Kindle Scout: Yay or Nay?

Get the straight scoop on the program from author Victoria Strauss below, and decide if this is the best route to publishing for you.

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:

  • 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 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) 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.”