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April 29, 2016

Spam, Spam, Spam Spam: Inkitt and the Grand Novel Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


If you're a writer and have even a smidgeon of online presence, you've probably been emailed or messaged or tweeted by Inkitt, a Berlin-based company that allows writers to post stories and get reader reviews and votes. A prolific spammer, Inkitt also conducts a lot of contests with titles like Vendetta Thriller/Adventure Contest, along with fanfic contests like Star Wars Sci-Fi Writing Contest  (does George Lucas know?). Winning gets you badges on your profile page, and, occasionally, publication.

Tales of Inkitt spam can be seen here or here or here (I've gotten my share, as well). Vote-shilling by contest participants won a temporary ban on Inkitt posts on Reddit a few months ago.

Most recently, Inkitt launched its Grand Novel Contest (for which, no surprise, it is energetically spamming on Twitter):
Win a publishing offer from Inkitt! No submission fees!

Submit your finished novel, 40,000 words or more – no fan fiction, no other limitations on genre! It’s time for you to bring your manuscript into the light and show it off to the world. We are looking for tomorrow's best-sellers!
So why would you want to win a book publishing offer from Inkitt? Well...you really kind of wouldn't.

Inkitt was co-founded by programmer Ali Albazaz, who was inspired by the success of E.L. James's 50 Shades of Grey, in particular the idea of crowdsourced editing: "Don’t publish in two years when you’re finished. Publish as you go, get feedback from other writers and improve." Albazaz claims he has developed an "intelligent" algorithm that uniquely distinguishes Inkitt from similar sites like Wattpad:
We’ve developed an artificially intelligent algorithm that analyses the behaviour of readers on our website. We measure their engagement and build statistical models to forecast the positioning of a book in the real world market even before it is published.​ Once we have found a potential blockbuster book, the next step is working with publishers to get these stories to print.
(He also claims that "Moby Dick was refused [by publishers] because it had ‘dick’ in the title," so take that as you will.)

Inkitt details its publishing philosophy here (in a nutshell, goodbye elitist editors and snooty publishers, hello democratization via the "objective" opinion of readers and Inkitt's magic algorithm). If that floats your boat, you may also be impressed by Inkitt's four-stage publishing process:
Step 1: We design your cover and edit your manuscript.

Step 2: We pitch your book to A-list publishers (e.g. Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan and HarperCollins), and negotiate the best terms for licensing.

Step 3: If the publishers don’t pick your book, we publish you and run a marketing campaign to sell as many books as possible. If we can’t sell more than 1000 books within 12 months then you can get all your rights back.

Step 4: But if your book sells well, we go back to the A-list publishers, exhibit your success and ask them if they want to print your book.
If you know anything about publishing, you know how well this is likely to work. Melville House sales manager Chad Felix, who has also blogged about Inkitt, has it right:
We’ve seen it again and again: non-expert or reformed expert approaches industry with ideas about how to make money (Inkitt creators Ali Albazaz and Linda Gavin have backgrounds in sales and corporate design, respectively), non-expert builds algorithm, non-expert tries to sell newfangled, guaranteed-to-work thing back to the industry of bad experts.
I could find nothing on Inkitt's website to indicate what the terms of its publishing contract might be, although the Grand Novel Contest guidelines indicate that if Inkitt publishes, "the author will receive 50% of Inkitt's net earnings. Apparently Inkitt has already signed and published the first book in the series Sky Riders by Erin Swan, though there's no sign of the book anywhere except on Inkitt.

I think this guy's got the right reaction.


UPDATE: According to this press release, Tor has signed Erin Swan's novel:
Bright Star, the young adult novel by up-and-coming author Erin Swan, was discovered using predictive data with Inkitt’s artificially intelligent algorithms unearthing the highly-addictive book based on an analysis of reading patterns on the platform. The novel is expected to hit bookshelves in summer 2017.
I haven't been able to find any independent confirmation of the deal. Per the Grand Novel Contest guidelines, Inkitt appears to be claiming an agent's 15% commission. On Inkitt, Swan's work appears to be a series, and Bright Star is actually Book 2, so it's not clear to me whether Tor has bought the series or just the one book.

I remain skeptical of Inkitt's "data driven" approach...but congratulations to the author!

-----------------------------------

I also have to say that this, recycled by Inkitt on its website and in nearly all its PR materials, is one of the most annoying memes ever--
We have built a platform that is cutting out the middleman in the publishing industry: the acquisitions editor. There is a long list of books whose authors faced rejection at the hands of publishers. That list includes everything from Moby Dick to Harry Potter. Why? Because individual editors and literary agents make decisions that are subjective – often based on their gut instinct – and this means they sometimes get it wrong.
--because it's totally self-refuting: all these books did eventually get published.

