Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons of Amazon's New Crowdsourced Publishing Program

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Yesterday, Amazon's brand-new crowdsourced publishing program, Kindle Scout, opened for voting by the public.The concept is pretty simple:
Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.
Authors can submit their full manuscripts of 50,000 words or more (including cover art, various metadata items, and an author photo), about 5,000 words of which are posted on the Kindle Scout website for a 30-day "campaign". Readers can then browse books and nominate their favorites. If a manuscript they've voted for gets published, they receive a free ebook.

Things authors should note:
  • Amazon provides no editing, copy editing, proofreading, or cover art/illustration. Your book will be published exactly as you submit it.
  • Submissions are exclusive for 45 days from the date you submit your manuscript. No shopping your ms. elsewhere during that time.
  • Submitted manuscripts must meet content and eligiblity guidelines. Currently, only Romance, Mystery and Thriller, and SF/Fantasy are eligible.
  • Crowdsourcing? Not so much. Authors are encouraged to mobilize their networks for voting (which kind of undermines the notion that manuscripts will rise to the top on merit--a perennial problem of crowdsourced ventures, along with the potential for gaming the system). Mere vote numbers, however, don't determine what gets published. Per the FAQ, "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."
  • If you're attracted by the promise of "featured Amazon marketing", here's what it actually consists of: "Kindle Press books will be enrolled and earn royalties for participation in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited as well as be eligible for targeted email campaigns and promotions." Key word here: "eligible." In other words, no promises.
  • If you're not selected for publication, you must request removal of your work from the Kindle Scout site. Otherwise, your campaign page will remain online.
  • By submitting, you agree in advance to the terms of the Kindle Press publishing agreement. These terms are not negotiable. So before you submit, be sure you're comfortable with them. (If Amazon chooses not to publish your ms., you're automatically released).
So, what about that publishing agreement?

Overall, it's decent. The grant of rights (for ebook and audio editions only--though see below) renews every five years, but you can request reversion at the end of any five-year term if you've earned less than $25,000 in royalties during the term, or at any time after your two-year publication anniversary if you've earned less than $500 in the previous 12 months. Royalties are 50% of net for ebooks and 25% of net for audiobooks, paid within 60 days of the end of the month. And of course, there's the $1,500 advance.

Things authors should note:
  • The grant of rights is a bit more sweeping than it appears:
    • The grant of rights includes translation rights. If these are exercised by Amazon, your royalty drops to 20% of net. (On the plus side, if Amazon has not exercised or licensed these rights within two years, you can request that they be reverted.)
    • Amazon can license to third parties any of the rights you've granted. You get 75% of net proceeds for foreign-language books licensed to third parties, and 50% of net proceeds for any other format.
    • The grant of rights allows Amazon not just to publish and/or license ebooks and audiobooks, but to "create condensed, adapted, abridged, interactive and enhanced editions of your Work, and include your Work in anthology or omnibus editions."
  • For "subscription or other blended fee programs" (for instance, Kindle Unlimited), net revenue "will be determined in accordance with the standard revenue allocation methods for that program." So be sure you're aware of what those are.
  • Amazon "may" register copyright for you, but is not required to do so.
  • As always, Amazon maintains complete discretion and control, and can make decisions and changes without telling you. "You acknowledge that we have no obligation to publish, market, distribute or offer for sale your Work, or continue publishing, marketing, distributing or selling your Work after we have started doing so. We may stop publishing your Work and cease further exploitation of the rights granted in this Agreement at any time in our sole discretion without notice to you." (my emphasis) These are not sentences you'll find in a typical publishing contract.
So should authors rush to submit their unpublished novels?

On the plus side, there's the advance (money up front is nice), the possibility of subrights sales, the promotional boost that published books will receive from the selection process--at least while the program is new--and whatever promotions Amazon may (not necessarily will--see above) undertake for individual books. Amazon's on-site promotions (as distinct from its email promotions, which can be spammy; you haven't lived until you've gotten an Amazon email promotion for your own book) are incredibly powerful, and can have a huge impact on sales numbers--though that effect doesn't necessarily last past the promotion itself. It's possible, also, that gaining a toehold in Amazon's publishing ecosystem could eventually open the door to one of Amazon Publishing's traditional imprints--for some authors, at least.

On the other hand, Kindle Scout seems to occupy an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither. As with a traditional publisher, you must agree to an exclusive contract that takes control of certain of your rights--but you don't get the editing, proofing, artwork, or any of the other financial investments that a traditional publisher would provide. As with self-publishing, your book is published exactly as you submit it, with no developmental input or support--but you don't have control of pricing and you receive a smaller percentage of sales proceeds than you would with KDP.

