What’s Wrong With Inkitt’s “Publishing Contest” – A Partial List
Earlier this month, I received the following Tweet:
Well, I do like publishing novels, so I decided to check these folks out. Follow along as we talk about some of the potential pitfalls– Oh, who am I kidding. This thing has enough traps to make Admiral Akbar hoarse.
ETA: It looks like they also Tweet-spam as @great_backstrip. Great Backstrip? I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounds like a really bad idea for styling back hair or something.
1. Who’s running this thing?
I eventually found the web page with their staffing information, with Ali Albazaz listed as the founder and CEO of Inkitt. Clicking on Albazaz’s link brings up … a chapter of his book. According to his Facebook page, Albazaz studied … computer science. There’s really not a lot of information on this guy, and you know what’s noticeably missing? Any experience whatsoever with publishing.
There’s even less info on cofounder Linda Gavin, though I dug up that she’d studied design and technology. Her website lists her as a graphic artist. It’s a good skillset to have, but again, no actual publishing experience.
2. Then who decides what books to publish?
Well, the Inkitt website says, “Who are we or any editor in the world to judge whether your book is worth publishing?”
I get the sense they don’t actually know what an editor does … or that publishing is a business.
Their model is to instead crowdsource the selection process. If readers like your story, their “artificially intelligent algorithms” will detect that, and Inkitt will offer you a publishing deal.
3. Wait, how do they know if readers like the story before it’s published?
Oh, that’s easy: they publish it.
Let me say that again. They publish your novel. If you browse the different genres, you’ll see complete novels, along with works-in-progress.
In other words, their model is to electronically publish your book, see if people like it, and then offer to … um … publish your book.
I refer you back to point #1, wherein I talked about wanting to work with people who actually know how publishing works, or even what the word “publish” means. This is one of the reasons why.
4. Then what are they talking about when they talk about offering people publishing deals?
From the publishing page of their site, they:
- Design a cover for your book and edit your manuscript.
- Pitch your book to A-list publishers like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins and–
Wait, what? They design a book cover before pitching your manuscript? That’s … do they realize publishers commission their own artists and do their own cover art? You submit the manuscript to publishers, not– Oh, forget it. Where was I?
- If the publishers don’t buy your book, they publish it yourself.
The site says their first published work is the Sky Riders series by Erin Swan.
You know what I can’t find on Amazon.com? Anything by Erin Swan. They claim to have published Swan’s book, and it’s not even on Amazon? Google finds nothing except the Inkitt page for Swan’s work. You know, the page where they already published her book, just like they published everyone else’s who submitted to them?
ETA: See this comment and my response for a little more on Erin Swan’s books.
If a big publisher does pick up the book, Inkitt will take 15%. This is the same percentage charged by most reputable agents, except that most agents actually know how publishing works and how to submit a manuscript.
If Inkitt published it themselves? You get 50% of their net earnings on the book.
To be fair, 50% is a bigger percentage than you’re likely to get from the major publishers. On the other hand, the major publishers will actually, you know, make your book available to buy.
Alternately, you could take a few minutes to toss your work up on Amazon yourself, and start earning 70% of the cover price.
5. What’s the difference between their normal “publication” process and this contest?
According to the guidelines, the contest winner gets a publishing offer from Inkitt, but also receives — I am not making this up — “a custom Inkitt coffee mug and a custom Inkitt notepad.”
I raised these concerns and asked questions on Twitter. Two weeks later, I got a single response.
@jimchines: It’s free to enter. Authors keep all the rights.
— MagnificentFiction (@great_fiction) May 25, 2016
That’s it. Nothing about their publishing experience. Nothing about why you can’t find their “published” novel for sale anywhere. But hey, at least authors keep all rights!
All rights … including first English language rights? You know, that thing publishers like to buy, the right to be the first ones to publish a book in the English language. That thing Inkitt already did.
6.Wait, did they seriously do a fanfic contest as well?
Looks that way, doesn’t it. One of their genres is Fandom, which looks to be essentially fanfiction. Which just means “fanfiction” is one more concept Inkitt doesn’t really understand.
