The Change Agents: Amy Tannenbaum

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The Change Agents is an occasional series spotlighting the work of of people inside Big Publishing who confronting disruption with creativity, and helping their respective companies adapt, adjust, innovate, and reinvent. Read the anchor post here.

If you read the publishing deal sheets regularly, you know Amy Tannenbaum as the editor of pop culture icons like Cyndi Lauper and Mark Goodman. An Editor at Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, Amy’s recently built a string of bestsellers from books that were originally–and successfully–self-published.

Ashlock: A common theme of the Big-Publishing-is-Doomed narrative is that indie-publishing and traditional publishing are somehow in opposition. But over the past year you have sought out and acquired a number of successfully self-published titles and done some exciting work with them. Can you tell us about two or three of these projects?

Tannenbaum: Many self-published books have crossed my desk but I’m very selective about what I choose to take on. My list of originally indie-published authors currently includes Jamie McGuire, Tina Reber and Katja Millay. These authors all had impressive sales before I acquired them, but that can be said of many indie authors. What drew me to these three was the quality of their work.

Jamie McGuire’s new-adult novel Beautiful Disaster is the kind of book that hooks you from the very first page. It’s addictive. I stayed up all night to finish it—only to want to start reading it again. Many of her readers share this experience and are quite vocal about their excitement for the book. In fact, the paperback has been on the New York Times list for sixteen weeks. We’re also publishing the highly anticipated follow-up Walking Disaster in April which tells the story from the male point of view. I can promise you that her fans will not be disappointed.

The next indie book that caught my attention was Tina Reber’s contemporary romance Love Unscripted. Tina is incredibly talented at making you feel like you’re side-by-side with her characters, living their journey with them. The hero and heroine of this book lived in my mind long after I reluctantly turned the last page. We also released the sequel Love Unrehearsed, which debuted at #9 on the New York Times ebook list. This book is another captivating romance that proves Tina is no one-hit wonder.

My most recent indie-published acquisition was The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, a powerfully written new-adult novel that I immediately downloaded after reading a number of phenomenal online reviews. This novel completely swept me up and left me with an intense desire to demand that everyone I know read it.

Taking on Indie authors is of course new territory for me and I had to give myself a crash course in what was out there. I read book after book until I felt confident that I could judge which authors had the potential to have long careers ahead of them and which were selling well mainly due to a low price point and a catchy concept.

Ashlock: For authors that are self-publishing successfully, how do you make the case to go with a Big Publisher?

Tannenbaum: When you’re self-published, you’re essentially running your own business—and taking on the multitude of time consuming responsibilities that come along with that. Signing up with Atria Books allows our authors to focus on their writing, while having a dedicated group of experts in editorial, publicity, marketing, advertising, production, and sales at their disposal—all working toward the common goal of building their audience. We’re also able to offer worldwide distribution of the English-language edition through our partners in the UK and Australia and sell translation rights. Just some that we’ve sold to date include Italian, Portuguese and Indonesian. Atria isn’t looking to ride on the coattails of what these authors have already achieved. Our aim is to extend their success and help them sustain their career.

Ashlock: Talk about what wins you over. What makes a self-pub project appealing to you and your Publisher?

Tannenbaum: My publisher, Judith Curr, and I evaluate self-published projects no differently than we do any other project. The material has to be strong, we must feel confident that the book will find an audience and, as mentioned, it’s important that the author has the desire for a long publishing career. All of the aforementioned authors, along with indie-published authors Colleen Hoover and Elizabeth Reyes (also acquired by Atria) fit the bill in these respects.

Ashlock: Do you think this strategy–plucking books from atop self-publishing communities and repackaging them–will continue to work? Is it  part of “the future of publishing”?

Tannenbaum: I do think that self-publishing will remain a valuable tool for bringing books to our attention but “plucking books from atop self-publishing lists and repackaging them” is not a foolproof recipe for success. It’s necessary to determine whether a bestselling self-published book has reached its peak or if the author would benefit from teaming up with Atria Books to help the book find an even larger audience. It’s always been the role of an editor to recognize and nurture talent. Being published by Atria Books is a sign of quality and with so many books available, our role as curator can be of great value to the consumer.

Ashlock: Couple sentences about your reading habits?

I prefer reading on my iPad at home and on my Kindle when I travel. I usually read a print book when I really want to savor it and plan to make it a permanent part of my library.

Jason Allen Ashlock

About Jason Allen Ashlock

For the past five years Jason Allen Ashlock has been founding and leading companies in content design and author management, building projects for sports legends, award-winning actors and journalists, ground-breaking thought leaders, and Edgar, LAMBDA, and Pushcart finalist novelists. Currently, he manage ambitious and innovative book packaging initiatives for media companies, entrepreneurial authors and brands, start-ups, and organizations of all kinds under the banner of The Frontier Project. He teaches Digital Publishing at the City University of New York, City College, and speaks frequently around the country on matters within publishing, technology, and author management.

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