A tweet from Damien Walter led me to Amazon’s Kindle Scout page, which I hadn’t heard about before. It looks to me like an Amazonian hybrid approach to publishing.
Basically, you submit your unpublished book of 50K words or more. After a short review period (to make sure your book is acceptable), you get a Kindle Scout “Campaign Page,” that includes the first 5000 or so words of the book. Readers nominate their favorites, and at the end of the 30-day campaign, the Kindle Scout team selects books to publish. From the FAQs:
“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 a book you nominated gets a Kindle Scout contract, you receive a free copy of the ebook. But you can only nominate up to three books at a time. Basically, Amazon is crowdsourcing their slush pile. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Baen does something similar at the Baen Bar, as I understand it. But I wince to think of the campaigning and clumsy self-promotion Amazon’s approach will likely create.
The publishing contract is for five years, and includes a $1500 advance and 50% ebook royalties. No indication of whether or not the terms are negotiable. For that $1500 advance, Amazon gets “the exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right to publish e-book and audio editions of your Work, in whole and in part, in all languages, along with those rights reasonably necessary to effectuate those rights” for the duration of the contract.
(Data points: $1500 isn’t a bad advance for a small press, though I’d want to negotiate the rights grab. However, $1500 would be unacceptably low from a major publisher. Also, it’s not at all unusual to get a $1500 advance for a book’s English language audio rights alone.)
I find it curious that the ebook royalty rate is 50% for direct sales, lower than the 70% rate most self-published authors get for their e-books on Amazon. That royalty rate is definitely better than most traditional publishers offer. However, Kindle Scout royalties for third party sales are 75% of net, which is less desirable.
Clause 13 makes me rather nervous. “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.”
So the author gets a small advance with a good royalty rate for direct sales (though not as good as you’d get by publishing it yourself). You may receive some Amazon marketing, which is potentially helpful and important. But then again, you may not. Amazon also has the right to give up on you at any time, per clause 13. The author is stuck with the contract for at least two years, at which point you can request the reversion of your rights.
What I don’t see is any indication of what Amazon provides when they publish the book. Do you get an editor? A copy-editor? How much will they invest in cover art, if anything? What sort of publicity might they offer, and will that publicity extend beyond the borders of Amazon?
That makes me very uncomfortable. The whole thing feels a bit like a chimera of traditional and vanity publishing, combined with a manuscript display service.
I could be wrong. It looks like they’re just rolling this sucker out, so it’s possible the terms will be revised, or that more information will be forthcoming. But right now, I definitely wouldn’t recommend this as a top choice for new writers looking to get published.
ETA: Author Beth Bernobich contacted Amazon, and passed along the following information: “The book and cover must be ready to publish when you submit. So, they do not provide any editing, copyediting, or proofreading. Nor any cover art or design. And that contract? Non-negotiable. If you submit, it means you agree to the contract as is, and you cannot back out.”
Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)
October 14, 2014 @ 8:14 am
The whole thing feels a bit like a chimera of traditional and vanity publishing, combined with a manuscript display service.
That’s the way it looks like to my untrained eyes. Why would you do this instead of self-publish on Amazon?
Jim C. Hines
October 14, 2014 @ 8:22 am
A couple of reasons come to mind:
1. You’re hoping the Amazon marketing powerhouse will make you rich. I’m dubious.
2. $1500 up front feels like it’s better than nothing.
3. New authors are desperate. Believe me, I’ve been there.
4. Some folks have rather fanatical opinions about publishing. A disciple of traditional publishing might run in terror. An Amazon disciple might think this is the Rebirth of Publishing.
October 14, 2014 @ 8:51 am
It sounds pretty much like a gamble: you may win big time (due to Marketing from Amazon) or fall back to just the advance (if they don’t publish it). The price for the marketing (in potentia) is 20% of the margin. Though the advance may make it up for especially for unpublished authors.
I think this is a move by Amazon to increase the number of choices they offer as publisher. I expect them to increase the number of different models through time to appeal to different type of authors.
October 14, 2014 @ 8:59 am
Interesting, Jim. One would hope that there’d at least be the benefit of editorial value add-on.
