"The Last Block in Harlem" Becomes One of Amazon's Encore Books
Last year, we interviewed novelist Christopher Herz about his book "The Last Block in Harlem," which Herz had self-published and was selling on the streets of Manhattan. Showing more hustle than a misfit tee-ball team, Herz had managed to recoup the costs of his first print run, quit his day job, and even get himself written up in Publisher's Weekly. At the time, he was building a buzz by hand-selling his book to anyone who would listen, making each individual sale himself and therefore doing more marketing and promoting for his novel than a whole cafeteria full of unpaid interns.

However, at the time Herz was getting a little nervous. Winter was coming, and that meant he was going to have a much harder time finding people on the street to talk to about his novel.

Now, "The Last Block in Harlem" has been picked up by Amazon Encore and will be released as one of their Encore editions on July 13th.


We checked back in with Herz to get the whole story.

JONES: So why did Amazon decide to turn your novel into an Encore edition?

HERZ: After the Publisher's Weekly article came out, their senior content acquisitions representative bought a copy. I guess he liked what he read, because he wrote me and asked if I'd like to be part of a new venture called Amazon Encore. He told me that my writing style was something that really got to him and that he'd like to get it out to the world. They were starting a publishing company and were interested in giving work that may not have gotten enough exposure a bigger audience. I guess they also liked how I hustled for sales. I was the kind of writer they were looking for. Someone who would die for their work, which I am. Writers have to be part of the marketing experience of their work, which I think we touched on the first time around.

Usually Amazon bases what they decide to get behind on sales and reviews, but The Last Block in Harlem was only out for a few months before he read it. Just shows you that there is no formula. Just be yourself and put out good work. As a writer, it's the most important step. Well, the impost important first step.

JONES: How soon after making your book available on Amazon did they contact you for the Encore program?

HERZ: I never sold my book through Amazon in hard copy. I sold all hard copies on my site or on the streets of NYC -- mostly on the streets. I did put up my own Kindle edition, but nobody took notice of that. It was through the PW article that they found out about the book and read it. I'm the black sheep among all the Amazon Encore Authors that way -- maybe even most authors out there. The right mix of insanity, hustle and belief in the work you produce can do wonders.

JONES: What percentage are you making off of every ebook sale?

HERZ: It's a fair deal. As a matter of fact, they are actually giving me more than they originally promised. They hiked up the rate they give authors. I don't like talking dollars in a public space, but I will say it's a fair percentage.

JONES: What kind of online publicity or marketing is Amazon doing to raise the profile of your book?

HERZ: They printed up a bunch of galley copies and are getting those in the hands of reviewers who would have never taken them from me as a small publisher. In addition, they have a program called Amazon Vine, which is their group of reviewers who have followers, blogs, etc. They are going to read and give reviews. In addition, they have sent out press releases all over the wire, and have hired out PR and Marketing people both foreign and domestic to get the word out. The book is coming out on July 13, so after the reviews are in, the next phase of publicity will start. Right now I'm holding my breath and praying for good reviews. It's harder for me to wait for what people think than it was selling to them on the streets, but this is the next level of the game. More people are involved, so you just have to be patient.

As the release date gets closer, I'll be dealing with a publicist and all that comes with that. To tell the truth, I have no idea what to expect. Up to this point, I've done it all on my own, so having other people working for me is bizarre. I've talked to other authors who are in the program and they said that as their books got closer to release, the publicity campaign was stepped up, and they were on radio shows, etc.

This week, it's BEA, and their marketing team is in town passing out galleys to booksellers and librarians. We've met a few times and they've been patient with the amount of questions I've hit them with.

JONES: What is the difference between an Amazon Encore book and a regular book created and sold through their self-publishing platform?

HERZ: I don't know anything about their self-publishing platform. I can tell you that they copy-edited the book for grammar (which was badly needed), hired out a company to redesign the cover (which they allowed me to be a part of) and are paying for the printing and distribution. That is a big deal, because as I told you in our last interview, the distribution game is wild and wooly. Do people still say wooly? Anyhow, bookstores, both big and small, usually have you go through a distributor, which can be very costly with both time and resources. Returns, shipping, printing, marketing -- those are all on you if you publish yourself. Amazon Encore is taking care of all of that.

In addition, they approach booksellers and help get the book into stores and into other online venues.

JONES: Do you have a Kindle yet?

HERZ: I don't, but I am finding myself wanting one more and more. I see them on the train everyday. I'm afraid though, because I like books like I like typewriters -- much more fun to use, but not always the best way to go. I will eventually get one I think. I mean, I have all my old Coltrane records and love to listen to them, but I have an iPod as well, which I can't lie -- I use all the time. I have no idea, really. Still, I'd love to go to Starbucks down in Union Square where all those people are on their laptops and start banging away on my typewriter. If you want to come and cover that, we can hook it up. Maybe not -- seems funny when I'm writing this. You tell me.

