Goodbye, ABNA. Hello, Kindle Scout. (For some.)

As I wrote last year after my own experience with it, I thought Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was a brilliant way for them to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers.

But last year, it turns out, was the final year for ABNA. This January Amazon announced that it has essentially replaced it with Kindle Scout, an ongoing submission process in which authors can put up their books in pursuit of a contract with Kindle Publishing.

How it works

Kindle Scout How It Works -- Amazon illustration

Illustration from Amazon’s Kindle Scout “How It Works” page

Authors upload a copyedited Word manuscript, a short blurb, a description, a cover, and a bio plus author photo, and try to get readers to nominate their book for publication.Those who generate enough buzz to get noticed and meet Kindle Publishing’s editorial requirements might just be accepted for publication with a small advance and what I would consider reasonable contract terms for authors who don’t mind being exclusive to Kindle.

Kindle Scout appears to be a similar to ABNA in that it forces authors to pursue social engagement. It’s also much faster than ABNA — in thirty days, a work has either made it or not (though it may take a little longer to get the final word, and then it goes into production). Certainly, it’s a route to publication that is much faster than a search for an agent and traditional publication.

There’s also an incentive for readers to check those books out — they get the book free if a book they nominated is accepted for publication.

Those are all good things.

But I’ve also seen ABNA fans complaining about some big changes:

  • Books cannot have been published at all before, not even self-pubbed, except in avenues where no money is being earned. ABNA was awash in already self-published books (including mine and the one that beat mine and the three other semifinalists in General Fiction last year).
  • The only genres welcome are romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. (Edit in May of 2015: Amazon has added “literature and fiction,” which includes contemporary fiction, action and adventure, and historical fiction)
  • Authors must have US social security numbers or tax ID numbers. So most foreign writers need not apply. (Edit: But I’m told there are ways to work around this.)
  • There’s no formal set of feedback on the excerpt for those who make the first cut, and no Publishers Weekly review of the whole manuscript for quarter finalists (not that this was ever quite as exciting as it sounded).
  • There’s no official social component for contestants who want to discuss the process with each other, though I’m sure authors will find other ways to discuss and collaborate.
  • It’s not obvious how any given book is doing, unless it makes it to the “hot and trending” list. There’s a definite limit to how much you can flog a book to your friends and family, so authors with an existing readership are at a distinct advantage — surely a benefit to Amazon.
  • Authors take on all the cost and risk of cover design, while Amazon gets to sit back and see what works. Most submissions I see appear to have professionally designed covers, so people are obviously investing in this. (Of course, that means  they’ll also be all set to publish whether they win a contract or not.)
  • Quite a few authors say they will miss the motivation of the yearly deadline for ABNA. Kindle Scout is a rolling process you can begin at any time.

I suppose there may also be some ineffable damage done to an author’s relationship with her local bookstore or potential future agent or editor if she were to be published exclusively by Amazon, but ABNA and Kindle Select are just the same in that. (I also suspect all parties concerned would quickly get past that if they thought there was money to be made.)

I left Kindle Select with the first novel last spring and haven’t regretted it. While I haven’t exactly burned down the town at the other retailers, my last 99-cent promotion did bring in some very nice extra crash from Nook and iTunes (especially Nook), making the advertising investments that much more profitable (especially since BookBub and Fussy Librarian carry all the links, not just Kindle). And I feel a bit less vulnerable to sudden changes like the advent of Kindle Unlimited, which has impacted the income of many indie authors.

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.

Currently in Kindle Select, with a promotion coming later this month.

I do still have the second novel in Kindle Select to begin with because I still think it’s the best tool to get this book discovered and reviewed. I’ll be able to judge whether I was correct about that by next month (assuming it’s a title that can gain any momentum at all), but in the meantime I’m just working on another book. As most successful authors will say, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and money on promotion until you have enough titles out that they can cross-sell each other.

If you have other wisdom or opinions on ABNA or Kindle Scout, feel free to comment!

Which reminds me: A fellow author I respect recently told me I’m making a big mistake associating myself so clearly with self-publishing when my stuff could pass as professionally published. I told him I would miss the interaction with other self-published authors far too much to try to pretend I wasn’t indie. (Also, I told him I just can’t keep my big mouth shut. I fear this may be the one big thing I have in common with all my heroines so far.)

Happy publishing, however you get it done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 thoughts on “Goodbye, ABNA. Hello, Kindle Scout. (For some.)

  1. I never had experience with ABNA, but I just had a book listed on Kindle Scout yesterday.

    https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M0X7KAS29H5Q

    It’s been a wonderfully smooth experience so far. Only took a few minutes to post the book and it was listed two days later. Everyone that I have sent Kindle Scout’s way to nominate my book have had good feedback. Really hopefully that this program will help some us newer authors breakthrough.

  2. Should I conclude that you don’t recommend Kindle Scout? Here’s a worry I have: after 19 ebooks, I have a very efficient process that (1) minimizes my costs (I pass that savings onto readers); and (2) allows me to focus more on writing and entertaining what few fans I have. However, I can’t say that I’ve been “discovered.” Is the time lag and risk associated with Scout a reasonable aid to the “discovery problem”? (Most of my ebooks are already in KDP Select, exactly where the Scout ebooks end up.) My tentative answer is no, but I’m willing to hear opinions to the contrary. (BTW, I pay for PR and marketing as well as other things–I know when to let the pros do it–but that doesn’t seem to aid in solving the “discovery problem” either. Scout doesn’t guarantee any help with that, and it’s my major cost.)

    • No, I’m certainly not recommending against Kindle Scout. I think if your book falls into one of their genres, you might as well give it a try. You don’t have anything to lose but time and possibly the good will of a few bookstore owners who aren’t going to sell your indie books anyway. Amazon is indeed a powerhouse when it comes to discovery, and they’re not going to say yes unless they think your book has potential. When I wrote this, though, I didn’t see it as something a literary or general fiction writer could utilize (unlike ABNA). I haven’t been back to see if that has changed.

      • Actually, I see that they accept more general titles now. Interesting. If I wrote faster, I would happily give it a try for one book. Since I don’t, I’m not sure I want to add that to the all the ducks I have to line up to launch a new novel.

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS / CONCERNS?