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Author Susan Orlean's newest project is a combination of her lifelong obsession with animals and her more recent side job as a technology junkie: "Animalish," will be published exclusively by Amazon as one of its Kindle Singles.

Suzanne DeChillo • New York Times ,

Amazon broadens its media terrain with novella-length Kindle Singles

  • Article by: LESLIE KAUFMAN
  • New York Times
  • May 1, 2013 - 2:07 PM

After he was fired by the Village Voice and left the New York Press, David Blum was called by Gawker Media in 2009 “a sad bumbling doctor for dying New York City weeklies.”

But in the four years since, Blum has transformed himself from doctor of the dying to midwife of the up-and-coming. Blum is the editor of Amazon Kindle Singles, a Web service helping to promote a renaissance of novella-length writing.

Amazon Kindle Singles is a hybrid. It is a store within the megastore of Amazon.com, offering a showcase of carefully selected original works of 5,000 to 30,000 words that come from an array of outside publishers as well as from in-house. Most sell for less than $2, and Blum is the final arbiter of what goes up for sale.

It is also a small, in-house publishing brand. Blum comes up with his own ideas or cherry-picks pieces from the more than 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts he receives each month. He then edits them and helps pick cover art.

Amazon Singles usually pays nothing upfront to the author (there are rare exceptions) and keeps 30 percent of all sales. Yet it is an enticing deal for some authors, because Singles delivers a reliable purchasing audience, giving them a chance to earn thousands for their work.

Because Singles is filling a literary terrain not crowded by other retailers, it has established itself with far less resistance than Amazon’s other publishing branches did.

Still, little that Amazon does fails to arouse suspicion. Authors are intrigued and covet the stream of money, but some are still afraid they will alienate their book publishers by using Singles for novella-length work. Publishers are watching closely to see whether Amazon is building a next generation of talented authors who will have no connection to them — and in the process acquiring legitimacy in literary circles.

Blum has tried to maintain the brand’s prestige by tightly limiting the number of offerings. Although the digital bookshelf is infinite, Kindle has posted only 345 Singles since its inception in January 2011, according to the company’s figures.

Evan Ratliff, chief executive and co-founder of Atavist, another digital publisher, said one thing his company likes about Singles is that it doesn’t accept every submission. “They actually make a concerted effort to find something great,” he added. “While we might disagree on the specifics of what that is, our overall sensibilities are aligned.”

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