Smashwords Shares 5 Ways to Succeed with Self-Publishing in 2016

Self-publishing is a pretty tough game for most authors, but as the industry matures and best practices start to emerge, we’re starting to learn more about what makes a self-published title sell.

Each year, Smashwords parses its sales data to give the rest of the world a little glimpse into what works for its best-selling authors. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the fifth annual survey revealed that romance, erotica, and young adult fiction are the top sellers for the digital self-publishing platform.

These categories are so popular, in fact, that romance titles (adult and young adult combined) make up more than seventy percent of the top 200 best-selling titles, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker said.  Seventy percent.  That’s a pretty steady paycheck for the seamstresses that have to repair all those ripped bodices.

Fantasy clocked in as the fourth most popular fiction category in 2016, which I can only assume is due to the fact that we’re the only other genre that talks about bodices a lot.  Fantasy novels made up 4.22 percent of the best sellers this year.  Meanwhile, Sci-Fi titles only scooped up a measly one percent of the marketplace.

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Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

This may seem kind of depressing for those of us who are not big fans of the romance genre, but there are some concrete reasons why these authors have such huge success.  And, as Coker points out, it’s possible that the wild success of these authors can teach us some lessons about how they garner such legions of loyal fans.

“Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices,” he said, “and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.”

So what are some of the key tactics that best-selling writers employ, and how well do they work?

Racking up sales before release day

Preorders are especially important for boosting a book’s chances of success, the survey found.  Average earnings for books that were available for preorder were 6.7 times greater than books that only banked on a big release day.  More than half of the top 200 books in 2016 were available for pre-order.  Of the top 200 pre-order books, 78 percent were romance titles.

“Every preorder gains you incremental benefit in terms of expanded readership, and over the course of years this incremental benefit compounds upon itself like a great investment.  This is because the more readers you gain, the easier it becomes to gain even more readers because fans breed more fans through word of mouth,” said Coker.

That’s also why social media is so important.  Unsurprisingly, the top 100 authors were much more likely than others to have a good website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.

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Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

But this may be more of a correlation-not-causation scenario.  I know plenty of authors who tweet like crazy and constantly post to their Facebook pages but remain unsuccessful – and that’s probably because they don’t know how to use social media wisely.  Spamming your Twitter followers with cringe-worthy self-promotion tactics won’t get you anywhere.

Balancing price and length

When it comes to generating sales, pricing is probably even more important than Facebook likes, says the survey.  The data uncovered this shocking fact: if you want to get your book in front of lots and lots of eyeballs, don’t charge anything for it.

On average, readers downloaded free books 41 times more often than priced titles.  That’s a lot of books.

Just like in previous years, the “sweet spot” for sales seems to be around the $2.00 to $3.99 mark.  While a 99 cent book might seem suspiciously cheap, readers aren’t willing to spend more than 4 bucks to experiment with a new fiction title.

If they do spend their pennies on your book, however, they’re expecting to get their money’s worth.  Lengthier books still sell better than shorter titles.  The average top 100 seller is around 112,000 words – but again, be careful here.  Writing a 400,000-word epic isn’t going to make you the next Stephen King if the story is incoherent and the writing quality is low.

A series of fortunate events

 If you want to gain fans and sell books, don’t stop your stories, Coker says.  Even though literary agents are constantly asking for more stand-alone titles to sell, a series is still the best bet for self-publishers.  The majority of top performing authors bank on series to give them long-term sales, and it seems to be a good bet.

The top 1000 series titles show an average 195 percent sales increase over the top 1000 stand-alone books.  And if you want to get your readers hooked, you should consider offering your first book for free.

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Source: Smashwords 2016 Survey

Series with free starters earn an average of 83 percent more than series with priced first entries, the survey shows.  More than half of the top 200 best selling series offered their first installments for free, including 80 percent of the top 10.

Putting the data into action

So should we all start writing paranormal romance series with ten books’ worth of teenaged angst?  Please, God, no.

Romance is always going to dominate everything, because it’s romance.  And there will always be a market for stories about impossibly beautiful and mature teenagers doing impossibly world-altering things, because…well, I’m not really sure why those have such appeal, but apparently they do.  Someone will have to explain that one to me some day.

