Interview with Jeff Belle of AmazonCrossing

In Global Trade Talk by Helen Gregg

By Helen Gregg

AmazonCrossing is an imprint of specializing in translating world literature into English. The editors use data readily available through Amazon –- customer reviews, ratings, sales –- to select books for translation. Jeff Belle, Vice President of Books and the head of AmazonCrossing, took time to answer a few questions.

Pizzicato by Rusalka Reh

AmazonCrossing’s latest title, Pizzicato by Rusalka Reh, translated from the German by David Henry Wilson, is available as of February 8, 2011.

What is your ultimate goal with AmazonCrossing?

With all of our publishing imprints, our goal is to bring great books to our customers.  And there are so many great books in the world, but only a relative handful of them are ever translated and published in English. With AmazonCrossing specifically, we see an opportunity to introduce our English language customers to books they might not otherwise have the opportunity to read. So our goal is to respond to what our customers around the world are telling us they enjoy and help bring those books to an English-speaking audience.

How do you discover these books? Are they always, like Dora Heldt’s Life After Forty, bestsellers in their home country? Or are you including ‘undiscovered gems’?

We have a terrific team of editors who are passionate about finding exceptional books and authors deserving of a wider, global audience.   We use customer feedback and other information from Amazon sites around the world to identify, then acquire the rights, commission translations, and introduce these compelling voices to the English-speaking market through multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, and other national and independent booksellers. 

The first AmazonCrossing title, The Hangman’s Daughter, reached the top of the Amazon bestseller list for Literature and Fiction. What do you think contributed to this success?

It always starts with a great book, and that’s certainly the case with The Hangman’s Daughter. It’s been exciting to see our customers discover a great translated work and challenge the notion that there isn’t a market for translations in the US.

What upcoming title are you most excited about?

We just announced eight new books that we’ll be publishing this late spring and summer. I don’t think I can choose a favorite!  But since you asked, our most recent release is a brilliant epic called Old Town by Lin Zhe and translated by George Fowler. It’s been called “the Chinese Gone With The Wind”.


Why is AmazonCrossing important to you personally?

I spent a lot of my childhood overseas, so I suppose I’m naturally skeptical about the idea that there is no market for foreign translations in the US. A couple years ago, I was reading a report on the state of translation by Esther Allen. The report centered on the imbalance between English and the rest of the world when it came to translations, which is really at odds with Amazon’s vision of making every book in every language available to our customers. So I called to Esther to learn more and see how Amazon might help solve this problem. She was very helpful, and one of the outcomes of this was the realization that we were in a good position to discover great voices of the world that had not been translated into English and then introduce them to our English-speaking customers. And so we created AmazonCrossing to do that.

What does the future look like for AmazonCrossing?

We hope to continue publishing great books that our customers love. We’ve certainly seen with books like “The Hangman’s Daughter” that readers do have the appetite for these kinds of books.

Will Kindle editions always be released at the same time as print? Why is this important for AmazonCrossing?

There have been cases with AmazonEncore, another publishing imprint, where the Kindle book has been released before the print book. But in most cases, these formats are published at the same time. We believe that part of a great customer experience is letting the customer choose what format they prefer.

Pizzicato is a book for young readers. How well do you expect Kindle editions to sell as compared with print editions of this title?

It’s really hard to predict but we do know that readers of all ages read on Kindles.

Anything else our readers should know about AmazonCrossing?

There is a really terrific team of people behind AmazonCrossing. Everyone should be so lucky to work with a team that is so inspired and passionate about what they’re doing.

About the Author

Helen Gregg