Saturday, 23 April 2016

Kindle Scout myths and reality

Do you remember when Amazon launched its Digital Text Platform (now KDP) back in 2010? Members of the Ancient Guild of Doom-mongers and Naysayers rushed to the internet to say no good would come of it. Result? Many cautious authors waited to see what happened before self-publishing with Amazon, thus missing the first golden years of opportunity, while we more adventurous souls, the early adopters, made small fortunes.

Now the same people are shaking their heads over Kindle Scout.

Here's Victoria Strauss in 2014 - she really should update this seriously misleading post which I'm not going to link to: "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."

Here's Mark Gardner (KS contender): "Kindle Scout is advertised as a slush pile for the Amazon imprints, and that anyone can win, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Those that already have a number of previous publications, a series, and huge social media following have the advantage. I've always considered KS to be the last resort before self-publishing. I recommend submitting to 'traditional' publishers, then KS, then self-publish."

Lincoln Cole: "What Amazon offers: they might edit it for you (which can be costly) and they might promote it for you. They don't guarantee anything and give themselves the option. Which means you have to work really hard to get the book selected, lose 20% royalties, and you MIGHT get some promotion and editing. So, is it worth it? I guess that is up to you. A lot of people say: Try a traditional publisher, then try Kindle Scout, then self-publish. Not many titles loaded onto Kindle Scout get chosen, and even if you don't get picked, it can be a part of your self-publishing marketing plan anyway."

Newbie writer David Haywood Young, in a piece that attracted very interesting comments when picked up by The Passive Voice: "To sum up: from a certain POV, this could be seen as a scheme to convince writers to submit their work and get reader feedback, in which Amazon gets to skim the most promising new fiction off the top and pay the “winners” lower royalties than they’d get otherwise."

What with Amazon-haters and disaffected writers whose books have failed to be selected, Kindle Scout is getting an undeserved bad press. This is a shame, because it's putting people off, and at the moment, Kindle Scout is the biggest opportunity out there for good authors who aren't selling as many books as they deserve to.

My KS novel, The Trouble with Time, Time Rats Book 1, has only been out for eighteen days, but I'm delighted with its rankings so far (I'll know the numbers sold at the end of May). I know it's selling better, much better, than it would have done if I'd self-published. I know that Amazon will be promoting it further down the line.

To help decide what you think of the program, you could talk to authors who are part of it. Or why not take a look at the Kindle Scout books on Amazon? You can see them here and check out how they are faring.


  1. I think it's a great idea on paper, so to speak, but it's definitely for bigger hitters than me. It involves a public vote which means that you have to have a very robust social media presence and have other books out which are already selling well for any viable hope of selection. Personally, I am not a big enough author, social media and mailing list wise, to consider it yet. When I have 20k followers on facebook and 10k on my mailing list I'll be straight in there though.

    The publishing malarky, to me, is about options. Kindle Scout is another option so the more the merrier in my view.

    As for KU ... again, it's horses for courses. I am wide because I have this old fashioned aversion to putting all the money on one horse! Also I have this pathetic thing about free markets and freedom of choice. OK and I make between 25% and 50% of my money from non Amazon book vendors so I'd be mad to cut that off. ;-) But I firmly believe every author should experiment and do what works for them. I agree that anyone who cuts something out on heresay is nuts. You have to investigate things for yourself and then decide. Wide won't work for everyone any more than just Amazon would work for me ... although I know I'd be smart to have one book in KU just so that the folks in there find out who I am. At the same time, if the books of the indie big boys and trad authors are offered in Unlimited even though they are sold on other outlets too, I think it's a bit rum of Amazon to expect me to give up 50% of my current earnings to try it. What I loved about Amazon, at the start, was their even handedness. That's not even handed in my view so I am a bit disenchanted with them these days.



    1. MTM, one of the most widely-propagated myths out there is that to be selected on Kindle Scout you need a big social media presence! This is NOT TRUE.

      Let me repeat that: you do not need thousands of Facebook contacts etc. to be in the running. Nor do you need lots of nominations (KS does not call them votes, because they are not votes). Apart from blogging, one tweet, and mentions on three forums I frequent, I didn't campaign at all. I didn't email my mailing list to ask for nominations. I spent the thirty days doing my day job, working on the sequel and formatting the paperback.

