Or actually they get you to do it.
Amazon seems to be rolling out new programs for its readers and writers every couple of months. This latest, Kindle Scout, offers readers the chance to vote for the next big thing in books, or more specifically, who gets a 5 year contract and $1500 advance from Amazon.
For readers it doesn’t seem like a particularly bad deal. You get to sample the first few pages of a lot of authors, pick your favorites, and if a lot of people agree with you, you get a free copy of the full book. Even if you don’t get free books, odds are you’ll have found something new you might not otherwise have discovered.
And for writers it’s not so bad either, particularly if you’re just starting out. The full terms are a 5-year renewable contract for exclusive worldwide eBook and audio-book rights in return for the $1500 advance and a 50% royalty. True, you have less control over how your book is published than you do with Amazon’s 70% self-publishing option, but you also have Amazon’s Featured Marketing which seems to include participation in Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library (both things you get with the exclusive 70% option) but also e-mail and targeted promotions (whatever that means).
If you read the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, then you know that $1500 advance is not a big deal, but it is a nice one. Here’s how the calculation works for someone who was going to sell their book exclusively on Amazon for the 70% option at $2.99.
To earn $1500 in royalties you would need to sell 717 copies of your book (assuming no appreciable transmission fees that cut into your royalty) at $2.99 (70% royalty). If you think you’re going to sell less copies of your book, then a $1500 advance is pretty good. Just to compare apples to apples you’d need to sell about $2143 in merchandise to earn $1500 if you go it alone.
To earn your advance if published by Kindle Press you’d need $3000 in sales before you’d start earning additional royalties (regardless of the individual price of each book which is a little difficult to parse and probably will vary on Kindle Scout). That might sound like a lot more, but hopefully Amazon’s marketing would help with that as they obviously have some interest in you earning the money they paid for you.
Problems I see are these: If a book is really popular in its Scout campaign, it stands a risk of most of its copies going to the people who voted for it, and not for people who spent money. And exactly how much social media or random reader clout is necessary to break the threshold is a little nebulous as well, and probably varies from cycle to cycle. Amazon might take a risk on you initially, but if you don’t earn your advance or maybe even the $25,000 they hope you’ll earn in your 5-year contract, they may not give you another one. That’s true for just about anywhere in the publishing industry though so maybe its worth the risk.
And some people in the literature community might be uncomfortable with the idea of books being selected by popular vote, and not by the standards of literary agents and publishers. Scout’s genres at the moment are sci-fi, mystery and romance, which have always been more populist genres, but this is a real experiment in whether the crowd can actually pick quality.
But that’s really what our publishing landscape looks like these days. Readers and writers alike need to be willing to experiment to find what works for them. I’m not sure if I’d submit a book to this program or not, but I am considering it. If I do, I hope I can count on all of you to vote for me and in return I’ll vote for you to 🙂
Have you guys checked out Kindle Scout? Thoughts?