The most important takeaways from the survey probably aren’t about genre, but are more about strategically positioning your book, whatever it may be, to generate the maximum number of sales.

Regardless of your subject matter, you can try to implement the five strategies that seem to work for the majority of best selling authors:

  1. Establish a strong but savvy social media presence
  2. Consider the $2.00 to $3.99 bracket for pricing
  3. Think about offering pre-orders
  4. Invest the time and effort into creating series that capture reader attention
  5. Hook readers with a free first installment

While Smashwords – and life in general – make no guarantees that these techniques will launch you into the rarified air of the best-selling self-publisher, it can’t hurt to experiment with some of the things that have been proven to produce sales.

Have you had success (or abject failure) with adopting some of these tactics?  Let me know in the comments!

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The Diversity in Fantasy Survey: Your Responses

At the beginning of the week, I asked you, my cherished readers, to give me your opinions on a sensitive but important subject: the diversity of characters in fantasy novels.

It’s not the easiest topic to talk about, especially because the arguments on every side can quickly devolve into name calling and finger pointing, privilege shaming and plain old ugly racism.  This is especially common on the internet, where anonymity brings out the worst in us all.

I am happy to report, however, that all of my participants took a thoughtful and respectful approach to these questions, and I feel no need to filter or censor any of the responses I’ve collected.  Thank you all for contributing positively to this experiment.

So let’s get down to the data.  I didn’t receive a ton of responses, but I think I’ve got enough to draw some broad strokes.

Background demographics

Respondents were evenly split between the 18 to 29 age group and the 30 to 50 age group.  The majority of respondents were comfortable self-identifying as “male” or “female” (63 percent male), while a couple of people considered themselves to be elsewhere on the gender spectrum.

Y’all are really white.  Only two respondents said that they were not of white/Caucasian/Euro-American descent.  There was a little more variation with sexual orientation: a few not-quite straight participants, a few bisexuals, and a few who said they were gay.

How do you define a “diverse” character?

The answers to this question sort of surprised me.  While I intended the word “diverse” to mean “non-white/straight/male/culturally stereotypical,” not all of you interpreted it that way.

A third of you said that a “diverse character” is simply a character with emotional depth and personal agency, and didn’t even mention race/gender/cultural/sexuality…which kind of makes me wonder what kind of books you’re reading where those characters are uncommon enough to be notable.

Most of you included something similar to this one respondent:

“[A diverse character is one whose] (sub)culture is not the biggest part of their character – unless one of the themes of the work is about that (sub)culture. I prefer more than ‘he’s a black cop’ or ‘she’s an Asian lawyer’ or ‘they’re the genderqueer miner’ to the character. The ‘diverse’ is interesting but the ‘character’ matters more.”

Another interesting comment:

“What is diverse? Nothing can be diverse in a vacuum. Token white and black characters in Asian fiction represent diversity there as much as the reverse is true here. I don’t want diversity, I want interesting. These days, a lumberjack who played all-state college football that fights against evil alien overlord seems a lot more ‘diverse’ than it was in 1947. So, uh, being blue-collar and from Mars are both +s in the diversity field, but I do feel that Venusians and Neptunians are underrepresented in fiction.”

Do you seek out or gravitate towards fantasy novels that promote the presence of “diverse” characters?

This isn’t really a big deal to most of you, which could be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing.

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Since most of the respondents are white, this could be interpreted as “white people don’t care about diversity, and won’t go out of their way for it because they’re happy to read about white people in books written by other white people.”

But it can also be interpreted as “readers only care about good stories,” which I think is what most of you intended to communicate, based on the next few responses.

When reading a fantasy novel that does not specifically point out the ethnic or racial appearance of characters, do you assume that means they are “white”?

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Here’s where the mostly-white participants get kind of telling, and depending on your perspective, the answers might seem a little…meh.

First of all, my non-white respondents all said “no” to this question, and didn’t seem too bothered by the issue.  Several participants of all backgrounds said that the character him/her/itself is significantly more important than their skin color, and added that they would simply change their mental image of the character if the author revealed a new detail about their appearance or history.

