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
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).
onlygenres 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.
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!