Amazon continues to work on new ways to find, market and sell books. The boom in independent publishing has been largely through Amazon, and they encourage that strongly as it costs them little and brings in plenty of money each year.
One recent effort is the Kindle Scout program, which tries to combine ebooks, crowdsourcing, and Amazon. In essence, Amazon wants to be a publisher. Here's the pitch:
Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.
Now, that's a lot better than what you get from traditional publishing (50% is far better than the usual contract, particularly as you won't have to peel off any to the agent). What they are looking for is a fully prepared book with edited, formatted, and completed internal content and a finished cover, so you can't submit your manuscript hoping for publication like a regular publishing house. The book has to be basically done.
If accepted, the book is put up for preview and voted on by people. The books that win get examined by the Kindle board and winners get a contract while voters get a free copy of that book. Amazon offers several benefits, but as Victoria Strauss notes at Writers Beware, the benefits should be examined closely:
- Amazon provides no editing, copy editing, proofreading, or cover art/illustration. Your book will be published exactly as you submit it.
- Submissions are exclusive for 45 days from the date you submit your manuscript. No shopping your ms. elsewhere during that time.
- Submitted manuscripts must meet content and eligibility guidelines. Currently, only Romance, Mystery and Thriller, and SF/Fantasy are eligible.
- Crowdsourcing? Not so much. Authors are encouraged to mobilize their networks for voting (which kind of undermines the notion that manuscripts will rise to the top on merit--a perennial problem of crowdsourced ventures, along with the potential for gaming the system). Mere vote numbers, however, don't determine what gets published. Per the FAQ, "Nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication."
- If you're attracted by the promise of "featured Amazon marketing", here's what it actually consists of: "Kindle Press books will be enrolled and earn royalties for participation in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited as well as be eligible for targeted email campaigns and promotions." Key word here: "eligible." In other words, no promises.
- If you're not selected for publication, you must request removal of your work from the Kindle Scout site. Otherwise, your campaign page will remain online.
- By submitting, you agree in advance to the terms of the Kindle Press publishing agreement. These terms are not negotiable. So before you submit, be sure you're comfortable with them. (If Amazon chooses not to publish your ms., you're automatically released).
This is mostly fine print clarification; the main things to keep in mind is that you only get published if the Kindle Staff thinks so, no matter who wins, and even if you get it, you are only eligible for marketing through targeted email and promotions. Its likely they will push your book as it benefits them to do so, but there's no guarantee and no way of knowing how much or how often it gets pushed.
Still this isn't a bad system, and with the contract you're at least guaranteed 1500 in sales (probably broken up into several years rather than a single check, if like usual). The process is fast - 45 days is their promised turnaround, which is much, much quicker than a traditional publisher. However you have to factor in the time it takes to prepare, layout, perfect, and edit your manuscript, plus the time to get a cover finished - all of which the publisher usually does for you.
Kindle Scout also has tools to help you with outreach and publicity for yourself, such as a Q&A section with suggested questions you can pick through to answer, and a "thank you" note form that is sent automatically to anyone who votes for you - and they suggest contact information and blogs, etc that you can add to it.
You can view the current crop of trending higher vote choices at the Kindle Scout site. Some of them seem to be quality, some look like they're being pushed up by someone with lots of friends or a great outreach.
The big thing that would cause me to hesitate is that I can get 70% royalties by going on my own, and that if the book does really well, Kindle will renew your contract and keep you. The reason I say this is because their FAQ says
If a book doesn't earn $25,000 in royalties during an author’s initial 5-year contract term, or any 5-year renewal term after that, the author can choose to stop publishing with usIn other words, we own you 5 years at least, and longer if you're making good money. So if you want to move to self-publishing at that point, they will probably not let you if you have a good seller. However, if your book is doing poorly, then you can get the rights back without any cost or argument:
After two years, rights for any format or language that remains unpublished, or all rights to any book that earns less than $500 in total royalties in the preceding 12-month period, can be reverted upon request — no questions asked.And that is much better than the usual contracts that publishers will offer. Further, Kindle only owns the e-book rights, so you as the author own all other rights, including films, TV, print, and audio books. And royalties, if any, are paid monthly, whereas some publishers will only pay quarterly or yearly.
The biggest concerns for me are twofold. First, you probably haven't heard of Kindle Scout. Its been out a while but isn't getting much notice; that means its not a very powerful publicity platform. Second, once it does become popular and well-used, that's going to only increase the noise to signal ratio. What I mean is looking through a few books to find one you like is one thing, looking through 150 fantasy novel previews to find one you like is another entirely. How hard are people really going to strive to find a book to vote for? It seems like the promoted (hot, or trending) books and books with a really cool cover are the ones that will get noticed, not necessarily quality.
Overall it seems like an interesting experiment, and I am tempted to try it out. If I can get a nice cover ready for Life Unworthy, I'm strongly tempted to give this a shot. The advance would be very welcome, and 20% lower royalties is a small price to pay for the increased visibility and marketing that a Kindle Scout book gets over simply being epublished.
The biggest hurdle for me is getting a cover done. Just affording the cover is the main issue, since I have a clear concept of the design. But its something to think about.