      In my opinion, it's all about the quality and saleability of the book. It's true that many KS authors have written other books. But writers, like everyone else, tend to get better with practice.

      KU is an option, that's all. I like KU because my books never got much traction on non-Amazon outlets, and I do quite well out of KU. I know this isn't so for everyone. Luckily, they have a choice.

  2. Lexi, I love and understand you enthusiasm - so far Kindle Scout appears to be working very well for you.

    But can you clarify in what way the Victoria Strauss post is misleading? It seems totally accurate and in accordance with what Kindle Scout was officially offering at that time, and totally consistent with what Amazon is officially offering now.

    From your own posts here it would seen Kindle Press is now offering a degree of additional editing, but that is NOT a guaranteed part of the deal.

    From the Amazon Kindle Press website: "Your manuscript and cover should be ready to publish." Further, “You can increase the likelihood of selection by... by submitting a fully finished, professionally copyedited manuscript."

    For those paying for professional services the $1,500 advance will be negated.

    The royalties on offer are significantly below what we could get going it alone, and we can get far wider distribution on our own, while hanging on to our rights should a big publisher make an offer.

    Amazon offers 50% of net, which is 20% less than we’d get going it alone. Further, does 50% of net mean 50% of the 70% Amazon normally pays out? If so that means the real royalty is just 35%. It’s not clear from the website.

    All this of course pales beside the potential rewards if Amazon gives the title its full support. We all know what Amazon can do for its own imprint titles.

    The key here is “if”.

    It clearly states on the Kindle Press How It Works page that selected works will receive “featured Amazon marketing”, which sounds great until you read the Kindle Press Submission and Publishing Agreement page where it makes clear that is not the case at all:

    “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.”

    As many authors know to their cost with Amazon’s potentially lucrative Amazon White Glove programme, "eligible for" means just that, and Amazon can sign one up, lock one in exclusive for a year, and then decide there won't be any benefits forthcoming.

    Under the agreement Amazon can sit on the audio and translation rights for two years, doing nothing with them. Going it alone we could be handling all this and earning audio and translation royalties pretty much from day one.

    It’s not anti-Amazon to call the Kindle Scout programme into question where the details about just what is on offer remain so opaque.

    Just because some authors, as you seem to be, are getting a great deal, does not mean every author will be treated likewise.

    That was and remains the shadow over what might well prove to be an excellent publishing opportunity.

    At the moment the jury is out.

    The bottom line remains, if Amazon really believes in these KS titles, why doesn't it hand out a proper Amazon imprint contract with the full Amazon imprint deal and all the benefits?

    That's as valid a question then as now.

    1. Mark, are you complaining because Amazon is giving Kindle Scout authors a free edit that was not part of the deal? Oh no! Evil Amazon strikes again and hands out unexpected Kirkus edits to authors!

      Amazon promotes Kindle Press books. Why wouldn’t it? Kindle Scout isn’t some evil scheme to trick authors – it’s a money-making exercise for Amazon. And if a book doesn’t earn its author $25,000 in five years, he can ask for his rights back. Amazon wants Kindle Press authors to do well.

      If there is money to be made from translation and audiobook production on a particular book, you can bet they’ll exercise those rights. Two years to get those rights back if Amazon doesn’t use them? I’m okay with that. Two years is the blink of an eye for trad pub. They take that long to publish a book.

      Re the 50% royalty, see the terms and conditions on the Kindle Scout website: “Net Revenue” means, for each format or edition of your Work, the gross amounts we actually receive from the sale of copies of that format or edition, less customer returns, digital transmission costs and bad debt, and excluding taxes.

      50% is twice what traditional publishers pay for ebooks. Yes, I’d get 20% more if I self-published, but overall I’d earn MUCH less because I don’t have Amazon’s marketing power.

      If you think this is a bad contract, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the average trad pub contract for a debut author, with its tiny royalties, non-compete clauses, lack of promotion, and retention of rights until seventy years after the author’s death.

      I have no interest in a traditional publishing contract, unless the advance is a life-changing amount of money – and they wouldn’t offer me that. Neither am I interested in a wider distribution. My books do better in KU.