My own thoughts/questions are:
1) There doesn’t seem to be any clause about PRINT in this contract. (Wouldn’t use of their own CreateSpace be an easy way to generate an additional version of the work? And isn’t the “print edition” the thing that most budding authors truly crave?)
2) There’s a 45 day exclusivity clause in submission – as opposed to preferring no simultaneous submissions
I can immediately picture authors who crap all over publishers and their contracts jumping on the Kindle Press Submission bandwagon as the thing that will “save publishing”
Jim C. Hines
October 14, 2014 @ 9:05 am
The lack of print was curious to me, too. I don’t think the desire for a print copy is as universal among new authors these days as it used to be, but it’s interesting. You could presumably still sell it yourself through CreateSpace, or else try to sell the print rights, but I’m not sure how interested publishers would be if they couldn’t get electronic rights too.
October 14, 2014 @ 10:44 am
If you do decide to go with a tradpub, you can sell them your next book, Kindle Scout doesn’t include any provisions about first refusal for subsequent books. And then when you get your e-book rights back in five years, you could possible tradpub the first book too.
October 14, 2014 @ 12:23 pm
Among other things, the part that freaks me out is this:
“Amazon gets ‘the exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide right to publish e-book and audio editions of your Work, in whole and in part, in all languages, along with those rights reasonably necessary to effectuate those rights” for the duration of the contract.’ ”
That was the whole point of self-publishing–so the AUTHOR could do those things. I would run, not walk, from this contract.
October 14, 2014 @ 12:37 pm
WTF even is a “third party sale” in this context? scratches
Gosh, Amazon is beginning to sound like… a publisher.
I hope this at least comes with cover art and a copy editing pass. But I doubt it. You’ll get no publicity outside Amazon, and probably not much within it.
October 14, 2014 @ 1:48 pm
Your book has to already be edited and have a cover to be able to be accepted from what I can tell, reading between the lines. I’ve seen the effect of Amazon marketing though, so if you’re more interested in money than rights, this sound amazing. The initial $1,500 will cover your up-front costs of editing and cover art (assuming you get picked). If you don’t get picked, you have a book ready for KDP like any other day.
Jim C. Hines
October 14, 2014 @ 1:53 pm
“…if you’re more interested in money than rights…”
Sam – I’d argue that this isn’t an either/or thing, and in fact a good chunk of my annual writing income comes from selling those additional rights.
October 14, 2014 @ 2:02 pm
I agree they’re being stengy with the rights. That makes me wonder if you get royalties on just the English ebook, or on all languages published and the audio products. If Zon wants to pay my way into other countries by paying the huge cost for translations, it might be worth it to let them as long as the royalties apply to every right acted on.
October 14, 2014 @ 3:20 pm
Thank you for making this available; I’ve linked it in my home board’s writing section.
October 14, 2014 @ 3:33 pm
I just noticed that all those backers won’t translate into sales. The readers that vote/nominate a book get a free copy of the book when it gets published. So getting all that support will just be a “feel good” moment and won’t really be contributing to sales.
October 14, 2014 @ 4:50 pm
It’s possible Amazon will treat those freebies-to-nominators as sales in terms of the author getting the royalty, isn’t it? Unless somewhere in the contract the author agrees to this unknown amount of copies of their book being given away, I don’t know how Amazon can just send them out without royalty payment to the author.
Jim C. Hines
October 14, 2014 @ 5:58 pm
It depends on what the contract says, but pretty much all of mine have included a clause specifically excluding copies that were given out for publicity and review purposes from counting toward royalties. I suspect Amazon will probably have something similar, and will count these as non-royalty freebies.
I’d be happy to be wrong on this, though.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:14 pm
So the people who really like it get it free, and maybe other people will stumble on it so the author will get a royalty, maybe.
Looks basically like you do all the work of editing/cover, then you campaign for votes, and maybe you’ll win $1500 and they get to do anything they want with it for two years, including ignoring it, or selling off all the foreign and audio and movie/TV/video game rights. Or you get no votes and go KDP and keep the rights. Eeesh.
October 14, 2014 @ 6:20 pm
But imagine being a loser who almost won! You could easily accidentally increase your fan base exponentially and when they didn’t get a free copy by winning, a lot of them will buy it… The losers might win more!
