Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Before we begin I should note that I came to the decision to try Kindle Scout (in the hopes of being published by Kindle Press) after many hours of researching winning and failed campaigns. You can find a wealth of information on the subject on the internet. I've tried to be as detailed as possible to save some of you many hours of frustration, but his post is just a drop in the ocean. I won't go over the details of Kindle Press's contract or anything like that (it actually changed for the better before I signed) because you can find that info on the site.
I wrote the best book I could. I started writing during the Christmas holidays (I worked most of them) and gave myself a month and a half to finish it. It took about that long including a substantial copyedit and adding a few extra things that felt were missing during the first read to make the story more cohesive. One draft and a polish, let's say. I won't reveal how many hours it took to write because that's not valuable. Take as long as it takes. I worked with fellow horror author Michael Bray for the cover, which I think turned out very well. It’s got a sort of old school look to it without going full-blown retro as is the current style.
On the Kindle Scout site I wrote and rewrote the book’s cover copy, my Thank You note (this was the most difficult, like writing an awards speech knowing you most likely won’t win), my answers to questions you choose yourself on the site.
On February 11th, I’d sent it in. An automatic reply came quickly saying they'd received the book and that I'd hear back in 1 – 2 days.
Two days later I received an email telling me The Method had been approved for a Kindle Scout campaign. I don't know what their vetting but I was pretty excited. All I wanted was to get my book through the gate. This was a marketing experiment, as I'd seen a Facebook friend's book get a fair amount of publicity from their Scout campaign. And even though it didn’t win his book did very well in the first few days.
That was my plan.
Day 1 – The Method is on the Hot & Trending list for 12 hours, after a single post on both FB and Twitter. The FB post shared was 35 times (13 times from people I don't know), which was pretty amazing to see (I have awesome FB friends). Overall the campaign got 198 views in one day, almost half of which came from Kindle Scout traffic. Not a single peek from someone on Twitter, but that doesn’t surprise me. I used to have a pretty active following on Twitter until I went on vacation for a couple of weeks in late-2015 and it’s never really picked up. I’m more active on Facebook anyway.
Facebook sent me a message telling me the post got 498 reactions. This seems to be a new feature, or a feature I've just unlocked. I have had posts reach a much wider audience before so I'm guessing it's new.
I think it was on this day I realized my answer to one of the questions had a copyedit mistake. I freaked out. I'd rewritten it more than the novel itself and realized I’d left the same word in twice like a jackass! The answer itself wasn't nearly as clever as I'd thought it was either, and I started to think people were going to ignore my book because of the error. (Looking over some of the other campaigns later I realized that several of the Hot & Trending books had copyedit mistakes in their descriptions even, so I’d worried needlessly.)
I sent an email to Kindle Scout and they made the change promptly.
I got a fair amount of shares from Facebook friends on Day 1, and plenty of interest in the book itself—which was nice to see. Even if the campaign didn't succeed, I anticipated The Method to be one of my more successful books.
Day 2 – Morning, and I'd been on the Hot & Trending for 36 hours. My mom messaged saying it's off the H&T just after I noticed the same while logging out of KS. (My mom checks for new reviews on Amazon all the time. She’s my biggest fan.) A little disappointed but I didn't expect it to be H&T the whole way through. Stats seem to be updated every night at around 4 or 5AM. A few hours later my mom messaged me back saying it's H&T again, #1 on the entire list—which I hope will get it more eyes. Later Facebook tells me my post from the day before got 541 reactions.
Day 4 – Been on the Hot & Trending list since the beginning, but on and off. 91 hours in total. I'm hoping to reach the magic "four days" of Hot & Trending I’d heard about from the blog of a writer whose campaign had been successful but had only spent 4 days total on the H&T list.
Day 5 – Off the Hot & Trending list. I do a few posts on Facebook and Twitter but it seems like once it's dropped off H & T the people who find books on Kindle Scout no longer see your book or react to your book after the first few days (or the last few days).
