Showing posts with label Kindle Scout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kindle Scout. Show all posts

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should You Kindle Scout?

There are so many possible paths to publication nowadays, and Kindle Scout is just one possibility. [If you haven’t heard of Kindle Scout, it is an Amazon platform to allow readers to “nominate” books for Kindle Press to publish as ebooks. Think “American Idol” meets corporate behemoth Amazon.]

To help you decide if Kindle Scout might make sense for you, I’ve designed a little decision tree. If you answer “no” to any question, Kindle Scout is not what you want. If you get through all the questions and are still yessing, then I have some links to help you make a final determination.

Is your manuscript fiction? [No? The Kindle Scout program is only open to fiction. It started with Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller and Science Fiction/Fantasy, and later added Literature & Fiction, which includes Action and Adventure. Nonfiction won’t go, nor will children’s literature, foreign languages, etc.]

Do you have a U.S. bank account and tax number? [No? So far the program is only open to people who Kindle Press can pay in the U.S., even though your books are sold throughout the world wherever Amazon does business. Update: In September KP opened this up to other countries, including Canada and much of the old British Commonwealth. Check for their current requirements.]

Will you be satisfied with a nontraditional publishing contract? [No? You need a traditional publishing contract, which Kindle Scout is not.]

Are you willing to have different publishers for the print and electronic versions of your book? [No? The Kindle Press contract only covers ebooks and digital audio books. If you want a print edition of your book, you must either obtain a print-only publisher or self-publish.]

Are you willing to have your ebook and audio book only available on Amazon? [No? The Kindle Press contract locks your electronic books to the Amazon platform.]

Are you willing to have your electronic books part of the Kindle Unlimited subscription service? [No? Kindle Press is not for you.]

Is it okay if no digital audio book is made in the first two years? [No? Kindle Press is not required to produce an Audible book; your rights revert back to you if they don’t produce one within two years. In their first six months of operation they have not yet produced any.]

Is your manuscript finalized so it can be published without any further copyedits? [No? The Kindle Press contract does not require them to make any changes to the text you submit. Of course, if that answer is no, you aren’t really ready to self-publish either. Note: Kindle Press has copyedited all books it has published to date.]

Do you have a professional-looking book cover? [No? Kindle Press requires you to have a book cover. During the thirty-day nomination process that is the first thing prospective readers (called “Scouts”) will see. Again, you should have this for a self-published manuscript as well.]

Are you willing to give up pricing and promotional decisions to a ginormous corporation? [No? Then you really need to be an Indie publisher.]

Are you willing to wait two and a half or three months for publication? [No? Because you must have a complete manuscript and book cover to enter the Kindle Scout nomination process, you could be Indie publishing as soon as you format the manuscript and upload it. The Kindle Scout nomination process takes around forty days from submission to approval. Because Kindle Press has been copyediting, add another six weeks or so plus a week for formatting and, best case, you are ten weeks out. With glitches (and I had several) it will be a longer delay.]

Congratulations, you’ve said “yes,” or at least not “no,” to all of the questions. Kindle Scout may make sense for you.

What advantages might Kindle Scout have compared to Indie publishing?

$1,500 advance on royalties paid within thirty days of being selected

Amazon promotion – there are no guarantees, and Kindle Press is only one of a number of Amazon imprints. However, early Kindle Press publications have received various pushes from Amazon.

International sales: Your electronic book will be available in North America, the U.K., Australia and Germany through Amazon subsidiaries.

One final copyedit—again, not promised, but currently they are contracting with Kirkus editors for copyedits. Every author I have talked to has been very pleased with their edits.

Free publicity during the thirty-day Kindle Scout nomination period. If you are selected by Kindle Press, those who nominate your book will receive a free Kindle version (and are asked to leave reviews). If you are not selected, those who nominate your book have recently been given the option to receive an email when your book does become available (from your Indie publishing or from another publisher.)

Decent royalties (given there is an advance): 50% on ebooks; 20% on digital audio

Rights reversions are clear: After two years if book does not hit minimum royalty levels ($500 in any trailing twelve-month period) you may reclaim your rights. After five years if you haven’t received at least $25,000 in royalties you may revert your rights. If Kindle Press does not publish within six months (ebook) or two years (digital audio) you may reclaim rights.