20 comments :

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

What about the deal with TOR?
http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2016/data-driven-publisher-inkitt-signs-first-predicted-bestseller-with-tor-books/

Victoria Strauss said...

Adding linkage to Nate's comment, above. I've updated my post to reflect the info.

I hadn't seen that announcement. I have to say I'm surprised, expecially given the excerpt from the book on Inkitt's website...but it's wonderful for the author. I remain skeptical, however, and will be interested to see if this sale is followed up by others. (Also a question: what kind of cut is Inkitt getting?)

Juli Monroe said...

Did you see this gorgeous clause in their "Terms" sidebar

"The author receives 85% of net earnings if the license is sold to an A-list publisher (e.g. Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan or HarperCollins)"

85% of net? Of course that means 85% of nothing, but the writers they are preying on won't know that and will think they are getting a fantastic deal.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

@ Juli

Yech. Those are not good terms.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Have you asked Tor for the details? I haven't heard of them publishing YA before.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

@ Sue

Tor has a series of YA titles by Harry Turtledove.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yeah, the Crosstime Traffic series. But he's a huge name. They'd publish him anyway. I haven't seen a Tor YA imprint. Anyway, I'd like to hear what they have to say about this.

Victoria Strauss said...

Tor Teen does YA. But I agree--I'd like to see independent confirmation of the sale. I'll be keeping an eye out and will update here if I find anything.

Juli--they are claiming to act as the author's agent, so I'm guessing they're taking a 15% commission...though I'd like to know what they mean by "net."

Pat Dilloway said...

Oh hooray I got Tweeted at by that contest. I feel so special.

katz said...

I see no mention of the Tor deal on Tor's website and Google searches only point back to the Inkitt press release.

Nathaniel Hoffelder said...

@katz

Good point. I will go double confirm the report.

katz said...

Ali got in touch with me about the Tor deal; apparently it's on Publisher's Marketplace: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/login.php/dealmakers/detail.cgi%3Fid%3D2586

(I don't have an account so I can't confirm.)

Anna Schinske said...

This was a very timely article as I was solicited by this group just today. Thank you!

Ali Albazaz said...

Hi Victoria,

Ali from Inkitt here. Reaching out as I recently read your blog post and wanted to provide some insight on our publishing process.

My co-founder Linda and I built Inkitt because we believe every author should have an equal opportunity to be successful. The publishing process should be fair and objective.

At Inkitt, we put the power in readers’ hands to determine what content is most interesting to them. Our algorithms track reader engagement and identify the most compelling content that we seek to get published.

Through our writing contests we offer authors the chance to win publishing deals, either through traditional publishing houses or our platform where we combine it with an in-house marketing campaign and guarantee that if we’re not able to sell at least 1k copies with a year, we’ll give you all the rights back if you’re not happy with our performance. Inkitt takes a 15% commission on every publishing deal we sell to other publishing houses (like an agent) and 50% if we run a marketing campaign and publish it ourselves. Both numbers are based on industry standards.

We don’t pretend that our system is flawless but we do believe it has the potential to positively impact the current selection process in the publishing industry. Our team has spent the last year building strong ties to authors who have come to Inkitt for both feedback on their work, through our reader base, and for the potential to be published.

To address the commentary on spam - as a fast growing startup we have experimented with different online platforms to reach out to authors and readers. When we hear complaints about spamming we take it to heart. We have a dedicated team on the ground who are responsive to all feedback and inquiries from both our authors and readers, which we factor into all our decision making.

We’re excited to see what the next year brings and as you’ve mentioned in your blog post are anticipating the release of our first predicted best seller, Erin Swan’s Bright Star, with Tor Books. Announcement details here: http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/dealmakers/detail.cgi?id=2586.

Hope this helps clarify a few items and always available to continue the conversation at ali@inkitt.com.

Best,
Ali

Erin Swan said...

Hello everyone,

This is Erin Swan, the author of "Bright Star" and what will hopefully be the Sky Riders series. I recently read your blog post and hoped I could offer an insider's look at what goes on when working with Inkitt.

