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Friday, May 22, 2015

Scouting for Good Books?

By Linda Lovely

Who doesn’t want to take advantage of something that’s free?

Readers who enjoy Kindle ebooks have tons of opportunities to download free books. Now they have one more—Amazon’s Kindle Scout program (https://kindlescout.amazon.com/).

Here’s how it works. Readers visit the site and peruse prospective titles in their favorite genres (romance, mystery, science fiction, general literature) by clicking on a book cover and reading a short blurb about the book. If it sounds interesting, they can read the book’s opening chapters. Then, if they think they’d like to read the whole book, they can “nominate” it for an Amazon publishing contract, and if Amazon elects to publish it, they’ll get their copy of the chosen title free. However, during any given time period, readers can only nominate three books. That keeps folks from clicking on every title in their preferred genres. In theory, this selection process provides a curator service. Only the best books of the lot gain publication.

Okay, what’s in it for authors? If Amazon chooses to publish their books, they get a $1,500 advance, 50% ebook royalty, and hopefully, a promotional boost from Amazon marketing. That’s why I’m considering offering my new book, LIES, to the Kindle Scout program. Of course, that doesn’t mean Amazon will choose LIES as one of its offerings. Who knows what criteria they use to select Kindle Scout titles, but I’m certain there are many factors unrelated to book quality (just like there are in traditional publishing) that go into decision making. For instance, if they’ve just put up two vampire related titles in the Sci Fi, Fantasy category, they might bypass an even better vampire book for the sake of variety.

Many authors, me included, are somewhat gun shy about programs like Kindle Scout because they are in essence popularity contests and we don’t like begging friends, family, and fellow authors to nominate our books to get the ball rolling. However, the potential promise of Amazon promotion is a powerful incentive. Plus, if your book doesn’t win an Amazon contract, you can go right ahead with your previous plans to independently publish the title. The only downside is that all those friends you begged to nominate you now know that your book “lost.” Will that influence their willingness to spend money to buy the book? Who knows?

Free books can be a curse or a bonanza for authors, who often offer books for free (or next to free) in the hope that if new readers sample one of their books and like it, they’ll buy their other books. It’s the age-old loss leader strategy. Authors even pay promotional bundlers for the privilege of offering their books free. The problem is that many readers have become so accustomed to downloading books for free that they no longer see a need to buy any books. In other instances, readers have downloaded so many free books it may be months—maybe years—before they actually read the free books they download today. In this case, the author “payback” of such readers buying their other books may take so long, they’ve given up on a writing career.

Nonetheless, we authors are a determined lot. I’m willing to give Kindle Scout a try. If they choose to put up LIES, you may well be hearing from me with a “Please consider nominating” plea.
So authors and readers, how do you feel about “free” ebooks?

8 comments:

Ashantay said...

My first book was offered free by the publisher through Kindle for 90 days. Out of about five thousand downloads, I had just twenty reviews and no discernible uptick in sales. But then, it was my debut and owning no back list was problematic. I've heard that having at least five books and promoting ceaselessly works best. Whichever way you go, I'll support your choice!

Linda Lovely said...

Ashantay, I think "free" books used to be a better promotional tool for authors before the market was flooded. That said, indy and hybrid authors don't have a lot of other promo options. At least with Kindle Scout the author receives some compensation for the free downloads.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thanks for explaining Kindle Scout to us,Linda. How does Amazon compensate authors for the free downloads?

Linda Lovely said...

Sarah,
It's not truly a one-to-one compensation. No matter how many people nominate you and earn free downloads, you will still get the same $1,500 advance. However, it does assure the author that she will get something for her efforts.

Judith Ashley said...

Interesting post, Linda. Please keep us informed as to how "Lies" does. I absolutely love the cover!

I've also heard that you really do need a back list to get your author career in gear - and I heard the number as low as 5 and as high as 15. I'm publishing my 5th book in early June so my fingers are crossed that that along with concentrated marketing/social media/etc. my sales will increase.

I've very mixed feelings about "free" books. I've not heard that they translate that well into sales just like Ashantay said. I think of all the time, effort, sweat and money I've put into my stories/books and the idea of giving them away free sits sour in my stomach.

Linda Lovely said...

Judith, I'm with you in terms of free being a poor choice for continuous promotion. Over time, it devalues our efforts and encourages readers to expect books to be free. That said I have author friends who have had good success with the tactic. BUT, they had multiple books and were early adaptors.

Nadine Mutas said...

Thanks for explaining Kindle Scout! I'm one of those authors who hate begging for likes/votes, so the program wouldn't be for me. I hope your book does well, though!

As for free books, from what I've gathered in my author loops, it's still a powerful promotional tool, but only if the free book is the first in a series and has several sequels to follow. It seems that the free book does translate to more visibility/exposure and, ultimately, more sales of the subsequent books in the same series.

Pippa Jay said...

I'm another author who doesn't want to constantly be badgering friends, followers and readers for likes/votes/reviews etc. I have a couple of permanently free reads available (as part of an anthology and a stand alone short story) and I've done two sessions of KU for my other short stories, but overall none of those have driven sales of my other books despite having a backlist. I've still a few things to test out, including making book one of a series free when the sequel is released, but otherwise I'm not making anything else free in the foreseeable future. It's good to have another option like Kindle Scout, but it's not for me.