Waiting for the pundits to vote on Amazon's new 'Kindle Scout'

Waiting for the pundits to vote on Amazon's new 'Kindle Scout'

The name of the new programme rolled out, it seems, at 3:01 a.m. Eastern time in the United States today by Amazon is "Kindle Scout." And the way to understand that name is to think like a reader: Amazon is inviting you to be a "scout" for something called "Kindle Press." My colleague Sarah Shaffi at The Bookseller has the basic report for you.

Kindle Press is not an Amazon Publishing (APub) imprint. It appears to be a name for the production process that will be applied to a book accepted for publication in the new Kindle Scout programme.

And any author who is contemplating participation in the Kindle Scout initiative from Seattle will do well to remember that most of the material online about the new development -- liveried with brightly colored cartoons -- is customer-facing.

From KindleScoutAmazon.comIndeed, make that reader-facing, "to be PC about it," as our colleague Marcello Vena quipped Saturday in Frankfurt. It was one of Vena's better moments in a Master Class I produced there with him and Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors: he posited that it now is politically correct in publishing to refer to our customers as "readers."

And for those readers, Amazon has produced an infinitely cute video you'll find here with good-time looping music. Can we do nothing without a cute video anymore? This one, deploying that omnipresent commercial millennial voice that seems to be on all such productions, reveals the real secret of Kindle Scout at 0:52 in the tape:

Continue to champion the books of the authors you help bring to light -- by leaving reviews and sharing with friends. 

Get it? Don't just pick a book you like. Help sell it.

What Amazon is doing here is capitalising on the secondary element of crowdsourcing, the apparently automatic bond. As crowdfunding enthusiasts can tell you, when a backer makes a donation, he or she tends to bond with the project in question.

In several panel appearances I've moderated, Amanda and Hellen Barbara of Pubslush have been quick to mention this crowd-support element as being virtually as valuable as monetary contributions to a book's campaign. When things go well, they'll tell you, a project comes out not only with money but also with fans. 

Amazon's Kindle Scout is not crowdfunding. "Scouts" are not asked for money. But it's building on the fandom that seems to be inherent in the crowdsourcing phenomenon. You, as the reader-"scout" in the programme, become an advocate for the books you've chosen, part of that work's street team to help sell, sell, sell that book when Kindle Press produces it. 

The next great story? Is in your hands. Be a Kindle Scout and help us welcome the next generation of Kindle talent.

This is buy-in. The readers are buying into their supposed role. The future of the next great story is in their hands!

Now, in actuality, the votes of eager Kindle-Scout readers earnestly labouring to bring us the next great story may not weigh in a book's favour -- or against it. A book will have 30 days "to impress as many readers as possible." The carefully written video script says that after 30 days, the votes from Kindle Scouts for a book "will be tallied." It does not say that the tally will, in fact, govern whether a book is published. Indeed, it does not say that the tally of votes for a book will be announced. 

Here's a helpful bit of information from 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.

So, no, the keys to the kingdom are not actually being handed to the readers. And, having met The Crowd personally, myself, I consider this to be good news. 

The quick look

From KindleScoutAmazon.comI like this set of "basics" about the programme from Amazon's highly informative pages on the approach. If you're not up on what we're talking about, here are the fundamental factors in Kindle Scouting:

  • A book is a new, never-before-published work that you’d like to see get published.
  • An author is the person who has written and submitted a book to Kindle Scout.
  • Readers scout the site and nominate books they want to see published.
  • Nominations are how readers show support for a book. Readers can nominate up to three books at a time.
  • A campaign is a 30-day scouting period during which readers nominate books to be published.     
  • The Kindle Scout team makes the final call on which books are published by Kindle Press.
  • Kindle Press publishes the books discovered through Kindle Scout. 

Authorial aspects

From KindleScoutAmazon.comWhat we do know is that when a reader-Scout-crowdist considers voting for a book, the author will have given Amazon a 45-day exclusivity period.

During that 45 days -- and authors can submit only one MS at a time -- the programme will decide whether to offer readers a chance to vote on it. 

The previously unpublished manuscript must be in one of three genres: Romance, Romance, or Romance.

Okay, I'm kidding. The three genres are Romance; Mystery and Thriller; Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The FAQ for readers notes that you can tell Amazon if "you have a genre you really want to see." I'm busily proposing literary, of course. Holding my breath, too.