      Kindle Scout is different from Amazon imprints. As I see it, it’s more inclusive; they give books a chance that maybe their imprints can’t afford to. I see this as a good thing, not a negative. Some KS books will do brilliantly, some won’t, but they’ll all have been given a chance they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Let Kindle Scout be judged on results.

  3. Not sure where I said it was a bad contract. Simply that the benefits you are evidently getting are NOT part of the deal offered. They are a bonus.

    You stated the Victoria Strauss was inaccurate but in fact it accords exactly with what Amazon are actually contractually offering.

    Of course individual authors get extras. We all know that. And an author with an impressive track record as yours is likely to get more bonuses than a total unknown.

    The real question remains, if Amazon is so committed to the book, is why not offer a full imprint deal like they do with Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, Encore, etc?

    By any measure the KindlePress deal is not on parity with the Amazon imprints deals.

    KindlePress is a valid alternative to other routes, but the official Amazon page detailing the benefits remains opaque. The Strauss reservations remain valid.

    Comparing trad pub contracts is neither here nor there since trad pub contracts involve print deals and distribution Amazon is not offering. That's comparing apples and oranges.

    You say "overall I’d earn MUCH less because I don’t have Amazon’s marketing power."

    No doubt Amazon will market your book for you. But again, Amazon makes VERY clear on its official page that that this not part of the deal.


    "“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.”


    Getting promo if therefore a bonus that you and many other authors may receive, but just like with White Glove, where Amazon invite agents to submit client titles, there is no guarantee Amazon will offer support that has not been explicitly promised.

    You say "Amazon promotes Kindle Press books. Why wouldn’t it?"

    I would ask, why would Amazon sign up literary agents to the elite White Glove programme, take curated, agented titles from professional indies with a good track record, and then turn round and say sorry, there's no promo and we only said the author would be "eligible for", not that it was guaranteed.

    You said the Victoria Strauss post was "seriously misleading" but other than showing that your personal experience with Kindle Press has been a good one so far you have failed to show anything Victoria Strauss said to be misleading.

    PS It's great that we can disagree like this. There are many bloggers out there I'd shy away from for fear of getting troll attacked. :-)

    Best of luck with this.

    1. The real question remains, if Amazon is so committed to the book, is why not offer a full imprint deal like they do with Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, Encore, etc?

      What follows is surmise on my part. Kindle Scout is selecting about one book every four days, 149 so far. That's a high proportion of the books on the site. They could do differently – publish only the very best books, say thirty a year, and promote the socks off them. Instead, they are experimenting to see what sells. The advantage of this is they are less likely to pass over a book that turns out to be an unexpected hit. (Traditional publishers do this all the time.) Some books have been upgraded into Amazon imprints, like The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes, chosen on Kindle Scout but published by Little A. All books get a chance to shine, though naturally, a book that does well can expect more promotion.

      This is from the email I received: “Each Kindle Press book we publish is included in at least one email campaign to thousands of Amazon customers, is added to "New Releases" advertisements on and Kindle devices, and is placed in our promotional pipelines where we run periodic discounts on the titles.

      New release campaigns are just a small piece of the overall marketing that will take place for your book. Our sales approach, and our investment in your book, is focused on the long-term. Your book will be eligible for pricing promotions 90 days from launch, and we are actively nominating your book right now for a variety of placements as part of our strategy to continually introduce new readers to your work.”

  4. Interesting debate. Lexi you say:

    "They could do differently – publish only the very best books, say thirty a year, and promote the socks off them. Instead, they are experimenting to see what sells."
    Is this really a good thing for authors? It's good for Amazon. If they publish 100 books and they sell say 200 copies of each that's not a bad profit for Amazon especially if they have invested very little in them. But it's a disaster for the authors.

    1. Not a disaster, Drifter, just a disappointment - and any author is used to those. Books that don't perform well when published by Kindle Press would do worse if self-published. I'm certain of that. Any author whose book sold only 200 copies a year could get his rights back after two years and see if he can do better on his own.

      Also, the 'not bad profit for Amazon' you mention is peanuts, probably a single peanut, to a company Amazon's size. My book got a full Kirkus edit - look up the cost of that on the Kirkus site before you say KP invests little in the books. Plus there's the cost of staff, running the website, etc.. Amazon is not Harper Collins, Kindle Scout is not Authonomy. Amazon is going to make this work.