Look, I don’t think Albazaz and Gavin and the rest of the Inkitt crew are actively evil. If this is intended as a scam, it’s an incredibly poor one. It feels more like a vanity press, but a mangled one. Like one of those superhero mix and match books, only there was a misprint, and you ended up with two sets of legs, and Mister Fantastic’s head is coming out of the Hulk’s butt.
They don’t understand publishing, they don’t know what an editor’s job is, they don’t have a grasp on the legalities of fanfiction and licensed properties, and they don’t seem to know how to publish or sell a book. What they do have a pretty good grasp on is spamming folks on Twitter. Which is why I decided to write this little rant. Because they’re spamming a lot of people, some of whom might not recognize just how many red flags Inkitt is waving about.
If you’re interested, the wonderful folks at Writer Beware also did a write-up on Inkitt last month. Their write-up does note a press release claiming Tor Books bought Erin Swan’s book Bright Star, and that Inkitt was involved in making this happen. But Writer Beware hasn’t gotten independent confirmation. If so, good for Swan! Though I’d be very interested in knowing what kind of contract Inkitt and Swan negotiated. Particularly since Bright Star is still available in its entirety on the Inkitt website…
ETA: It sounds like Swan’s sale to Tor was announced in Publisher’s Marketplace earlier this month, which I’ll take as confirmation.
May 25, 2016 @ 6:20 pm
Just that original tweet looked scammy. But you’re a good guy for digging into the details.
Authors, just put your book up on Amazon (and other platforms) and keep all your moneys.
Jim, your GIF game is on fleek.
May 25, 2016 @ 6:37 pm
I received this last week, and knew it wasn’t right. The thing is, they used a different Twitter account for the one they sent me. When I saw their Twitter feed was full of spam like the one you got, I reported them for spam. Perhaps that’s why they have a new account? Hmm. The old one – @great_backstrip – is still there. I wonder how many accounts they have?
May 25, 2016 @ 6:48 pm
I have access to Proquest’s Books in Print database and did a few searches. If a book’s not in their database it’s not available (and probably won’t be for a good long while). There’s an Erin Pembery Swan who writes kids nonfiction for Scholastic with some fascinating titles (Meat-Eating Marsupials & Pelicans, Cormorants, and Their Kin for example) but the only Erin Swan listed is clearly just lacking the middle name because they are duplicate records for some of Pembery’s books. There are also no mentions of ‘Inkitt’ anywhere in the database. There are lots of results for “Sky Rider(s)” (or some other variation like Riders of the Sky etc) but none with an author close to Erin Swan, most are not recent (10+ years old)
May 25, 2016 @ 6:55 pm
So far, it looks like a much more scammy version of Inkshares (https://www.inkshares.com/). Or like they are attempting their idea of Inkshares. :/
May 25, 2016 @ 7:17 pm
While I agree with you, and abhor their hideous business model…
They did sell a book, Bright Sta, by Erin Swan, to Tor. The Publisher’s Marketplace announcement was on May 5th, 2016.
…yeah, I don’t know either.
Jim C. Hines
May 25, 2016 @ 7:18 pm
Thanks, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never been on fleek in my life 🙂
May 25, 2016 @ 7:18 pm
Jim C. Hines
May 25, 2016 @ 7:22 pm
Great Backstrip? What is that even supposed to mean???
Jim C. Hines
May 25, 2016 @ 7:23 pm
Good to know, thank you. I Tweeted at Tor Books asking if they could confirm or deny that claim about Erin Swan’s second book selling to Tor. Don’t know if they’ll respond or not, but we’ll see…
Jim C. Hines
May 25, 2016 @ 7:23 pm
I saw and mentioned that at the end of the post, but hadn’t seen the Publisher’s Marketplace confirmation. Thanks for that.
May 25, 2016 @ 7:36 pm
…I’m not sure I want to know…
May 25, 2016 @ 7:39 pm
Hell, if you’re going to put your stuff up for free, at least use Wattpad. It’s a legit site with a ton of readers, and I think it’s (personally) a fun community.
What’s Wrong With Inkitt’s “Publishing Contest” – A Partial List – Ian Wright
May 26, 2016 @ 6:26 am
[…] http://www.jimchines.com/2016/05/inkitts-publishing-contest/ […]
May 26, 2016 @ 6:04 pm
Ali from Inkitt here. It saddens me to hear that you had a bad experience with Inkitt so I wanted to reach out and provide additional insight on our publishing process.