A white male respondent said: “I personally tend to imagine what would seem normal for the given setting. That being said, stories set in Europe, I’ll imagine as white. That does not necessarily bother me. If later on, I’m proven wrong, I’ll not like the character any less.”

A white female said: “I guess it does [bother me that I assume characters are white unless told otherwise]. I like to believe that I’m tolerant, but I refuse to feel guilty on the same hand, just because I’m white. I hadn’t really thought about it, but since I am white myself it seems normal to just assume my own experience. I feel like if I were a race/orientation other than what I am, I would assume that experience instead – but, of course, I have no way of proving that.”

Do you believe that “white” authors can authentically create characters with different ethnic or cultural backgrounds?

No one had too much of a problem with this.  Three-quarters of you said “yes, this is almost always fine,” and the rest said “sometimes, but it’s difficult to get right.”

No one said that they don’t think white authors should attempt to write characters of different backgrounds, or that most of the time white authors get characters of other backgrounds painfully wrong.

Do you believe stories that do not include a high proportion of “diverse” characters are inherently less valuable for modern readers than stories that do?

The vast majority of you said that you don’t make value judgments about stories based on the diversity of characters…but the vast majority of you also don’t have to look too hard to find characters you can relate to when reading fantasy novels.

This is where I was hoping to get some more responses from people of non-white backgrounds, because the question was aiming at how traditionally underrepresented groups feel about the current state of the genre.  So I’m not sure this piece of data accurately reflects much of anything.

Note: I have purposely not addressed the whole issue of young adult literature in this survey, because I think it’s a much more complicated question for a different audience.  While it’s important for readers of all ages to be able to identify with and relate to characters in the books they read, I feel like it’s even more important for teenagers still rapidly developing their sense of self to have access to books with characters that make them feel accepted, normal, and part of the world they live in.

As an adult, I don’t feel desperate to find clues to my place in the world from my fantasy books.  As a teenager, I absolutely did.  If I was a teen who didn’t more or less fit the straight white female demographic, I may have been very disappointed in the available selection.  I am glad to see this is changing in the YA world, even if I’m not too keen on the rest of what YA literature tries to achieve.

Do you think some stories include a higher proportion of diverse characters just because it’s expected rather than because they are truly integral to the story?

A few of you thought this was problematic, but more of you chose to view token characters in a positive light.  More than a third of you chose to say “yes, but I believe recognizing the need for diverse characters is a good first step, even if it isn’t perfect.”

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I would like to agree with you here, but then I think back to my frustration and rage at half-hearted, one-dimensional attempts at inclusion like Tauriel in The Hobbit, and I have to stand by what I said at the time: I would rather not have a token character than one that is done so badly.

One of you disagreed: “I think it’s dangerous to assume our imaginations and interpretations must be censored. I think evenly poorly done characters open important conversations as long as the author is willing to have them.”

Fair point, but I still hate Tauriel.

What are your other thoughts on diversity in fantasy?

I’m going to share these without comment, because I agree with some of them and disagree with others.  I would be happy to see you all discuss the issues raised here in the (moderated) comments, but since each of these responses could spark an entire series of blog posts on their own, I don’t want to take too much time dissecting everything.

Each response is from a different participant.

“I personally like to see a somewhat demographically accurate picture of the time and place a story is set in or based on. But nothing should be forced on the story, just to attain that. The story should be most important, not the diversity. Diversity, however, can be a driving factor in a story, and a meaningful element. But it needs to be done well. Discussions over who can or cannot include a certain character, should end at whether or not they can write well, and listen and research, as any author should.”

“Because of the quest for ‘check box diversity’ a lot of truly great writers and works that actually were diverse get written off because of a cultural myth being woven that everything was white men until just the last couple of years.”

“If there seems to be a lack of ‘authentic’ non-white experiences in the literary world, I think it should largely be the burden of the non-white authors to contribute to the medium and impart these experiences onto the audience. If cultural appropriation or misappropriation is to be frowned upon, the best way for people to learn and experience cultures other than their own is to be shown and taught by someone who is a member of said culture. There will always be the issue of a majority and a minority, but if there is a lack of diversity in the literary world, it isn’t necessarily the majority’s fault.”