D. D. Webb
October 14, 2014 @ 11:56 pm
As a fairly new author with an ebook (published on Amazon among other places) and an ongoing webserial, I have to say that this sounds like an altogether terrible idea. I can see how it could sound like a great one to someone new to the field and desperate to grow a readership–I can attest that that’s one of the hardest things to do, especially if you’re going it alone without the benefit of a major publisher’s marketing department. At the expense of sounding like a naysayer, I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than Amazon taking advantage of new author naivete.
$1500 aside, the only compelling benefit I can see to this arrangement is the marketing and promotion. If you’re willing to possibly sacrifice the rights to and success of one book, it could be a way to get your name out there in front of the public, which is downright priceless when you’re just setting out. However, Clause 13 really rips the rug out from under that one. Too much risked for too little potentially gained.
As an author who could definitely use the help of Amazon–or anyone else!–in growing my public footprint, and as an author who DOES make use of Amazon as a platform already, I will not be going for this. I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone else do so.
That’s just one person’s opinion and I am most certainly not an expert in the field of publishing, otherwise I’d be in a different situation myself. But consider my two cents contributed.
October 15, 2014 @ 2:34 pm
HarperCollins, I believe, tried something similar to this a few years ago. People could put up their novels on the website, others voted on them (likes essentially,) and if you got enough of them, (junior) editors would look it over to see whether they wanted to give you a contract. They didn’t most of the time — one guy I know who had a comic SF novel that got lots of votes was told after a young editor looked it over that they didn’t publish comic SF, so it wasn’t for them.
It was, though, a way to have a slush pile that was easier, get attention to the publisher’s books and try to build an author-fan community sort of thing. The contract that an author might get was basically a standard contract, not something weird like Amazon is trying here. HarperCollins has since moved on and Amazon is basically experimenting with all sorts of weird arrangements (see their “fanfiction” deal.)
Remember, book sales make up only 7% of Amazon’s revenues. They basically don’t give a crap. And for those of you doing regular self-publishing distribution contracts with Amazon? The contract you signed gives them the right to change the terms of the deal any time they want, including how much they’ll let you have of your sales money, and it gives them control over what price you can sell your books for in the entire electronic market. It’s still a better deal than this Scout thing, certainly, but it’s not independent. Giving them more control and ownership of all your licensing rights as well with no contractual guarantees that they’d do even the minimum that publishers guarantee for their license grant, would seem to be a bad plan.
But, the people who don’t think they can, don’t want to or haven’t managed to get a deal with a publisher, and don’t feel that they can afford and spend the time on self-publishing it, might feel that this is the best way to go. But a lot of the contract terms Jim is quoting do not sound good at all.
October 15, 2014 @ 4:40 pm
I can’t say this is very tempting. The reason I wouldn’t self-publish is because I know I could use help with covers and editing. This offers all the effort of self-pub without the benefits. I think I’ll keep working towards the trad-pub or self-pub paths and not this other.
October 16, 2014 @ 2:23 pm
For someone about to publish his first novel (as in myself), Scout is intriguing. However, I do not want to gamble months worth of work — I first want to see how others do and, if at all, how e-books are really helped by Amazon’s marketing.
“Being Chosen” also seems like a game of self-promotion on social media and blog sites, like Kickstarter. I think a lot of it will have to do with how many people you have in your networks. Or, perhaps, the review site will have a “recommended” / “top reviewed” / “new to review” category? We’ll see!
News & Notes – 10/18/14 | The Bookwyrm's Hoard
October 18, 2014 @ 12:05 am
Amazon vs Big Publishing: Kindle Scout: motives revealed : : Adventures in Text
October 19, 2014 @ 9:48 pm
October 21, 2014 @ 2:05 pm
I took the plunge and submitted my completed manuscript, cover and description to Kindle Scout. There was a one-day turnaround on the vetting process, and now I’ve learned a campaign will begin on Oct. 28. I went this route because of my own time crunch at home (the submissions slog seems unruly at this time), the gamble that Amazon’s marketing is effective at selling e-books and the shot at something new.
Here’s my blog post about it, including a preview screen shot of the campaign page Amazon built for the novel: