Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Kindle Scout Can Catch You Out


Why do shocker emails always seem to arrive at the end of the day on a Monday?

I’d been a Kindle Scout fan for a long time – in fact, one of the books I champion and promote a lot was one of their first titles, Housebroken. My own Kindle Scout campaign for Lost Solace was going really well. The book had been "hot and trending" and getting lots of views. The action was all organic, as in real people who wanted to back the book. I refused to pay for any spammy services that boosted the book's campaign: especially after I saw that one or two of those that were getting the most votes were not good books - often the previews were badly-written and there were basic writing and punctuation mistakes in the first few sentences. I refused to join them in paying for votes. As usual, I wanted my books to stand purely on their quality.

When I started the Kindle Scout campaign I had to tick a box saying that Lost Solace had never "been available for sale in any format, anywhere in the past, including on Amazon." That was true. Note that they only talk about the past. That implies the future is fine. I read all the guidelines carefully. I noted that Kindle Scout did not take the paperback rights. The guidelines specifically said that the author was free to publish the paperback themselves, or via a third party.

When an e-book is published it can take up to three days to reach all the distributor sites. It's often less than that. When a paperback is published it takes a lot longer - sometimes it can be a month for the metadata to be fully shared. I know, I know, it makes no sense - it should be instantaneous, but that's how the book industry works. Sometimes Waterstones will say a book isn't available anywhere even though it may have gone on sale a week or so earlier. That's because the details of the book still haven't got on to the main systems they check. It's normal, and publishers just build the delays in to their plans. It also means you have to plan ahead. So, I set the paperback of Lost Solace in motion, guessing it wouldn't be fully available until November, maybe in time to coincide with the launch of the e-book, which would hopefully be published by Kindle Scout this time. That offers a number of advantages: it would have some starting sales rank above zero; it would have early reviews; there would be a buzz among book bloggers and on social media. That then helps push the e-book to the front of some lists and means it becomes visible to buyers. It's all common sense.

You can tell there is going to be a "but" ...

Last night I got an email off Amazon with the innocuous title of "Your Kindle Scout Book", from a member of Amazon staff whose name I recognised. I'd been in touch with them a few times, and had been helping them out. One thing you may not realise is that, if you put your book on to somewhere like Kindle Scout, you will suddenly get a lot of persistent spam from people claiming to be able to promote it for you. The emails are dodgy stuff, with typos, no URLs, unfinished sigs, beginning with boilerplate stuff like "I saw your ebook on Kindle scout. From the blurb it looks like a high quality e-book. If you are looking for some real promotion and exposure for your book, I can help" and ending with "serious interest only" and "respond now if you want to get published by Kindle Scout". The spammers probably have a lot of fake accounts that will vote for your book if you pay. It is both dishonest and risky, since it is easy for Amazon to spot the accounts and work out that the author is following dubious practices that are against their regulations. Some of the spammers were persistent and contacted me multiple times - emails, Facebook, Goodreads and so on. In one case they even used my non-public email address. So I shared the messages with Amazon so they could get an idea of the scale of the problem and the (probably fake) names involved. My Amazon contact thanked me and shared the information within their teams. They also told me: "When we calculate the clicks to show on the Campaign Stats page, we filter out any clicks coming from robots, which includes search engine crawlers, the Facebook crawler, as well as any other automated scripts that the author might have set up." I'd also been in touch with them about formatting errors their process had introduced to books, where section breaks were messed up. They fixed it and thanked me for flagging that up too. In each case it was the same contact at Kindle Scout and I was happy to help improve the service, for them and for other authors. So I expected this to be another email following up on one of the service aspects we'd discussed.

No. Kindle Scout threw my book out.

"We recently found that the paperback version of your book is available in Amazon. Due to this issue, we will remove your campaign from our site."

Even though it was the same contact I'd been in touch with, the tone was cold, robotic - it was obviously a standard email, the kind anyone who contacts Amazon will be used to.

At the end of the email it invited me to contact them to discuss it.

I didn't hang about. I sent a polite email with some of the explanation above. I pointed this out:

The actual Kindle Scout rules you linked to say "Kindle Scout books should not have been available for sale in any format, anywhere in the past, including on Amazon." And it is true, the book had not been available in any format, anywhere in the past, so technically I don't seem to be in breach of it, which is how this has occurred. I thought it was okay. If not, the wording should be changed to "Kindle Scout books should not have been available for sale in any format, anywhere in the past, including on Amazon; AND SHOULD NOT BE FOR THE DURATION OF THE CAMPAIGN." (Obviously not in caps, I just did that to highlight my addition!)
I also explained why I'd set the paperback in motion:

Is there anything that can be done? I had been really excited about the idea of possibly working with Amazon on this new venture. My last book sold thousands of copies (enough to grant me professional membership of the Horror Writers Association), and this new one is even better. I'd be grateful if you could give me some advice here. I really thought I was fully in line with your guidance, just as I had been when I first submitted to Kindle Scout. It's been exciting, and I'll be so disappointed if it fails now just because I misunderstood one of the criteria! Even more upsetting that I was just trying to be efficient, and set up a good environment for if Kindle Scout published the e-book! I thought that it would be good to get on with the paperback because the good previews from book bloggers would build up excitement for the e-book and drive sales to it.
Many thanks for your time; any guidance or ways that I can stay in the program would be much appreciated!
I sent the email and hoped we could sort it out.