“One of the great things about reading stories is that it helps us develop the important human quality of empathy. We can live the experience of others, even those who are very different from us. As a writer, I also develop my sense of empathy by creating characters who are different from me. Is it my responsibility to do my homework and make those characters as real as possible? Absolutely. But no one has the right to tell me what stories I can create. And readers certainly have the right not to read them.”

“I do think it’s important to realize that we all come from somewhere, and while it’s good to explore other cultures and bring diversity into a story, it in no way invalidates the stories we write that are based on what we know and understand. Depending on the context and culture of the story, having diversity might not make sense. Whether or not we understand or fully relate to another person’s culture does not determine the value of the work.”

Conclusions

Overall, I think this survey was an interesting and positive experiment.  I’m going to leave it open for more responses, in case anyone missed their chance to participate but wants to speak their piece.  If I get a lot more, maybe I’ll do another roundup in the near future.

For now, please do share your thoughts in the comments.  Were you surprised at some of the answers?  Taken aback?  Pleased?  What jumped out at you?  Be vocal!  Let me know!

The Privilege Index: Addressing Diversity in Fantasy Novels

Every once in a while, amidst the pictures of restaurant food and the inspirational memes and the promotional posts for TV shows I’m never going to watch, I come across a statement on social media that just gets right under my fingernails.  Whether it’s an article in the New York Times or a retweet from someone I follow, sometimes I just have to speak out.

Normally, I get a little adversarial when that happens, but I want to say right off the bat that this is not one of those times.  This is a time for a civil conversation about a very important topic – and, I sincerely hope, an opportunity for me to learn something from people who have different views than I do.

I saw bunch of tweets the other day that basically boiled down to an argument that goes something like this:

Books with mostly/all white characters – or books assumed to have mostly/all white characters when not explicitly identified as non-white – are pushing a white agenda.  We can’t all relate to white characters, so mostly/all white books are not really valuable to a modern audience. 

But if you’re a white author trying to include non-white characters in your stories, you’re probably engaging in cultural appropriation or misinterpretation.  You’re probably just doing it because diversity is trendy right now, anyway, and that’s wrong.  Don’t try to write books about cultures/gender identities/sexual orientations that aren’t part of your own authentic experience, because that’s insulting to people who have experienced negativity, violence, or other pain related to their various identities. 

But books about mostly/all white characters are bad…and around we go in a vicious circle.

Now, hold on a minute with whatever you’re thinking.  First, I am not defending this argument.  Second, I am not attacking this argument.  I am merely recording an argument I have seen.

The counter-argument seems to go something like this:

This logic maligns the rights of white people toscreeeech.

Let’s just put the brakes on that one for the moment.  It doesn’t lead anywhere worth going.

Even though I consider the fact that I’m Jewish to be a major cultural/ethnic marker, I usually check the “white” option on my demographic forms, because Ashkenazi is hard for people to spell. And I agree with the notion that white people are not really in a position to claim that they are being maligned about pretty much anything.  In the literary world, we still probably get most of the exposure and the dollars out there (I mean, I don’t, but that’s not the point) and straight white male voices still dominate the history and present of the fantasy genre.

But I’m not a straight white male.  I’m a woman, which gives me an inherent disadvantage and a stake in this conversation.  But…I’m a privately-educated woman with full-time employment, a small amount of disposable income, and a broadly accepted gender/sexuality identity.  But I struggle with depression and other mental illness.  But I’ve never experienced physical violence due to my gender/sexuality/ethic/racial/religious identities.  But I have certainly been verbally harassed and made to feel shame for some of my identity attributes.

But I’ve this, and I’ve that, and I’ve the other thing, et cetera, et cetera.  Pluses and minuses – the list goes on.  You can tally up your own privilege points with things like this hideously reductive Buzzfeed quiz, but I don’t think that adds much to anyone’s “right” to contribute their perspective.

So instead of spouting out a whole bunch of nonsense that falls prey to the flaws of the Privilege Index point of view, I just want to gather information from people who have all different takes on the world.  To that end, I’ve created a short survey.