I wrote the first book in the Sky Riders series starting in 2007, and posted it on FictionPress the following year. (We are actually hoping to publish this book as a prequel sometime down the road, but I won't go into that here.) For those familiar with FictionPress, you know it's pretty stagnant. You post your stories on there, people review, and things don't really progress beyond that. A few years later, I wrote "Bright Star" and posted it on FictionPress as well. Like the first book, I got a great reader response, but was never able to move my books beyond that.

Outside of FictionPress, I'd written other things and actually reached out to publishers on my own. If you've done this as a writer, you probably know how difficult and demoralizing it can be. First of all, it's pretty much impossible to get your manuscript on the desk of a big-name publisher without having an agent. And even smaller publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts will often reject yours without offering you any kind of reasoning or feedback, so you're not sure if it's just "not a good fit" for their catalog, or if what you've written isn't publishable. A no-name writer has a really hard go of it in the standard publishing world.

Fast forward a few years. My writing was on hiatus, as other things in my life had taken priority. Then a FictionPress reader reached out to me and mentioned a new website that was running a writing contest--Inkitt. She suggested I enter and, not seeing any reason not to join the site, I posted "Bright Star". I didn't win that contest, but several weeks later, Ali reached out to me. He told me that their readers seemed to be responding well to my story and inquired about my interest in publication.

Since then, Inkitt has been putting in an insane amount of effort to get my book out there. First, they went to the Frankfurt Publishers Fair and pitched on my behalf. Then they sent manuscripts to interested parties, and negotiated on potential contracts. The book got interest from both Tor and HarperCollins, and, as was stated in the update, we ended up receiving an offer from Tor. Inkitt has been acting as my agent, negotiating the terms on my behalf, and we're close to a final contract. Also as stated elsewhere, Inkitt will collect 15% of my net earnings, just like a standard literary agent, even though they've done so much more on my behalf than most agents would.

I'm a writer, not a numbers person, so I can't attest to exactly how Inkitt's algorithms work. However, I can tell you that response to "Bright Star" has been overwhelmingly positive online, but I never would have gotten the chance to get my story off of my computer hard drive without the Inkitt team. Of course, I am the first selected author from their site, so it remains to be seen whether or not their predictive algorithms will prove accurate. But whatever lies ahead, the fact remains that my book will be on the shelves next summer. Whether it's a "blockbuster" book or not, isn't that what we all really want as writers? The chance to hold a printed copy of our work in our hands? Anything else is just an added blessing.

For anyone who is interested, I will be doing an AMA hosted by Inkitt on May 18. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about my experience with Inkitt, the publication of "Bright Star," and anything else you may be curious about.

Best,
Erin Swan

Emmanuel Ezeji said...

Thank you Mr. Ali Albazaz for clarifying some issues here because I was really skeptical after reading this post and the comments. I submitted my own book title 'The Blacklist Conspiracy' for the Grand Novel contest and so far, I don't think there's anything wrong with the whole procedure except at one time they kept on sending spam emails to me but I don't receive that anymore.
So please blogger, make inquiries before posting stuff or blasting people, it's really not good for business and the author's alike.
Thank you once again.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with the claims that editors rejected best-sellers like Harry Potter. Harry Potter was accepted - it was published by those editors and publishing houses and by the very processes they claim to hate. Often a book may get rejected simply because it does not fit with a publishing house's catalogue, with the specific editor who recieved it's tasks for that quarter, is sent in an off-season...etc. The list goes on. Publishing rejections aren't about doubting books, they are about selling them at the right time to the right market. Had Harry Potter been accepted in it's first go around then maybe we would not know about it today. Timing and audience are important and Inkitt seems very, very out of sync with publishing dynamics.
If they were set up as a new publishing house I may give them more credibility, but the fact is that they have to go to these big houses to get their books published in the first place. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Why would any publisher want anything to do with a platform that claims to be against publishing traditions and schematics?
There is too much to be questioned in their methods to support Inkitt as an authentic and viable publishing path, or even as an authentic and viable publishing platform.

Michael LaRocca said...

I'm so disappointed. Inkitt hasn't written to me.

Anonymous said...

I first found out about Inkitt via fanfiction.net. It piqued my interest. I was about to publish my first story there for one of the contests until I read horror stories about spamming, with the way stories were judged on the site questioned, which put me off.

Months later I got an email saying that they were publishing their first story on amazon. I kept in mind the date and found they were telling the truth. Catalyst moon is now available on Amazon (£2.31 to buy, free for kindle subscribers).

Popple said...

Self-publishing is looking better and better. Yes, you have to pony up for a good artist and editor, but at least you've got control.
Barbara of the Balloons

 
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