I didn't know that Amazon had already taken Lost Solace down emailed everyone who had voted for it as follows:

Dear Scout,
We wanted to let you know that your Kindle Scout nomination for Lost Solace has been removed from the Kindle Scout site, and your nomination slot is available. There are still tons of great never-before-published books that could use your support! We hope you'll use your nominations to scout the next titles you want to see published.
Regards,
The Kindle Scout team
I only discovered this when I started to get messages in email, Facebook and Twitter from people asking what was going on! The Amazon message's vagueness suggests I've done something wrong, or there are shenanigans afoot. Was the book plagiarised? Had Karl been paying for fake votes and been caught? Had it been revealed that he was a serial killer and Amazon were distancing themselves from him? It was obvious there must be a story behind it. And this is that story. Sorry, it's not as dramatic or scandalous as you might expect.

As you can imagine, I was pretty frustrated that, even though I immediately responded to Amazon, and they had invited me to do that - they had already removed the book and emailed all the voters before I had a chance to send my email!

Removing the book and emailing voters at that early stage was certainly overkill, thought it may have well have been an automated process, knowing how Amazon works (i.e. as soon as it is flagged up their bots kick the campaign, regardless of what their staff say in an email). I was grateful to people for letting me know what Amazon had said to them, because often the author is the last to find out when automated scripts kick in!

So what happens next?

Possible outcomes:

1. Kindle Scout reinstate the campaign. That's probably unlikely now they have nuked it without waiting to hear back from me.

2. Kindle Scout ignore what I said and the e-book is released without them. I won't get their marketing help or an advance, but it means the e-book could be available before Halloween, and (you may be surprised to know) I'll get higher royalties and more control over the book than if Kindle Scout published it. So, actually, even the worst case scenario isn't bad. It just means I wasted the time waiting for the Amazon campaign, and asking people to vote for it!

But I don't want to waste your time. If Amazon publish a Kindle Scout book they give a free e-book copy to everyone who voted for it. If they have permanently closed the campaign that won't happen now. So I'll be nicer than Amazon, and if they don't re-open the campaign I'll give a free e-book to anyone who gets in touch with me and who had voted for Lost Solace. I don’t want the generosity of you kind people to be wasted, after you took the time to vote. I really appreciate everyone who did that.

There you go, that's the full scoop! Hopefully it is a useful for authors on interpreting the Kindle Scout rules so no-one else accidentally falls foul of Amazon like I did. Even better if Amazon makes their guidelines clearer and removes the ambiguity over the timing of the paperback releases. The guidance is obviously not clear at present, or I wouldn't have made this mistake. Likewise one person replied to my explanation with "Wow! Considering I'm preparing a novel for a Kindle Scout campaign and was just trying to determine when I could publish the trade paperback, this is actually really helpful timing (for me, not for you!)" Amazon - you need to clarify this point for future authors trying Kindle Scout!

As I pointed out, it's not all bad. The e-book will be available one way or the other. If I hear back from Amazon I'll add an update to the end of this post. In the meantime, there's the paperback. And, once again, I am reminded of how nice the readers and authors who support me are. One message of support I received ended with: "I went ahead and ordered the trade paperback of LOST SOLACE in the meantime. Looking forward to reading it!"

Update: Kindle Scout aren't going to reinstate the campaign. For info, this is their email.

I completely understand your concern.
We were truly sorry to remove your campaign as well, since we loved to have your title as part of our Kindle Scout platform.
If you have a new, never-before-published manuscript that you’ve finished working on, we encourage you to submit it to Kindle Scout. If your title is selected for publication we ask that authors wait until their Kindle book is released through Kindle Press prior to making a print version available (this helps the new release launch momentum and us keep our promise to Scouts that they’ll receive an early copy of an ever-before-published book).
Additionally, regarding your suggestion I think is a very good idea to include in our guidelines that Kindle Scout titles shouldn't be available in other formats during the campaign time. I have transferred this suggestion to our appropriate team for future improvements of our platform.
We thank you for your understanding, and we hope to review a new, never-before-published book of yours in the near future!
So be it. No hard feelings. Onwards and upwards! The e-book will be here sooner than you thought! And I should be used to Amazon by now.

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4 comments:

Guy Anthony De Marco said...

Amazon has been going all-out with automating harsh hammering of authors. First there was the rank stripping, now this. Sometimes I think they leave their terms of service vague because they enjoy doing random evil things to their customers. Best of luck when your book comes out, this time from a publisher you can trust is fair. :)

Karl Drinkwater said...

Ha ha, thanks Guy! I alternated between kicking myself, and looking on the bright side. :-)

graycat840@yahoo.com said...

I'm part of Kindle Scout. I read what interested me very carefully, also, don't vote unless I choose the book myself.

Any email from any author (I had a book on Kindle, vote for it, so got publish) to vote for their book, I read and decide what had quality or not.

I'm very difficult and choosy with authors and work with many Indies. But, if the "blurb" need to be re-written, gave only 1 star.

But, yes, I notice what you're saying and very concern about it! Not only "autom@ton" as I call it, with authors but clients as well

Karl Drinkwater said...

I'm glad you are selective, Graycat! I found one or two books to back, and upvoted them. A few others had good covers or blurbs, but mistakes in the writing, or poor style. Of course, some of that can be fixed by editors, as long as the story is great.