he signed both of the recent protest letters against Amazon.

Yet he talks appreciatively of his experience with the company’s publishing arm. The story begins, oddly enough, with swordfighting. As a writer interested in long-ago worlds, he liked to practice the medieval art. He did so regularly at a circus school in Georgetown, along with renowned Seattle science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, a few sword-makers, and other friends and science-fiction fans. Afterward, they’d sit around “talking story,” as Bear puts it. Jointly, they created a tale about a 13th-century fight against a Mongolian khan bent on destroying Europe. Eventually it became a collaboratively written manuscript of half a million words.

Science fiction author Greg Bear at his Lynnwood home. Photo by Morgen Schuler

A work of that length written by seven authors, many of them unknown, did not fit the traditional publishing model. “New York just couldn’t seem to get it,” Bear says. Genre publishing has been hammered over the past two decades by the decimation of the mass market—the cheap paperbacks, once seen in great variety in grocery stores and airports, which are no longer as plentiful due to a complex set of factors linked to the consolidation of distributors. Publishers eyeing The Mongoliad were not in the mood for risk.

Amazon, however, was eager both to try new things and create a new mass market. In 2012, its 47North imprint launched a Mongoliad series of books, promoting them at Comicon conventions and the Experience Music Project Museum, where it staged a swordfighting contest.“We sold hundreds of thousands of copies,” Bear says.

Still, he notes that in the traditional literary world, it was as if the books did not exist. “Nothing Amazon and 47North does is of any interest to New York.”

It was in New York, in fact, that Amazon Publishing began to seem like a flop.

Talking now , Belle downplays the significance of the New York office his publishing division opened in 2011. As it moved into full-blown editing and book development, Amazon Publishing was hearing from more and more agents with manuscripts to sell, he says. It only made sense to have an office in the heart of the publishing world, so agents and other literary types could drop in for meetings.

Other insiders, however, depict a grander ambition. The goal, says one former employee with knowledge of Amazon Publishing strategy and its execution, was to bid for "big books. We were going to compete with major publishers.”

That seemed obvious from the man Amazon picked to run the New York office: Larry Kirshbaum, a former CEO of the Time Warner Book Group and discoverer of such literary luminaries as James Patterson and Nicholas Sparks. His defection to Amazon, as it was seen, was big news in the literary world—as were the six-figure advances he started handing out.

Kirshbaum signed a few well-known names—self-help guru Timothy Ferriss, actress Penny Marshall, singer Billy Ray Cyrus. But the books did far worse than expected.

Although Amazon had partnered with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to release print versions of these and other titles, many bookstores simply wouldn’t sell them. Barnes & Noble announced its boycott in January 2012, casting the move as a retaliatory strike against Amazon’s actions in the e-book market. Amazon was pushing publishers, agents, and authors into making their titles available only on the Kindle, thereby undermining Barnes & Noble’s rival e-reader, the Nook. Other booksellers followed suit, angered in particular by a price-check app Amazon developed for the 2011 Christmas season that encouraged consumers to use stores as showrooms before buying online.

“He was really fighting with one hand behind his back,” consultant Shatzkin says of Kirshbaum. The big names he signed—Marshall, Cyrus, and Ferriss—all wrote nonfiction books, and those were hard to sell in the e-book market alone. As the former staffer explains, “The nonfiction buyer is more studious, more reluctant to take a chance”—the kind of person who wants to see a book before buying it.

The bookstore ban affected Amazon Publishing’s ability to sign up authors too. “As an author, seeing your book in bookstores, that’s like the holy grail,” says Megan Chance. Despite being an Amazon author, she has convinced a couple of local bookstores to carry her titles. She held a reading for Inamorata at Third Place Books in August. (Managing partner Robert Sindelar says the store evaluates Amazon titles on a case-by-case basis and tries to support local authors. Robert Dugoni is scheduled to read there this week, one of a handful of local appearances for My Sister’s Grave.)