  5. Peanuts add up though! Amazon wouldn't be offering this if they didn't think it would make them money. I agree with Mark that for someone like you this may be a good choice but for a newbie it's the worst of both worlds. Yes the Kirkus edit is no doubt a bonus but not everyone gets this do they? (By the way do authors know who edits them or is it an anonymised process?

  6. Well, duh - of course Amazon is in this to make money. The nice thing is, if they make a dollar from my book, I make a dollar too.

    It's up to every writer to make up his own mind about how best to sell his book. Kindle Press books are listed here: and anyone can check how they are doing. My fellow British KS author, Sarah Denzil, is doing well with her debut novel, Saving April. Not 'the worst of both worlds' for her.

    Some books get edited by Kirkus, some by Amazon editors, and you know which you get.

  7. Will watch it all with interest and perhaps check out a couple of books (I already have Time Rats 1 as I voted for it) will be interesting to see how things stand in a couple of years.

  8. Just had a look at Sarah Denzil's work and found she's not a debut author exactly. She writes YA under another name and has a few books out there.

    1. I don't want to spend time going through all the KS writers to find the debut ones - indeed from a quick look there don't seem to be many of them. It figures that experienced authors would be more likely to produce a publishable book, and therefore are more likely to be selected. First books are the ones you learn to write on.

      So it's up to a debut author to decide if he has a fighting chance on Kindle Scout; if it's worth tying his book up for 32 - 45 days while it's assessed. I don't see he'd have much to lose, as long as he doesn't waste hours each day campaigning for nominations.

  9. I have finished my never-ending period of wait with Amazon Scout and was turned down. I know this is going to sound like ‘sour-grapes, but I was not impressed. The reasons are as follows:
    1. I have now had time to study the ways in which authors’ book nominations are declined or accepted. I know the 30 day period (plus 15 for subsequent evaluation, of sorts) is intended for Amazon to assess a book’s sales value, in a quirky way, but my feeling are these: the process is disrespectful, gimmicky and tacky. Amazon not only rejects submissions but also publicly humiliates the poor, rejected authors in a second-rate, timeshare-styled, presentational way. Whoever thought of this gimmicky method of breaking bad news, or of the weird routine before it, is lacking insight and sensitivity.
    2. Does it lead me to believe that Amazon editorial staff are capable of spotting the next 50 Shades of Gray or The Martian? Absolutely not. In any case, neither of them is a beacon for others to follow. Also, after seeing the clumsy way in which one of the 'scouts' intervened to abbreviate my initial story overview I was less than impressed. It introduced repeat words that I heartily dislike. The thought of someone altering my carefully worded manuscript in like vein makes me shudder.
    3. I have a feeling that my book was never given serious consideration. Why? Because I defy anyone not to read it without laughing. Yet, the 'scouts' remain anonymous. If they read a book properly, the least they can do is provide proof in the way of a decent review with helpful critiques provided, and announce who they are, what their qualifications are, and where in the organization structure they fit. Why do I feel that the Amazon Scout process is seriously flawed and ‘lackadaisical?’ By that term, I explicitly mean lacking enthusiasm and determination; it is carelessly lazy. It is because there is no proof of effort, no accountability, and people are not held to account for their role - or lack of performance. It is an anonymous treadmill in the way it operates, and forgetful of the fact that people like me are also its customers in many other areas of the business. Furthermore, I know that some of the people who nominated me are high up in the Reviewers’ rankings. How high and respected do people have to be for nominations to be taken seriously?
    No, unlike you, I do not feel that Scout is a route worth taking. Until Amazon learns to treat its staff as human beings, and become open in its dealings with the public, I shall keep my distance.

    1. Barry, I feel your pain. But I'd say Kindle Scout is far more open, accessible, and quick than submitting to an agent or traditional publisher.

      I don't see any public humiliation of non-selected authors - for instance, there is no list of rejected books on the site. It's for everyone to decide whether he wants to go through the process, which KS is quite open about.

      Selecting books isn't a science. KS staff are no doubt improving as they see how previous choices sell. There are only two Kindle Press books in the Humour category. This may be a genre Amazon knows to be tricky to market, and could be a reason for your rejection. Providing reviews for rejected books would be time-consuming, and human nature being what it is, would not placate their recipients :o)

      I’m very happy with how I've been treated by Amazon.