For Amazon, Kindle Scout is super-low risk publishing with the potential for substantial yield--not just from books that prove popular but from the influx of new users to its website. For authors, it's the usual dilemma: does what you may gain outweigh what you don't get, and what you must give up?

As always, don't rush in. Read and understand the Kindle Scout publishing agreement, and be sure you're comfortable with the other conditions to which you're agreeing by submitting your manuscript. Be realistic in your expectations--not just of the possibility of publication, but of what might result if you're selected.

And please--don't spam your entire social network with requests for votes.

UPDATE, 10/30/14: Amazon's right to ebooks and audiobooks is exclusive, but I've been asked whether the Kindle Scout publishing agreement would allow authors to self-publish in print. The answer would appear to be "yes". Here's the relevant language (my emphasis): "All rights not expressly granted to us in this Agreement (including the right to publish print editions) are reserved for your sole use and disposition."

Also, here's author Benjamin Sobieck's first impressions of his Kindle Scout campaign. He makes some interesting observations.

UPDATE, 12/3/14: Just four weeks after Kindle Scout officially launched, the first books have been selected for publication. That seems incredibly fast. I wish Amazon were more transparent about stats, so we could know how many books were submitted to the program and how many readers participated.

UPDATE 1/20/15: It's been confirmed to me that at least some Kindle Scout winners do receive editorial suggestions and cover assistance.

UPDATE 7/16/15: Still more on editing: according to author Victoria Pinder, whose book was chosen for the program, "The Kindle Scout winners all talk to each other, and we’ve all received edits. Some people received some heavy developmental editing. Truthfully, I didn’t....The team still found quite a few things I needed to do to polish and clean in the manuscript so I still had editing. I can also say more than one set of eyes read my manuscript from the Kindle Scout team. The editor comments were done on different dates with different names."

23 comments to Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons of Amazon’s New Crowdsourced Publishing Program

  • D Levin

    From both a business perspective and as a novelist, I having extensively studied this kind of model for an alternative to traditional publishing that offers readers and authors the opportunity to separate the worthy from the slop. I’m not sure this does so, although I’m sure Amazon will promote/argue that it does.

    From what I can determine from the outlines of the program, Amazon is primarily interested in making money from the crowd-source evaluations, whether the books have any literary value or not. Hence, I’d say that Amazon giving its half-blessing on the winners of the crowd-source voting is not a mark of quality that make the offering worthy of a reader’s time and money. That explains why they keep the internal review criteria a secret, but I can deconstruct what those criteria probably are and they have little or nothing to do with quality of writing.

    Once Amazon considers they might “publish”, they want to avoid liability so they first make sure as best as they can that the work isn’t plagiarized. Next, they review it to be confident that there’s nothing libelous or used without authorization, or that may get them into legal trouble. (That’s why they reserve the right to modify without the author’s permission.) They probably also investigate the author’s background to make sure they aren’t backing a criminal. All of this is very reasonable, of course, but it’s not relevant to the quality of a work of fiction.

    On the contract side, $1500 cash is a huge incentive and Amazon rightly feels that is fair compensation for even the minimal investment it is making in a previously unpublished work from an author with no agent and no mass audience. I give them that one. I’m surprise they give cash at all, frankly.

    The primary flaw I see in the process is that unless the novels have some literary value beyond some sort of mass-market appeal, most will never achieve very much in sales or have the chance for the real payday of film rights or, better yet, actually being made into a film. If, say, Pit Bulls vs. Aliens had a great story and solid writing, it might get some on that interest. Otherwise it’s just camp.

    What I’d like to see happen in the publishing industry is sort of the reversal of the Kindle Scout model. Instead of an open slush pile where the person with the most friends wins an undeserved endorsement, turn the process around and have the potential publisher do a preliminary review with open evaluation criteria, then submit those that get past that first screening to the crowd for less biased evaluations of which books they would buy.

    That first step is expensive and nobody in traditional publishing has found a way to adequately deal with the slush pile problem. Reading is time-consuming and expensive, even if you hire English major interns to do the reading. That’s why traditional publishers pushed that off onto agents, who either don’t do it at all or judge based on the first 1000 words at most. So Amazon ignores the quality filter of an editorial function and lets the crowd do it for free. And they get what they pay for.

    If, however, Amazon used its resources to invest in some readers, required authors to submit completed works with a modest fee to cover the reading cost (this could be two-tiered), then submitted the works to the crowd, the ones that came out would be worthy of publication with just a small advance (say $500) and the public will know that the winners ARE worth their time and money.

    Authors hate paying reading fees, I know, but I don’t see any other way to separate the gold the tailings. And this model is not much different from a contest which pays a fee, except once a work passed the preliminary review then the crowd can weigh in.

