Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kindle Scout – a Winner’s Report

As I write this blog, I do not know if Amazon will accept Ant Farm for the Kindle Scout program. Its nomination period ended Thursday, February 26. I’ve noticed that those selected typically show up on the approved list two or three business days after the nomination period closed.

If that guess is correct, Kindle Press will inform me on Monday or maybe Tuesday.

Kindle Press released the first ten books of the program on March 3, 2015, following traditional publishers in picking a Tuesday publication date. Of the first ten, two are Science Fiction, two are straight Romance. One is labeled as Mystery, four are called Thrillers, and one is a combination Mystery/Romance. Two are by authors I know—how cool is that?

Preordering provides our first view of how Amazon will price these ebooks. The books range in length from a short 178 equivalent print pages to a substantial 436. Prices range from $2.99 to $3.99. Here is the page range associated with each price. Whether something other than length went into Kindle Scout’s pricing decision, we’ll be able to figure out later as they publish more titles. 
  • $2.99 ranged from 178-205 pages
  • $3.49 ranged from 250-329 pages
  • $3.99 ranged from 338-436 pages
Also interesting to note, on the release date for the first books everyone who made a nomination in the Kindle Scout program received an email with a 50% off coupon for a Kindle Press book. The coupon expires May 2, 2015.

How does Amazon select which books to publish? They have been coy about how much the nomination process affects their decision and how much is based on their definition of quality. Their FAQs has this answer, “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.”

As the program matures I suspect what they already have in the hopper will play a role as well as how similar stories have sold. Amazon knows how to use data to shape markets. However, sometimes their reporting of statistics leaves me scratching my head.

According to their press release, “Scouts,” as Amazon calls those who make nominations under their program, average reading nine excerpts before making a nomination. That is hard for me to believe. I know many of the people who nominated Ant Farm did so by following a link I sent them. For every one of those who clicked my link, read the sample chapters (or not) and nominated the book, some other (average) soul had to read seventeen excerpts before finding one worthy of nomination. Really?

The press release also indicates the average number of days in which a Kindle Scout author receives a publishing decision after submitting a book is 31 days. Since it usually takes a couple of days for Amazon to decide to allow a book into the nomination process, and the nomination process itself last 30 days, that would mean authors on average know whether they will be published before the nomination process is over. That math does not work.

I’m thinking someone is playing a bit fast and loose with data (or is arithmetically challenged). However, the quick turnaround between the completion of a book’s nomination period and when the author hears suggests that the humans behind the scenes are doing some work while the book is still in the nomination process.

My guess (because of the timing, but mostly because it is how I would do it) is that before a book is accepted for nomination someone checks to make sure the writing meets some minimal standard and is complete. Then up it goes. If during the first three weeks or so the book continues to gather support, then one or more humans read the entire manuscript. At the end of the nomination period the decision makers will know not only how many nomination votes a book received, but would have access to other statistics as well, such as

  • How many of those votes came as a result of someone directly accessing the novel’s page? 
  • Of those, how many read the excerpt before nominating the book?
  •  How many nominations came from those who read other books’ excerpts before selecting this one?
  •  How many who nominated this book went on to read other books’ excerpts?
  •  How many people read the excerpt and chose not to nominate the book?
  •  How long did people read the excerpt before moving off the page (or choosing to nominate it)?

In other words, Amazon has lots of information to evaluate the quality of a book’s nomination. Do they use it? I sure would. So what does that mean if you are an author interested in the program?

Keeping in mind that we really do not know how Amazon makes its decisions, I suggest authors do the following:

Try to maintain your book as “Hot.” Of course this presumably means that people are voting for it, a good thing of itself, but it also keeps it in front of people. Plus, when making a decision of what to nominate, we humans like to know we are not alone. Labeling a book hot makes it easier for someone to click the blue “Nominate this book” button.

This means you need to start out strong, but also spread out your asks over the thirty-day nomination period. Kindle Scout gives you a couple of days between notifying you that your book will be eligible for nomination and the day it is first available. Use those days to plan out your campaign.

Make sure your website has a nominate link prominently displayed.

Go through your personal email list and determine who you know well enough to ask that they nominate your book.

Consider your social networks: writing groups, the stamp-collecting forum you belong to, church, alumni associations, etc. Spread out informing them through your campaign.

Use social media to generate interest without falling into the trap of everything being about me, Me ME! There is a fine line between being too bashful to present your request for people to check out your three chapters and nominate your book and boring people so they ignore you. I chose to post on Facebook four times: The first day, about a week into the program, a week remaining in the program and the last day for nominations.

However, during the thirty days I also wrote an informative blog for readers and authors about the Kindle Scout program that had a small mention of my entry and another blog for authors titled “Six Rules of Author Self-Promotion” that also mentioned my Kindle Scout participation. My Facebook account automatically notes when my new blogs appear, so those were two more related posts.

Special are those people who will spread the word for you. Those authors with street teams could employ them. Author Alan Orloff whose novel Running From the Past was one of the very first Kindle Scout selections, offered a free story to anyone who nominated his book and shared his posts on Facebook.

You are competing against other authors, but really, aren’t we in this together? If you know other authors whose books are in the nomination process the same time as yours, figure out ways to support each other. I’ve even become online correspondents with three authors who I only learned about because their books were interesting, and we reached out to each other in mutual support.

Thirty days is a long time, more a marathon than a sprint. Carve out time each day to implement your plan and when people do support you, make sure to thank them.

Arriving in my inbox at 12:17 a.m. on Monday morning while I was sleeping was an email from Kindle Press notifying me that they selected Ant Farm for publication. Notifications to people who had nominated Ant Farm started going out a minute later.

I suspect there was a touch of automation involved. Perhaps the last thing someone did at the office on Friday was tell the computer to send out the word once Monday arrived.

No matter, I spent that day doing the Snoopy dance.

~ Jim

A version of this post originally appeared on Writers Who Kill 3/1/15.