The next five days or so went all right but it was a steady decline. My partner told me she'd seen that a lot of other books are in Literature & Fiction and Horror even when they just appeared to be Thrillers. I'd wanted to be specific with my categories but I think she was on to something (still not sure if it helped, hindered or didn't effect it at all) so I emailed Kindle Scout asking if they could add it to those categories. They were fast responding and polite and the change was made almost immediately.
You can probably tell I was getting a tad desperate at this point. I’d started this as a marketing experiment, knowing that if I didn't get a contract its visibility through the Kindle Scout campaign would at least give it a boost in release day sales. But after those four days in Hot & Trending I suppose I started to expect it would last. When the rankings sagged and never came back I admit I got a little sad. But I didn't want to spend a ton of money on the campaign (as I know some people do), because I was also well aware that Hot & Trending isn't as big a factor as most people think. I read a book (it cost me $10) that was about a losing campaign and the book in question had been Hot & Trending the entire time.
So being Hot & Trending has some effect, but it's clearly not how Amazon makes its decision. Overall I suspect it's more like any publisher: they look at the marketability, the concept and the story. I'm sure the writing is a concern, but they do have editors. Kirkus editors, I’m told!
Day 10 – Today received a spike because a well-known horror author shared the link on Twitter. It sagged for a few more days after that. Desperation began to sink in. I started to blame other books on the list for my lack of success. But I realized there are other books on there by other writers who are struggling just like me to get and maintain an audience. We were in competition with each other (I suppose) but for the most part our audiences wouldn't overlap.
So I started nominating some books I think should get a Kindle Scout deal. I pick three of the better ones I see, and nominate them. You can only pick three at a time. One I realized was ending the same day as mine but it's a great high concept thriller and the writing is decent. I suppose I might have been shooting myself in the foot but hell, if I wasn’t going to get a deal at least one of the good books I was in competition with might! And that would be pretty cool knowing my vote helped get it there.
Around this time I started receiving unsolicited emails and tweets from people saying they can promote my Kindle Scout campaign to their x-amount of subscribers/followers. Out came the wolves, looking for easy prey. I took a look and saw that their reach was less than mine, so I ignored them. I wouldn’t have fallen for it anyway. Once bitten twice shy.
Day 15 – I do a paid Facebook promo, just boosting the initial promo I did on Day 1 for $30. It gets a pretty big spike over the next two days, and I assumed since I'd gotten twice as many views on both days as I had on the 2nd day of the campaign, slightly more than the 3rd, and twice as many again as the 4th, that it would translate to getting back on the Hot & Trending list.
I got a Facebook message from an excellent writer in my genre whose work I admire telling me how cool the book sounds and I offered to send him a copy. I'd already been working on the paperback, as Kindle does not hold the physical rights, just digital. So I made plans to send that out.
After that two-day spike with no return to the list, I emailed Kindle Scout.
They got back to me promptly but apparently the page views have no effect on its “hotness.” It's based on nominations and saves by Kindle Scout readers. They suggested I advertise on social media networks to get more nominations. (I didn’t mention that I had.)
After this I realized there was really no point in advertising it throughout the rest of the campaign simply to hit the Hot & Trending list again. My traffic mix at this point was 67% from external links, 37% from Kindle Scout. Which means I had directed more traffic to my campaign than the site itself. So I relaxed and did the minimal posting. I think I posted about four times during the entire campaign.
4 days left – I decided to boost my Facebook post by another 8 bucks just in case. This was in the middle of the night as I was working an overnight shift. My mom messaged me later that day saying my book was back in Hot & Trending. I was pretty excited but I had already figured it would happen again around this time. The last few days of a campaign a lot (not all) of them end up in H&T and I'm glad mine did. I thought I might reach that magical Four Days after all.
