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October 29, 2014

Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons of Amazon's New Crowdsourced Publishing Program

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Yesterday, Amazon's brand-new crowdsourced publishing program, Kindle Scout, opened for voting by the public.The concept is pretty simple:
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.
Authors can submit their full manuscripts of 50,000 words or more (including cover art, various metadata items, and an author photo), about 5,000 words of which are posted on the Kindle Scout website for a 30-day "campaign". Readers can then browse books and nominate their favorites. If a manuscript they've voted for gets published, they receive a free ebook.

Things authors should note:
  • According to the guidelines, Amazon provides no editing, copy editing, proofreading, or cover art/illustration. Your book will be published exactly as you submit it. [See my update at the bottom of this post.]
  • 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 eligiblity 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).

So, what about that publishing agreement?

Overall, it's decent. The grant of rights (for ebook and audio editions only--though see below) is exclusive and worldwide, and renews every five years--but you can request reversion at the end of any five-year term if you've earned less than $25,000 in royalties during the term, or at any time after your two-year publication anniversary if you've earned less than $500 in the previous 12 months. Royalties are 50% of net for ebooks and 25% of net for audiobooks, paid within 60 days of the end of the month. And of course, there's the $1,500 advance.

Things authors should note:
  • The grant of rights is a bit more sweeping than it appears:
    • The grant of rights includes translation rights. If these are exercised by Amazon, your royalty drops to 20% of net. (On the plus side, if Amazon has not exercised or licensed these rights within two years, you can request that they be reverted.)
    • Amazon can license to third parties any of the rights you've granted. You get 75% of net proceeds for foreign-language books licensed to third parties, and 50% of net proceeds for any other format.
    • The grant of rights allows Amazon not just to publish and/or license ebooks and audiobooks, but to "create condensed, adapted, abridged, interactive and enhanced editions of your Work, and include your Work in anthology or omnibus editions."
  • For "subscription or other blended fee programs" (for instance, Kindle Unlimited), net revenue "will be determined in accordance with the standard revenue allocation methods for that program." So be sure you're aware of what those are.
  • Amazon "may" register copyright for you, but is not required to do so.
  • As always, Amazon maintains complete discretion and control, and can make decisions and changes without telling you. "You acknowledge that we have no obligation to publish, market, distribute or offer for sale your Work, or continue publishing, marketing, distributing or selling your Work after we have started doing so. We may stop publishing your Work and cease further exploitation of the rights granted in this Agreement at any time in our sole discretion without notice to you." (my emphasis) These are not sentences you'll find in a typical publishing contract.

So should authors rush to submit their unpublished novels?

On the plus side, there's the advance (money up front is nice), the possibility of subrights sales, the promotional boost that published books will receive from the selection process--at least while the program is new--and whatever promotions Amazon may (not necessarily will--see above) undertake for individual books. Amazon's on-site promotions (as distinct from its email promotions, which can be spammy; you haven't lived until you've gotten an Amazon email promotion for your own book) are incredibly powerful, and can have a huge impact on sales numbers--though that effect doesn't necessarily last past the promotion itself. It's possible, also, that gaining a toehold in Amazon's publishing ecosystem could eventually open the door to one of Amazon Publishing's traditional imprints--for some authors, at least.

On the other hand, Kindle Scout seems to occupy an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither. As with a traditional publisher, you must agree to an exclusive contract that takes control of certain of your rights--but you don't get the editing, proofing, artwork, or any of the other financial investments that a traditional publisher would provide. As with self-publishing, your book is published exactly as you submit it, with no developmental input or support--but you don't have control of pricing and you receive a smaller percentage of sales proceeds than you would with KDP.

For Amazon, Kindle Scout is super-low risk publishing with the potential for substantial yield--not just from books that prove popular but from the influx of new users to its website. For authors, it's the usual dilemma: does what you may gain outweigh what you don't get, and what you must give up?

As always, don't rush in. Read and understand the Kindle Scout publishing agreement, and be sure you're comfortable with the other conditions to which you're agreeing by submitting your manuscript. Be realistic in your expectations--not just of the possibility of publication, but of what might result if you're selected.

And please--don't spam your entire social network with requests for votes.

