Christian authors’ new publishing option: Amazon

Yesterday, Amazon launched a new Christian publishing imprint. It's great for authors to have this new option, but is Waterfall providing the best deal?


Amazon is getting into the Christian publishing biz. But is it the best deal for authors?

Amazon is getting into the Christian publishing biz. But is it the best deal for authors?

Digital Book World reported yesterday that Christian authors can now add Amazon to their checklist of potential publishing houses.

Amazon Publishing today announced the launch of Waterfall Press, a new Christian imprint that will specialize in faith-based non-fiction and fiction. Waterfall Press non-fiction will aim to provide spiritual refreshment and inspiration to today’s Christian reader, while fiction will include stories in the romance, mystery, and suspense genres. Waterfall Press titles will be published by Brilliance Publishing, part of the group of companies, which currently offers readers self-help and personal growth books under the Grand Harbor Press imprint.

From the press release it’s hard to tell how selective this imprint is going to be, or how its royalties will work. But if Waterfall is structured like Amazon’s other existing imprints, it should function like a skeletal version of traditional publishing, with a rudimentary level of editorial oversight and minimal distribution outside of Amazon.

Such limited distribution can be crippling. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in 2012, when Penny Marshall’s celeb memoir was published by Amazon, it sold 7,000 copies in the first month — fantastic numbers for workaday authors but disappointing ones for someone who is already famous and had the full benefit of Amazon’s intranecine marketing machine.

That’s because Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart and many independent bookstores wouldn’t stock a title from their most aggressive retail competitor.

For its various imprints — which seem to have more than doubled in number from this time last year, when there were just six —  Amazon’s strategy has been to launch with big name authors (like actor-cum-academic-cum novelist James Franco for its literary fiction) and then open up to the hoi polloi. But when even the big-name books aren’t selling well, Amazon’s via media seems less appealing than either of the two poles: traditional bricks-and-mortar publishing and distribution on the one hand and self-publishing on the other.

I am keenly interested in this question myself. Late last year I self-published for the first time, and although I was eventually able to scale the bureaucratic mountain that is Lightning Source/IngramSpark, for the first eight weeks the print version of The Twible was available exclusively from Amazon, and the digital version remains Amazon-exclusive.

And I have to say I’ve been tremendously pleased with Amazon’s customer service, royalty structure, and quality of product. It’s been a positive experience on just about every front. Some of the things I was most worried about based on the experience of other Amazon CreateSpace authors did not come to pass because by the time I published with CreateSpace, Amazon had solved those problems.

Right now, Amazon’s more traditional Waterfall option doesn’t look terrifically appealing unless

  1. You’re publishing a digital short that would not need traditional bookstore distribution anyway
  2. You’re publishing in partnership with an organization. Some Waterfall authors, for example, are being sponsored by Christianity Today, which I assume will provide them with advertising and other needed support, or
  3. You are in a huge hurry to get your book out. Amazon has promised in the past that it can rush certain books.

But if you’re a Christian author who is not in those three categories, you should continue exploring both the traditional publishers who can get your book into CBA stores and the self-publishing model that can earn you a much higher royalty.

However, keep an eye on Waterfall, because if we know one thing about Amazon, it’s that they’re on a mission to be irresistible — not just to book consumers, but to authors as well.