I checked my campaign stats the following morning and nothing had changed. I was still at 91 hours in Hot & Trending. How the $%^& is this possible? It took me a bit of looking but I discovered that the stats hadn't been updated that night like they usually were.
The book stayed Hot & Trending all that day. I checked the stats the following day.
What's going on here??
I emailed Kindle Scout asking if the website has been having trouble or if it's just my campaign. They've trained me to expect a prompt reply but I didn't hear back from them.
I started to really worry.
Did I offend someone? Am I getting too needy? They won't want to work with me if I'm too needy and didn't I start this as a marketing strategy? Why am I getting so excited and crazy about all this??
Calm down, dude. It's all gonna be okay. Get back to writing.
I'd been working on two novels while all of this was going on. The first novel is a Lovecraftian horror political serial and was intended to run on a website that had since switched its focus away from the writing world. When I got too bogged down in the heavy themes of that one I would slip back into the other, a fun book about the Satanic Panic in the early '90s. They helped to take my mind off the campaign when there was really nothing I could do to help it.
And that's what this is all about, right? Marketing can be a slog but the writing should be fun. Even when you're dealing with heavy themes—sometimes especially. If you're not having fun how can you expect your readers to have fun?
If it's not fun it's just another day job.
So quit obsessing over stats and get back to writing!
1 day left –The day before I’d put out feelers for early reviews and considered asking if anyone had any interest in publishing it. I knew I could easily just publish it myself through Shadow Work Publishing (a small press I run with fellow authors Thomas S. Flowers and Jeffery X. Martin).
My stats were finally updated at 5PM today, but I didn't find out until about 10PM when I decided to check. In the days since the $8 boost I'd been Hot & Trending an additional 40 hours for a total of 131 hours, and the campaign had been viewed a total 1100 times. The traffic mix had shifted from 37% to 41% from Kindle Scout itself, and 67% to 59% external links. Not a huge change.
So I awaited their decision. If the last few days with no updates to the stats were any indication waiting with no daily change for potentially fifteen more days (the entire campaign is 30 days but you allow them 45 days to make their decision) was going to be excruciating. I checked one last update overnight in the morning and hoped to get an email telling me one way or the other.
I was also hoping to get an email saying one or more of the books I'd nominated got picked, especially if mine didn't get chosen.
REAL last day – Apparently one day left does not include the final day. All this time I'd been using their countdown to judge how long I had left in the campaign, but I’d been off by a day. Anyway, I was still on the Hot and Trending list. Still not the final tally but overnight it spent another 24 hours on the H&T list for a total of 155 hours, which is about 23% of the campaign.
Of the approx. 1200 views 58% was from external links, most of which was from Facebook: 376 visits. Second-most from Direct Traffic (which is apparently when someone types directly into a search bar, or clicks a bookmark). Only 2 were from my website, which shows me not a lot of people visit my website despite the free thriller novel I’m giving away (if you haven’t signed up already, check it out here: www.duncanralston.com/free-book.)
I received an email while typing this from my query on the 13th about missing stats. They said they'd updated the issue (it updated at 5PM last night and again at 5AM, as normal), and that I wouldn't see stats from the previous day. Doesn't take into account why I didn't have an update from the 12th at 5AM until the 15th at 5PM, but at least it was updated.
Just after midnight I realized the campaign probably ended and I checked my phone to see if my book was off the charts. I'd already received an email from Kindle Scout saying my book was In Review for selection (also viewable on the site in the image below). I would be notified in the "next few business days" if my book has been selected for publication, and each Kindle Scout reader who nominated my book would get an email with the result, along with my Thank You message that I submitted.
The scariest part!
I wished I'd spent a little more time crafting the thank you note. This is what I wrote: Thank you for nominating my book! I'm very pleased you enjoyed the sample, and I'm certain you'll love what's to come. In the meantime, please consider following me on Facebook/Twitter. You can also download my free thriller novel WILDFIRE for joining my website, www.duncanralston.com. Take care, and happy reading!
