Kindle Singles: A Big Opportunity for Smart Writers

Just last week, Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Singles, a new imprint specializing in short nonfiction works of 10,000–30,000 words—which, if you didn’t know, isn’t considered a marketable length for any traditional print publisher.

I see this launch and immediately wonder:
Why didn’t an innovative publisher announce an imprint like this to take advantage of the growing e-reading audience?

Why did it have to be Amazon?

Publishing insiders have talked about the possibility of this new form/genre for more than a year. (See Shatzkin here, point 3!)

But no one stepped forward (to my knowledge) to innovate in this way. I suppose that no traditional publisher can yet see a way to make enough money to invest resources in it. But I know there’s a smart editor out there who could make money on it with the right connections and support.

In any case, you, dear nonfiction writer, ought to carefully consider if this launch could be an opportunity for you.

I can speak from a decade of experience behind the scenes in publishing: Most books are greatly and embarrassingly inflated in word count, just to meet a page count or pricing threshold for print publication.

You’ve read these books, I’m sure, and you can tell when it’s happening. It feels like the book wasn’t edited. Actually, closer to the truth: The book was just put on a milkshake diet.

In any case, Amazon is looking for serious writers to contact them for this program, and my guess is they don’t quite know what they’re doing yet, because there aren’t any submission guidelines.

And it’s too soon to tell how selective they will be, or what the editing process is like—but no matter. Even I am thinking if I have an appropriate project!

Wired’s Gadget Lab has an interesting prediction as a result of the announcement:

Two further possibilities, particularly if other e-book retailers follow suit with similar chapbook-length offerings: digital-only publishers (or offshoot imprints) could emerge to produce works specifically for this format, or the additional revenue and marketing stream of electronic publishing could lead print publishers to produce more short-form books in print.

The lovely thing about Kindle Singles is it inspires people to envision how it will be useful for their own field of work. Case in point, Nieman Journalism Lab envisions newspaper series:

News organizations already have tools to drive that kind of attention — their traditional and web publications. What they haven’t had is a platform that made the sale and consumption of Single-sized text easy. Instead of building or renting their own e-commerce platform — and instead of building their own devices or apps — news orgs can hand that job off to Amazon and reach a broader potential audience than other solutions might.

Related (if you’re curious about this phenomenon):

Once Kindle Singles gets under way, I’d love to hear from authors who are accepted into the program—for interviews and continuing coverage on this blog.

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8 thoughts on “Kindle Singles: A Big Opportunity for Smart Writers

  1. Jed Diamond

    Jane,

    This sounds great. As an author (9 books published) I, too, am tired of the requirements that publishers have demanded that are not related to offering the best book, at the best length, for the right audience.

    I’ve enjoyed writing for Scribd.com and look forward to exploring these new options.

    Thanks for always bringing us the best of what’s new in the world of writing and publishing.

  2. Jane Friedman

    @Kris – As far as market considerations go, nonfiction is MUCH EASIER to sell. 75% of what sells today is nonfiction. So this is a commercial consideration, I would argue, at least primarily.

    I do think there is room for someone (or Amazon) to do the same for novellas, but I don’t think fiction is as much in need (frankly) as nonfiction in acceptance of shorter forms.

  3. Newton Saber

    Super-Size Me Please
    I have long contended that publishers have forced books to be longer simply so they can justify their increasing cost.

    It’s just like the _bucket-sized_ drinks that fastfood forces on customers so they can justify the increasing cost of the value meals.

    Less is more with books. The publishers are stuck in the 50s. Thank goodness the playing field is flattening with Amazon.

  4. Julie Hedlund

    Wow – this is very cool. I would be much more inclined to read nonfiction in shorter form because, as you say, regular size books do seem to go on ad nauseum. In fact, I might even be convinced to buy an e-reader just to get access to them.

    Interesting times – thanks for sharing!

  5. Jess

    You wrote: Most books are greatly and embarrassingly inflated in word count, just to meet a page count or pricing threshold for print publication.

    Thank you for confirming what I’ve been saying for years. It always makes me feel good when I see my beliefs confirmed by someone in the know. 🙂 Your site is great.

    My head is spinning from the massive changes in the publishing industry just within the past year or so. Thanks for keeping us informed and aware of opportunities.

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