Mainly, though, Chance got over that authorial obsession. Going into bookstores had become like “self-torture” anyway, she says. With her bad luck with traditional publishers, she’d often find few copies on the shelves, or they’d be in the wrong place.

Megan Chance outside Amazon headquarters. Photo by Morgen Schuler

For other authors, particularly big names used to seeing prominent stacks of their work, the inability to get into stores was a non-starter.

Even Amazon Publishing’s unusual solicitousness toward writers—sending flowers and chocolates on publication day, designating “author relations” staffers to keep writers happy—could not overcome this handicap. Last year, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ wife MacKenzie, a novelist, came out with a new book. Her choice of publisher: Knopf Doubleday.

It has not helped Amazon Publishing that most of its authors have been unable to get on The New York Times’ best-seller lists. While the Times tracks e-books, it does not look at titles “available exclusively from a single vendor,” according to its written policy. It is presumed that’s because the Times does not trust Amazon to report sales figures on its own titles without independent verification.

Within a year of the New York office opening, Amazon decided that the original strategy was not going to work, according to the ex-staffer. The new mandate: Forget big names. Forget bookstores. And refocus on the Kindle, both in terms of publishing e-books and of skimming off the cream of writers self-publishing through Kindle Direct. “Now about one-half of the books we acquire and publish originate on the self-publishing side,” says Belle.

What works particularly well on the Kindle is genre fiction. “A lot of genre readers are gluttons,” Shatzkin explains. “They read lots and lots of books.” So one thing that’s important to them is price. They want cheap more than they want well-known. And cheap is famously one thing that Amazon delivers, particularly on the Kindle, where many books sell for under $5, even under $2.

Internally, the new direction made heads spin. “The East Coast editors were sort of whipsawed,” the former employee recalls. Not only did Amazon ask them to change the type of authors they were looking for, but the company insisted upon a different way of evaluating them. Going with your gut was out. Data was in. What kind of track record does the author have? The category of books? What type of people bought them?

The former staffer describes it as a “consumer-brand approach that would not be unfamiliar at P&G [Procter & Gamble],” and also as a “West Coast” one. (Wait, isn’t the West Coast supposed to be laid-back and freewheeling, not corporate and data-obsessed? Such is the power of Amazon that it’s giving the entire coast a different hue.)

“The politics were tense,” affirms a second former Amazon staffer, describing the same culture clash and changing sense of direction. Turnover was high. In January, Kirshbaum himself left and joined a New York literary agency. Internally, he had been considered no longer the right fit. Asked if he was happy with the job Kirshbaum did, Belle says: “I’m not unhappy with the job he did.”

“It was difficult for me to understand what they were thinking,” says veteran New York agent Jane Dystel, daughter of a legendary publishing figure who once headed Bantam Books. Amid the churn came a lot of people “who didn’t have traditional publishing experience,” she says. Amazon moves employees around so that a person hired for her film experience, for example, might end up marketing books or toasters or children’s puzzles. For Dystel’s clients, the outcome has been mixed.

On the one hand, she says, some of the authors whose work she sold to Amazon have had an “extraordinary” experience. They include the London-based Helen Bryan, whose novel about romance during World War II, War Brides, was first published in Britain. Dystel estimates the book sold about 7,500 copies there. Amazon acquired and republished the book in 2012. The marketing campaign, Dystel says, was “brilliant,” entailing “lots of online promotion.”

Amazon has “daily deals” and “monthly deals” in addition to countdown deals. It has its own “editors’ picks” and best-seller lists. All these regularly feature Amazon titles. Consumers who buy a certain type of book through Amazon, say a romance, will immediately get recommendations for similar books. Amazon Publishing romances are likely to be among them. Those who buy one will get an e-mail the next time its author comes out with a book.