UPDATE, 10/30/14: Amazon's right to ebooks and audiobooks is exclusive, but I've been asked whether the Kindle Scout publishing agreement would allow authors to self-publish in print. The answer would appear to be "yes". Here's the relevant language (my emphasis): "All rights not expressly granted to us in this Agreement (including the right to publish print editions) are reserved for your sole use and disposition."

Also, here's author Benjamin Sobieck's first impressions of his Kindle Scout campaign. He makes some interesting observations.

UPDATE, 12/3/14: Just four weeks after Kindle Scout officially launched, the first books have been selected for publication. That seems incredibly fast. I wish Amazon were more transparent about stats, so we could know how many books were submitted to the program and how many readers participated.

UPDATE 1/20/15: It's been confirmed to me that at least some Kindle Scout winners do receive editorial suggestions and cover assistance.

UPDATE 7/16/15: Still more on editing: according to author Victoria Pinder, whose book was chosen for the program, "The Kindle Scout winners all talk to each other, and we’ve all received edits. Some people received some heavy developmental editing. Truthfully, I didn’t....The team still found quite a few things I needed to do to polish and clean in the manuscript so I still had editing. I can also say more than one set of eyes read my manuscript from the Kindle Scout team. The editor comments were done on different dates with different names."


Alan Orloff said...

I think you've boiled it down well. I had a good manuscript ready to go (polished, with a professional cover), so I decided to give it a shot--my 30-day campaign started Monday (I've got other projects more suited to traditional publishing). The lure here, for me, as you mentioned, is Amazon's powerful marketing engine (should I be lucky enough to get selected). I might add that I'm a so-called hybrid author, published both traditionally and self-, and I'm familiar with the pitfalls of each strategy. We'll see what happens!

Inkling said...

In a nutshell:

* For most authors, Amazon is paying much less that Kindle Direct, 70% versus 50%. That can become a substantial sum if the book takes off. Instead of getting $70,000, an author will get $50,000. Amazon pockets the difference.

* Viewed from the traditional publishing angle, Amazon is grabbing most of the rights a publisher gets, but providing virtually none of the benefits. Not a good exchange.

* A $1500 advance isn't much. I've gotten that for translation rights for books that I merely edited. And remember, that is an advance. It gets taken out of the first income.

* As you note, Amazon isn't promising publicity, merely the possibility of that. That's not very valuable, in part because Amazon is busy selling most of its website visibility to the major publishers and in part because, if a mere KDP ebook does well, Amazon is likely to promote it simply for the added sales.

My hunch is that this is typical Amazon. It's playing to the vanity of some author wannabes who'll regard that advance as meaning they're a real writer.

They are not. Amazon has just loaded so many of the terms in its favor, it's going to come out enough ahead to cover those small advances.

One thing that I've yet to hear anyone say is the extent of Amazon's exclusive. Can authors also release editions for iBooks, Kobo, and Nooks? If not, then that is another serious hit on an author's total income.

I did some numbers, assuming equal popularity on all platforms and $1000 in sales on Amazon, here's the results.

Kindle Scout without other ebook distribution.

$1000 x 0.5 = $500

Compare that assuming $1000 sales on Amazon via KDP and 20% of that (or $200) via other retailers:

$1000 x 0.7 = $700

$200 x 0.7 = $140

Total: $840.

That translates into 68% more income going KDP plus other ebook outlets. Amazon would need to do quite a bit to give an author 68% more sales.

Will it? For most Scout authors, I suspect not. Like I said, Amazon plans to sell most of its visibility to the major publishers, leaving little for anyone else. Scout publishers will be lucky if they get included in an occasional emailing—and that happens anyway.

All in all, I'm doubtful, although I do suspect that Amazon's devious index is high enough, they'll actually puff the first few dozen authors to draw more in.

Anonymous said...

"an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither"


Victoria Strauss said...

Inkling said,

One thing that I've yet to hear anyone say is the extent of Amazon's exclusive. Can authors also release editions for iBooks, Kobo, and Nooks?

As in any publishing agreement, exclusive means exclusive. For the duration of the publishing agreement, Amazon has entire control of ebook, audio, and foreign language rights. No one else can use them (unless Amazon licenses them to third parties).

DrMcCoy said...

Also, another quite important thing to note: only US citizens are eligible. Or rather, people with an US bank account and an US social security number.

Anonymous said...

What is everyone so afraid of? Do your homework. Amazon is a business, not Richard III.

susannah eanes said...

