where the writers are
Is Seattle the new home for publishing?
To be released August 1st, 2011

Publishing in the U.S. has been, for a very, very long time, New York-centric.  When my own career began, the common wisdom was that if you really wanted to make it as a writer, you needed both an agent and a publisher in New York.  For a lot of us, that meant a trip to New York at least once a year, just to keep the relationships vibrant.

That has changed a good deal, with some respectable agents scattered across the country.  I recently met a powerhouse of an agent who has her offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, and another who lives in a tiny town in the central valley of California.  Interesting mid- and small-size publishers are cropping up in varied places as well.  The big six publishers, however--including my own--are still centered in New York, and it's fair to say that the bulk of literary agencies keep their offices there.

But now there's Amazon!  Amazon, a company which revolutionized the system of book distribution, is making a serious investment in becoming a publisher.  In May it announced a new imprint for romance novels, and legitimized the imprint by acquiring a book from bestselling romance author Connie Brockway.  The same month, Amazon introduced a mystery imprint, with a list of established mystery authors already in its stable.  Amazon hired Larry Kirshbaum, formerly CEO of the Time-Warner Book Group,to acquire literary, young adult, and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction.  Kirshbaum's offices will be in--you guessed it, New York.  But the company he answers to has its headquarters, its warehouses, and its identity firmly on the other coast, in Seattle.

Bethany Overland, writing for Puget Sound Business, talked to Seattle's own Jayne Ann Krentz, a romance writer who needs no introduction.  She quotes Krentz as saying that she gets "a kick" out of the whole situation.  If competition is at the heart of success, perhaps such a stimulus as an upstart company challenging the publishing paradigm can be a good thing.  Overland also quotes a New York agent as saying, "Whether we like it or not, it's the wave of the future."

Similar alarums have been raised in the past, especially when very large companies began acquiring smaller companies.  Amazon, however, is a new model, a behemoth which can't be ignored, and I suspect it will make new rules to follow.  It's an exciting time to be in publishing.  Scary, yes, especially if you're an author who liked things just the way they were!  But exciting.