If you haven’t heard of Kindle Scout...
I’m not surprised. After all, Amazon’s newest publishing venture debuted at the beginning of 2015, and the first Kindle Scout books have barely been out for a year.
Even if you have heard of the program, most of what you’ve read has probably been speculation. “Kindle Scout says they might do such-and-such for your book.” Do they actually do it? No one really knows.
I'm here to answer all your burning questions, such as: "What is Kindle Scout?" "How do you land a book deal with them?" and "Is the program actually worth it?" How do I know the answers? Well, one of my books has recently been published by Kindle Scout!
Yes, I am one of the 150-odd writers who “won” Kindle Scout. I hesitate to call it winning, even though that’s what most people refer to it as, because you’re really just being offered a publishing deal. I went into the program with no expectations whatsoever because I was curious and had a willingness to try and see what would happen.
Though my book has only been out for four weeks, I’ve already been surprised by the results. Better still, I’ve connected with many of the other Kindle Scout authors on facebook, and they have helped expose the inner workings of the program.
I’ve heard stories of successes and failures from the other Kindle Scout authors, and their results have ranged from life-changing to worse than self-publishing. But there are quite a few notable trends within the program, none of which are widely known to authors on the outside.
Now, I’m going to change that. I’m going to tell you what Kindle Scout is all about, from the perspective an insider.
The official description of the program is “reader-powered publishing.” Or, as some people have called it, the American Idol of publishing. That’s not precisely true, and it’s also a limited description of what the program is really about.
First of all, while readers are able to vote on which books should be selected for publication during a 30-day nomination process, the votes aren’t given as much weight as most authors believe.
I’ve seen authors blogging the entire nomination process, obsessed with staying on the Hot and Trending list for as long as possible (check out the Kindle Scout website to see what I mean), yet my book made it into Kindle Scout after a mere 4.5 days on the list. I have a feeling that while the publishing team won’t look at a book that never made it to that all-important list, not a whole lot of weight is given to how long you stay there.
Based on what I’ve seen and experienced, it seems to be more important to have a well-written, marketable book–just like with any publishing deal! (More on that in the next section.)
But all of that misses the real point, which is the true nature of Kindle Scout: it’s a hybrid publishing imprint. I like to think of it as the best of indie and traditional publishing, wrapped up in one publishing deal.
Here are the terms of a publishing deal with Kindle Scout:
Currently, the program accepts the following genres (sorry non-fiction authors, you’re out of luck):
When your book is ready for publication, thoroughly edited, and given a proper cover, you can submit if for nominations. It goes through a few checks, and if it passes, it lands on the nomination page for 30 days. From here, the “scouts” (anyone who browses through the website) can choose to nominate your book, though each scout is only allowed three nominations at a time.
Here’s what the process looks like, from submission through publication:
If you’re the sort of author who likes to obsess about statistics, your Kindle Scout author page has a wealth of graphs and charts to keep you happy. From the Campaign Views per Day data to the Number of Hours on Hot and Trending, you’ll know exactly how much visibility your book is getting. (As you can see here, Beauty's Songbook did not get much help from external nominations. In other words, I didn’t push many people to the platform; most of its visibility came from people stumbling across the book on the Kindle Scout page.)
Unfortunately, as demonstrated by those authors who faithfully promoted their books for the whole month of nominations and still failed to make it into the program, there is no tried-and-true method of landing a publishing deal with Kindle Scout.
Some people complain that Kindle Scout is only looking for “marketable” books, not for the books with the highest number of votes, but let me tell you a secret…
That’s just how publishing goes.
At the end of the day, it’s a business, and publishing houses want to make money as much as authors do. The exact same is true of traditional publishing houses. People go on and on about writing the “perfect query letter,” but in truth, it’s all a matter of finding someone who thinks your book is marketable.
In saying that, just as with submitting to a traditional publishing house, there are several things you can do to increase your chances of landing a deal.
Unless you have a massive pool of fans to draw from, you’ll never make it onto that sacred Hot and Trending list without a good cover. My book achieved that status solely because of its cover; I had long since given up on promoting it, having exhausted all of my contacts within two days, when it finally got its Hot and Trending flag.
(Note: You do get a chance to change your cover after your book has been taken on. My original cover was a gorgeous piece of artwork with the title and author name slapped over it in Microsoft Word; I only bought the rights to the image and hired a designer after I landed the Kindle Scout deal. Confession: yes, I did use a designer from Fiverr.)
