Writers have more choices than ever. You can go for a traditional publishing contract, or align yourself with one of the countless small electronic presses, or you become your own publisher.
And now there’s Kindle Scout, a publishing program by the biggest bookstore on the planet—Amazon. You submit a manuscript of 50,000 words or more, a blurb, a one-liner, a cover, and your bio and photo. If your book is selected to be in the competition, it’s presented to the public, with the first 50 pages as a reading sample. People have 30 days choose to nominate it from among a list of contenders, and if Amazon selects your book for publication, they get a free electronic copy. You get a $1,500 advance, 50% royalties, and a professional copyedit. Amazon takes electronic rights as well as options for electronic translations, audio, and a few other things. You can read the full contract here.
In May of 2016, I submitted my novel The Last Hotel Room. It’s set in contemporary Tangier and deals with the refugee crisis. Much of the story is based on refugees I’ve met in Morocco and Iraq. Part of my campaign was that if I won I’d donate $500 to charity. I eventually picked Doctors Without Borders Syria Appeal because they’re doing such great work on the ground under terrifying conditions.
My book won the contest and since then I’ve discussed Kindle Scout with many fellow winners. Here are some things I discovered.
The process is remarkably fast. My book was selected for the competition within a few days of uploading. It went public a few days after that. After my 30-day nomination period finished, I heard I’d won within two weeks. It came out three months later. My experience was typical.
It’s not a popularity contest. The system doesn’t tell participants their number of nominations, probably because Amazon doesn’t want to deal with the inevitable “I got more nominations than that guy, why wasn’t I picked?” complaints. It does, however, tell you your number of page views, and since you have to view the page before you can nominate, that gives an idea of how you’re doing, and of course many share those figures. I only got 293 page views, a dismal number well below almost everyone else in the competition. So while nominations help get you noticed, they’re not a requirement.
It’s a slush pile for Amazon’s other imprints. Some Kindle Scout winners have been directed to Amazon’s other imprints, where they’ve been offered more substantial contracts. While the majority of winners don’t get bumped upstairs, it’s something worth remembering.
A good cover and blurb are essential. I have never seen someone with a bad cover and blurb win. Never. And I have a feeling a lot of those who are rejected for inclusion in the nomination process probably tripped on this step.
Winning isn’t a magic formula for success. It’s still up to you. Amazon will help sell your book, but it’s not like you can sit back and watch the royalties roll in. For the first few weeks they stick you on the Hot New Releases for your category, which certainly helps sales. Also, the people who nominated you often review your work, and that helps your discoverability. After that, Amazon promises to promote your work “after 90 days.” That doesn’t mean you get a promotion on the 91st day your book has been out, just sometime in the vague future. Some of these promotions are major, like sales for the Kindle Fire readers, and shoot you to the top of the ranks. Others are quite minor. I know one author who only got a 99 cent promotion in India.
My book came out September 20, 2016. My first promotion is for the entire month of February 2017, where my ebook is part of the 100 Books for a Buck deal on the Amazon US store only. My ranking quickly went up from 50,000 to 10,000. By the second week as I’m writing this it has gone down to around 40,000. How it will do for the rest of the month is an open question.
So how do I rate the program? Having signed more than a dozen traditional book contracts, the one offered to me by Kindle Press was the fairest. My experience has been good enough so far that I can confidently say that writers now have another viable option for getting their books published.
BIO: Sean McLachlan is a novelist and historian who divides his time between Spain, England, and Morocco. You can learn more about him on his Amazon page, blog, and his new Instagram, where he will be posting photos from his latest writing project in Egypt.