Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Liza analyzes the Kindle Scout selection process

So you want to be selected by Kindle Scout.

First, write an intriguing story, get your book edited, and create a great cover.

The story should grab the reader from the first sentence, because chances are, most readers will only read a few lines.

Hone your tiny blurb to perfection because that’s all most of the readers will read.

And yes, the actual book has to be fabulous, because if you pass the voting hurdles, an editor is going to read it, and if its crap, then you’ve wasted your time, and a great deal of your friend’s time and effort, because the editors can afford to be choosy. In fact, I’ve loved several books that weren’t selected.

Why does a great book fail?

Because the author either lacks sufficient people to get the votes, or the book did not fulfill Amazon’s requirements, including the secret ones..

First let’s discuss Hurdle One: Getting the votes.

From what I’ve seen thus far, if you don’t get the votes, you don’t get selected. Period.  

Does that mean you have to stay on the Hot and Trending all 30 days?

I’m doing statistical analysis on this. The answer seems to be changing and you may need to be on it for most of the days now.

Why would Kindle Scout create such a hurdle? 

They’ll certainly lose some great books by doing so.
However,if their focus is to create bestsellers this is a great means to discover who has a significant fan base that will vote for you and write fabulous reviews and encourage their friends to buy your book.

So it’s actually logical for them to create a high popularity hurdle for you to jump over. And if you lack the social network to sustain you on the Hot and Trending most of the 30 days, then they’ll probably pass you by, even if your book is good.

The ability to rally a large group of people is critical to your success as an author.

So let's discuss Hot and Trending.

As far as I can tell, the Hot and Trending top 20 is judged by the votes of the day and not your total vote count.

Here’s why I think that:
New books can get on the Hot and Trending as of day one. If only the total number of votes counted, then those books who have been seeking votes the longest should be able to crowd out all the newbies. Mathematically, the votes you acquire over 30 days should be much larger than the votes you have on day one.

So I believe they only count the day’s votes for Hot and Trending so everyone has a chance to get on it.
However the total votes accumulated over the 30 days could be the deciding factor of popularity.

The value of being in the hot and trending for as many days as possible is to get the votes of Independent Scout readers who are a potential addition to your votes. As you know, everyone gravitates toward a winner. That is doubly true here.  

Based on some statistical analysis I did, I believe your rank in the top 20 is accurate and not some random placement of the top 20. The reason it can change dramatically between the hourly refreshes is because we all do our promotions at different times. So if I wrote a very clever promo and timed it at a moment my peeps actually were around to act upon it, then I’d get lots of votes and shoot to the top for that hour. However during the hour that follows, other authors are writing their brilliant promo’s, so when the refresh occurs, suddenly, I’m number 20.

Assuming I’m right about this level playing field, then if you have a limited social network reach, you don’t want to be number one too often, if at all. You want to be in the top 20 to capture the inde vote, but you also want to be on the list as long as possible, which means you’ll need to sparse out your potential voters over the 30 days to keep you in the top 20.

All the successful books, thus far, started and ended on the top 20.

Enters the Scout Readers:

As scouts readers (with no allegiance to anyone) increase in number and optimize their probability of getting a free book, the last three days should be the largest vote acquisitions by people who don’t know you.
The votes aren’t tallied until Day 30 ends. Thus, for a scout, it makes sense to focus on the books on their last day. The only ones to be considered should be those with the HOT tag, indicating they are in the top twenty.  But what about a really good book that has fallen out of the top 20?

There was a case of that as I was writing this blog and it didn’t get selected. The results thus far indicate if you aren’t in the top 20 for the last 3-2 days, you won’t be chosen.

The reason are the scouts readers want free books…good books, but if the book isn’t published, they get nothing, so they should choose only among the hot books. Period.

Work very hard NOT to drop off the Hot list in the last 3 days. It is really hard to get back on because you have scouts voting for other books that are on the hot list, so you need a lot of votes to climb up back on the list. Once you do, they will vote for your book and with continued promotions you’ll stay there.