It’s just ten questions, some of which are open-ended, to collect some data about how you guys (readers and authors) feel about the thorny problem of diversity in a genre that is clearly undergoing one heck of a major revolution that is long overdue.

The survey is anonymous.  I will not be collecting names or email addresses.  I do not know any of you well enough to guess who you are based on your responses to the demographic questions.  Feel free to say what’s on your mind, but remember to be kind, thoughtful, and honest.

Please note that for the purposes of this survey, I am using the word “diverse” to mean “non-white/straight/cisgender” characters.  I’m aware that it’s a silly definition, because it assumes a whitewashed world is the standard and everything else is the “other,” but it’s a commonly accepted way of framing the issue, and SurveyMonkey will only let my questions be so long.

Click here to take the survey!

I would like to share your thoughts in a follow-up post, but please do be aware that malicious sentiments or hate speech will never see the light of day.  This is an opportunity for discussion, not for being an awful person.

Please share the survey with your friends and fellow readers.  The more responses I get, the better the conversation.  I’m looking forward to your feedback!

Book News and Other Upcoming Developments

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Hello, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m finally ready to leave this cold, miserable winter behind in favor of budding trees, daffodils, warm sunshine, and a little taste of what’s coming your way this summer.

As you all know, I’ve been plugging away at Dark the Dreamer’s Shadow, the second book recounting the adventures of Arran Swinn, and I’m happy to say that it’s close to being in good shape for publication.

General release will likely happen at some point during the early summer, possibly in June (if I can get my act together).  The grand cover reveal and teaser excerpts are on their way, of course.  I may also be in the market for a beta reader or two, and I suspect my volunteers already know who they are.

In addition, I will be making my very first convention appearance at the end of July.  The ninth annual Pi-Con will be taking place in Connecticut from July 31 to August 2, during which time I will be participating in a writer’s workshop, contributing to some panel discussions on writing and fantasy, and doing a reading from Dark the Night Descending (probably), signed copies of which will no doubt be available for purchase.

I’m pretty excited to be taking part in the program, and I hope some of you Northeasterners will try to join me for moral support.  It’s not a huge convention, but it seems like a great place to get my feet wet and meet some cool, local-ish nerd fans.

So please wish me luck as I work to stamp out all those nasty typos that seem to breed in every work-in-progress.  I’m very pleased with the book so far, and I know you guys will be, too.  Stay tuned for more updates!

Death and Discworld: The Passing of Terry Pratchett

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If you haven’t heard by now, the literary world – and the fantasy genre in particular – has lost one of its most brilliant voices.  Terry Pratchett died today after several years battling an aggressive form of Alzheimer’s disease, leaving behind dozens of novels and one of the richest, cleverest, and most challenging fantasy worlds ever created, and one that had a profound impact on so many aspects of my life that I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve revisited the same books over and over and over.

I am probably so attached to Discworld because I discovered it in my early teens, when I was just starting to realize how difficult it was to make sense of the world I was living in.  It will hardly come as a surprise to those of you who know even a tiny bit about me that I was an awkward, angry, depressive, frustrated, and easily bored adolescent who took refuge in reading like a snail in a shell.  Most of my memories from that time are unpleasant ones about being told that I would have to come out someday to face reality head-on, and I should just suck it up, cut my hair, learn how to wear heels and get it over with.

I didn’t.  Not for a long time.  I liked my shell.  I liked thinking that fantasy was the way to hide my head in the sand while being anyone I wanted to be, and living any way I wanted to live.  It was all so different and exciting and exotic, as fantasy worlds should be.

There was the charm and nobility of Tolkien, the sweeping, soapy melodrama (and questionable suitability for my age group) of the Wheel of Time, the imaginative tangibility of Tad Williams, and the taste of blood and earth and hope in Stephen Lawhead.  I loved them, and I longed to inhabit those worlds, but part of me always knew that I wasn’t ever going to be cool enough or courageous enough or romantic enough to get much screen time in any of those places.

