Dissecting the Kindle Scout Contract

This is the eighth of my essays about being an author, brought to you by my Patreon page.


*Edit: It seems that Kindle Scout has been around for a while, but I can't really figure out when it started. Regardless, this is the first I heard of it, and Amazon is still billing it as "new."

Early this morning, I received an email from Amazon regarding their new publishing program called "Kindle Scout." Basically, they accept open submissions of unpublished material for this new program, offering you a chance to get paid an advance for something you were probably going to self-publish anyway.

Sensing danger, my writey senses began to tingle and I decided to take a closer look at the contract for their Kindle Press. I found that it has some good stuff, a bunch of bad stuff, and that I should generally do a point-by-point look at it in a public place. ie, here.

First, a disclaimer: I could be wrong about my interpretation of any of this data because I'm not a lawyer or an agent. I'm just an author trying to figure this stuff out for people like myself. Please let me know in the comments if I'm wildly wrong about something. I'm going to comment on the content of each of the bullet points as shown in their contract. You can follow along with my analysis by looking at the contract HERE.

Let's get started at the top:

SUBMISSION TO KINDLE SCOUT

These are all just basic submission guidelines that seem fairly familiar to anyone who's submitted a book or short story anywhere before. There's one big change: normally, you submit a self-polished draft of your work to a publisher for consideration. Kindle Scout, on the other hand, expect your to turn in a fully-copyedited manuscript as well as cover art. This means they're going to publish what you send them. No more, no less. They'll either accept it or reject it at face value, with no interest in helping you polish a good book or hooking you up with awesome cover art. In this way, you're basically self-publishing. Remember that properly copy-editing and providing cover art for a manuscript requires you to either be well-connected or spend several thousand dollars.

KINDLE PRESS PUBLISHING TERMS
5. Rights You Grant to Us.

World rights always make me nervous because it means they reserve the right to sell stuff in other languages. I trust my agent to sell foreign rights better than my publisher (and I keep more money in the case of the former), and I certainly would not trust Amazon's relationships with foreign publishers based on their relationships with those in the US and UK. We'll look more at this a little later.

The "develop, license, sublicense" bit makes me super nervous. Does this mean movie deals, merchandising, etc? Huge red flag, and a good reason to have an agent look at this (which many self-pubbers don't have).

I also think it's interesting that they skip print edition rights.

6. Term; Reversion.
6.1 Term; Minimum Royalties. 

Amazon basically gives themselves five years to make you $25K before rights revert. Interesting way to handle the alternative to "out of print" clauses in traditional contracts.

6.2.1 Initial Publication.

A "we have to print this within a certain amount of time" clause is standard. Six months for Amazon seems long, because they literally just have to push a button to make it happen.

6.2.2 Withdrawal from Publication.

If Amazon isn't making you at least $500/year within the first two years, you can get your rights back early. This seems fair.

6.2.3 Digital Audio Rights.

Two years to put out an audio book seems an awfully long time to me.

6.2.4 Language Rights.

Giving themselves two years to unload foreign editions makes way more sense than two years to get an audiobook out.

6.3 

Reversion legalese that an agent should look at.

7. Publication. 

This gives you 30 days to clean up your manuscript post-acceptance. Again, remember that this is all on you. They've clearly stated they won't edit or provide cover art or anything else a traditional publisher does to make the book more presentable. The "Other than changes or revisions we deem necessary for publication" clause makes me a bit nervous, because it's really vague.

8. Advance; Pricing; Royalties; Payment.
8.1 Advance.

Like a said before, $1500 is a tiny advance; the equivalent to what you'd probably get from a small press. The fact that they pay you within 30 days of acceptance is nice and can be compared to either on-signing or on-delivery payments with a traditional publisher. When I sign a contract with my publisher it takes around 3-4 months to get paid. When I turn in a book, it takes around 3-4 weeks to get paid.

8.2 Pricing

Amazon choosing the price is totally normal for a publisher, but is a step back from Amazon's normal self-publishing contract where you choose it yourself. On one hand, they have all the data and experience. On the other hand, it's another bit of control you relinquish for such a tiny advance.

8.3 Royalties from Direct Sales.

Another loss from self-publishing is the 50% royalty rate for ebooks versus their 70% for normal self-publishers. Remember, you're losing that 20% in return for the advance and the vague weight of their marketing wing. 25% for audiobook is 5% more than what you'll currently get matching with a reader through their audio program (ACX).

A red flag here is the fact you won't get any royalties from promotional copies (which is standard), but I have no idea if this includes people who get free copies for having flagged your work during the initial Scout program. This is a huge deal for an author like myself with an established fanbase. If 1000 people see and flag the book then get it for free, will I lose all those sales from my biggest fans?

8.4 Share of Proceeds from Third Party Sublicenses.

This is a big sticking point for me, because you make foreign money off of royalties, rather than advances. In traditional publishing, either your agent (if you just sold a single set of rights, like English) or your publisher (if you sold World rights), will get you lump sums from foreign publishers. The ten foreign rights sales I've had of The Powder Mage Trilogy over the last three years have been a not-insignificant source of income for me.

50% of "sub-licensed formats" sounds to me like movies, comics, TV, merchandise. But again, you'd have to ask an agent about that stuff. Regardless, it's a big red flag. I recently agreed to license Powder Mage jewelry with Badali - something I did on my own, because I still had the rights, and which I won't have to share the profit from.

8.5 Royalty Reports and Payments.

Finally. Something awesome. Royalty statements every month, as well as payments made within sixty days of the statement. I get both statements and payments from Orbit every six months and it drives me a little nuts. One of the best things about self-publishing my short fiction is having a constant, tangible stream of income that gets delivered to my bank by the end of each month from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.

8.6 Offset; Repayment.
8.7 Taxes.

This is all money stuff that you need to read through. Looks standard to me.

9. Copyright; Rights Protection.

Again, this looks standard but another good reason to have an agent.

10. Promotion.

This is a small paragraph but probably shouldn't be ignored. Amazon has vast reach, and the ability to put your work in front of millions of eyes on a daily basis, which is absolutely huge. The problem I have with it being so vague is that I don't know what, exactly, promotion means. Now, this is a normal state of affairs for any publisher that promises to promote your work, but in the case of Amazon you are intentionally giving up 20% royalty and control from self-publishing, or chance at a bigger advance from trad publishing, specifically in return for Amazon's ability to market the hell out of your book. The fact that it's so vague makes me nervous.

I'm also curious about you not being able to use their name without prior consent. Will they come after you for saying "My new book, The Fliberdyjibbet of Woompa Land" is out not exclusively from Amazon!"

Etc.

The rest of the contract looks like standard legal stuff to me, but again, I'm not a lawyer or agent. It need to be looked over by someone with more experience.

To sum up, I'm not a huge fan of this contract. There's some great stuff here that I'd love all publishers to get on board with, like monthly royalty statements for all digital sales, but I'm not a fan of their purchasing World Rights when the average person has no idea if Amazon can even sell their books in other countries (lets remember that many of the publishing and bookselling businesses out there have blacklisted Amazon's publishing arm).

The contract itself is aimed at new authors, rather than established ones (which I'd kind of hoped for when I opened the email this morning, because I do like seeing Amazon light a fire under the old-fashioned nature of trad publishers). I feel like most agents would outright reject such a contract in it's current form. While it's not outright predatory, it leans just a bit too much in that direction for comfort.