If you’re an editor yourself, great! If not, you might want to hire a professional editor to look over the manuscript. This is exactly what every writer does if they hope to get a traditional publishing deal! No agent will consider a submission if there are too many (read: any) errors.
Yes, Kindle Scout will edit your book before publishing it, but that doesn’t mean you can submit a sloppy draft.
Pay especially close attention to the mini-blurb (just a few words) you provide because that will appear under your cover image on the main page of the Kindle Scout website. That, combined with the cover, will entice potential nominees to click through and give your book a closer look.
Again, the Kindle Scout publishers are looking for well-written, marketable books. They won’t waste their time with anything less.
There's been a lot of griping from indie authors about Kindle Scout’s terms of publication.
“I only get to keep 50% of my royalties, not 70%!”
“Kindle Scout requires 45-day exclusivity! I’m wasting so much time by submitting to them!”
…and so on.
The thing is, these terms are much better than their traditional publishing equivalents. Forget 50% royalties; traditional authors typically make around 12%. Besides, I’d much rather get 50% of a very large pie than 70% of (close to) nothing.
And forget 45-day exclusivity. With traditional publishing, you might get a 6-month exclusivity agreement from an agent who probably won’t even take the book on, not to mention the time it then takes for agents to submit to publishers. Before long, your book has been lingering in the not-quite-published void for several years. Forty-five days is nothing in the publishing world.
First, most traditional publishers have done a botched job at dealing with eBook pricing. Have you seen the recent statistics about paperback sales soaring? That’s because traditional publishers have priced their eBooks so high that they’re driving away online readers.
Any indie author worth their salt knows that there’s nothing like a 99-cent promotion to drive your book up the Amazon rankings, and they’ve played around with pricing to discover that sweet spot where sales and royalties are both maximized. Kindle Scout knows all about that. Their books are priced just like indie titles, and they’re frequently running 99-cent promotions to drive sales.
Second, Kindle Scout has the weight of Amazon behind it, and there is no one with more power in the publishing world. I had a good feeling about Kindle Scout’s marketing power when I first heard about the program, which is why I tried out for it in the first place, and so far, I’ve been thrilled with the results (see the next section for the actual numbers).
Third, not only are Kindle Scout authors earning advances, they’re actually making back those advances–some within a month or two. That’s something that, sad to say, doesn’t happen as often as it should in the traditional publishing world.
You see, traditional publishers put almost all of their money into marketing their guaranteed winners. Steven King and Jodi Picoult will be publicized to no end, while the debut authors will be languishing in the corner, buried beneath a modest print run that never sold out (I used to work at a literary agency, so I know all about those poor authors).
This, in my opinion, is the single best thing Kindle Scout does: It truly gives unknown authors a chance to succeed.
Kindle Scout truly gives unknown authors a chance to succeed. #kindlescout #selfpublishing #bookrazor
Now is when you get to see the genuine results of a Kindle Scout publication.
Just to make it clear, I don’t have a massive following. I have 100 newsletter subscribers, and of that list, about two people were interested in reviewing or pre-ordering my Kindle Scout book. And my Facebook friends are less than useless as far as book buying is concerned.
When Beauty's Songbook launched, I was terrified. The book was coming out at $2.99, which meant all of my typical 99-cent promotions were useless. I couldn’t do a thing to give my book a head start. I focused all of my efforts on getting as many reviews as possible, since this was the only aspect of the launch I could control. When the launch date (April 19th) came around, I was proudly sitting at…2 reviews.
And the book came out at #70,000 in the Kindle store. According to one rank calculator, this meant I was selling three books a day, which meant I would earn out my advance in approximately one year—nothing to write home about.
For a week, the rank continued to hover between #35,000 and #70,000. The reviews were slowly trickling in, but I was already dreaming of the time (90 days after publication) when the first round of promotions would kick in.
Then, something funny happened. On April 24th, my book jumped to #26,000 in the morning. And throughout the day, its ranking continued to rise.
On April 28th, it peaked at #5,000, which apparently means I sold 34 books that day, if said rank calculator is to be trusted. Since then, it has hovered somewhere between #9,000 and #30,000.
If you’re like most authors, you expect your book launch to go something like this:
In other words, you anticipate a giant spike in sales as you promote your work like crazy at 99 cents with a bit of a tail before the book’s performance starts to taper off.
Beauty’s Songbook, on the other hand, has done this:
(Note that this chart shows rankings, not book sales, as we can’t see our sales numbers until a month later.)
Maintaining such a high rank, especially without ongoing promotions, is unheard of among indie authors. Will it last? I have no idea.
