Larry Kirshbaum Head of Amazon Publishing New York Imprint Speaks at Stonybrook Southampton College
Photo Credit: WW Burford
One of the great things about the Hamptons is we never know what power player is going to show up in our own expensively landscaped back yard. Better yet, we may not have to crash the VIP tent at Polo or a Meadow Lane cocktail party to meet them. At the most recent Writers Speak Wednesdays at Stony Brook Southampton College sponsored by their MFA in Creative Writing and Literature Program, the New York head of Amazon Publishing Larry Kirshbaum was interviewed by Dan Menaker. Menaker who is the former fiction editor for The New Yorker has a new book, A Good Talk – The Story and Skill of Conversation, and demonstrated those skills in an entertaining evening.
Larry Kirshbaum, a highly respected publisher and agent was hired by Amazon to head up its own internal New York based publishing imprint last July. Would this be a game changer?
Kirshbaum comments, “Amazon is a large company but we’re a small start up of 20 – 25 people. We operate like a small publishing house with a large marketing division.”
Marketing to the tune of direct access to a data base of one hundred million readers where Amazon can suggest to purchasers similar books they might like. As Kirsbahum puts it, “If you like X, we will be the Y.”
The publishing entity is based in New York while the company is based in Seattle. Kirshbaum describes it as an intense environment but a lot of fun. The new position adds fire or should we say Kindle Fire to Kirshbaum’s literary passion. He confesses, “I love books. My wife is a big gardener, and she says, ‘You’d rather read about gardening than do it.’”
Larry Kirshbaum describes the publishing process as a collaborative effort where the he and his staff meet once a week for editorial meetings with marketing. “I’d rather have one person who is passionate about a book versus seven who are luke warm,” he states.
His philosophy served him well when he was at Little, Brown and Company and an unheard of manuscript from a housewife about a supernatural romance came in. “I asked, ‘Does anyone care about vampires?’ My editor Megan Tingley thought she had the Holy Grail, and she did.” That originally titled manuscript Forks of course was the best selling Twilight for which he did agree to a significant six figure advance on the trilogy. “You learn to respect your colleagues,” he points out.
Along with successes are also missed opportunities. Larry Kirshbaum relates, “I also had the Mitch Albom proposal and thought it was very depressing. I told him to stick to sports. When my mother passed away and as I was sitting shiva, four people had neatly wrapped Tuesdays With Morrie to give to me as a gifts. It was humbling.”
Clearly it’s a lot more fun to say yes than no.
Kirschbaum says, “I’m proudest about building authors. We’re committed to finding talent and nurturing it and making it work over time. Our philosophy at Amazon is to discover books and put marketing into them. The main lament is a great book that comes out and no one knows it exists.”
With the long arm and long tail of Amazon, that’s not going to be a problem. Another benefit is the deep pockets of Amazon to make a pre-emptive bid on a desirable title.
They have a print licensing agreement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt which will publish Amazon Publishing East Coast Divison’s adult titles in a print version through a new imprint New Harvest.
Starting out Amazon Publishing will put out two lists per year totaling around 40 or 50 books.
The first books to come out under Amazon Publishing comprise a diverse slate with everything from business books to a memoir from an exiled Chinese poet. Here are a few examples:
The 4-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss
My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall
Hillbilly Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus
Elimination Night by anonymous – TV reality show behind the scenes
Why Have Kids? The Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti
Jeff One Lonely Guy by David Shields, Jeff Ragsdale, Michael Logan which tells the true story of reactions to a flyer put up by Ragsdale for lonely people to call to talk.
The Care of Wooden Floors by British novelist Will Wiles
Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business by Jarley Manning and Kerry Boldine
A Song and a Hundred Songs by Liao Yiwu
Keep an eye out for the Stonybrook Southampton Summer 2012 Workshops in film, theatre, the visual arts, and creative writing. More top literary luminaries will be teaching at this amazing event. Note the deadline is May 12th. www.southamptonarts.org.