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Amazon Gives Self-Published Authors a Chance

After Zetta Elliott couldn't interest publishers in her novel about a black-Latina teen who travels back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn, she joined a growing number of writers and paid to publish it herself in 2008.

A Wish After Midnight sold about 500 copies - nearly covering her expenses, she says. More important, she says, her teen novel was praised on blogs and used in schools and libraries.

But when an editor from Amazon, the online retailer, called last year offering to publish it, Elliott says, "I thought it was a hoax."

It wasn't. This month, her novel, along with Daniel Annechino's They Never Die Quietly and Maria Murname's Perfect on Paper, will be released as AmazonEncore paperbacks, e-books and audios.

All three were previously self-published as part of Amazon's print-on-demand subsidiary, among more than 10,000 self-published titles sold online.

Amazon vice president Jeff Belle says the company's first venture into traditional publishing "identifies great books that we think have been overlooked and brings them to a wider audience."

It's starting small, but, Belle says, "we plant a lot of seeds."

Last August, AmazonEncore released its only other book, Legacy, a fantasy by Cayla Kluver, 16, when she and her mother self-published it in 2008.

Belle says Legacy has sold about 2,000 copies. That's not much for a big publisher, but he says, "We're not in the business of stacking huge piles of books in the front of bookstores."

Belle and Elliott won't reveal details of their contract. Belle says AmazonEncore doesn't pay advances to authors, only a "competitive royalty" based on sales.

He says Amazon editors use customer reviews and sales data to find promising books.

Elliott, 38, a visiting professor at Mt. Holyoke College, says she's thrilled to be "part of an opportunity that encourages authors to take back their power" by bypassing major publishing houses.

Amazon's major rivals, Barnes and Noble and Borders, list AmazonEncore titles on their websites and say that, depending on demand, they may carry them in their physical stores as well.

Given Amazon's dispute with publishers over e-book pricing, Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, sees the experiment as a sign of Amazon's ambitions. But he says it's far from "the top of the things (big) publishers have to worry about. It's something to watch and see if it grows or goes away."

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