Blind the Eyes is down to its final week in Kindle Scout! It’s been a great learning experience, and I’m excited to finish up the competition and get on with sharing this book with all of you.
If you haven’t already, you can go to Kindle Scout and nominate Blind the Eyes as a book you want to read. If it wins, you get a free copy before its release date!
When I first started researching Kindle Scout, there wasn’t a lot of information online from people who had recently gone through the competition, so for those of you who are interested (& for posterity), here’s what I’ve learned so far. I’ll also update after the competition closes with a retrospective.
What is it?
- Kindle Scout is the American Idol of publishing
- Readers vote on pre-published books during a 30 day period
- Editors read the manuscripts at the end of voting
- Amazon publishes the best of the combined editor- and fan-approved books in ebook format
- Amazon sends a free ebook to everyone who voted for (“nominated”) a book that gets published!
That’s it in a nutshell, but of course it’s more complicated behind the scenes. Visit Kindle Scout for their current prerequisites and contract.
To apply for your first campaign, you need:
- Amazon account
- Complete, finished, edited, and proofread manuscript
- Cover image
- 45 character one-liner
- 500 character description
- 500 character author bio
- 500 character Thank you note to be sent to nominators at the end of the campaign
You can also add social media links and a few short Q&A style statements about your work. You’ll choose up to four categories (genres) for your book.
In case you’re not used to thinking in terms of character (not word) counts, this is all REALLY short and limited. Spend some time browsing on the KS site before campaigning. You’ll see that the first thing nominators see is your cover, title and tagline, so those have to pop. If they draw nominators in, they can hover over the cover to read the first half or so of your description, and click to see your campaign page, which includes the cover and tagline, full description, first few chapters of your book, and author bio, links, and any other information you shared. Keep in mind, there are less people looking at your material with each step.
The most important things are: cover, title, and one-liner.
These will automatically be seen by the most people and they’re your chance to draw readers/nominators in. Next most important is your description, then your first lines/first chapters (expect to start losing people after 5-10 words if the opening isn’t strong).
In my campaign, I think choosing a weak one-liner was my biggest mistake. That, and not writing a more popular genre to begin with! At only 45 characters, you’re hard pressed to cover setting, character, and stakes. Same with the description; there’s just not a lot to work with, so your choices have huges impacts.
It’s important to research data that’s as recent as possible; the KS program seems to be growing, and the effort-to-outcome ratio has changed considerably since the early days, and even within the last few months. A lot of early advice emphasized a professional cover and properly edited work would get you noticed. Based on the current stats being shared, you need a way to drive traffic to your campaign. Authors with books that hit and/or stay on the “Hot and Trending” board mostly have large mailing lists and author platforms and/or have paid for third-party marketing to advertise their campaign. That’s not to say that you don’t get organic traffic, and a cover/title/one-liner that really hits a hook or genre tropes that people love could theoretically rise to the top if it’s lucky enough to stay visible long enough, but a well-produced publication-ready book is no longer enough to get noticed on the site.
Why do Kindle Scout at all?
Indie authors in particular may not want to wait the 30-45 days it takes to be released from the Kindle Scout exclusivity period. I chose to participate because it’s free marketing. I was definitely too cocky about my ability to rise to the top without outside marketing efforts (I’ll dive into the data at the end of the campaign), but even without hitting the leaderboard, I was able to get 1k+ new eyeballs on my work at a minimal cost, take the book for a test-run to gauge response, and trial some marketing techniques.
Other benefits: at the end of your campaign, that 500 character “thank you” message you wrote at the beginning gets sent to everyone who nominated you, whether or not you win, so that’s a chance for some list building (I directed people to my newsletter) or asking for ARC readers or whatever other marketing effort you want to do. Additionally, other authors have noted that KS sends an email to your nominators if/when you publish that title to Amazon as a Kindle Edition - so you get another free boost in publicity.
In my case, I entered Blind the Eyes because I felt like it was a win-win whether or not the book gets picked up by Kindle Press. On the one hand, KS/KP gives you a trivial amount of cash upfront ($1.5k: yay - pay for production on the next book!) and may give it a bit of a marketing advantage you win and they publish your ebook. On the other hand, they only pick up books that fit their list closely, like with any traditional publisher, so the chances of actually getting caught in that contract (which isn’t bad by traditional standards, but which is still a bit restrictive) are minimal and you’re really more likely not to win.