Not the worst in the world, but I feel like it could have been better.
The final stat update came at 5AM as usual. I ended up with 1300 views, and 179 hour in Hot & Trending. Out of 720 total hours it worked out to be just under 25% of the campaign spent in the H&T list, which is pretty good considering I didn't think it would ever reach that list again after the initial surge.
Days leading up to the decision: Man, that was a long five days! Every time I got an email to my main address I'd think Uh oh! expecting it to be a rejection from Kindle. My mom messaged me every day asking if a decision had been made yet. I told her about my reaction to the emails and she said "Me too!" She'd been keeping tabs on what was selected each day. On the 23rd she told me nothing was chosen, and nothing on the 24th either.
I thought they’d automatically keep me posted. :(
On the 23rd I received an email telling me a book I selected was not picked. I was disappointed, but I understand why it wasn't picked. The concept was terrific but it was the first book in a series, and it sounded like a Dan Brown-style conspiracy thriller. Those need to be tight and self-contained. You can continue the hero's story (as Dan Brown does, as Stieg Larsson did) but not that SPECIFIC story. No one wants to read three books to find out what happens with the damn Da Vinci Code.
That book’s campaign ended the same day mine did. I didn't think it necessarily had any effect on whether mine would be selected or not. I got a message from the excellent writer who was reading my book that he was enjoying what he'd read so far, and that was a good feeling.
I still expected it to lose.
Friday morning I didn't receive an email from Kindle Scout and I was sure I'd have to wait until Monday to hear anything. It was a bit of a relief. I'd been dreading the Your book has been rejected email all week and I assumed that if it hadn’t come by 5PM Friday it would give me a weekend off of worrying. After dinner I got an email. I didn't think Uh oh! that time been because it was 7PM on a Friday. Surely they wouldn't be emailing this late!
You probably guessed by now what the email said.
I saw the words "Kindle Scout" and had the obligatory Uh-oh! Reaction. But under it was the line Your book The Method has been selected!
Naturally I just about flipped my wig. I told the usual suspects, my partner, my mom, my publishing colleagues. I told myself to wait on the news until Monday and vaguebooked instead.
The news broke on Facebook within hours, as all the people who nominated my book got emails telling them it was selected, so I decided to bump up the announcement. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to the news. So many people have been very supportive of the campaign and my writing in general, it was really amazing.
Don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that sight.
I'll be adding new posts to this Kindle Scout series as things develop with The Method. Thank you for checking it out! And if you have any questions or decide to do a campaign of your own, please share in the comments below!
Things I learned:
- 1 day left is not your last day.
- Being on the Hot & Trending list your whole campaign doesn't mean a whole lot.
- It's smart to give it a little boost with a cheap Facebook ad in the middle of the campaign but don't bother running one the whole time. I've seen people stay on the H&T list that way, but as I learned from other blogs written about this (and the book, listed here), being on the H&T list your whole campaign doesn't mean you'll get picked. You might, but it's not the determining factor.
- Spend some time crafting a great synopsis, thank you and "get to know you" answers. They may not matter a lot but when nominating books I saw several with spelling/grammatical errors and it definitely turned me off. Also my own had a repeated word even though I read it over several times. Maybe get someone else to have a look before you fire it off for submission.
- Don't put "front matter" in your submission. I'm sure it's obvious that you shouldn't put copyright, etc on your submission but in my own submission I had two quotes at the beginning. Those two quotes were the only thing that showed up on the front page unless you clicked Show Full Excerpt. So instead of diving right into the story potential readers had to slog through long quotes from George Bernard Shaw and "The Most Dangerous Game" to make their decision whether they wanted to continue o not. It's pertinent to the story, but as a reader I might have skipped over that stuff or just moved on to the next book. Make those first paragraphs count!
- If you have a problem with your campaign or just need help, don't hesitate to ask. Kindle Scout's staff are polite and (usually) quick to respond.