I’ve enlisted the help of ten other Kindle Scout authors, from complete newbies to old-timers, to give you a big-picture idea of what the program is like from the inside.
I’ll start with general trends and then get into a few specific stories. As it turns out, aside from a few outliers, the trend I’ve seen with Beauty's Songbook holds true across most of the Kindle Scout program.
Even the least successful of the Kindle Scout titles don’t do terribly. A few of the outliers have hovered around the #70,000 mark for several months, whereas a self-published title (sans promotions) could be expected to sit between #100,000 and #1,000,000.
The very best maintain stellar rankings for months at a time, with major surges whenever promotions kick into gear. Sariah Wilson’sRoyal Date, for instance, has never dropped below #6,000 on the kindle store. That’s incredible!
In saying that, there are a few genres that consistently do better than others. Romances and thrillers, in particular, tend to sit at high rankings (often under #10,000) for a long period of time. YA authors, on the other hand, have a much harder time in Kindle Scout, mainly because the bulk of the young adult audience is still reading physical books.
Of course, it helps that most of the Kindle Scout books have excellent covers. Here are a few examples from the authors who have contributed to this article:
I would guess that the two greatest predictors of success in Kindle Scout are genre and cover art. No one knows for sure, though.
This is a big question for anyone who is interested in the Kindle Scout program. After all, many traditionally published authors never earn out their advances, which are growing smaller by the year.
With Kindle Scout, the escape clause states that you can regain the rights to your book if you don’t earn $25,000 in 5 years. It doesn’t say anything about how likely this is.
Well, no one has long-term sales data yet to answer this question, but it’s interesting to look at how quickly most Kindle Scout authors earn out their $1,500 advances.
Of the authors I spoke to, the majority received their first royalty checks within the first two months of release. Sariah Wilson even managed to earn out her advance the day after her book launched! (Her results are practically unheard of, though.)
If my book maintains the rank it’s at now, I should also earn my advance back before the second month is up.
Of course, there are other authors in the program who have taken a year to earn back that initial $1,500, though as far as I know, every Kindle Scout author has received their first royalty check sometime before the year is up.
This is another huge question for authors considering the program.
After all, anyone who is taken on by Kindle Scout loses the ability to drop their book’s price and promote it whenever it needs a boost. Do Kindle Scout’s efforts make up for that loss? Or are you wasting your time with them?
There are several rounds of promotions that Kindle Scout does for your book:
1. First, before you even submit your book to the Kindle Scout nomination platform, you get to write a letter to all of your nominees, thanking them for their support. The tricky part is that you don’t know at this point whether your book will win or lose the campaign! But if your book is selected, your scouts each receive a copy that they can download from Amazon. If you use your letter wisely, you’ll get a number of reviews (all of them verified) from the scouts who downloaded their free copy.
2. Second, once your book is released, Amazon starts sending out targeted emails about your book. These are what pushed Beauty's Songbook up to such a high rank in the kindle store.
3. Third, after your book has been published for 90 days, Kindle Scout drops the price and runs a round of official promotions. It appears that they submit every book to BookBub during this promotion round, though not every book makes it in.
4. Fourth, these price promotions continue in the months following the initial round.
The price promotions vary greatly from book to book, both in variety and success (some are genre-specific), but here are a few that have been used:
Alan S. Orloff's book, Running from the Past, has benefited from a number of promotions, some successful and others not so much. Among others, it has received:
· A two-week $2.00 promo
· A month-long $1.99 listing for Amazon’s Select Mysteries & Thrillers
· An advertisement on the Kindle Most Wanted website
· A Kindle Limited-Time Offer with Kindle Fire (the most successful of these promotions, which boosted its ranking to #500)
In the Dark by Chris Patchell has seen three successful promotions so far, including one that’s currently active (when I checked, the book was sitting at #1,359 in the Kindle store):
· A 1-day Kindle Fire deal for $1.99 that drove the book above #500 for the first time
· A month-long $1.99 deal with a much longer tail than the Kindle Fire promotion (his book consistently ranked in the top 1,200 during this time)
· The current month-long Kindle Select deal, where certain US customers can buy the book for $1.99
Courtney Hunt’s The Lost Art of Second Chances has had two promotions, one of which (a $1.99 deal) buoyed her into the top 2,000 for two solid weeks, and Sariah Wilson, unsurprisingly enough, has seen phenomenal success with each of her promotions. I don’t have the numbers, but I do know that she reached #54 in the ENTIRE KINDLE STORE during the most recent round.