What are the disadvantages of Kindle Scout relative to Indie publishing?

As an Indie publisher you can choose whether to distribute through all channels or receive higher royalty rates going exclusively with Kindle. Thus, if you are going to stay within the Amazon umbrella anyway, you are giving up royalties per book.

[Added 9/12/15: If you are not selected by Kindle Press, people who nominated your book receive an email notifying them that your book was not selected. If you wanted, the email has a link to your website, however, some authors think that notification implies their book is "not good enough." They worry their fans may not purchase that book when it finds a publisher or you self-publish it. Further update: When your nonselected book comes out, Amazon sends a message to those who nominated it letting them know it is available for purchase.]

As an Indie you retain control over pricing, whether or not to have an audio book, promotions, etc. With Kindle Press you are relying on Amazon’s marketing power and self-interest to benefit you.

That, I think is the crux of your decision if you compare Indie to the Kindle Scout route. Will the Amazon marketing power make a difference in sales? So far, most of the Kindle Press published authors have been happy with their results. As the program continues to roll out, I think it will be worthwhile to pay attention to the opinion of Kindle Press’s authors. Recognize that it is in their interest to promote the Kindle Scout program, so if you hear issues or complaints or concerns, dig deeper.

As promised, here are some links with additional details.

Official Information About Kindle Scout:
Official Kindle Scout guidelines for submission:

Kindle Scout Selected Books:

This post originally appeared on the Judy's Stew blog, June 3, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

Kindle Press’s (Presumed) Long Tail

Earlier this month Kindle Press released Ant Farm into the electronic publishing world. To celebrate I held a virtual release party—a new experience for me. Unlike the physical release party I held for the publication of Bad Policy two years ago, this cost considerably less (the prizes were real, but the food was virtual and Facebook charged nothing for the “room” in which we held our conversations).

Also different: I sold no books during those two hours—although one ebook sold on Amazon shortly after we ended.

For traditionally published authors, presales and first week/month sales are absolutely crucial. Physical shelf space is a scarce commodity (scarcer as bookstores use more of their square footage for nonbook merchandise, coffee bars, and the like).

Only so many books can be featured in high sales locations (new releases, the bookstore’s staff “picks” on a table shoppers must pass). Make a big splash and your book continues to command prime store real estate. Make a moderate splash, and your book remains on the shelves. Not enough of a splash to scare a goldfish and your books are returned to sender, with negative consequences for future book sales by the same author.

This traditional approach is all about the head of the sales beast—the big rush at the beginning—and very little about the tail of the distribution.

Kindle Press with the Kindle Scout program takes a different approach: it gives away the head. [Skip the rest of this paragraph if you already know how the Kindle Scout nomination process works.] As part of how Kindle Press determines which books to publish in electronic format, each book is presented to the public for thirty days for people to nominate. If someone nominates a book that Kindle Press selects, then when the ebook is available for pre-sale, that person will get a free Kindle version of the book, with the expressed hope they will leave a review.

These free copies of the Kindle book are a significant portion of what would have been the distribution beast’s head. Given the extensive campaign I undertook to make people aware of the Kindle Scout nomination process for Ant Farm, there are very few people I know who read electronically who will not already be receiving a free book. No one who came to the virtual release party needed to buy Ant Farm; they already had it.

For someone like me with a small following (although loyal, thank you readers), the only way Kindle Press will recoup its upfront costs is through their marketing of Ant Farm. Not that I can’t and won’t continue to promote the book, but the choir to which I can preach already know the hymn. It is up to Kindle Press to find new churches in which to sing Ant Farm’s praises.

Picture traditional publishing as a controlled flood (an oxymoron?) They hold back a reservoir of books until publication date, open the sluice gates, and in a massive rush the books pour out, hopefully to be purchased by the buying public. If not, then the detritus from the flood is cleared away in bargain bins, sold to remainder operations, or recycled.

Consider the Kindle Press experiment as akin to a leaky faucet. It steadily drip—drip—drips its way to success. Oh sure, from time to time someone opens the faucet and lets it run wide open for a while, but even when that gush of promotion turns off, we still hear the steady drip, drip, drip as a book here, a book there finds its way electronically onto someone’s reading device.

