The Week’s Big Story: Amazon Publishing on Wooing Dean Koontz

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

A major release from Patricia Cornwell, new writings from Mindy Kaling, Andy Weir, Blake Crouch, NK Jemisin, Paul Tremblay and others are on the way in the wake of APub’s Dean Koontz deal.

Grace Doyle, editorial director for Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer, negotiated the five-book Dean Koontz contract. Image: Amazon Publishing

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Shatzkin: ‘A Sign of Things To Come’

Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news Publishing Perspectives  reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.

For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”

And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.

Dean Koontz

Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.

On Tuesday, Shatzkin wrote in a well-timed addendum to a column on publishing’s past decade, “If this is a sign of things to come, and it is hard to see why it wouldn’t be, some profound changes might be just around the corner.”

As Shatzkin tells it, “Between the time this post was started and when it was finished and published, another sign of disruption took place. Amazon Publishing signed the bestselling author Dean Koontz to a multi-book contract. At the beginning of this decade, Amazon Publishing had ideas about signing up big authors. But they were stymied then by the pretty stubborn refusal of the rest of the supply chain to stock books published by their biggest retail competitor”–before, in other words, more books were being sold online than off.

And while Amazon Publishing spokespeople aren’t able, of course, to talk to us about the size of the advance and other financial arrangements that were used to come-hither Koontz, Shatzkin has a good point to make about how money can be apportioned at Amazon’s trade operation and its 16 imprints.

Mike Shatzkin

“Whether they will successfully sell Koontz … remains to be seen,” Shatzkin writes. “But,” he goes on—the italics are ours—”their no-middle-person structure enables them to pay far more of each retail dollar in royalties.

“Half the sales or more can generate more income to the author than a publisher without its own retailing capability can deliver selling a larger number of units.”

That’s a reality check. And the word from authors who have worked with Amazon Publishing is that they love the experience. Frequently they talk of highly dedicated editorial staffers.

“They’re so professional,” Mark Sullivan told us, after his Beneath a Scarlet Sky came out from Lake Union. “They’re so smart.”

Mark Sullivan

On Thursday (July 25), Amazon ended its record quarterly profit streak in its earnings report, its Q2 profit reaching US$2.63 billion, a 3.6-percent rise. However, as Dana Mattioli reports at the Wall Street Journal, the company’s sales growth “reignited in the quarter after shrinking over the past four periods,” with revenue rising 20 percent (over the last quarter’s 17 percent) to $63.4 billion. And Seattle says that once they’ve worked through a costly adjustment to one-day shipping for most Prime customers, things will stabilize.

So while APub declines to tell us what they’re paying Koontz, it may be worth taking Shatzkin’s point to heart. When Koontz says, “This new arrangement” with APub “is so exciting,” it may be because “the Big Sixth,” as some quietly refer to Amazon Publishing, can forward more money to an author because it sits atop the largest retail powerhouse in history.

It was almost eight years ago, in October 2011, that The New York Times’ David Streitfeld was writing, “Amazon Signs up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”

What Amazon Publishing is Saying

Julia Sommerfeld

Grace Doyle—she of that Mona Lisa smile—is editorial director for Thomas & Mercer, the mystery, thriller, and true crime imprint of Amazon Publishing that has the new five-book contract with Koontz, the first book, Devoted, to arrive in the spring. And her colleague Julia Sommerfeld is editorial director of the Amazon Original Stories imprint that’s bringing out Koontz’s Nameless collection of six short thrillers, and tells us that The Martian author Andy Weir is included in an upcoming sci-fi collection–as are Amor Towles of A Gentleman in Moscow, and Veronica Roth of the Divergent series.

Publishing Perspectives started by asking Doyle and Sommerfeld whether when Koontz talks about a “smarter and more ambitious” marketing plan, he could be referring to the double-header effect of the short story collection and the novels.

Grace Doyle: We’re thrilled that Dean has chosen Amazon Publishing, and excited to introduce his millions of fans and new readers alike to the stories in his Nameless collection, as well as his next five novels. While Nameless and Devoted are not related stories, they share the trademark suspense, action, and humanity that have made Dean’s books so beloved around the world.

Julia Sommerfeld: Like Dean’s Ricochet Joe, Nameless will be available free to Prime and Kindle Unlimited members on pub day [November 12]. Ricochet Joe, the graphic novella, helped introduce Dean to new readers, and we think Nameless—which is a truly unputdownable series of short story episodes—will grow his audience even more.

Publishing Perspectives: What else can you tell us about marketing plans in store for Koontz’s new collection and novels?

GD: While I’ll have to ask you to stay tuned for our specific plans to launch Nameless and Devoted, I can tell you that we’re always looking to innovate on behalf of our authors and readers.

For example, in anticipation of our upcoming release of Patricia Cornwell’s Quantum on October 1, we’ve invited readers to “begin the countdown” to the launch, [using] special content featuring Patricia and astronaut Peggy Whitson, introducing the new series and Patricia’s new heroine, Captain Calli Chase.

We also created an animated cover for the Kindle ebook to give readers a taste of the new places this story will lead, and there will be some special features within the ebook that we think will really capture the groundbreaking nature and suspenseful atmosphere of the story. [The animations in Cornwell’s 2017 Ripper were the first look for many at the Kindle in Motion technology.]

These are the kinds of things that will inform our thinking about how to launch Dean’s works with us in the most exciting way.

JS: Dean helped launch Amazon Original Stories. He was one of our first authors, and truly set the bar as a collaborator, and one we were of course eager to work with again.

His imagination keeps driving us to innovate in new ways and expand our creative toolkit; Ricochet Joe gave us a unique world that helped inspire visual enhancements to Kindle ebooks, including mesmerizing animations, and his vision for Nameless is driving our first foray into episodic short fiction.

PP: The Ricochet Joe work has been out since the very end of 2017. Is that when the conversation with Koontz began about doing more together?

GD: I’ve been a fan of Dean’s since I first picked up a paperback copy of Strangers at the age of 12. Our senior editor, Jessica Tribble, who is editing Devoted, discovered Watchers at about the same age. Having had this long-term, one-way relationship with him as readers, it’s been a dream for us to get to know Dean through the work we’ve done with him so far on Devoted–as well as getting to know his wife, Gerda, and his incredible golden retriever, Elsa.

With all the stunning success he’s had, he’s still genuinely interested in creating new worlds, trying new things, and finding new readers. We’re thankful that he’s put his confidence in us and can’t wait to introduce these books to readers.

PP: Are there more talks with big brand authors such as Koontz ongoing at the moment?

GD: We’re really excited to launch Quantum on October 1, and Nine Elms starts a new series from bestselling author Robert Bryndza on December 1.

And we just closed on a new deal with award-winning author Brad Parks, whose new thriller will release in 2020. We’re lucky to publish a really incredible group of authors and there are lots of exciting things on the horizon.

JS: We just announced an essay collection with Mindy Kaling.

And in September [releasing on the 17th], we’ll be publishing Forwarda sci-fi collection featuring Veronica Roth, Andy Weir, Blake Crouch, Amor Towles, NK Jemisin, and Paul Tremblay.

We’re always exploring ways to share the work of beloved authors with our readers.

The six singles in the forthcoming ‘Forward’ collection from Amazon Original Stories, releasing September 17

More from Publishing Perspectives on Amazon Publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.