For the vast majority of Kindle Scout authors, the promotions they’ve seen within the program have exceeded anything they managed as indie authors. Besides, none of these promotions cost anything for the authors!
I’ve discussed how Kindle Scout measures up to other forms of publishing in terms of advances, percentage of royalties, and competitive pricing. Here, I’ve asked the other Kindle Scout authors what their experiences have been with each form of publishing.
Lexi Revellian, who self-published seven novels before her Kindle Scout debut, says, “I was in on the glory days of KDP in 2010, when I used to eat breakfast, clicking refresh and watching sales of Remix go up. It’s gotten much harder since then. Kindle Scout is the best I’ve done for several years.”
Monte Dutton’s first two novels were published by a small house, and his Kindle Scout title has outperformed them both.
Alan S. Orloff, who self-published three novels and traditionally published another three before trying this program, says that his Kindle Scout book has done far better than his self-published titles and has been on par with his traditionally published books.
Courtney Hunt’s Kindle Scout title has done twice as well as her 7 self-published titles combined!
And Sariah Wilson, who has traditionally published five books and self-published one in the past, says, “[Kindle Scout] easily outpaces anything an old-school traditional publisher can do […]. Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the country. If they’re behind your book, they can make a massive difference.”
Now, Kindle Scout certainly isn’t for everyone, and many authors have been hugely successful with traditional and self-publishing. But it seems that Kindle Scout is more successful than I had ever suspected.
Across the board, the Kindle Scout authors I’ve spoken to have been amazed at the power of the Amazon marketing machine. From the lasting power of these books (how many other authors can boast that they’ve sat at #5,000 for a few weeks at a time?) to the overwhelming success of some of their promotions, there’s no doubt that Amazon can make a huge difference.
A number of Kindle Scout articles have focused on the potential downsides to the program, and many authors in the program worry that Kindle Scout has received a bad reputation because of these. As I’ve mentioned before, however, most of these downsides are mere speculation.
These are the only genuine problems authors have encountered within the program:
A few (not many, but some) authors feel that their books have been neglected by the Kindle Scout team. Most of these authors have not received their first round of promotions yet, so this could change.
A few (again, not many) authors wish they had received a more thorough round of copyediting. Of course, the level of detail varies from book to book—my own book was so marked up I could barely read it!
· Recently, a few authors have complained about the lack of communication from the Kindle Scout team, which used to be excellent. I think they’re in the process of hiring more staff, so that should be solved soon.
· Some authors wish they had the freedom to promote their books more frequently in order to keep them higher in the charts. However, it does appear that promotions start happening more often after the 90-day mark.
Is Kindle Scout worth it, then?
Though I’ve only been published with them for a month now, I can already say a resounding yes.
Traditional publishing is like waiting for lightning to strike—three times. First, you have to be lucky enough to land an agent. Then you need to be lucky enough to secure a publishing deal, and finally, you have to be lucky enough to get the publisher’s marketing team behind you (or just become famous on your own).
Self-publishing is like building a business from the ground up. You have to find the right market for your product and build yourself a readership, book by book, year by year. It can take ten or fifteen titles before you attain anything that could be deemed success.
Kindle Scout, on the other hand, can propel unknown authors into the spotlight and turn novel-writing into a proper income. With one book, you can start start seeing results in terms of solid royalties as well as in terms of visibility for your other books.
Is any form of publishing inherently better than the others?
No, of course not.
But if you’re willing to give Kindle Scout a chance, it might just help your writing career take off.
This is something most authors never bother to ask themselves because they’re only worried about whether or not they’ll make it into the program–the rest is irrelevant.
But it’s a huge question among members of the Kindle Scout community. After all, most of us come from indie publishing backgrounds. We’re used to discounting our books and promoting them widely upon release.
With Kindle Scout, your book comes out at its regular price, which varies depending on how long the book is. There’s virtually nothing you can do to promote it outside of your own online community.
Because of this, almost every Kindle Scout author posts something along the lines of, “Help! What can I do to push my book?” on the eve of publication.
Well, I’ve decided that the only promotion that’s worth doing is getting as many reviews as possible for your book. Ask other authors if they’d like to help you out, email Amazon reviewers, leave a note at the end of the book asking for reviews—whatever it takes.
You see, when Kindle Scout starts submitting your book to promotion sites three months into its publication, some of them (ahem, BookBub) won’t accept it without a massive number of reviews.
Give your book its best chance to succeed, and Amazon will handle the rest.
Author Jaxon Reed has a great compilation of Kindle Scout author experiences you can check out here.