Are you looking for a book contract for your genre fiction*? Good luck with the Big Five**. Unless you’re a celebrity or you’ve got some bad dirt on an editor, your chances are slim to none. And contracts aren’t what they once were. Here’s a nice graph I found.
FICTION ROYALTY ADVANCES
1985: $2,500, $8,000
2004: $350, $10,000
Average advance: $5,920
Yes, the graph ends at 2004, but the average advance number is still about the same for Big Five publishers. Expect about $1000 from an independent or university press.
What’s an Advance?
To be clear, an advance means “an advance on royalties.” It’s a kind of bet the publisher makes on projected book sales. Here’s a short explanation from Brian A. Klems at The Writer’s Digest:
An advance is a signing bonus that’s negotiated and paid to the author before the book is published. It’s paid against future royalty earnings, which means that for every dollar you receive in an advance, you must earn a dollar from book sales before you start receiving any additional royalty payments. So, for example, if I were to receive a $10,000 advance with a royalty rate that works out to $1 per book sold (royalties are measured in percentages, but for the sake of this explanation let’s keep it simple), you would have to sell 10,000 books to pay off your advance. If your royalty rate worked out to $5 a book, you’d have to sell 2,000 copies. And so forth. After the publisher recoups your advance, it will begin to pay you royalties on subsequent sales based on the percentages outlined in the contract.
Here’s an area where traditional publishers are particularly unfriendly to authors. For one thing, there are the returns. This is a giant bugaboo in the retail publishing scheme. For example, say that a Barnes & Noble store orders 100 copies of your new book. The bookstore isn’t really sure it can sell that many copies, but they like to create a great big enticing pile and they have nothing to lose by over-ordering because they don’t have to pay for the books they don’t sell, and in fact they can return all unsold books at no cost to themselves. What this means to you as an author is a long, long, complicated delay on royalty earning statements as it may take the publisher months to figure out what actually sold and what was returned (usually damaged) to the warehouse.
What Does Kindle Scout Do Differently?
First of all, there are no printed books with Kindle Scout. A Kindle Scout contract is exclusively for the electronic (Kindle) edition of a book, plus the audio and the digital translation, therefore there are no warehousing costs and no returns
There is also no waiting for a royalty statement and check. Kindle Scout pays a royalty advance of $1500 and then, (this is the big thing) Kindle Scout pays sales royalties monthly, and at a decent percentage.
Kindle Scout Royalty Table to Author:
E-Book: 50% of Net Revenue
Digital Audio: 25% of Net Revenue
Translation in e-Book format: 20% of Net Revenue
Traditional Publisher Royalty Table to Author:
E-Book: 25% of Net Revenue
Digital Audio: 25% of Net Revenue
Translation in e-Book format: 7% or less of Net Revenue
These are good terms. Very decent terms for a first-time author. The $1500 advance should pay for your editing costs and a cover. Here’s the complete Submission Agreement.
What Do You Need to Sign Up?
- You need an Amazon account.
- You need an unpublished fiction book of at least 50,000 words.
- You need a cover.
- You’ll also need to fill out a profile that includes a bio and a photo.
- You need to grant Kindle Scout 45 days of exclusivity, meaning that your book is available only on their site until the decision to publish, or not. 45 days total.
Here are some other questions I’ve received from authors looking at the program:
Do the readers make their nominations just based on the front cover and the short write-up you get by clicking on the picture? Readers base the nominations on the first three chapters of the book. Based on the AWFUL covers they have up there, artwork doesn’t seem to be very important.
Do readers have to register or subscribe or anything else to nominate a book? You just have to have an Amazon account. There’s no other requirement and Amazon will never ask you to do anything else.
Any idea as to the minimum number of nominations to be considered? No idea at all. I’ve been watching the site for a few months, and “HOT” books will sometimes get chosen, but not always. The Kindle Scout staff is definitely looking at the book content as well as the nominations. 67 titles have been chosen since Kindle Scout began in December of 2014. See the full list here.
My Facebook and friend network is relatively small. Am I correct that nominators can include family? Can the same person nominate more than once if he/she has multiple e-mail addresses? Yes, as long as each address has an Amazon account.
So, basically Kindle Scout gets a “forever” on the rights unless sales are low in any five-year period. No. You can choose to leave the program after 5 years. You can also choose to leave after 1 year if the book hasn’t made more than $500 in the last year.
Does Kindle Scout primarily offer and sell the book on the regular Amazon web site or on their own web site? Does this prohibit users of Nook and other non-Kindle units from reading this electronically? Yes, the e-book would be exclusive for Amazon Kindle. Kindle Scout books are not singled out in any derogatory way once they’ve been selected for publishing. The only way Kindle Scout can make their program function is by selling those Kindle Scout books hard, and that means lots of marketing.
Finally, Kindle Scout is the publisher and you sign a contract to that effect. The contract does not apply, however, to the print version. You can sell that everywhere.
Does their 45-day exclusive mean that the e-version can’t even be sold on Amazon during this period? Correct. The book must be UNPUBLISHED, i.e., never published anywhere in its complete form.
Any downside to not being selected (e.g., do they provide a list of “losers”)? No down side at all except the intense waiting period. Plus, I’ve noticed that emails from Kindle Scout tend to come around midnight. Be prepared for some insomnia at the end of your 30-day submission.
What are the negatives? (I’m a firm believer that there are “no free lunches.”) I personally can’t see any negatives. If you lose, well, you’ve got your book back to revise or whatever. If you win, you get $1.5K and all the Amazon marketing they can pour on. If you write a sequel, you’ll have all kinds of reviews of the first book to help sell the second. For a new author, this is a fantastic opportunity.
No Pain, No Gain
Be aware that the Kindle Scouters need to approve your book before you can launch your campaign. They’ll be looking for whether the book has been edited, and they’ll certainly be looking for proofing errors. If you’ve got lots of typos, they’re not going to let you in.
Also, as I mentioned above, the cover art in the Kindle Scout campaigns is painfully awful. While this doesn’t appear to impact nominations, it can’t hurt to have a great cover. I also suspect that as the program gains in popularity, covers will become more important.
*Genre fiction includes mystery, thriller, romance, western, sci-fi, and fantasy.
**These are the big conglomerates of Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.