My Year with Kindle Scout
Okay, I’ve spent the greater part of 2017 entered in the Kindle Scout writing competition. Seven books in all. What did I learn?
Foremost, I can say with absolute surety, there is simply no way to predict what the Scout team will do, who they will choose and why. Clearly, the selected books are well written and marketable, but the team’s decisions are their own and often surprising.
For all of 2017, I’ve actively participated in the nominations of titles as a reader, and tracked novels I thought for certain would make it. Some books seemed to have it all; beautiful covers, sparky tag-lines, edgy ideas, interesting author bios, and yet they end up in the ‘not selected’ pile. Many titles spent nearly every hour of their time in the ‘hot and trending’ carousel and were declined as well, so….
I did notice some commonalities.
If you do a review of the winning titles, it is easy to see that nearly half of the selected books depict an attractive woman in some way on the cover, regardless of the genre. The team seems to favor leafless trees as well.
Most of the winning selections come from the categories of Mystery, Thrillers, Suspense, and of course, Romance, (this is indicative of the industry in general).
Covers are not everything. Some winners had poor imagery and designs and have since changed those covers for the better, which tells me the storyline and writing itself was good—really good.
Hot and Trending is not everything either. I am certain the Kindle Scout Team gives deference to writers who bring an existing fan base to the table—that’s just good business. Nevertheless, this is Amazon, with the power to promote and present selected titles to millions of readers. I know that successful books peak and then plateau with time, and the fan base is critical to keeping interest generated and adding volume to launches and promotions.
Fans keep the dry times floating, but they will not win the Scout competition for you.
Don’t piss off the team. I cannot emphasize this enough. The ‘contact us’ buttons are not for complaining about whether your title is in the zone of visibility: the Ending Soon and Recently Added carousels. Clearly, the book browsing public is very lazy, and achieving page views and nominations organically occurs most when the title is visible in the first three carousels. Front page only is a consistent factor—the zone of visibility.
Also, the Team is well aware that they often allow horribly written books into the contest. It continually baffled me as to why they do this, allowing some folks to publicly humiliate themselves like that. I now believe that they allow the poorly crafted stuff in to reflect a realistic representation of the self-publishing industry as a whole, where established authors must often share space with laughable wannabes. It’s like YouTube, the very few diamonds sparkle against a background of absolute dirt.
Bottom line? All you can do is the best you can do. I must admit I used the competition for my own means, essentially displaying my books for the free advertising before self-publishing them. I never expected to win, returning each manuscript to my editor for the final hard edit during the thirty days of the contest, assigning those days as our true deadline for publication. Did it work for me? Absolutely! I don’t believe the ‘Zon’ minded much, books were sold regardless.
My advice to aspiring writers is harden your shell, tighten your belt and pull up your boots. Keep moving no matter what. Think of it this way: If you search through the woods, desperately hoping to find and catch a white rabbit, you never will. However, if you walk proudly though that forest with your head held high, chances are you will stumble upon one hiding in the leaves.
Indie Publishing Reality–Metaphorically
September 13, 2017
What is the self-publishing industry really like?
Imagine you are at a beautiful lake. People are gathered around the shore, fishing and sunbathing, reading books and listening to music–living life. In the very middle of the lake, you see a round wooden platform, a floating deck with people on it. You look closer, and you see that everyone on the flotilla is very good looking. All the women are sporting athletic frames as well as the men. They are having fun, drinking, lounging about, laughing amongst themselves, all the while, keeping their eyes glued to the shoreline.
Now you see the droves of people swimming towards the floating deck from all angles. Some of them are in trouble—splashing, screaming for help and going under yet no one is alarmed at this. You watch, clearly not everyone can swim. The beautiful people on the raft are calmly observing this as well.
Among the beautiful, you notice there is a towering woman—the Tall Lady. She is handing out treats, mingling with the others and smiling graciously. Clearly, it’s her barge.
Suddenly, a man nearby you stands up and brushes his shorts off.
“How hard can it be? I learned to swim in school,” he says confidently.
So did everybody else, you think. Algebra too, but how many of these folks can solve for X?
“I’m going in,” he says, running, bounding twice and diving headfirst into the water.
He immediately sinks. You blink twice, gulp, and turn to look to the small group he was sitting with moments earlier. They are not paying attention, already involved with other things.
“Wow,” you say aloud to the crowd who could care less, realizing that you are now walking to the lake’s edge. Within seconds, you are wading in slowly. Why? Because you know you can swim. Throughout your youth, friends and family were always impressed with your ability to swim. Turns out that good swimming is actually a rare thing, which is why there are only so many beautiful people on the floating deck. Something sparks in your heart, coursing adrenaline through your body and mind—excitement as you have never felt.