There will be a few books who have huge voters and stay on it from day one to thirty.
But lots of book are on, then fall off, but climb back up, so don’t give up if you struggle to stay on the Hot and Trending.

Staying on the top 20 is your key objective.

The dynamics of the voting will continue to change due to the increase of independent scout readers optimizing the last day opportunity of getting books. This means more and more of the daily votes and thus Hot and Trending slots will be taken by those with a few days left. So you definitely need to save some big bullets to ensure you are on the top 20 during last three days.

If you had a strong showing up front and midway, but fell out by the end and couldn’t get back up, you probably won’t be chosen. I base that conclusion on my current tracking of books through the process.
It is up to the author to get their book into the Hot and Trending before the Independent Scouts start to vote. Right now that looks to be on the third day (called 2 days left).

As the inde scouts increase, the back selections will dominate the top 20. That will probably leave no more than 10 spots for the other 27 days. This explains why the Top 20 presently tends to be front and back end loaded.

Some authors have tried to only begin promoting votes at day 3, thinking their placement on day 1&2 on the NEW list will get people interested. As far as I can see, it’s a bad strategy. You have two types of people. Friends and Independents. Friends vote because you ask them to. Inde’s who wish to maximize their success rate only vote for Hot books on the last day or so.

Staying on in the middle requires a huge support structure because you are competing for those slots with new authors who have fresh untapped resources on the front end. And then you’ve got the independent readers voting for books on the back end.

The frontend and middle voters are derived by the author’s network. The end voters are a mix of network and independents.

If you are well connected, with an email list thousands long and an active street gang, plus ten thousand tweeters and thousands of active friend on Facebook who will act on your command, a reach of a million on Tribrrr and you remain on the Hot and Trending, then you can expect your book to be read by the editors.

Now to the secret disqualifying rule: 

I’ve seen a couple of very good books pass the popularity hurdle and still be rejected.
I’m only speculating here, but given the low romance numbers, which I discuss below, and by putting myself in Amazon’s shoes I think there’s a reason why romance books are struggling: Sexual content.

Amazon has been very clear they intend to translate and publish these books in the language of other countries. Some of these countries may have stricter morality standards than America, which Amazon will need to adhere to. Thus, if your romance (regardless how you categorize it) has sexual content, then I don’t think they can select you. They clearly stated no erotica, but I think the line they have drawn (possibly for legal reasons) is far stricter than ‘no erotica’.  If a translator cannot easily remove your sex scenes and leave the plot intact, then your book doesn’t fit their needs.

I believe this is where my book went afoul. Knowing this helps me, because upon consideration, every book I’ve ever written would not be acceptable in some of the more rigid countries. Thus, Kindle Scout is not for me and many others if I have guessed correctly as to why some books that looked like sure winners failed to be selected.

I’ll continue analyzing the data, but here are my takeaways at this time:

Mysteries are the most likely to be selected

While they are also the most commonly submitted genre, their selection is statistically higher than would be expected if all books had the same chance of selection.
Thus far, either due to the votes or editor’s preference, mysteries are your best shot for being selected.

10 out of 14 selected books have been Mysteries. Of this 2 were mystery/romance and 2 were mystery/sci fi.

All sci-fi selected thus far have been real sci fi except for one mystery/ghost book  (which is categorized in Sci Fi/ Fantasy/paranormal.)

The one romance selected was on the top twenty the entire time and is a romantic contemporary young adult comedy

The 2 mystery/roms selected were comedy and inspiration romance.

Thus, my speculation that sexual content may be a cause to reject the book.

If I’m right,

Then it’s clearly bad news for Sci Fi Rom writers and romance authors who let their characters get it on at times.

Which brings me to an ironic truth. While books of crime, death, and terrorism don’t offend any country that Amazon wishes to publish in, it seems two people loving one another is highly offensive to some. I hate to think what that says about humans as a whole.

By noting this, I’m not criticizing Amazon. They have every right to select books that suit their purpose, which appears to be expanding their reach in foreign countries while establishing themselves as a contender in publishing worldwide.

