How Amazon Is Becoming a Destination for Writers

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s indisputable that Amazon has changed the way that readers find, purchase, and read books, and with a growing array of services for authors, it’s looking to change the way books are written as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Amazon launched Write On, a service that lets authors post their book drafts and solicit comments and suggestions from Amazon users. The company is also reportedly preparing a separate program, which will enable users to vote for finished books that Amazon could publish through its range of imprints, beginning with e-books.

On a forum for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition, an administrator posted that Write On is “a community where readers and writers come together around the creative process to make good stories great and great stories better.” The administrator, named Nina, also explains that there are no legal commitments involved when authors post their work:

“Whether you want to polish an original work, hone your feedback skills, or just find a group of other passionate readers and writers to connect with, we’re building a community that will support you. Plus, you’ll get a chance to help guide the direction of a new Kindle project that’s still in beta. It’ll be a little experimental, a little seat-of-our-pants, and hopefully a pretty sweet time for all involved. It’s completely free to join. There are no commitments involved with posting your work — you own your stories, always, and can take them down at any time. All you need is the desire to get some good work done and the willingness to help others do the same. “

Write On reportedly enables authors to post their work, at any stage of the writing process, and engage with readers who might offer suggestions for revisions. The Wall Street Journal reports that “dozens of works” have already been posted to the site — with comments so detailed that they sometimes refer to a misplaced comma — and that the official description of the site reads: “Write On is a story lab — which means we’re all about experimentation. Wondering if the crazy idea that’s been keeping you up at night is crazy-good or just crazy-crazy? Write it up, share it, and see.”

An Amazon spokesperson said that the company won’t offer any financial incentives to users of the site, but hinted that Amazon might find books to publish on the platform. Amazon has also reportedly been soliciting completed manuscripts for a separate publishing program, under which participating writers will receive a $1,500 advance and a contract with Amazon. That program is expected to launch in the coming weeks, and will see Amazon posting sample pages of manuscripts for users to vote on. Based on voting and other factors, Amazon could publish e-book and audio book editions and split royalties equally with authors. (However, authors would retain print publication rights.)

TechCrunch notes that services like Write On aren’t new, but have the potential to attract a lot of traffic. Wattpad operates on a similar concept, and is a social reading and social publishing platform where writers can share their work with a community of readers. Notably, posting work to Wattpad has led to some commercial successes for authors.

As TechCrunch points out, Amazon has previously tried to get indie writers to upload fanfiction via the Kindle Worlds service, and Write On seems aimed at more traditional forms of writing, like original fiction and short stories. While Amazon is a growing presence for independent authors, it doesn’t yet own a community where writers can come together, and Write On seems to be its expansion in that direction.

As The Cheat Sheet reported in July, Amazon is quickly becoming a profitable platform for independent and self-published authors. Author earnings data at the time suggested that self-published books represent 31 percent of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store, and self-published authors earn nearly 40 percent of the store’s royalties. Additionally, books published by the Big Five — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster — account for only 16 percent of the titles on Amazon’s bestsellers list.

In a thoughtful Buzzfeed piece on “The Future Of the Future Of Books,” writer Lincoln Michel notes that despite the fact that many self-published authors think that the Big Five hate or fear them, the opposite is closer to the truth. Publishers regard “the typo-ridden Wild West of self-publishing as a kind of digital slush pile from which they can snatch up the works that build an audience,” looking for titles that began in non-traditional places and forms that will succeed as traditionally edited, packaged, and marketed books. Self-publishing benefits publishers, who are signing increasing numbers of indie authors who have been landing on bestsellers lists in greater numbers.

Amazon’s overtures to indie authors come at a time when publishers are even using crowdsourcing to select what books they publish, such as with Macmillan’s Swoon Reads or HarperCollins’ Authonomy, and sites like Unbound enable readers to crowdfund authors in exchange for a copy of a book. These programs, like Amazon’s, blur the barriers between “traditional” publishing, self-publishing, and the crowdsourcing sensibilities of Internet content.

While publishers aren’t afraid of self-published authors, they may be more afraid of Amazon. When Amazon first began publishing books, the industry was alarmed that the web company was providing the services that editors, publishers, and agents traditionally offer. Amazon’s new platforms and services to attract writers show that the company is focused on forging closer connections between two parties in the publishing process — the reader and the writer — and that closeness is just one of the tools that Amazon will use to get more authors to write and publish on its platforms.

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