If an author's "never-before-published" manuscript in one of those three genres is chosen for presentation to the Scouts, Amazon then creates a "campaign page" for the book -- here's a sample. That's the vehicle the company uses, then, to display books to the Scouts for their voting consideration. All of this is happening within the 45-day initial exclusivity period the author gives Amazon.

"Never-before-published," interestingly, does not include Wattpad. Again, from the FAQ:

Never-before-published just means that your book should not have been made available for sale anywhere in the past, in any format, including on Amazon. However, manuscripts that have appeared on blogs or social media sites — where you share drafts of your work, but can’t receive money for them — are eligible. Review the Kindle Scout Eligibility & Content Guidelines for other eligibility requirements.

Some more elements of submission, just out of interest:

  • No collaborations -- only manuscripts created by one author are eligible. (We crowd-support, we don't crowd-produce.)
  • Language? -- English.
  • Can you submit a book that's part of a series? -- bring it.
  • What if you submit a manuscript and it's not accepted for presentation to the Scouts? -- all is not lost: "You will be given the opportunity to make changes and re-submit." 

The message to publishing: Only connect 

Since, as usual, there seems little chance of literary fiction being helped by this latest moment in the heady swirl of digital publishing, I can't resist bringing in our friend E.M. Forster's great line from Howard's End:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.

It's the whole of my sermon, too. The prose and the passion. That's what Amazon is connecting.

From KindleScoutAmazon.comAt Frankfurt Book Fair last week, the notion of connection with readers pervaded the halles of the Messe like the humidity of Oktoberfest Bavaria. It's little short of a gas these days, an effluvium wafting over publishing in great clouds and usually with a slight whiff of guilt on the breeze: "legacy" publishing was no good at connecting with readers. We know this now. The old guard connected with buyers and distributors, leaving faithful bookshop keepers to do all the connecting with readers. Otherwise known as the selling.

The Kindle Scout programme is yet another instance in which our new, dominant publisher-retailer knows to connect, or at least knows to create exercises like this that evoke a sense of connection.

And what a connection: this is two-way stuff, remember. Readers not only get to preview "the next great story" and lobby for it, you know. Authors will also  be working the sainted crowd, trying to gin up votes for their campaign pages. Prepare for the emails now, the vote-for-my-book tweets, the Facebookery of it all.

Amazon knows, maybe better than any other force these days in publishing that the way to market lies through the hearts of committed consumers. Not for nothing is it called Prime.

And is it real? Stand by for the punditry

To me, this is the interesting question.

Make no mistake, if this is what an author wants, then I'm as happy as the next guy to see that writer get Seattle's $1,500 advance, 50-percent royalty on his or her ebook, 25 percent on audio, 20 percent on ebook-in-translation. (Here are the terms for Kindle Scout -- critical reading for authors.)

And sure, my guess is that if the excerpt posted on a "campaign page" for a book gets the votes of several thousand people and another book gets only a few votes, this may, in fact, weigh in the Kindle Press team's decisions.

We end in a bit of a dilemma, a contradiction.

  • On one hand, we want to feel that any time we approach the readership, we do it in good faith. If we tell them their Scout-ly votes count, then yes, those votes should count. For integrity's sake.
  • On the other hand, I'd like to think that the Kindle Press team -- and I wonder who that is -- will be vested with enough editorial savvy and actionable authority to thumbs-up or thumbs-down a work without being enslaved to the cartoons-and-cute-video crowd's happy-votes. For books' sake. 

Not so easy to parse, is it? 

Publishing must connect, yes. In many instances, Amazon has shown us the way. But all instances are not created equal. Kindle Scout may be super. It may be a dud.

The best thing we can do at the moment -- and our pundits will not cooperate -- is wait and see. Let it run a bit. Watch what comes of it before forming our opinions. But no, the wonders of Crowds and Power, Mr. Canetti, have never seemed to include the ability to muzzle the prediction-crazed fops who will, as ever, pile on to tell us what they believe will happen and how grand or silly it all is.

Publishing is continually taxed by its loud-mouthed commentators whose mission is to be "right" about one outcome or another. You could hear their voices through the fog of Frankfurt, as usual, dispensing their guesses like divine inspiration.

Here they come now to intone their impressions of Kindle Scout. You'll see the blogs run red with their forecasts. 

Wait and see how it goes? Not even Amazon can give us a vote on that one.

Main image from Amazon Kindle Scout introductory video.