My co-founder Linda and I created Inkitt to make the publishing process fair and objective. We both were writing at the time and were hearing constant feedback from other writers on the frustrations of trying to get published.
The business model we developed allows for writers to freely share their content on Inkitt without giving up publishing rights. People who sign up on Inkitt can read the content they find most compelling which is then captured through the AI algorithms we’ve built in house. Once a piece of content has been identified, we reach out to the writer with an offer to either pitch their novel to A-list publishing houses or publish the book ourselves.
Our commission is 15% if we sign a book deal with a publishing house and 50% if we publish the book ourselves. If we publish a book ourselves and can’t sell at least 1000 copies of the book, all publishing rights are returned to the author.
To address the commentary on twitter: as a fast growing startup we have experimented with different ways to reach out to authors and writers including social media. We aim to only send out relevant content and do apologise if you have received an unwanted message from us. We have a dedicated social team on the back-end that reaches out to authors, answers questions and helps to onboard them.
Lastly wanted to mention that Erin Swan, our first published author, shared her novel on FictionPress before she joined Inkitt. Erin’s name doesn’t show up in Amazon as her book isn’t scheduled for release by Tor Books until summer 2017 and she hasn’t had any other work previously published (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/dealmakers/detail.cgi?id=2586)
Hope this helps and available to continue the conversation at email@example.com!
May 26, 2016 @ 6:13 pm
The problem, I think, with this response is that you’ve basically responded to his post by repeating the information we already know. You parroted what Jim already shared from your website.
What you didn’t do is actually answer his questions, such as:
1) What experience do you and Linda actually have in the publishing field?
2) You can’t sell First English Language Rights to a publisher when the book has been uploaded to your site for free. That’s counted as publication by most publishers, so they wouldn’t get first dibs. Most publishers will then steer clear of a book without those rights…unless it was a million copies sold break-through success. Jim mentions a lot of good points about the model that publishes the book and then offers publication? It makes no sense as a business model, and you didn’t address that at all.
You did address the Erin Swam bit, which was also already addressed by a few folks in the comments.
I would be interested to see if you can address all of Jim’s concerns.
Jim C. Hines
May 26, 2016 @ 6:45 pm
Ali – First of all, thank you for commenting. I know that’s not an easy thing to do, especially in what probably feels like a hostile environment. I respect and appreciate your willingness to talk about what you’re doing.
That said, as Raven noted, this leaves a lot of unanswered questions. For example, when you say people can freely share their novels on your site without giving up publishing rights… that’s not how publishing rights work. As you’ve probably seen from the conversation on Twitter, a number of editors have weighed in to confirm that if you’re hosting people’s novels on your public website, you have in fact *published* those novels. You’ve taken first rights, which is something most publishers will want.
There are exceptions. My first book to a major publisher was a reprint. But because I’d already used first rights, the advance was significantly lower than otherwise. When you pitch these books to publishers, you’re trying to sell previously published books — in my experience, this is a much harder sell, and if a publisher does make an offer, it’s likely to be a lower offer than the author might otherwise have gotten.
I do understand the frustration with trying to get published. I spent about ten years, collecting more than 500 rejection letters, before my work started selling. Most successful authors I know have similar stories.
The past decade or so has seen a lot of changes in publishing. I love seeing people trying new things, and discovering new ways for authors to succeed. My concerns are that what you’re doing with Inkitt seems like it’s going to hurt a lot more people than it helps, and that you’re approaching it without a real understanding of how publishing works.
Re: Erin Swan, I think it’s awesome that she has a publishing deal with Tor. There may be a misunderstanding over that point in my blog post, and it’s possible I misread. The Inkitt site says, “Erin Swan is the first author to be signed and published by Inkitt. Her book series Sky Riders is a high-action YA fantasy filled with dragons, friendship, love, and war.” When you say Swan is published by Inkitt, what does that mean?
Finally, with Twitter, you seem to have gone through multiple Twitter accounts sending out very broadly targeted messages inviting writers and editors and others to submit to your contests. I’ve received complaints that you do the same thing by email. This feels incredibly spammy to me, and I’d strongly recommend you reconsider this approach to marketing.
