A New Face for Inkitt, a New Reason for Writers to Be Wary

Readers may get a shiny new app to play with, but writers may want to apply caution before signing ink with Inkitt.

Honestly, I don’t harbor any residual ill will with Inkitt.  I was only on the platform like three months.  Since then I’ve had a lot of fun getting my feet wet in the world of independent publishing, collaborating with a phenomenal cover artist and experiencing the highs and lows of self promo.  Overall, I’m pretty content being indie (YOU could buy my book though).

But people keep hitting The Dark Side of Inkitt.  And when a friend of mine got in touch to tell me that Inkitt was up to something, as he hadn’t seen any new additions to their bestsellers since August 2018, well it prompted me to put on my investigator badge once again and start scouting around for answers.  I was able to sit down and talk with Lauren L. Garcia who is not only the author of the highly well reviewed and regarded Catalyst Moon series, but was the first ever author to sign with Inkitt.  She left after they’ve seemingly abandoned their “predict the next big thing with 1200 flavors of  reader data” approach to focus primarily on a feature rich app called Galatea.  For those who don’t have a lot of time in this crazy TL;DR world, feel free to skip down to my assessment of the new Inkitt by clicking here.  But Lauren has shared with me a very telling, compelling story.  Trust me, folks, you’re gonna want to pull up a chair for this.

First, the reason why Lauren left Inkitt.  Rather than summarize, I’ll let her tell it in her own words.

Lauren: At the time of Inkitt’s switch to the app, Galatea, I was waiting to publish book 3 of my series with Inkitt. The first two books had acquired a small fanbase that I was (still am!) eager to cultivate. However, I was told that if my series were to go on Galatea, book 3 would not be published on Amazon, with my other two books. All future books in my series would only be published on their app. Furthermore, I was informed that only book 1 would go on Galatea, and ONLY continue (ie: have the entire story published) if it “did well” (the stories on Galatea are/were serialized). If book 1 did well, then book 2 would go up, then book 3, etc. But I was also informed that only romance (erotica, from what I could tell poking around the app) was doing well at the time (back in November 2018), and they weren’t sure when epic fantasy books like mine would be viable. (I was given a vague time frame of “six months.) And, again, if that readership I had worked so hard to grow did not have the app, they would essentially be SOL when it came to purchasing the next book in my series. 

Needless to say, I did not choose to continue with Galatea.

Me:You’re the first author ever published under Inkitt’s banner, which is a distinction in itself. I know when I was working to get seen by Inkitt’s algorithm there was a heavy focus on self promotion as the writer had to perpetually push, point and pull readers to their books. Once you got signed, how much promotion did they do for you?

Lauren: So this was over three years ago now, but I remember them doing quite a bit of legwork to get the word out for the first book in my series. I recall them sending it to hundreds of reviewers/bloggers in order to get those coveted reviews. (And they did a great job! Book 1 has over 100 reviews on Amazon, mostly due to Inkitt’s efforts.) I don’t recall a ton of marketing in the way of ads, promotions, etc.  Book 2 did not get nearly the same level of treatment; I believe they sent it to some bloggers/reviewers, but not as many as book 1.

Me:I can understand a toned down approach to the followup; I imagine there’s less of a need to build a base for the second novel if they did the work of getting eyes on the first book. And I agree that it looks like they did a fine job finding reviewers and getting it attention. As an indie myself, I’m curious to how that direct attention from dedicated reviewers and bloggers translated to sales. Did they ever tell you what your highest Amazon best seller rank was during the height of their push? Did they have mechanisms in place, such as a mail list for your buyers, or a Catalyst Moon fan page, something that lets your active, dedicated readers know that book 2 is coming out rather than having them wonder and/or look for it by refreshing your author page manually?

Lauren: No, I was never told what my book’s rank was. I remember checking, but can’t recall any specific numbers now. I do recall that they managed to get book 2 the “best seller” tag (a temporary one at least, not the coveted orange one – I still took a screenshot though!) through the use of pre-orders – I believe. They also helped me set up a mailing list, and as I recall, they pushed pre-orders using a discount code that got emailed to people. So from what I remember for each launch (book 1 & 2), Inkitt collected pre-orders by promising a free book, then on launch day they sent a gift card code for the dollar amount of the book with a note encouraging folks to purchase.  They also set up a website, although I have since moved on. (The old domain expired back in May and I wanted to set up my own.)