JONES: Are you allowed to make "The Last Block in Harlem" available for other electronic platforms, such as the iPad, Scribd, or Google Editions?

HERZ: All of that is up to my publisher now. I don't know how they are going to go about that. The book is not just going to be on Amazon -- it'll be in stores as well, and is now available through a variety of platforms. Right now I'm just concerned with reaction to the book, you know? I've gotten emails back from people to whom I sold the first edition saying they loved it, or, in some cases, liked this but didn't like that, and even a few what ifs...but, I'm interested to see what the public thinks when it's presented in the pool with the rest of the kids. Are the floaties we're using better than the others?

JONES: Have you read any of the other books selected for Amazon Encore this year? Are they any good?

HERZ: Whenever I have time. I have been working on my next book to have ready when this one drops. I haven't been reading much of anything these days other than research. The marketing team took a few of the authors out for dinner the other night and I met Laurie Fabiano who wrote Elizabeth Street -- a book about her family and Little Italy and all of the amazing things that go on in the underworld right before your eyes. I started that on the train and it's great. Most of the authors signed by Encore, well ALL actually, have had much more success before they were signed than I did.

Again, my book was only out for 3 months before they approached me. I came in through the back alley because I found the unmarked door and created a password to get into the speakeasy. Still, the music is sweet. Did I answer the question?

JONES: How important were your Amazon reviews as far as being selected for the Encore program?

HERZ: For me, not at all. They guy read about me doing my thing on the streets and he contacted me based on the work itself. That's one of the reasons I was so drawn to doing this. I felt that, even though Encore was a part of Amazon, they were traditional in the fact that they really wanted to work with authors on a personal level to create good books. I have found them to be very author focused. However, I think generally that they base tons off of reviews.

JONES: How much editing did they do on your book? Did they hire an editor from outside, or does Amazon have its own editorial staff?

HERZ: They didn't touch one word as far as the story goes. An outside company was hired to do the copy-editing. They edited for grammar and then sent me the manuscript to either stet or approve any comments. 3 rounds of that! I was amazed. They did a great job. At times, they even found things that I never knew were wrong. At one point I had a story appear as being printed on the back page of the New York Post, and the editor's comment was "Only Sports stories appear on the back page of the Post." Amazing. I loved it. I was very happy with what they did -- and with how they let the story stay as it was. They were extremely professional and dove into the work to make it shine.

JONES: Is Amazon going to send you on a book tour to promote "The Last Block in Harlem?"

HERZ: I don't know. Let's see how the reviews are. As I said, as the release date gets closer, I'll know more. In the contract, it seemed to call out that I would be going to events, so we'll see.

JONES: Are you finding different readers on Amazon?

HERZ: The book is not available yet. Only for pre sale.

JONES: Did they try and get you to change your ending?

HERZ: Nope. I'm sure you're upset about that though. They were very respectful of the work and have the mindset that since they picked this up as it is, why change the story? They are very author focused and seem to be pushing the lines of what fiction can do. I liked that about them. Maybe you should call them and talk to them about the ending -- though I have had some good responses from it. Sometimes people just shake their heads like I'm crazy, but I like it. Well, "like" is a strange term. The ending works and it's the only way it could have ended. We'll have a few drinks at some point and go over it again. Can't wait for that.

JONES: Now that Amazon is your publisher, do they have first dibs on your next book?

HERZ: They do, and I'm fine with that. They took a chance on me and I would like to grow as they grow. And, it's Amazon Encore -- their publishing company, not Amazon itself. They are their own group, but still Amazon. All of their resources of Amazon but being run as a publishing company. The fact that I have someone to send the next book to right away motivates me to finish. I'm at the half-way point on that one.

JONES: Does Amazon have an office in New York?

HERZ: I don't think so. They seem to be in Seattle. That's cool though. My dad used to live in Seattle and I remember going to Space Port when I visited him and playing Video games in the arcade and watching the hydro-plane races. Very green up there. It's like a secret city that nobody wants you to know about.

JONES: What are some of the advantages as far as the Encore program is concerned?

HERZ: The advantages are huge. You have Amazon's global reach, their distribution, the care they take with the authors, and their built-in network of readers and reviewers. People are more likely to buy from them. What I mean by that is that buyers are used to purchasing from their platform because they have an Amazon Account. It's the brand and familiarity that the user has with the experience. User experience is pretty important for the buying process.

The major advantage for me though is the people involved. I have been in direct contact with their acquisitions and marketing departments for the past few months and am excited to see what they do with all the plans we've put together. They hustled for me like crazy at the recent BEA, and are really doing an amazing job at putting the word out. Having people behind a novel, a work of fiction, is rare -- but they believe in what they do and are passionate about what they are trying to put out in the world.

As you know, The Last Block in Harlem is about trying to put something decent into a world that always wants to produce trash. I feel like being part of the Amazon Encore family is a step towards that. Though I had to start on the path alone, I feel it is no accident that we met each other on this journey.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 28 May 2010 12:46:49 -0500 -- permanent link

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