Kindle Scout: Crowdsourced Publishing Model for “Bad” Books

Kindle Scout is a new initiative from Amazon that allows readers to vote on the titles that they’d like to see published.

How does it work? Authors submit 5,000-word excerpts of their manuscripts to the website, where they stay for a 30-day “scouting” period. During this time, Amazon members are allowed to browse through each title and nominate the ones they’d like to see published.

In other words, Amazon would like all of you, dear readers, to be their unpaid interns, digging through the vast slush pile of—quite frankly—bad books that I’m sure arrive at their digital doorstep daily. Only, you don’t get any credit or, for that matter, have much of an incentive.

Books that are selected for publication—the criteria for selecting a “winner” is still unknown—“will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50 percent eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

As Slate‘s words correspondent, Katy Waldman, suggests in her recent article on Kindle Scout, “The real winner would appear to be Amazon, which can leverage readers’ direct involvement to lure them to its website and profit from successful new titles without losing too much on clunkers.”

Waldman then goes on, attempting to paint a silver lining, by writing “A program with open submissions puts more voices in circulation. It amplifies different kinds of voices, razing institutional wayposts that tend to disproportionately welcome white men. It responds more nimbly to the demonstrated preferences of the reading public, asking us to rethink our inherited notions of literary merit.”

The reality is, however, that the chances of anything of “literary merit” being discovered through methods like crowd sourcing are awfully slim. For one, traditional publishers aren’t in the business of turning away true gems with literary merit. That same publisher can offer a much larger advance, an editor to help with the development of the manuscript, and a marketing team to support the book once it’s on shelves. You know, a real marketing team—not an algorithm that artificially pushes your self-published e-book higher on its sites own rankings.

In the Slate article, Waldman goes on to discuss exactly what we mean when we say “bad” books, citing “guilty pleasures” like Fifty Shades as a prime example. But even arguably better titles, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made her list—titles with plots that excite, even when the writing isn’t painstakingly constructed.

There’s nothing wrong with that book. Reading is a personal act, and what does it for me may not for you. I find them to be formulaic. Every character reads the same—the mysterious, charming (and probably rich) man and the sweet, slightly awkward heroine looking for adventure. They’re the kind of novels I burned through in high school just to have something to do, like a chain smoker looking for their next cigarette.

While these sorts of publishing models are great for some people, the important thing is to be realistic about what publishing through Amazon means. Your book will never be in an actual brick-and-mortar store. Even if it was available in print, stores aren’t in the business of purchasing titles from a corporation that’s slowly driving them out of business. The readers who shop at those stores won’t either.

There’s also less chance that you’ll be taken seriously as a writer publishing through Kindle Scout. If you think your book has potential, believe in yourself enough to send it off to an agent (many, many agents). Agents do more than put your book in the hands of the right editor. They vouch for your work and can help sell rights associated with your work—like translation or film, for instance.

Contrary to what my snarky attitude may have you believe, I actually see self-publishing as very viable (and lucrative) for a very certain type of author with a very certain type of book.

But Kindle Scout? That I see as an obvious attempt for Amazon to have readers find them a bestseller and an obvious disregard for a reader’s time. This world is fast-paced and chaotic. A good book is an escape from that. Why waste time on anything less?


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