'What is everyone so afraid of? Do your homework. Amazon is a business, not Richard III.'
Actually, Amazon is more like Caligula. "You cannot negotiate with people who say 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.' --President John F. Kennedy

Benjamin Sobieck said...

Thank you for the mention, Ms. Strauss.

The criticisms of Amazon's terms are fair, but I'd hold to the "but for" argument.

But for getting picked up by Amazon through Kindle Scout (which hasn't happened yet, my campaign is still running), there'd be no opportunity cost to the sales I'd miss because of the terms. It's one thing to crunch hypothetical numbers. It's another to actually make those hypothetical numbers happen.

My other options - querying traditional routes (I just don't have the time) and taking a chance on self-pubbing (uphill climb for visibility) - didn't seem as appealing as this opportunity.

Is this program right for everyone? Of course not. But it offers the best shot for "The Invisible Hand" in my present situation.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the self-proclaimed savior of the literary underlings imparts her wisdom… again. Remember, don’t dare do anything Victoria wouldn’t do. Either get a real agent or pay an editor and proofreader, pay an artist to design your cover, and pay to print 5000 books on your own. These books Writer’s Beware says will most likely end up in your garage, but at least Ms. Strauss won’t disrespect you.

This Kindle Scout program is a great deal for authors who have never gotten their foot in the door of traditional publishers, or been able to reach enough people going the Indie route. Imagine, Amazon looking for authors who can prove they have the ability to reach readers and basing publishing deals on that information instead of the merit of the book itself. Because we all know agents and traditional publishers only look at merit. Right, Snookie?

And the last gem — “Don’t spam your entire network with requests for votes.”

Wow. Your chances of getting a publishing deal worth a minimum of $25,000 and with the promotional power of one of the largest companies in the world depends first on how many free-to-place nominations you receive, so please, don’t ask people to take a few seconds to do that for you. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

“Right, Snookie?”

That cracked me up. It is true that this industry changed a long time ago, and “platform” has become much more important that merit. So to knock the Amazon program for doing what everybody else does is ridiculous.

But this – “And please--don't spam your entire social network with requests for votes” is quite possibly the worst advice I’ve ever read. Think about it. How often in this industry do authors have any control at all over the decisions to get their book published?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could send a query letter to agents and add, “Oh, and here are five hundred signatures of people that want to see this book published”? But we can’t.

This program sounds great, and it’s only for the ebook. Authors retain full rights to the print version. So if you’re an author and plan to submit a manuscript to this program, please do not heed this horrible, horrible advice. Let everyone within your reach know about it and ask them to nominate your book. It doesn’t cost them anything and if your book is selected, they will receive a free ebook.

Truly horrible advice.

Victoria Strauss said...

Clearly you feel strongly about this, Anonymous, since you've left two comments about it. However, while from a writer's perspective, spamming email and social media with pleas for votes may seem like a fabulous idea, from a recipient's perspective...not so much. Plus which, vote-spamming kind of defeats the whole concept of crowdsourcing, which is supposed to cause a book to rise to the top based on merit.

Anonymous said...

"Amazon provides no editing, copy editing, proofreading, or cover art/illustration. Your book will be published exactly as you submit it."

This Strauss person is wrong here too. My book was selected for publication and this was in an email I received a few days ago. "Your book is one of Kindle Press’ first releases, and we want to give your book the best chance for success! Our editorial team is taking a look at your manuscript, and we may contact you with a few ideas for minor alterations."

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, congratulations on your selection! Please share the title of your book. And do let us know if Amazon contacts you about any alterations--if the Kindle Scout program actually is providing editorial oversight, I'd like to note that in my post.

Uma said...

thank you! I much appreciate your taking the time to explain the finer points (most of which I'd missed)

Shayla Eaton said...

Hi, Victoria!

I read your blog post back in March to learn more about Kindle Scout. Thanks for all the information!

I think KS has its pros and cons. My biggest issue is the editing. I've been told that Kirkus edits these books. But KS asks that the books be copyedited using CMOS. Obviously, not every author is going to have his professionally edited or have the knowledge to copyedit his book using a 1,000-page stylebook. So even if Kirkus is reviewing it for "minor alterations" as someone said in December, that's not a copyedit. That's hardly even a proofread.

I wanted to be able to offer editing services for these authors (before they submit), but as you know, KS has no social media platforms.

