Important Note: Kindle Scout shut down in May, 2018.
This post is for anyone who is interested in running a Kindle Scout campaign but isn't quite sure where to start. I have more posts about the system, including a guide to all of the campaigns I've run before and a list of services that you should check out for getting views (paid and free).
However, if you're interested in getting some more in-depth analysis about these programs and the information listed below, then you might want to check out my guidebook about the program to figure out the basics of Kindle Scout.
What is Kindle Scout?
Amazon used to have an annual competition to publish books where anyone could enter and then a select number of people won contracts. That was great, but then Amazon decided that it would be better to create a reader powered publishing system that was ongoing rather than annual. The idea is, people can vote on books they like over a 30 day period, and then the editors will pick books to publish under the Kindle Press Imprint.
What you need:
- A 50,000+ word completed (edited) book
- A cover
- A blurb
- A tagline
You submit this to them, they create a campaign page, and for 30 days people can look at your page and nominate your book. You get daily stats about how many people are looking at your book, but you can't see how many actually nominate. You can also see time spent on the Hot & Trending list, which showcases the top twenty books being nominated at that current time.
If you win, you get:
- A $1,500 advance
- Targeted Amazon marketing (very powerful)
- You keep paperback rights
- Easy rights reversion if your book doesn't take off
And quite a few authors have sold 10,000 plus copies in their first year after getting selected by this program. The thing is, Amazon only accepts about 1-3% of the books submitted through this system, so it is important to find ways of floating to the top of the pile. People argue all the time that page views and hot & trending don't matter, but that doesn't seem to be the case, and if anything it matters more than it did when the program was brand new. The competition is tougher and they have already picked over 200 books.
This blog post is designed to help people stand out by finding a way to build your campaign and drive people to your listing. You don't have to spend money, and many people don't, but if you're going to then I want to help you find the best possible avenues to spend that money effectively!
Should You Pay for Views?
Should you spend money on your Kindle Scout Campaign? When it comes to Kindle scout and spending money and why hot and trending and pageviews matter, there are a few launch elements to keep in mind:
Sales and also-boughts contribute to how Amazon recommends books. If your book syncs up high on another books also-bought list, then amazon will recommend your book to people who read the first book, and it caps to display 100 books (but could be considerably higher). Likewise, a book that is selling very well is more likely to be recommended by amazon to new readers, so getting sales begets more sales. Reviews show amazon how well their system is working, and thereby contribute a community opinion of the book that helps when recommending.
Kindle Scout books that are chosen are given to everyone who nominated two weeks before launch, and reviews are allowed to be loaded onto the book before launch. This doesn't contribute to sales, but it does contribute to also-boughts and reviews. This can give your book a huge leg up on recommendations, which means more sales, which in turn means more reviews and also-boughts. It's a sort of self-feeding cycle, and so the more pageviews/nominations you get the stronger the initial push to this cycle.
However, you don't need any of this to have a successful book launch, and many books are able to come out in one day and almost immediately attain huge success on the quality of the writing. Kindle Scout is willing to invest in these titles as well, because the goal is to add good content to their library. The best case scenario is good content and this early boost of also-boughts and reviews.
So, no, you don't have to spend any money to get selected. The biggest problem you face revolves around the possibility of not getting picked: investing in page views and nominations is essentially investing in your book's launch, and the more you get the stronger your launch is. However, if your book isn't chosen, then all of that investment is for nothing.
Hence, if you invest, you're essentially gambling that money, and either it can be a huge investment that will pay off in your book's launch through Kindle Scout, or it is a complete waste that could have been better spent on your actual book launch after you are declined.
One way to hedge your bets is, in your thank you note invite people to follow your newsletter for a free copy post launch (which essentially attempts to hold onto the benefit of pageviews and nominations) and to try and build excitement about your book, but even that results in an overall loss.
So, no, you don't need to spend money to get selected by Kindle Scout, and if you do spend money you need to think of it more as investing in your book's future than just running this campaign. Do whatever you can to build things up for after the campaign is over with. My goal with this blog (and why I spend money on my campaign) is as much to tell people what did and didn't work for me and help people put their money in the right places.
Hot & Trending List
TLDR: generating real traffic for your book and not worrying about nominations is the way to go.
Hot and trending is based on an algorithm that is completely internal to amazon. We can, however, extrapolate how it works based on similar algorithms (for example, we know that reviews with more "like if helpful" clicks are worth more than comparable reviews that aren't liked)
Most likely it takes page views and nominations into account, as well as data over several days and sticky hot and trending hours (it's harder to knock a book off of hot and trending to get on than it is to stay on once you're up there). Most likely it takes page view to nomination ratios into account as well (if 50 people look at your book in a day and only 2 nominated, then it probably is a lot worse off than 15 people looking at your book and the same 2 nominating).
It also probably takes into account how many clicks come internal links from kindle scout compared to external (did you send a friend to the site by direct link, or did someone browse KS website and decide take a look) because that would give them analytics about how good your cover is. Most likely, a browse while not on hot and trending is worth more than a browse while it is trending, because if someone will just find your book from a list of 300 books and choose to click yours, that is worth more than someone skimming a list of 20 and picking yours.