And here’s my disclaimer. I’m just a former strategist looking at data. I could be wrong about every speculation and suggestion I’ve made. I didn’t ask for nor receive any information from Amazon. I’m just tracking the books on the site.

And I did submit a book that was rejected.  I was iffy on the amount of time it spent on the Top 20, but if I’m right on the sexual content issue, my book was entirely unsuitable for consideration. I wish to apologize for wasting the editor’s time, but they probably stopped reading about ten pages in when Lt. Wickham deflowers Lydia Bennet, so I didn’t waste a lot of their time. Had I known the real rule was a wee bit more restrictive than ‘no erotica’ I wouldn’t have bothered submitting the book.

So apologies to the Amazon Editor who read the first ten pages of my book,
Major apologies to whomever I knocked out of the top 20 with my book,
and great love and appreciation to all my friends who went to extraordinary length to give me a chance for this grand opportunity. If I’m right, then I never had a chance at all, but it doesn’t change how marvelous you were.

UPDATE AS OF 12/27/2014
Today, a romance was selected that I pretty sure has sexual content. (It's part of a series called  Naughty Scribes.) Also, it spent most of its time off the top 20 list, so it broke both rules I thought was important. From reading the first three chapters, it's unique, very well written and highly engaging.

Before Captain and Countess was accepted, thirteen days had passed with NO BOOK being selected. Now it could be none of the books interested them, but it's also possible they reassessed the types of books they wanted and realized there just aren't that many 'sweet' romanced with no sexual content, and perhaps they should address the many countries that like sex. (Most of Europe, Australia, North and South America...)


  1. Interesting read of the data. And the rationale you've attributed to AMZ. I think it has a better shot at being accurate than almost any other you might come up with.
    But don't let your choice of plots and scenes be altered in a way that doesn't please you. There are worse things than being ignored by Scouts.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I won't change my writing, I promise. My characters wouldn't allow it. If I had told Lydia she couldn't have anymore sex, she would have walked off the page.

      On the good side, this means I won't be pleading for more votes on other books, because I don't think I'd qualify in any gender. Even my Late Victorian Sleuths get it on...because people do that...along with committing crimes and murdering others.

  2. I sure hoped you would make it through!

    1. If I had only put myself in their shoes BEFORE I submitted, I would have known the book was unsuitable. It's a lot of work to stay on the top 20, all for naught. But I did discover how awesome my friends are.

  3. Thanks for the careful analysis. It sounds very 'Authonomy' to me. Best of luck to those who can be bothered with it - or have the social clout to make it work. I recall the uproar whenever authors on Authonomy were accused of 'gaming' the system by getting fans/friends/colleagues to vote for them. As you say, popularity aka the chance of a best seller, is what these 'contests' are all about.

    1. I'm continuing the analysis for two reasons. 1) The behaviors appear to changing. 2) I believe there are more secret deciders, not just sex. For example strong religious overtones can offend other religions, so that may be reason to reject a book as well.

  4. Thank you for sharing all this! It's good stuff. Love your comment about your characters not letting you change the writing. I feel the same. I couldn't tell them what to do if I tried.

    1. My characters are very bossy. And since they believe they are real, they want to have sex. Now I don't normally write about it in great detail, unless it has purpose to the plot, let's face it. It's a major part of life, so I can't just ignore it.

  5. Thank you for the insights. Now I do hope you will consider publishing this book anyway and let the rest of us decide if we agree with the Kindle Scout program!

    1. Oh Lydia refuses to be muted. She wants the world to know her.
      I'll publish it in January.

  6. Amazing analysis, Liza, and I think you're right on the mark.

    I've promoted on Twitter because I know how much work it was for you to remain in the Top 20 and would hate other scifi/rom and romantic writers to waste their time on promoting a book that will never be selected.

    1. I'm continuing the analysis even though I'm not longer in it. The data is still small. I will know more in a month or two. I think this has a great potential for some authors, so I want to get it right, so those who have a chance will know to give it their all.


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