Me: Now that you’re indie, have you seen an increase or decrease in your sales?

Lauren: I have no idea how many of my books sold while I was with Inkitt. I never saw a sales report stating this information and never received any royalties. This was because I had to “earn out” the money they put into the books (cover, editing, promotion, etc.). I was never told what this amount was, though I believe their later contracts mentioned a total of $6000. I did receive a royalty statement every quarter, but generally it was for no money.  In Feb and July of 2018, I did receive some money (less than $100 each time). The Feb payment was called a “new years treat and a thank you,” and the July was called a bonus for turning in book 3. 

Looking back, I feel like such an idiot for going along with this and not asking more questions. At the time, I thought I was just ignorant and this was the way things were done in the publishing business. But to answer your question, since I receive all possible royalties from my books now, I have seen an increase. 😉

Me: I gotta be honest here, Lauren. Your answer is pretty perturbing to me. I understand the concept of earning out, but that’s typically reserved for advances, as in they paid you $5,000 or $10k and you won’t see another dime until book sale profits exceed that payment. Coupled with your phrase of “later contracts” mentioning $6k and it’s rather alarming. Are you saying your initial contract made no mention of the actual price of promo you had to earn out of? What were your royalty statements saying, if not “you sold X units at Y dollars per unit, only $1000 more to earning out.”? Did they tell you how much they spent on direct promo for Catalyst Moon: Incursion?

Lauren: I just looked over the first contract I signed in 2016, and there was no mention of a dollar amount I had to earn out. The 2017 contract, however, does state: “….If the Publisher elects to publish the Work itself, as described in […], the Publisher will allocate a minimum of Six Thousand US dollars marketing budget for an initial marketing campaign for the Work.” I believe they advertised this on their site. Again, I did not see a mention of me having to earn out the costs.  I never learned how much they’d spent on Incursion. I can’t imagine it was too much; my theory is that Incursion was the “test pancake,” so to speak. From what I recall, they employed a lot of interns who probably handled the grunt work of emailing reviewers and such. 

Me: Also perturbing to me, is the idea that you were paid the price of promotion. Mostly because you have well-reviewed follow-on sequels directly tied to the first book that weren’t heavily promoted. If they weren’t promoting book 2, again understandable, where was the money in sales going?

Lauren: Your guess is as good as mine! At the time, I believed they were doing marketing for my book. That, and I was uncertain how much it cost to edit/create a cover.

Me: Could you explain what you mean by later contracts? Did they revise your original or is this something going into book 2? How many contracts did you have with Inkitt? And finally, were they serious about a bonus for turning in book 3 and a new year’s treat in regards to your royalties?

Lauren: Inkitt revised their author contracts several times over the three years I worked with them. One revision was because my series had gotten longer than I’d initially estimated, so I asked that my contract reflect that. Inkitt complied. The new contract was longer than the old one, because they’d added more legal jargon that I don’t care to parse out atm. (I did have an attorney look it over – as well as the original – and I have both in my current files.)

However, I bowed out of the subsequent contract revisions that Inkitt proposed. This is because my point-of-contact at the time (who left Inkitt before I did) informed me that I’d make more money long-term with my old contract vs. the new one, which promised shorter term gains. From what I recall, the new contract gave the author 25% of all royalties up front – without the need to earn anything back. I was told at the time that my earnings so far totaled about $245. I decided to keep my old contract and bet on myself in the long term. My point-of-contact did try to get me to sign the newest one, but I declined. 

I have no idea how serious they were about the “bonus” and “new year’s treat.” To this day, I cannot figure out why they gave me that money (it was less than $100 each time.) I debated accepting it or not, but ultimately did because…well, I needed the cash. [shrug emoji]

Me: Why do you think they switched to Galatea?

