Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Amazon’s Kindle Scout – an Unexpected Campaign Success and Book Contract Win

To say I had everything going against me and my Kindle Scout campaign would be an understatement. I launched my campaign during the worst time, got a dismal page view count, and barely hit the "Hot and Trending" list. When I got the You’ve been selected! email, I held my phone, stunned. How did I pull it off? Let me back up just a little and explain how I got to that point.

I’ve been writing fiction for about seven years and poetry for much longer. I've gotten a few local grants and awards for my work, but nothing on an NEA scale. Thought I’ve tried to get an agent now and then, my work usually landed with great indie presses and no agent wanted to take on those projects.

In 2014, after self-publishing So Say the Waiters, I started working on Two Girls. I’d never written young adult stories before, but this felt right—the characters made sense and the semi-dystopic setting was weird and challenging. The story grew into two books—Two Girls = two books, right? I pitched it to over a hundred agents, one of which gave me a sort of half-yes and then, after six months, decided not to take the series. That was pretty disappointing.
Then I put the manuscripts down. Away. Shelved. My creative life did a creative 180. I started making tabletop games, successfully funded a $22,000 Kickstarter by myself, then another for $7,000 while reinventing myself as a game writer. And it was/is fun. Amid all this and also writing the second installment of a complicated role playing game, I decided to submit Two Girls to Amazon's Kindle Scout.
I submitted my novel RIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING. I clearly wasn’t thinking. At all. The campaign for Two Girls literally started on Thanksgiving Day and ended… take a guess… on Christmas Eve. Some people might say, “Oh, that’s great, people are off work and looking for something to read.”
No. People are shopping on Black Friday. They’re scooping up deals on Cyber Monday. They’re scrambling to cook and travel and pack and wrap presents and avoid creepy uncles and everything else that’s holiday related. I knew I had made a massive mistake.
Marketing is something I do fairly well. My Instagram for my game making endeavor has over 3,300 followers after 9 months of posting original content. I’ve been promoting things like night club events to poetry readings to political fundraisers for almost two decades. How did I make this insane timing mistake?

Disappointed in my crap timing, expectations sunk, I posted about Two Girls on Instagram and Facebook when it launched and quickly tried to put it out of my mind.
In the next 30 days, Two Girls had only 330 page views which is around 10 pages views a day. That’s nothing compared to other authors who paid for ads and posted on social networking platforms with Trump-like aggression. And the “Hot and Trending” list? Well, I got a pop at the end and made it on there for 71 hours = less than 3 days.

When the campaign ended, I sighed and thought, “Well, that was a good lesson. Never schedule a month-long campaign between the two biggest holidays of the year… idiot.”
And then the unimaginable happened. I got the email. Two Girls was accepted for publication by Amazon Kindle Press.
So what the hell happened here? I think the new lesson is this. Amazon’s editors are paying attention and they are looking for compelling work. Two Girls is a Young Adult series at its core, but its also difficult to categorize. It's kinda of science fiction, but not really. It's kinda dystopic, but hardly. It's a bazaar teen drama with lots of perspective shifting and questions about American identity. Not the easiest sell.
Admittedly, I had this going for me: I’m an established author with a good presence on Amazon. So Say the Waiters is a 3 book series with over 600 reviews on Goodreads and Amazon combined. It's currently opened for TV. So where does that leave the first-time author with little to no web presence? I still think you've got a decent shot.
Here’s the good news. If you have a strong project, but don’t have a wide social marketing reach, it might not matter. Amazon's editors get paid to find great writers. It's to their benefit because you're a possible revenue resource that takes little to no maintenance after installment: they plug in your asset and hopefully it makes them a 50% profit over the course of months or years.

Remember, I did nearly no marketing to boost my Kindle Scout campaign and I landed a contract.

Here's your Kindle Scout to do list:

  1. Create a great cover.
  2. Have someone proof your novel.
  3. Refine your blurb.
  4. Have someone else proof your novel.
  5. Ready your modest social media campaign.
  6. Have a THIRD person proof your novel.
  7. Post your campaign.

Keep writing. Never be boring. Fill the world with the weird shit.

I'll keep posting about the editing and publishing experience here. I just submitted the updated manuscript to the editors and I'm waiting for their notes/edits.

Check back soon.


Lexi said...

I nominated your book because I liked the extract. No doubt Kindle Press editors felt the same about the whole book, and that's what matters, not the H & T :o)

Justin Sirois said...

Lexi, thank you so much for the support!!