    Sooner or later, some publishing with some juice will settle on this model and it will work, but it’s not Kindle Scout and probably won’t be Amazon.

  • D M Rodgers

    I understand that this is only for USA writers, and that it isn’t available for the rest fo the world, inc. the UK? Amazon has a UK version site so why can’t they have the same for the UK (or any other counrty that has an Amazon site?

  • Victoria Strauss


    Thanks for your comment! I wish you all success with your book.

    Anytime you put a digital edition online, you’re opening yourself up to piracy. That’s as true for ebook self-publishing as it is for print self-publishing (and in fact, more likely). So do shop around for a print self-pub provider (CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and Lulu all have good reputations), but don’t let fear of piracy stop you.

  • I did the Scout and did not get picked up. I shopped around for other venues and then decided to use my book as my first self published book. I’m glad I didn’t get picked up by Scout. Now I get 70 percent of my sales instead of 35. I don’t mind not using any other markets. I have other books with other vendors and see no sales from them. Amazon has the attention of the majority of readers.

    That being said, I won’t be using Create Space should I decide to publish a print book. I’m hesitant to put my print book online. Too many pirates and I understand that printers are selling my books at cost without giving commission. So I’m going to approach any printing with extreme caution.

  • Victoria Strauss

    I don’t think the Kindle Scout program has been around long enough to really know what Amazon intends to do with it. Is it a farm team for their traditional imprints? Is it a kind of long-tail content mill, where they invest little enough that they can make money on a big catalog even if many of the books sell poorly? I think we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. If you do try for Kindle Scout, I think you should do it because you like the program, not because you think it might take you somewhere else.

    Unless you were able to leverage Hugh Howey-levels of ebook sales (in which case I’m guessing Amazon would try to snap you up), I doubt a trad pub would want print rights only. Print publishers typically want e-rights and print as a bundle, to maximize return on their investment. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it would have to be a pretty unusual situation.

  • Excellent information, Victoria. Do you have any thoughts on what the odds of a Kindle Scout book making it into one of the Amazon imprints
    is, assuming it gets high nominations and the Scouts think it’s a great book? Second, do you think a traditional publisher would be interested in buying just the print rights, assuming that Scout sales on Amazon prove that your novel has good readership? All part of the equation I’m doing :-)

  • [...] a useful post from Victoria Strauss that summarises the pros and cons of Kindle Scout – be sure to read the comments under the post for more [...]

  • Victoria Strauss

    Be aware that “sales price” means the actual price the consumer pays–which is not necessarily the list or cover price. For instance, the list price for your book might be $9.99, but Amazon might decide to discount it to $3.99, in which case you’d get 50% of $3.99 (not 50% of $9.99).

  • As someone giving serious thought to submitting my recently-completed novel to the Kindle Scout program, some of the talk about net versus gross revenues cocerned me. After doing a Google search, I found the following comment at the website of Steve Gannon, whose novel L.A.Sniper was recently contracted for publication by Kindle Scout. Here’s what he had to say:

    “When I queried Amazon on this issue, their response was as follows: “With regards to the 50% eBook royalty rate, the 50% is exactly the way KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) calculates royalties. It’s 50% of sales price. The only things we deduct are electronic delivery costs, and any returns from customers or any bad transactions by customers (who use bad credit cards, etc.) – again the exact deductions KDP makes.”

    Here’s the link, for those whi’d like to read further:

  • Victoria Strauss

    I don’t think YA books were excluded, as such. I’m guessing that Amazon just limited genres for the rollout of the program to make it more manageable. It’s probably also not coincidental that the 3 genres they chose are top sellers on Kindle (YA is not one of the top-selling ebook genres, at least at the moment).

    If Kindle Scout is successful, I’m sure we’ll see added genres. In the meantime, even for the authors whose genres are currently being accepted, there’s good reason to think twice about submitting to Kindle Scout. In my opinion, anyway.

  • Melvin Luster

    I’m a Young Adult author, and wants to know how come we were excluded from the field. I mean, is our genre not important?

  • Victoria Strauss

    Thanks for commenting, Dianne. Please do come back and let me know what happens! Wishing you luck.

  • Hi Victoria!
    I jumped on the program and I’ll let you know how I do. Being as I do my own artwork, its not a loss to me. Also, I have other books published with small presses and have not sold over 500 ebooks in three years, so the figures you posted about what I could make, to me, are sky in the pie. To sell 1200 books ever would cost me a lot of money and time doing it by myself. I am liking the idea of an advance and I’m hoping if I do get picked up by Amazon, the readers do like my work, they’ll take a peek at my other novels as well.

    I find Nook and Google not very lucrative.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am looking at KDP Scout in a much more positive light. We’ll see if they take me.

