Four surprising things I learned from (not) getting a contract through Kindle Scout

A few weeks back, I wrote an article for The Digital Reader outlining my reasons for submitting my crime novel, The Invisible Hand, to the new Kindle Scout program from Amazon. Although the campaign received terrific support, in the end the novel was not selected for a contract.Does that mean the experience was all for not? Hardly. I learned plenty in the process.

  • Solved: The Mystery of the Hot List - One of the most noticeable details lacking from Kindle Scout is a metric to gauge a campaign’s popularity. Yes, there’s a hot list of titles, but it’s refreshed every hour without any indication of how its compiled. Early in my novel’s campaign, I conducted a little experiment. I un-nominated my novel through my personal Amazon account, then re-nominated it. This sent my novel into the hot list for the next hour. What that tells me is the hot list doesn’t gauge which title is in first, second, third, etc. It measures nomination activity in the previous hour. I could be wrong, but that would mean titles with the most noms might not even be on the hot list. Interesting.
  • Amazon Keeps You in the Loop, for Better or Worse - It figured all along that Amazon would notify “Scouts” of the titles they nominated that won contracts. After all, there’s a free e-book in it for them. But what I didn’t expect, and came to find out, is they’ll also let Scouts know when a title doesn’t make the cut. Good on Amazon for keeping participants informed of what’s happening.
  • Caution: Kindle Scout can Make Rejection Public - Keeping participants informed also means news of the rejection is e-mailed directly to everyone who nominated the title. This public type of rejection might sting a little more than some writers would like. If your fragile ego can’t take that, it’d be best to avoid submitting to Kindle Scout in the first place.
  • Even if You Lose, You Win - Although my novel wasn’t picked up, the experience wasn’t a total loss. Throughout its campaign, The Invisible Hand whetted the appetite of readers who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of it. That built interest I can leverage when the novel is eventually published. I picked up Twitter followers, networked with some great people and wrote posts like this one, all while e-book sales of my backlist spiked. That’s good gravy.

Not everyone will have the same experience with Kindle Scout, but I’d say it’s a good thing overall. The writers that did win contracts should do well, and those like me will have benefited anyway. I’m still seeking a publisher for The Invisible Hand, it just won’t be through Kindle Scout.

5 Comments on Four surprising things I learned from (not) getting a contract through Kindle Scout

  1. I might add that there is no need to have read the book to vote for it. This means you need to have a great sales pitch, but not much else.

  2. So…
    Even “almost winners” get added exposure for their book that might be useful if they go ahead and self publish right after the Scout run through.
    Hmm…
    More than meets the eye there.

  3. I’ve had dealings with two people in the upper ranks of Amazon. One was even my lawyer for a few months. The company is clever, far more clever than many authors realize, and far more clever than many of its critics are aware.

    The real inner dynamics of the Kindle Scout selection as discussed above aren’t that important. I suspect that Amazon is intervening enough to make sure that it will recoup its modest $1500 investment in most cases. Amazon’s real agenda lies elsewhere.

    Amazon is using a technique called ‘redirection’ by magicians. Authors who direct their attention at winning or who console themselves with getting a bit of publicity (as above) aren’t looking in the right places. They’re being misdirected.

    Amazon’s real goal is getting authors who have books that are likely to do well to sign that terrible Kindle Scout contract, with its many restrictions and a measly 50% royalty rate. Pay too much attention to the selection process or the publicity and you miss that. You get screwed without knowing it.

    From Amazon’s perspective, that 50% Kindle Scout royalty rate is laying the ground work for what it hopes will replace Apple’s 70% royalties at all prices as the industry’s benchmark. That’ll be 50% if you give up a lot of rights, including perhaps the right to distribute through other ebook retailers. And it’ll be about 35% if you don’t go along. Never forget that 35% is already what Amazon pays if you dare to violate its wishes and price your ebook outside its narrowly defined $2.99 to $9.99 price range.

    But that 50%-if-you-give-up-a-lot contract is also a warning to authors who’re more clever than Amazon. It signals Amazon’s long-term agenda. It’s almost certainly to drive all other ebook retailers to the margins, so it can dictate royalty rates and terms to authors and publishers. It intends to create an ebook market that’s extremely lucrative for itself and to do so almost entirely at the expense of authors. I I keep telling authors over and over again, “Amazon is not your friend. Amazon’s only friend is Amazon.”

    Unfortunately, authors need to display more sense than they have thus far. A 70/30 split between creator and a retailer is quite viable. Starting with music, Apple’s been paying that since 2003 and is doing quite well. Costs of web services have declined dramatically since then, so an 80/20 split is easily possible today. Anything less, an the author/creator is getting robbed.

    Authors who want to show good sense should apply two tests to every offer from Amazon or its competitors.

    * What’s the royalty rate? It should be 65% (B&N) or better (Apple) and should apply at all price levels (B&N’s range is larger than Amazon’s). Authors should not be punished for attracting readers by offering a book for less ($0.99 or $1.99) or for creating one with such a limited audience that it has to be priced above $9.99. Flat-rate royalties are a must.

    * What are the terms? Any provision that limits what you can do with a book or how you can sell it should be rejected out-of-hand. What Amazon is attempting is to limit authors by demanding the restrictions that a full-service publisher would provide while providing few if any of those services. Refuse to be duped. Amazon is a retailer that can get buy on very low profit margins for ebooks—given its economy of scale that 20% or less. Over the next few years that’s what Amazon should be forced to accept.

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