Some of the Kindle Press books have taken off from the start—the faucet is wide open. Many of the romances have done particularly well, rising into the top 1,000 ranking of Kindle books sold, meaning many people are buying the books daily. Others books, started with the drips, but with a blast of Amazon attention suddenly sell a bunch before returning to the drips as the promotion ends.

The Kindle Press advance is $1,500. They also have their time and money invested in each book (editing, layout, overhead, etc.) Let’s say that’s another $1,500 (they won’t say). Since royalties are mostly at the 50% rate, it takes selling roughly 1,000 books to cover the advance and the estimated internal costs. (It varies based on the book price, but Kindle books have been initially priced between $2.99 and $3.99, with the average currently at $3.45). Recently a number of the Kindle Press books entered a month-long $2.00 promotion and sales for those books increased significantly, but at a smaller profit.

The Kindle Press contract locks authors in for two years. To cover the $3,000 initial outlay they need to average selling a bit less than one and a half books a day. Drip, drip, drip. To continue to control the book for the next three years means Kindle Press needs to generate royalties of at least $500 a year. A book a day will accomplish that. Drip, drip, drip.

After five years the author can exit the contract if Kindle Press has not paid at least $25,000 in royalties. I predict many books will not reach that payout. Regardless, let’s assume all a book accomplishes is to make enough sales to keep the author in the contract for the five years. That will be a minimum of 2,000 sales over the five years.

Rounding liberally, that means that book has gross sales of $7,000. Royalties are a something over $3,000 (reflecting transaction fees); gross income is the same $3,000. Profit is $1,500, or 100% after 5 years. Not a bad return on investment. And remember, that’s on a drip, drip, drip of sales—just slightly more than one a day. When one of the Kindle Press books has the faucet wide open, the profit margins for Amazon are quite high.

It is easy to understand why Amazon would like the premise behind Kindle Press. What about an author’s perspective?

I have a series. People who read my books like them (average reader ratings are well over 4 out of 5), but not enough people know of the books because most people don’t like them so well that they buy them for other people or insist that their libraries stock them. In what I consider a worst-case scenario, if Amazon only sells 2,000 books – those are 2,000 new readers (remember my old readers received the book for free). Some percentage of these folks will buy other books in the series. That means the distribution of my sales tail is even fatter than Amazon’s!

And if Amazon works magic and Ant Farm becomes a big seller, it’s all to our mutual benefit. What that means is I am not stressing out that as I write this Ant Farm’s ranking is just around 100,000, It’s early days of a very long tail, and I am planning on enjoying the ride.

Oh yes, if you would like to add to my drip, drip, drip, here’s a purchase link for Ant Farm.

~ Jim

[An earlier version of this blog appeared on Writers Who Kill 6/21/15]

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kindle Scout – a Winner’s Report

As I write this blog, I do not know if Amazon will accept Ant Farm for the Kindle Scout program. Its nomination period ended Thursday, February 26. I’ve noticed that those selected typically show up on the approved list two or three business days after the nomination period closed.

If that guess is correct, Kindle Press will inform me on Monday or maybe Tuesday.

Kindle Press released the first ten books of the program on March 3, 2015, following traditional publishers in picking a Tuesday publication date. Of the first ten, two are Science Fiction, two are straight Romance. One is labeled as Mystery, four are called Thrillers, and one is a combination Mystery/Romance. Two are by authors I know—how cool is that?

Preordering provides our first view of how Amazon will price these ebooks. The books range in length from a short 178 equivalent print pages to a substantial 436. Prices range from $2.99 to $3.99. Here is the page range associated with each price. Whether something other than length went into Kindle Scout’s pricing decision, we’ll be able to figure out later as they publish more titles. 
  • $2.99 ranged from 178-205 pages
  • $3.49 ranged from 250-329 pages
  • $3.99 ranged from 338-436 pages
Also interesting to note, on the release date for the first books everyone who made a nomination in the Kindle Scout program received an email with a 50% off coupon for a Kindle Press book. The coupon expires May 2, 2015.

How does Amazon select which books to publish? They have been coy about how much the nomination process affects their decision and how much is based on their definition of quality. Their FAQs has this answer, “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.”

As the program matures I suspect what they already have in the hopper will play a role as well as how similar stories have sold. Amazon knows how to use data to shape markets. However, sometimes their reporting of statistics leaves me scratching my head.