Lauren: From what I recall, Inkitt was focused on data collection, but Amazon limits the information one can get about one’s books. So I imagine it’s easier to collect that data if one controls how the books are distributed, like via an app.

Me: You know what I think about Inkitt’s focus on data collection. I wholeheartedly agree with you that it’s easier to collect data when one controls the distribution. With the new app, are they still tying in a sign in with Google or Facebook feature like how they’ve done on the website?

Lauren: I haven’t used the app, so I can’t speak directly about its functionality. However, looking through my old chats with the CEO, he mentioned: “Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t give you the customer’s email addresses and that’s terrible for marketing authors longterm. But with Galatea we have their email and can re-market sequels to the user base.” There was also a Galatea Facebook group. I joined out of curiosity a while back, but left shortly after, so I have no idea if it still exists. So I imagine that was also useful in terms of data collection.

Me: Inkitt told you book 1 of Catalyst Moon would go on Galatea in a serialized format and would only be fully published if it did well. This seems to me like a reduction from being one of their celebrated published authors to being a contestant, not unlike when I was in their contest prodding readers to get views. But that’s my impression looking from the outside. How did this change seem to you and how did it make you feel?

Lauren: Honestly, if I could have continued to publish on Amazon, I would have gone with Galatea as well. It’s a neat idea and I’m open to trying new things. But there were too many limitations to make Galatea a viable option for me. At the time, (Nov 2018), the change felt abrupt and very disheartening. I went from thinking I had a publisher who was invested in my work to being on my own. Ultimately, I’m much happier self-pubbing, but the change was at first incredibly jarring and upsetting.

Me: I honestly don’t mind the Galatea serialized approach but I say that with caveats. Inkitt has employed over a dozen script writers and is looking to hire another one. According to the job post Inkitt is “seeking a Full-Time Script Writer to contribute to a fast-paced team of writers who are producing daily episode releases. This hybrid writer will combine their skills of scriptwriting and interactive storytelling.” The role also mentions:

  • Communicate and collaborate with bestselling fiction authors & TV writers
  • Strategize and write stories from conception through to final execution
  • Work closely with sound designers and effect specialists to make a readers experience 100% immersive
  • Create story arcs over multiple seasons

What this tells me is that they’re taking novels from writers that they’re potentially not paying, or paying with promo, then giving those novels to script writers that they actually pay, who then go on and massage the story so it’s edgier and racier at the serial cutoff with the intent of leaving readers hungry and eager for more. Nothing wrong with hungry, eager readers. My problem’s in the chain of custody from potentially unpaid content creator to paid script writer and in what could be a process which doesn’t regard the content creator’s feeling and purpose for writing the story and changing it in ways the original author never really intended and may not want for better cliffhangers. Beyond that, cliffhangers every six minutes to keep you watching during the commercial breaks are what make tv shows unwatchable once they go onto a streaming service and the ads are removed and I’m rather incensed that someone’s trying to do this with novels now. But perhaps I’m wrong about this process. Did they talk to you about the process for Galatea, or the script writers, or their intent for your work that better illuminates what’s going on behind the curtain over there?

Lauren:  So this was the first “official” communication I got about Galatea:

Hey Lauren — I am sending this email out to all authors today, and wanted to give you the chance to read and review it before our call in a few hours. Talk soon! —

Hi & Happy Friday!!

I’m reaching out with some very exciting news to share here at Inkitt. As you may already know, we recently launched a new immersive fiction app called GALATEA. What is immersive fiction you ask? It is a brand new entertainment format, where you can read a story along with sound effects, vibration, visual effects, and new narrative tools. If you have an iPhone, you can check out the app here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/galatea-immersive-fiction/id1380362212?mt=8

We will be launching on Android 2019. (I have attached a screen recording if you don’t have access to an iPhone).

Once you download the app, you’ll see that the discovery page is split into Popular stories and New stories. All New stories are 3 episode pilots which we use to test a story concept, and once a story is proven to be profitable, we launch an entire season. I would recommend checking out The Millennium Wolves or Colt to get the full Galatea experience.