  • Simon Trelfa

    Thanks very much for that Victoria, this is all very useful to me. I’ll ensure you are properly cited, etc.


  • Victoria Strauss


    I’m happy to have you quote from my post, as long as you provide proper attribution. I’m glad you found my post useful!

  • Simon Trelfa

    Hi Victoria.

    As part of my University portfolio, I’m currently writing an article on the Kindle Scout (as part of a journalism degree). Having read your post – which is wonderfully thorough and informative by the way – you’ve actually answered several questions I did intend to pose to an author such as yourself, and I was wondering if I might have your permission to use a small part of your post in my article? (Said article will NOT be published elsewhere – it is only for marking by tutors as part of my degree and I would only use a selection of your post to reflect your balanced, well-structured opinion).

    Kind regards,

    Simon George Trelfa

  • Victoria Strauss

    You’re welcome. IMO, Kindle Scout is the direction in which Amazon Publishing as a whole (its trad pub arm, not KDP or CreateSpace) is trending: streamlined publishing programs that will put out the maximum number of books for the minimum amount of cost, and cherrypick those that receive retail promotion and support.

  • Thanks so much for giving us the pros and cons of the Kindle Scout program. So much to think about before jumping into this new opportunity (or not) in publishing.

  • Victoria Strauss

    I agree that the Kindle Scout books that will benefit most will be the ones that are first selected, while Amazon is still actively promoting the program, and before the program gets diluted by a deluge of entries. So submitting to the program early may make it worth the risk. It’ll be interesting to take a look at the program a year on, and see what’s happened to the books that were published.

  • Victoria Strauss

    Thanks for commenting, Ben. I’ve updated my post to include your first impressions post–good info for readers to have.

  • I bit the bullet and went in as one of the first campaigns to launch. My reasoning is explained here:

    After spending a few days with my live campaign, I’m still standing on the ground that if this gets picked up by Kindle Press, it has the highest chance of success within that program. It seems like the earlier a writer jumps on board with a new Amazon program, the higher the returns. However, it does seem like Amazon is sitting in soft launch mode. Its social media is silent, which tells me things will ramp up once NaNoWri concludes. I’m happy to have jumped on before that wave hits.

    Here’s my blog post about first impressions of my campaign if you’re interested:

  • A few other points worth noting, Victoria.

    Going with Kindle Scout means you will be exclusive to the Kindle site and automatically lose any chance of finding readers among the 35% of the US ebook market that does not shop at Amazon.

    Which of course is the key purpose of the show – to identify and get exclusive rights to material that might otherwise end up on Apple or Nook or Google Play. Shelling out $1500 to keep a good quality book off a rival site is sound business sense for Amazon. Not so much for the author.

    What indie authors need to ask themselves is why, if Amazon think their book is worth investing in at all, they don’t go the whole way and do it properly through the existing Amazon imprints?

    As it is, Amazon stand to make substantial sums from these books while the author struggles to cover their costs.

    Amazon will pay you 50% of net, not list price. So first Amazon takes 30% of list price for selling the book you paid to have edited, proofed, formatted, covered, etc. THEN it takes half of what’s left as well. Which means in real terms Amazon will be TAKING 65% of list price on every sale.

    What does this mean in the real world of monthly payments?

    It means that for doing absolutely nothing above and beyond what you can do on your own through KDP, you the author will be paid out as follows:

    Pricing at $4.99 (and remember, Amazon decides the price, not you) AMAZON will make $3.25 a sale so will need to sell only 462 copies to make back the advance it paid out.

    The AUTHOR will have to sell 1,200 copies to pay back that advance before they see another cent from Amazon.

    Going it alone if you sold 1,200 copies at $4.99 you’d have $4,200 in the bank. PLUS your sales from other retailers.

    At $3.99 list price Amazon grab $2.60 per sale against your $1.40. You’ll need to sell 1,072 copies just to pay back the advance. Amazon will have made $2,800 off you in that time.

    Going it alone if you sold 1,072 copies at $3.99 you’d have three grand in the bank plus your sales from other retailers.

    At $2.99 Amazon will be taking $1.95 a shot while you get a buck. You’ll need to sell 1,500 copies just to pay back the advance. Amazon will have made nearly three grand off you on those same sales.

    Going it alone that 1,500 sales at the same price you’d have just over three grand in the bank plus your sales from other retailers.

    Unquestionably the first few titles selected will get the full promo they are “eligible” for and do well. Amazon needs this scam to be seen to be successful for the participating authors. But once the word is out that this is the latest road to riches Amazon can then apply the brakes, and just like KU it will be handful of selected authors who become all-stars and are the rest get shafted.

  • [...] Strauss of Writer Beware took a look at the contract and has a post here discussing her analysis.  If you think of going this route, be sure to read the post. Share [...]