According to their press release, “Scouts,” as Amazon calls those who make nominations under their program, average reading nine excerpts before making a nomination. That is hard for me to believe. I know many of the people who nominated Ant Farm did so by following a link I sent them. For every one of those who clicked my link, read the sample chapters (or not) and nominated the book, some other (average) soul had to read seventeen excerpts before finding one worthy of nomination. Really?

The press release also indicates the average number of days in which a Kindle Scout author receives a publishing decision after submitting a book is 31 days. Since it usually takes a couple of days for Amazon to decide to allow a book into the nomination process, and the nomination process itself last 30 days, that would mean authors on average know whether they will be published before the nomination process is over. That math does not work.

I’m thinking someone is playing a bit fast and loose with data (or is arithmetically challenged). However, the quick turnaround between the completion of a book’s nomination period and when the author hears suggests that the humans behind the scenes are doing some work while the book is still in the nomination process.

My guess (because of the timing, but mostly because it is how I would do it) is that before a book is accepted for nomination someone checks to make sure the writing meets some minimal standard and is complete. Then up it goes. If during the first three weeks or so the book continues to gather support, then one or more humans read the entire manuscript. At the end of the nomination period the decision makers will know not only how many nomination votes a book received, but would have access to other statistics as well, such as

  • How many of those votes came as a result of someone directly accessing the novel’s page? 
  • Of those, how many read the excerpt before nominating the book?
  •  How many nominations came from those who read other books’ excerpts before selecting this one?
  •  How many who nominated this book went on to read other books’ excerpts?
  •  How many people read the excerpt and chose not to nominate the book?
  •  How long did people read the excerpt before moving off the page (or choosing to nominate it)?

In other words, Amazon has lots of information to evaluate the quality of a book’s nomination. Do they use it? I sure would. So what does that mean if you are an author interested in the program?

Keeping in mind that we really do not know how Amazon makes its decisions, I suggest authors do the following:

Try to maintain your book as “Hot.” Of course this presumably means that people are voting for it, a good thing of itself, but it also keeps it in front of people. Plus, when making a decision of what to nominate, we humans like to know we are not alone. Labeling a book hot makes it easier for someone to click the blue “Nominate this book” button.

This means you need to start out strong, but also spread out your asks over the thirty-day nomination period. Kindle Scout gives you a couple of days between notifying you that your book will be eligible for nomination and the day it is first available. Use those days to plan out your campaign.

Make sure your website has a nominate link prominently displayed.

Go through your personal email list and determine who you know well enough to ask that they nominate your book.

Consider your social networks: writing groups, the stamp-collecting forum you belong to, church, alumni associations, etc. Spread out informing them through your campaign.

Use social media to generate interest without falling into the trap of everything being about me, Me ME! There is a fine line between being too bashful to present your request for people to check out your three chapters and nominate your book and boring people so they ignore you. I chose to post on Facebook four times: The first day, about a week into the program, a week remaining in the program and the last day for nominations.

However, during the thirty days I also wrote an informative blog for readers and authors about the Kindle Scout program that had a small mention of my entry and another blog for authors titled “Six Rules of Author Self-Promotion” that also mentioned my Kindle Scout participation. My Facebook account automatically notes when my new blogs appear, so those were two more related posts.

Special are those people who will spread the word for you. Those authors with street teams could employ them. Author Alan Orloff whose novel Running From the Past was one of the very first Kindle Scout selections, offered a free story to anyone who nominated his book and shared his posts on Facebook.

You are competing against other authors, but really, aren’t we in this together? If you know other authors whose books are in the nomination process the same time as yours, figure out ways to support each other. I’ve even become online correspondents with three authors who I only learned about because their books were interesting, and we reached out to each other in mutual support.

Thirty days is a long time, more a marathon than a sprint. Carve out time each day to implement your plan and when people do support you, make sure to thank them.

Arriving in my inbox at 12:17 a.m. on Monday morning while I was sleeping was an email from Kindle Press notifying me that they selected Ant Farm for publication. Notifications to people who had nominated Ant Farm started going out a minute later.

I suspect there was a touch of automation involved. Perhaps the last thing someone did at the office on Friday was tell the computer to send out the word once Monday arrived.

No matter, I spent that day doing the Snoopy dance.

~ Jim

A version of this post originally appeared on Writers Who Kill 3/1/15.