And then I met Rincewind.  And honestly, I really hated him.  He was awkward and frustrating and kind of whiny and a bit of a buffoon and – oh God, he was me, wasn’t he?  I hated me.  And honestly, I almost didn’t go back to the library for another one, because I couldn’t stand feeling so similar to someone who was basically just comic relief.

But I did go back.  And I met Sam Vimes, and everything kind of changed.  Here was someone who kept moving forward no matter how much he hated himself and struggled with flaws he couldn’t help having.  He was wry and abrasive and a little selfish, and he wasn’t quite sure if he was ever doing the right thing, but he was damned if that ever stopped him from trying.  Sam Vimes faced his world the same way I faced mine (only with slightly more alcohol), and suddenly I started to realize that not every hero has to laugh at death while waving their sword at the enemy from atop a noble steed.  Sometimes you can get away with standing to the side at a judicious distance, hiding a wheeze.

Ankh-Morpork and its environs were full of those not-quite-heroes.  Discworld was full of cowards and con men and outsiders and people who spouted nonsense and people who spoke so much truth that it had to be wrapped in humor just to get it past the filters in your brain.  It was full of hard and unexpected things to struggle with, and there was always someone willing to eat what you wanted to throw away.  It was full of life, bitingly observed and perfectly captured, and no matter how many new books I added to my shelf, there was always, always something new to learn about how to be smart enough to take on my own life in my real world, too.

And that’s really the beauty of Discworld.  Pratchett wrote fantasy that sticks a knife in your gut, rips you open and forces you to acknowledge that all people in all worlds are basically the same, and we’re all kind of equally gross and squishy inside.

His work taught me lessons that every teenager needs to hear – chief amongst them being how to kick ass – and he did it in terms that were so unexpectedly personal to me that they have sunk in deeply and stuck like nothing else.  I cherish his wit and his ability to make me laugh out loud, but more importantly I cherish his shrewdness of mind and the skill with which he infused his characters with such an ability to get under your skin, even while they were changing out of theirs.

I know I’m going to go home tonight, pour myself a glass of fruit juice, and spend some quality time with the six shelves of Discworld books I’ve collected over the years.  If you haven’t read one, now is as good a time as any.  I always tell people to start with Men at Arms, one of the first Vimes books, but Guards! Guards! is a good jumping off point, too.  Regardless of where you start, I hope you enjoy them even a fraction as much as I have.

I don’t think I’d be a fantasy writer without Discworld, but more importantly, I don’t think I’d be the same person.  I never met Terry Pratchett, and now I never will, but it’s funny how much you can owe to people who never even knew you existed.

Thank you for leaving such a marvelous legacy, and making us laugh the whole time.  We’re in your debt.

SFWA to Accept Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors as Members

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Self-published fantasy and sci-fi authors who meet minimum income requirements will now be able to become members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers America (SFWA), one of the biggest and most respected groups for speculative fiction authors in the industry.  Among other activities, SFWA is responsible for running the Nebula Awards, the Golden Globes to the Hugo Awards’ Oscars.

“Writers write. Professional writers get paid a decent amount for what they write,” said SFWA President Steven Gould. “For the past five years, it’s been apparent that there are ways to earn that decent amount that were not being covered by our previous qualification standards. Though these changes took a substantial amount of time, I’m grateful to everyone who worked toward this end.”

Vice President Cat Rambo said the move would help SFWA “[adapt] itself to the changing face of modern publishing,” which sounds really nice for an organization that has been trying to rehabilitate itself after fierce allegations of sexism that took out its previous president and sparked ongoing debates about the role and representation of women and minorities in a genre traditionally dominated by improbably muscled shirtless white dragon-slayers saving blonde sexpot damsels in distress.

So while this gesture at inclusion is super cool for self-published authors who have made at least $3000 off a single novel or those who have sold at least 10,000 total words of short fiction for six cents per word, it’s not clear exactly how many self-pubbers are going to qualify.  My guess is that there won’t be many.

Recent data suggests that the majority of self-pub authors earn between $1 and $4,999 per year, but that’s a pretty big range, and it’s likely that most of the authors fall close to the bottom of it.  The data also doesn’t indicate whether those authors have published one book or one hundred, so it’s hard to tell if there will be an influx of Active members.  To nab an Associate membership, authors have only to sell a single story of at least 1000 words at the same six-cent rate.

