Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kindle Scout – a Survivor’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. My guess is the authors find out a business day or two after the nomination period closes, and it takes a day for the contract signing and changing the Kindle Scout website.

If that guess is correct, I’ll know on Monday or maybe Tuesday.

Kindle Scout is releasing 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
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 informativeblog 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 AuthorSelf-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.

Stop by my website say Tuesday afternoon. Whenever I know whether or not I have a contract, I’ll post the information. In the meantime, do you know how hard it is to touch-type with crossed fingers?

~ Jim

P.S. (added 3/2/15 early morning) Arriving in my inbox at 12:17 a.m. while I was sleeping was an email from Kindle Press notifying me that they selected Ant Farm for publication. ~ J.


  1. Thanks for writing this. As an author with a book currently in the program I love to hear your experience. I noticed your book was "hot" and trending for quite some time and enjoyed the preview quite a bit.

    I think one of the reasons that Amazon is so hush-hush about the impact of votes is that they are doing some more advanced analytics on how the votes are cast like you suggest and don't want authors to game the system.

    Best of luck with Ant Farm and I hope it gets published. =) Since we're all in this together, I'd love it if you gave my book Freelancer a look. I would love any feed back.

  2. Best of luck with Freelancer, Jake. For those interested, as I write this it is "Hot" and its category is Science Fiction.

    ~ Jim

  3. I went over to the nomination site and read several books vying to get into the program. Some were intriguing so I read the first chapters. Many were marred with too much backstory in the opening chapters.

    How are books chosen for nomination? Is there a screening process before they are presented for nomination? Although the premise of the books peaked my curiosity, how the stories were told turned me off.

    All the statistics, and my gut reaction is what I go by for a good read.

  4. EB -- To request entry into the nomination process you need to provide all the material in a single submission. They then take 2-3 business days to determine if they will post the book.

    Obviously they want to make sure the book is actually complete and that the cover design meets their standards (as in no private body parts showing for the bodice ripper romances!)

    I suspect they only do a very minimal screening for writing quality. (I agree with you that many I read were not well-written -- but that said NYT bestsellers often fit my definition of not well-written, so I suspect until they are overwhelmed with submissions they will have a very light touch on what they reject).

    ~ Jim

  5. Thanks for keeping us up to date on available strategies for marketing. And Good Luck!


  6. I find your route to getting this accepted fascinating, but one I'm not willing to pursue. Good luck, Jim.

  7. Just out of curiosity, Gloria, since you already self-publish, what about the process do you see as a major disadvantage?

    ~ Jim

  8. Be sure to let us know, Jim, if Ant Farm makes it!

    I haven't read it (but I did vote for it!) so I don't know all the details, but knowing you & your work, I'm sure it's very well written. You wouldn't offer the public anything else.

  9. KM -- thanks to your vote (and to everyone else as well).

    You are correct; I planned on publishing this and paid for the editor and book cover, so I am happy to put it out over my name.

    ~ Jim

  10. Just saw it got added to the published list! Congrats!

  11. Arriving at 12:17 this morning:

    Dear James M. Jackson,

    Congratulations! Our readers have spoken, and your book "Ant Farm" has been selected for publication by the Kindle Press team.

    That light you see in the east -- that would be my smile.

    ~ Jim

  12. Hi Jim. It's been a few months since you've published with Kindle Scout. Would love an update on how the process went and if you're glad you did it. I have a couple of manuscripts set to self-pub in October. I've read the pros and cons about KS, but would love to hear someone's thoughts who'd recently gone through it.

    Jen Crane

  13. Hi Jen -- I do have a couple of subsequent blogs that provide my perspective on the Kindle Scout program to date.

    Should you Kindle Scout provides a process for determining if it is right for you.

    And Kindle Scout Finances discusses why the Kindle Scout process turns the traditional revenue cycle for books on its head.

    Right now, I am still very happy to have taken the Kindle Scout process. The editing was very good and I have watched several other authors really break out with Amazon marketing. That has not yet happened for me, but there is still plenty of time and I continue to see a gradual increase in sales of the other books in the series.

    ~ Jim

  14. HI,
    I wondered if you are on the hot list, then you are not, can it go back up on the hot list of you get more nominations?

    This is my campaign:

    Thanks so much,

  15. Caroline -- absolutely you can regain the Hot & Trending list if you fall off. I don't know of any books who stayed on the entire 30 days. Many of the books selected by Kindle Press were off and on the lost many times during their nomination period.

    Good luck with your campaign.

    ~ Jim

  16. Thanks so much for blogging on this. I feel fairly lost in the process as Amazon are deliberately vague about it all. I also don't really want to beg for votes because it could descend into vanity, and might be confirmation for some that the book isn't worthy if it still fails after a lengthy campaign.

    I wondered what people thought about hot and trending. How important is it to sustain that? Do we think that Amazon will only review those books that are still 'hot' by the end of the month?

    I don't have the best front cover in the world, but it does incorporate the novel's themes and motifs, and so just about succeeds for that reason. Possibly a bit dated-looking though. It might not be enough -- but I like to remember that the cover isn't the main event.

    I'm going to post the link in case anyone is interested and can offer any guidance (beyond the irreparable stuff that is now too late)!. If you happen to like the book, please give it a vote so that I know I haven't been working on this for nothing. It would mean a lot because writing is lonely work...

  17. With well over 100 Kindle Scout winners now, we know that being Hot and Trending for virtually the entire 30 days does not guarantee being picked. We also know that books that were not H&T for even 50% of the time were picked.

    Most books are H&T early and late -- the middle is where the differences lie.

    I did beg for people to look at my sample -- and if they liked it to nominate the book. I did not beg for votes.

    Good luck with your campaign.

  18. Thanks for the reply and for the info on H&T: it remains quite nebulous, and is designed that way intentionally, I'm certain.

    Yes, I think that's a valuable differentiation -- seeking interest rather than endorsement. It's a novel experiment (pun intended) in that your work gets read, and in some ways, validated even if it does not win.

    Thanks again, Jim.