Like politicians who feel the press has betrayed them and want to bypass conventional means to get their message out, Amazon is largely bypassing traditional advertising and promotion that relies upon media and bookstores. “We’re focused on customers we can talk to directly,” Belle says.

And Amazon will talk to its customers again and again about a particular book, making for a more prolonged marketing campaign than is common in traditional publishing, where a new title often gets just an initial blast of publicity. “I have had special promotions for my books a year after their release,” says Chance.

This strategy has worked particularly well with War Brides. It has sold over 500,000 copies, according to Belle; after Amazon published a second Bryan book, says company spokesperson Finch, the author’s sales now total more than a million copies.

Belle cites a number of Amazon authors who have hit that mark, including romance writer Catherine Bybee and women’s-fiction author Karen McQuestion. Amazon Publishing, he insists, is both successful and profitable. That’s hard to confirm because Amazon, whose secrecy is legendary, does not generally release sales figures.

“Nobody ever asks about the quality of the books,” Belle laments. He mentions a short-story collection, Godforsaken Idaho, by author Shawn Vestal, which last month won the PEN/Robert Bingham award for debut fiction. It was put out by a literary imprint, Little A, which Amazon maintains in its New York office.

Dystel, though, has represented other authors who have had far less success with Amazon. In such cases, the company’s marketing methods fell flat. In its haste to get a lot of books out quickly, Amazon “might not have understood the market,” she says. “Or the market might not have been as easily defined.” And when that happened, Amazon let the data make its next decision: It passed on the author’s next book.

“All publishers do this,” Dystel acknowledges, “but they aren’t usually so aggressive in seeking out authors, building them up, and then almost spitting them out.”

Meanwhile, the days of six-figure Amazon advances are gone. “We’re seeing advances somewhere in the range of $10,000 or $20,000,” Dystel says.

You might say those who even get an advance are lucky. Amazon relies on many authors to start their careers without any advance at all.

Lisa Brunette first learned about Kindle Direct Publishing at a Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference last year. “There was an entire day of presentations,” Brunette remembers. The room was “packed. There was a lot of excitement.”

She heard about the 70 percent royalty rate, the autonomy offered by self-publishing, and the success of Kindle Direct stars like Hugh Howey, who went on to sell his science-fiction series Wool to Simon and Schuster.

Brunette, who had been working on a mystery manuscript for years, was torn. She saw an appealing “Seattle ethos of DIY” in self-publishing. The 43-year-old has long made her home here, working as a freelance journalist and editor for the online news site Crosscut, then getting into the gaming industry. She currently writes stories for the company Big Fish, whose female-oriented games have a mystery bent.

Even with her extensive writing experience, the odds of finding a traditional publisher seemed long. She had shopped around her manuscript, but after some initial interest, hadn’t heard anything back.

Yet she saw the Amazon route as “enormously risky.” How would she be perceived in the literary world? Would her reputation suffer from an association with an entity so disliked? “I would hate for everyone to malign me,” she says. In some ways, it would be an odd pairing, since she says she loves small bookstores and worries about Amazon’s effect on them too.

She faced another challenge: what she calls “discoverability.” She knew she couldn’t get into bookstores, so she would have to devise another way to get the word out about her book, Cat in the Flock—a much harder task than it would have been five or six years ago.

The problem, says Aaron Shepard, elaborating upon his “party’s over” blog post, is competition: There’s an enormous amount, given how easy it is to upload a book onto the Kindle. Even a niche that seems specialized—like soapmaking, the subject of a self-published book by Shepard’s wife, Anne Watson—faces dozens of competing Kindle titles. Meanwhile, Shepard says, Amazon has conditioned readers to pay next to nothing for books. “You need enough books to compensate for the lousy payoff. And of course, that’s a perpetual invitation to produce a lot at a lower level of quality. It’s a treadmill . . . What they [authors] generally don’t realize is that their treadmill is actually a generator, and it’s mostly for powering Amazon.”