I hope this helps explain my concerns, and where I’m coming from. Thanks again for responding.
May 26, 2016 @ 9:01 pm
Inkshares does something similar, but they have their publishing in the correct order. I think models like this can work when done well. I’m curious to see what they answer with (if they answer) because the variation in models could open up all sorts of different avenues of publishing.
I will add that this new trend of auto-following someone based on a key word and then direct messaging them in order to spam them with “buy my books” or “check out our publishing model/editor/cover designer/___(fill in the blank)____” is getting really old. I tend to report them for violating Twitters TOS and then block them. I haven’t had that happen with Inkitt, but it sounds like they may be operating under a similar marketing idea. If so, please don’t. It tends to irritate more people than it helps. :/
Loose-leaf Links #23 | Earl Grey Editing
June 9, 2016 @ 6:03 pm
[…] C. Hines discusses the problems with Inkitt’s publishing contest and strongly warns writers to steer clear. Rachel Sharp has chimed in with some of the Twitter […]
June 9, 2016 @ 8:32 pm
I take issue with the claims that editors rejected best-sellers like Harry Potter. Harry Potter was accepted – it was published by those editors and publishing houses and by the very processes they claim to hate. Often a book may get rejected simply because it does not fit with a publishing house’s catalogue, with the specific editor who recieved it’s tasks for that quarter, is sent in an off-season…etc. The list goes on. Publishing rejections aren’t about doubting books, they are about selling them at the right time to the right market. Had Harry Potter been accepted in it’s first go around then maybe we would not know about it today. Timing and audience are important and Inkitt seems very, very out of sync with publishing dynamics.
If they were set up as a new publishing house I may give them more credibility, but the fact is that they have to go to these big houses to get their books published in the first place. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Why would any publisher want anything to do with a platform that claims to be against publishing traditions and schematics?
There is too much to be questioned in their methods to support Inkitt as an authentic and viable publishing path, or even as an authentic and viable publishing platform.
Filigree’s Rule: the criteria (adult language advisory) – Blue night. Black iron. Golden rope.
June 30, 2016 @ 1:59 am
[…] folks over at Writer Beware have a post about this display site. So has author and fellow gadfly Jim Hines. Go and educate yourselves, please. If this outfit or any other contacts you via Twitter, Facebook, […]
August 8, 2016 @ 8:25 pm
This is very interesting. I originally got a message on Fictionpress from someone on Inkitt (I think her name may have been Samantha?) regarding an incomplete story of mine and suggesting I enter their novel contest (interestingly enough, it was the Hidden Gems contest, the one that Swan won). I put a finished story on Inkitt and entered it, and while I did extremely well I did not win. Their system is confusing and it’s impossible to tell who may win- they say they review the stories that have the most views and hearts (hearts cannot be given by visitors unless you make an account with Inkitt, by the way) and then choose for content. That seems not to be the case, or perhaps they would have detected the numerous issues with some of their winning titles (I.e. blatant ripoffs of other books, formatting issues that show the author ignored most of the guidelines of posting a story, badly built characters and plots that pander to trends rather than attempting to stand out).
Furthermore, at one point one of the winners cheated by creating fake Facebook accounts to like a page of their story and literally bribing people to like the book. This issue was reported to the Inkitt staff, and though they gave their assurances that the matter was being looked into, they did nothing to actually address the problem.
Their publishing methods have never been specified to the contest applicants, nor have any specifications been given on how they actually judge these contests. I have not entered any of them for the last half a year and occasionally get what are very obviously form emails asking me in a concerned and personal manner why not.
I’m going to take the story down and delete my account (I should have before, but I keep forgetting.); Inkitt is not worth the time, spam emails, or effort suffering through the broken website.
August 20, 2016 @ 1:11 am
I wrote about this back in May and they still stalk that post and keep replying to it.
What makes them seem predatory rather than simply misguided is that the website and everything they do seems so carefully and deliberately designed to draw in new authors and not to promote the “successful” ones. A legitimate publisher would have its new and upcoming releases on its main page, front and center. On this site “Enter our contests! Get published!” are front and center and the actual winners are tiny and hidden.