On to my experience:
I built up my campaign materials and did some last minute research over the course of a couple days and submitted the application late in the week (Wed/Thurs). It took about two days to hear back that it was approved, and the launch date was two days after that (so, 4 days from upload to public).
My campaign launched at midnight eastern time on a Sunday (Saturday my time). It turns out that launching on a Sunday is ideal, because no new campaigns are posted on Mondays or Tuesdays, so you get an extra couple days of free visibility before newer campaigns bump you off the front page.
If you go to the Kindle Scout website, the landing page has sliders for the following categories:
- Hot & Trending (top 20 books on the site)
- Recently Added
- Ending Soon
- By Genre (so one each for mystery, romance, YA, etc.)
So you get front-page visibility if you reach Hot & Trending, when your campaign is about to end, and when you’re brand new (under both Recently Added and your genre). Here’s the catch: only four books are visible in the sliders at any given time. So, even if you’re in one of those categories, you may not have at-a-glance visibility the whole time. They seem to auto-rotate the ones posted on the same date for more visibility.
The number of new campaigns and total campaigns on the site will limit your organic reach (how many people see your campaign without you sending them there).
Kindle Scout did a promotion for NaNoWriMo people in February and gave free editorial advice on submissions, so that blew up the number of campaigns and made it super hard to get seen in the crowd. If you can, try not to be like me and launch at the busiest time! Ideally you want no more than four new campaigns a day for best visibility and lower competition. Right now (March 2018) there seem to be around 300 campaigns running at any given time, and about 20 spots on the Hot & Trending list available.
When you’re an author in the program, you get a campaign stats page that shows three main metrics:
- Hours in Hot & Trending (aggregate and by day)
- Campaign views (aggregate and by day)
- Traffic sources (percentage and source)
It also shows what other books your nominators have chosen. Mine were all over the map, so people don’t necessarily stick to one genre. What it never tells you is how many people nominate your book vs. view its campaign, or how they rated different aspects of your book incl. cover, tagline, PV, blurb. Which kinda sucks, since the only way you really know if people like your book is if it hits H&T.
I was super lucky to have three days before any new books were posted (because it launched on a Sunday), so I got front page visibility for those three days (and didn’t do any off-site promotions to drive traffic.) I got 272 campaign views the first day, 370 the next day, and 435 the third day (total: 1,077).
My strategy was to take advantage of free visibility for the first few days and do a social media push later in the campaign when things got quieter. Don’t be like me, lol. I was super cocky about my chances because I’d invested a lot in a professional, custom cover and well developed work, and other books in same categories had less polished materials, but the materials I had in my campaign weren’t enough to push me to the Hot & Trending list. It could just be that people didn’t like something about the submission (I regret my one-liner), but if you look at the stories of people who had more success reaching the H&T list, they did an upfront push with social media and paid campaigns to reach it. Once you’re on it, you get more organic views and are more likely to stay on it.
I’d recommending doing a burst of newsletter and social media marketing within the first 24-48 hours of the campaign for best results.
In terms of paid promotions, I did experiment with a few outlets and saw a bit more outside traffic, but not enough to make a difference. I’ll update with complete stats at the end of the campaign, but right now I’m sitting at just under 1.7k views and zero hours on H&T with an ad spend of around USD$50. My rationale: it’s worth a few dollars in marketing to try to get higher visibility, but reaching H&T isn’t a guarantee of a contract, so it’s not worth spending too much on. Kindle Scout doesn’t just publish the most popular books; they’re looking for a book they think they can sell to Kindle Press readers, so there’s absolutely some editorial intervention, but not making the H&T list at all is a sign that it’s not a match for their regular readers.
As with all books, genre matters in terms of audience.
Romance and Mystery writers have the best shot of getting noticed, and stand alone or first in series books tend to get preference.
Verdict: I’d recommend entering.
After all, nearly 2k people just got exposed to my book on a new platform, which is like free advertising. OTOH, they’re people that have a thing for free books, so idk. It sounds like it’ll still take around four months to publish after the campaign if you win, so it’s slow by indie standards, but lightning fast by trad pub standards, and authors seem to be happy with it. I’ve heard a lot of authors saying they try to publish as soon as possible after they hear back if they’re rejected, to take advantage of whatever momentum the campaign has built. Seems like an ok indie author tool to me :)
If you’re thinking of entering, you might want to sit on the site and watch to see if there’s a slowdown in new campaigns you can take advantage of - I think it’d be a lot easier to get votes if you could hold onto your front page visibility longer!