You’re doing this, damn it all, right now.
The first thing you notice is the mud. It’s thick and slimy, disgusting between your toes. Things are moving in the muck and you tromp forward faster to waist level. You feel the cold on your legs—a bitter chill that penetrates through to the bone. You shake, take a breath and dive forward cautiously. Once moving, your feet wash free of some the muck, you swim steady for the raft in the middle, now observing the other swimmers. Ahead, someone makes it to the middle and struggles aboard the decking without a ladder…no one helps him. When he finally pulls himself up, the Tall Lady gives him an ice-cold soda. He turns to face the shore smiling wide and proud—he worked like hell to get there—safe at last.
“Man, I want that!” you say to no one and paddle faster. Suddenly there is a noise, a vibration in your body. It’s a boat! The vessel comes aside you and slows down abruptly. Aboard the polished wooden craft there is a beautiful woman in a skimpy bikini. She waives and speaks to you in a Russian accent with a wide, gorgeous smile.
“I no can swimming at all!” she giggles and gives the hearty vessel full throttle. In the wake, you see the name of the boat on the aft in bold letters:
Oh the Huge Vanity
“That’s not fair, she just bought a damned boat!” you shout aloud, stopping to tread water and take a break.
When you go vertical and your feet sink, the blanket of cold envelops your legs and you shudder. You watch ahead with fascination as the Russian bikini model disembarks, bouncing to the decking without tying her boat off. She rudely takes her soda from the Tall Lady—snatching the glass from her hands. Seconds later, the Russian model tilts her beverage back too far in a poor attempt to guzzle it all at once. Already dangerously close to the edge, she falls from the flotilla with a squeak and a splash. She desperately fumbles for the ropes to her now precious boat as it drifts away uncaring. She sinks, disappearing in the depths, barely getting a good taste of the sweet nectar on deck with the beautiful people. No one seems to notice this but the Tall Lady, shaking her head ever so slight and promptly returning her attentions to her guests.
You hear another boat motor and turn to see. This time it’s a jet-ski with a six-pack ab-wielding male model on top. He stops nearby, grins and speaks.
“I can’t swim my way out of a paper bag dude, but I’ve already been on the raft a couple of times,” he says with pride. “I stole the jet-ski. Give me some money and I’ll tell you how I did it.”
“Why aren’t you still on the raft?” you ask.
“You’re missing the point. Give me money. I know how to get on the Tall Lady’s raft. What, are you scared?”
“No thanks pal,” you reply. “I can swim.”
“Look dude, I won’t tell you any real details or the critical stuff. Stealing jet-skis and jumping on the raft, that’s my secret dude. Let me just string you along until you pay me.”
“I’m good,” you politely add and resume the slow swim to the center of the blue lake.
“Later days chump,” he laughs and darts away. You notice words painted in bright pastels on the side of the sport-craft as it zooms by:
Outsourcing—Get You Some!
Paying others to swim for you…pathetic, you think to yourself and then gather your resolve, swimming steady and true, noting the water is warmer and your body feels good. You turn over smoothly and back-paddle, watching the clouds for a brief moment.
Getting there is half the fun, you remember hearing that from somewhere in your mind. Was it a book or a movie?
The raft, pay attention dingbat you could drown here.
You turn and reassert yourself, keeping your arm strokes long, steady and accurate, cupping the water tight in your hands and pushing it behind you as your feet keep a steady beat. You discover a calm pleasure seeping into your heart, enjoying the pristine feel of your body cutting through the soft water and the Sun on your back. The flotilla is getting closer and for a fast second there, the Tall Lady gives you a warm glance of approval and your heart leaps with a profound love you simply will never be able to describe.
Keep swimming, you think with a happy heart. This is what I was meant to do. I’m a swimmer! I’m a swimmer!
Did that clear things up? How ‘bout this?
If you cannot solve for X, that sa-weet paycheck from the Robotics Lab you talked your way into will never make direct deposit before they escort you to the parking lot with a stiff boot and a picture of your face on the gate. Only people who can solve for ‘X’ are allowed to build robots.
I have more:
To be a Gunfighter, you must be a gunfighter.
Wanna ride a horse, but only seen it done on YouTube? It looks easy as corn flakes in a cup, don’t it? Go ahead get on buddy. Better yet, jump on that bitch’s back. I want to see what happens.
Competition Rodeo Cowboys wear armored vests now. Even the cowboy hats have reinforced steel-mesh with padding like football helmets. These are highly skilled, experienced riders who know what happens when mistakes are made. Would you choose to sit on the shoulders of a half-ton absolute maniac if that creature wants you off its back more than anything else?
I hope not.