Everything probably has some averaging weight to find an overall value, and it seems that the hot and trending list is a placeholder list that is randomized over pages (ie, your book might end up in slot 5 on the hot and trending list, and over the course of the day slot 5 spends equal time on pages 1-5 of hot and trending. If you jump onto the list and take slot 5 from another author, then the slot itself continues its trek through the page listings so that no single H&T book stays on page 1 the entire time). The list is definitely random, thereby obfuscating the process even further. Also, I would bet that TSOP "Time spent on page" matters quite a bit too. If people just click the link and nominate, then scout assumes that's a friend/fan nomination, whereas if someone spends 10 minutes or so on your page reading everything you wrote, and then they nominate, scout can say "this user read and liked the entry and voted" instead of "this user is just clicking to support the author".
Essentially, it's probably a fairly complicated algorithm, but all you need to know is getting eyeballs to your page is the important thing. They added in protections because in the first year of kindle scout people could just remove and reapply their own nomination over and over again to get on and stay on hot and trending (which is why there was a flurry of "ZOMG MY BOOK WAS HOT AND TRENDING THE ENTIRE TIME AND DIDN'T GET PICKED" blog and forum posts from people complaining (hence why a lot of blog posts are utterly useless about the early days of kindle scout). Now, my bet is that someone removing and reapplying a nomination multiple times is a negative for your book (to discourage cheating) or at least has a net neutral effect on your ranking.
In any case, the only thing you can control is traffic. Getting as many people to look at your page and read the content you've provided is what gets you noticed. Analytics are insanely powerful, so their algorithm could literally include almost anything, but the paltry details they give us access to make it impossible to accurately predict which analytics they care about.
Hopefully, some of this information was helpful for you in making up your mind about what to do with your Kindle Scout campaign. I'll keep updating it with new options and add new services as I find them. If I missed any that you want me to test out or mention then link them in the comments below. If/when I run more campaigns I'll make sure to test them out and add them to the list!
Let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree with my assessments and what your experience has been with some of these programs. Also, check out my Guidebook for more information about the basics of running a campaign and for more tips and tricks not mentioned here!
I also have an indepth look at the Hot & Trending list and how pageviews work in the guidebook, so that might help you understand better how those work.
Is it worthwhile for Amazon to give away free copies?
Based on how book sales work, the idea that getting too many nominations is bad is not at all how things work for Kindle Scout. There are multiple reasons why giving away a lot of books here is in yours (and Amazon's) best interest.
Virtually any category in the world for your book has a readership of at least a few million, and upwards of tens of millions, possible purchasers/readers.
When a new book is released by a major publisher, they give out ARC copies (sometimes 5-15 thousand) to generate early readership and interest. This is a way to get your book noticed and get it into the hands of the market for reviews, publicity, etc.
Further Analysis of Kindle Scout
Amazon is asking readers to nominate your book and in return they are giving away free copies. Then, they ask for reviews.
Let's say you get 5,000 page views (which is way higher than most campaigns will ever get, and almost double the average and median).
We could generously say 50% of those will result in nominations, so let's call it 2,500 nominations. Of those nominations, about half will actually ever bother to claim their book from Amazon, so 1,250 people claim your book.
That is quite a few less than a traditional publisher, BUT (and this is a big one) there are some MAJOR benefits Amazon works in compared to a traditional publisher.
- Copies show up as purchased copies, which trigger Also-Boughts
- Reviews can be posted before launch, which means your launch has an advantage. Also, these reviews are 'verified' which is a MUCH more important distinction than it was two weeks ago.
- Amazon is soliciting reviews, not you
Honestly, the biggest advantage is the also-bought list, because Amazon is effectively tying together Kindle Scout books to drive sales to highly engaged readers. For example, right now there is a Kindle Scout book Amazon promoted that is number 120 in the store (and has sold probably around 15,000 copies just this month). With the also-bought list, if people who nominated your book also nominated that, you can get pulled up to their list as 'books people also bought' which can drive huge sales to your book. Because these nominations result in 'purchases' it is a self-feeding thing where you can create a strong positive correlation.
The more nominations you got, the stronger your correlation, and the more likely amazon is to recommend your book to a LOT of readers without even counting the actual kindle scout promotions.
Conversely, if you don't get a lot of nominations, sure you aren't giving away some free copies (I would bet the normal KS giveaway count is more like 250-300 at most) but you also aren't building these correlations and triggering a sales rank. The trick to make your book sell long term is driving sales and building strong correlations with popular books. Amazon is doing that for you, and getting as MANY people to accept free copies through Kindle Scout as possible will seriously help your book long-term.
Going back to the verified purchase...Amazon has always considered verified reviews to be superior to non-verified, but now they are taking it a step further and actively suppressing non-verified reviews, which means having more verified will help in your book's visibility. Moreover, Amazon is working around the new ToS changes for free copies because these are technically purchased copies, despite being free.
So, reasonably unless you get something like 100,000 page views and 50,000 nominations, you can't possibly get too many to actually harm your chances of getting picked. Even then, it probably wouldn't hurt your book because your resulting rank would be so high. Amazon WANTS to give away these copies, because unless you are looking at a very very small picture, they benefit your book in every way.
What is Next For Me?
I write a lot of books, and I also write a lot of posts about Kindle Scout, Indie Authors, and more. Will I put more blog posts about Kindle Scout?
Will I try more books through Kindle Scout for publishing?
Most likely. Who knows what the future holds...