He explains: “Books have always been a loss leader for Amazon, a way to attract customers for more profitable items. So it suits Amazon very well to have an army of self-publishing authors, mostly working for pennies per hour, supplying Amazon with dirt-cheap content to keep customers coming to the site.”

Dystel agrees with the comment about lower quality. Like many in the traditional publishing world, she keeps an eye out for best-sellers on Kindle Direct, hoping to find new talent. She also helps some of her authors self-publish, sometimes to revive a backlist.

Yet she says she’s seeing “more and more garbage.” It’s cheap garbage, and that attracts an audience, she says. But then readers see that they’ve probably overpaid for their 99-cent book, and they stop buying self-published works. The bad stuff, she contends, is “ruining the market.”

Brunette nevertheless chose to give it a try, and she is upbeat when we meet in her Ballard apartment in August. With the help of her then-fiance, now husband, Anthony Valterra, she had uploaded Cat in the Flock onto the Kindle the month before. It had taken a while to get to that point. They had to format the book for the Kindle, design the cover, and come up with a price. They settled on $2.99, which Brunette says was “psychologically hard” but in tune with the low pricing prevalent on the Kindle.

Lisa Brunette holds a Kindle displaying her e-book, Cat in the Flock. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Once they did all that, though, all it took to “publish” the book was to go to the Kindle Direct site and click on a button. Somewhat amusingly, Amazon then identified a category for the book: “cozy mystery animal.” This was because of the Cat in the title, which refers not to a furry, four-legged creature but to the protagonist, a woman who goes undercover inside a megachurch to find a mother and daughter on the run. ?If Hunger Games had been uploaded, it might have been put in ‘teen eating disorder,’ ” jokes Valterra, a former Wizards of the Coast manager now working for North Seattle College.

They contacted Amazon’s customer-service department about refining the category, and received assurance that it would be changed within two days. “Which actually is pretty impressive,” Valterra says. (The change actually took about three weeks, Brunette later says.)

“We’re looking at it as a business,” Brunette says, adding that it is one she expects to build over time. If her novel resonates with people and she continues to release more books—Cat in the Flock is intended to launch a series—then she could very well have a new career as an author, she says. Underscoring their professionalism, the couple registered as an LLC with the state, printed promotional cards with the book’s cover image, and paid $800 to create a video book trailer that they posted to YouTube.

When we talk again, in October, Brunette has “big exciting news”—a favorable write-up from Kirkus Reviews, the venerable book-reviewing publication and website whose blessing is considered essential by many authors and publishers. “A mystery with an unusual twist and quirky settings; an enjoyable surprise for fans of the genre,” the review trills. She had to pay for it, though. Kirkus has an “indie team” that will review a self-published work for $425 ($575 for express service), with no guarantee of the outcome. “To me, it’s worth it,” Brunette says. “You want that validation.” She plans to use the review in ads on the Kirkus website and magazine.

Her overall marketing strategy is morphing, though. She and Valterra had talked about throwing a book party when they publish the print version through Amazon’s CreateSpace program, which is currently planned for later this month. They also planned a social-media campaign including e-mail blasts. Now they’re mulling a more targeted “grassroots” approach, Brunette says. She might, for instance, do a reading at the Jubilee Women’s Center, a Seattle refuge for women facing homelessness and poverty, to which she has pledged a portion of her book revenues.

“We’re pretty exhausted at this point,” Brunette explains. “We’ve been working every weekend, every night.”

They can’t exactly stop now, though, not if they want Cat in the Flock to distinguish itself among the self-publishing heap. Three months in, Brunette estimates, her authorial debut has sold somewhere over 60 copies. With a 70 percent royalty rate, that translates into revenue of under $150.

Brunette takes sustenance from the positive reaction she has gotten from readers. “I’m building a fanbase and already feel pressure to finish the next book,” she enthuses. Financially, though, Hugh Howey-like profits—in fact, any profits—are far away.

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