“We are using existing levels of income but are now allowing a combination of advances and income earned in a 12 month period to rise to the qualifying amounts,” the announcement says, which may help self-publishers that rely on momentum instead of pre-sales to work their way into the target zone.  But it’ll be hard to tell the real impact of the decision until indie authors start to put in their applications.

Having more or less followed the inclusiveness flame-war over the past few years, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the SFWA or how they handled themselves.  They have some big problems that need to be worked out in the long term, and I’m not sure that I would join even if I could manage to approach the financial requirements.

But I do think this is an important signal to the speculative fiction industry, and the traditional publishing machine at large, that powerhouses like the Big Five only make up one lane on a road that’s broadening as we speak.  I like to see anything that shows self-publishing gaining acceptance in meaningful ways, and I think it’s a good gesture.  Only time will tell if it’s a meaningful one.

Amazon Scraps Breakthrough Novel Award in Favor of Kindle Scout

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Well, it looks like I got my (very irritating) ABNA experience on the books just in time.  The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is officially kaput, according to an announcement on the ABNA forums, and will be kinda-sorta-not-really replaced by the new Kindle Scout program.

Anonymous ABNA Administrator has this to say about the switch:

This fall we opened Kindle Scout as a reader-powered publishing platform that offers authors an opportunity to earn a guaranteed advance, a decision on publication in 45 days or less, the ability to retain print rights, and Amazon marketing for published books. Since launch, more than 20,000 readers have nominated the stories they want to see published and we have selected 16 original novels to be released early this year, with more chosen every week. In 2015 instead of hosting the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in its current form we will be using our new Kindle Scout program to discover and publish even more breakthrough novels throughout the year. Over time, we look forward to adding features to Kindle Scout and opening the program to even more authors and genres.

Lots and lots of angry ABNA hopefuls have this to say:

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

Now, I’m no fan of the ABNA slaughterhouse, which starts with a lottery, moves on to the fickle finger of whimsical fancy, and ends with a bored Publisher’s Weekly intern slitting open your thorax and frying up your heart for supper.  But for tens of thousands of people, the international contest is a yearly source of hope in a world that is mostly about crushing your dreams.  ABNA cost nothing, was open to anyone in the world, promised big rewards, and perhaps most importantly, accepted novels that had already been self-published.

Kindle Scout, Amazon’s new show-and-tell that looks primarily geared towards romance writers (but accepts a smattering of other genre fiction), still costs nothing.  But it’s only open to Americans with American bank accounts, which has gotten a lot of foreigners up in arms.  And most importantly, will only accept entirely unpublished manuscripts for consideration.

This seems silly to me, considering what a huge player Kindle has become in the self-publishing world.  Everyone uses KDP.  Everyone is trying to grab a piece of the Amazon publicity pie.  Everyone knows you really can’t get anywhere without Amazon’s blessing…yet books published through Amazon’s own self-publishing system are ineligible for Amazon’s own cash prizes?

Step one: upload soul.  Step two: cry.

Step one: upload soul. Step two: cry.

That’s why this Kindle Scout thing isn’t a direct replacement for ABNA.  It’s also much, much more geared towards friend-farming than ABNA ever was.  Kindle Scout relies on public votes to push books towards the finish line.  So if you’ve got a massive Twitter following or a rabid Facebook hoard on your hands, you’re a million times more likely to succeed than someone who has written a damn good book but doesn’t have the social media savvy to get enough votes in 30 days to launch your submission into the top ranks (ahem…me).

In general, I think it’s another one of those things that’s good news for Amazon and bad news for everyone else.  Are we surprised?  No, probably not.  I wasn’t planning to enter the contest again, so it’s not too big of a disappointment for me.

But what about you guys?  Are you annoyed by this?  Does Kindle Scout look interesting to you?  Is it just another hollow promise on the part of a publishing goliath that chews up and spits out hard-working authors for fun?  Are you going to submit stuff anyway?  Let me know in the comments…even if you’re not American.