I created a Facebook group, though, called Kindle Scout Network, so if anyone would like to join, I'd be happy to add you.

I would love to have some updates on what KS offers in terms of editing, so if anyone has the information, please tell me. Thank you!


Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks for your comment, Shayla. I too would love to know more about editing at KS (from the little I've heard, I share your impression that it's minimal), so if anyone has experience, please post it here!

gracebrannigan said...

Thank you. Just received an email regarding Kindle Scout and was looking for more information. Reblogging this link over at my blog

Patricia Evans said...

Thank you for your overview. My novel TO LEAVE A MEMORY is currently on a Kindle Scout campaign, and I'm a bit leery of the process. First, I have to get all my "network" to nominate my novel, which says nothing of its merit. People can simply click a link, and if they have an Amazon account, nominate my novel. While that makes it easy, it makes "hot and trending" novels be more about who has the broadest network, not who has the better work.

Still, Kindle Scout does provide a portal and promotional opportunities above that of simply posting your novel on Kindle Direct Publishing. And one does retain rights to print the hard copies.

If anyone cares to see how a campaign looks online, go to this link: And if you are so inclined, please give me a nomination.

I appreciate this blog's overview and the comments by others. I'll check back to see if more information is added, especially about editing services Kindle Scout might provide.

Stacey Keith said...

A most enlightening article and I sincerely thank you for it. Wish I had read it BEFORE submitting my mystery to KindleScout. The book stayed on Hot and Trending for all thirty days of the campaign, which delighted me since I had erroneously believed final decisions were crowdsourced. Not so much apparently. I received notification this morning that KindleScout decided not to publish the book.

I've been a professional novelist for twenty-three years and have won multiple awards. A nonfiction book published by Warner Books (now Grand Central) was a bestseller. Even if my grousing sounds like sour grapes, ask yourself what the chances are that the book I submitted to the campaign actually sucked. Now ask yourself why KindleScout goes to such elaborate lengths to pretend as though the publish books based on votes.

There's something rotten in the state of Amazon. I would really like to know what it is.

H.D. Knightey said...

I read this post before I submitted my book to KindleScout, I appreciated the clear and concise pros and cons and then decided that I was okay with the cons and entered anyway. While in the campaign I found more issues, or cons. Had I recieved a publishing contract I might have been able to laugh them off, but I ddidn't. The truth is the field for the program is filling with contestants and so far in Sept 2015 they've only given 3 contracts. Compare that to a very small field four months earlier and 12 authors recieving contracts.

I drove 1300 people to my page in the month, and was in hot and trending for much of the month. It was a lot of free marketing for KindleScout and the moment I was told that I didn't recieve the publishing contract was the exact moment that everyone who nominated my book heard. I advise authors to beware. I published my statistics here:

Patricia Evans said...

Heather, I feel your pain. My novel is currently on a Kindle Scout campaign, although my stats are nowhere near your success. My novel was “hot and trending” only the first three days of my efforts, and like you, I have no way to know how many page views or nominations are required to achieve that status again.

As a “mature” author, I’m in an age group where my friends and associates are not hanging out online all day. In fact, many don’t even have Amazon accounts. Gaining page views and nominations from total strangers via Twitter is a bit impossible, especially since my novel is literary fiction: a dysfunctional family overcomes tragedy.

That’s why I doubt the Kindle editors will bother. So, like you, I’ll be publishing my novels under my own imprint soon. Meanwhile, I’ve driven 500 users to the Kindle Scout site. In my original thank you letter to my nominators, I even mentioned that Kindle Scout appears to be a marketing scam, but KS refused to approve my letter, so I had to revise it. LOL So, I've sent Kindle Scout and Amazon a bunch of new customers, while my novel sits at the bottom of the page under “literature and fiction.”

If any of you would like to help an old girl out, below is the link to my Kindle Scout campaign. I’d appreciate even a click-through to gain a page view, and if the nomination button appeals, please do so.

Heather, I wish you all the best on the publication of your work. I am @patsquill on Twitter and Pat Dunlap Evans on Facebook. Keep me posted about your progress. Now, please click that link …


Amanda Clemmer said...

I've been both traditionally and self-published for a while and decided to give Kindle Scout a try this month. It's definitely been an exhilarating experience, but I've learned a lot about marketing and I've met some cool people.

You can check out my novel, The Grim Reaper: And Company! Here:

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