Not only is Galatea a cool new way for readers to consume literature, but it also opens you up to a broader audience and allows you to access valuable customer data we can’t access through selling on Amazon. That means, on the one hand, better reader retention for our authors: when an author releases a sequel or another work, we can contact every single reader directly through a pop-up, push notification, email etc. If a reader falls off in the middle of a story we can retarget them on Facebook to encourage them to continue reading, when a reader finishes a book in a similar genre we can refer them to your story as a constant source of cross-promotion. And on the other hand better acquisition: we can track performance marketing efforts in a very detailed manner that Amazon doesn’t allow which gives us the opportunity to spend larger amounts of marketing budgets on campaigns. The sky’s the limit!

Now, you’re probably thinking “That sounds cool, but how does it affect my novels”?

Our data so far is showing that this new format is more scalable than publishing eBooks and paperbacks for aspiring authors because of the data-tracking capabilities of owning an app instead of selling on Amazon, so we have decided to focus our primary efforts on this new format and will publish ebooks, print books and audio books additionally to successfully performing galatea formats. We, of course, don’t want to leave you in the lurch, so you have the following options:

  1. Tell us your want to trial your story in this new format! We’ll pair you up with a staff writer who will help to adapt your current novel to fit the new format and we will launch a 3 episode pilot on Galatea. If it performs well, we can launch your novel here with the help of our staff writers to continue the series.
  2. If you’re not interested and want the rights to your unpublished novels back, we are happy to sign back rights to your future novels, even if they are direct sequels, prequels, same universe etc. to the works we’ve published. With the rights back you can self-pub or seek out new representation.

Your already published novels will continue to earn income on Amazon, and if we publish in the new format they will be getting revenue from both places.

If you decide you’d like to self-publish, I am happy to provide you with a document of tips & tricks along with resources to get you started.

Please let me know how you’d like to proceed with your titles!

Best,

[Inkitt staffer]

****

I received this email the Friday after Thanksgiving 2018, after I’d been trying to get a hold of someone at Inkitt regarding book 3 of my series. I’d sent it to them back in June, but it still had not been looked at by an editor. I realize things move at a glacial pace in the publishing world, but I’d contacted them at the start of 2018 to say they’d have the book in June and ask them to mark their calendars for editing. At first I was told they’d edit it in Oct, then (once Sept came around) Dec/Jan. After months of no word, I finally got this staffer to line up a call. Then that morning, I got this bombshell dropped on me. 

The CEO did mention Galatea to me prior to this, when we had this exchange on Slack: 

CEO: “Regarding CM 3 I’m not sure about the timeline because lately we’re experimenting with a new storytelling format that seems to be more profitable for our authors. It’s currently in stealth mode and please keep it for now just for yourself. [link to app in apple store] we’re currently letting a few authors in on it and if it works well, we’ll move authors to the new format. It’s something we call “immersive fiction” with sound effects and soon visual effects while the reader reads. 

me: Interesting! Would this replace books on Amazon?

CEO: They would go together.

***

I (incorrectly) assumed this meant that I could continue publishing books on Amazon and start with Galatea as well. 

Me: Describe the actual process of working with Inkitt. Were there ever any face to face meetings or was it all done online or via phone? Did they arrange interviews for you with press or blog tours or make suggestions about your online presence? Did any of your interactions change or taper off from when you first started with Inkitt until you left?

Lauren: Inkitt is based in Germany, and I live in the SE United States, so there were never any face to face meetings. There were some Skype calls and such, but mostly our interactions were via email or Slack.  At first, they did arrange some interviews and gave me a lot of help/advice on setting up my social media accounts – which was greatly appreciated, as I was clueless at the time. Yes, those interactions did taper off as time passed. I think book 2 had one interview? I can’t recall exactly. By the time I’d sent book 3 in, it was all but impossible to get a hold of anyone from Inkitt. I was told later that they had one person handling “author relations,” and she was swamped. I discovered I could get a timely response if I contacted the CEO directly, but I didn’t like doing that, as I didn’t want to “bother” anyone.

Me: I’m glad you were able to access someone when you needed, even if that someone was the CEO. Also, thank you for speaking out about that… I would hate if other authors currently with Inkitt feel this way, like they can’t get answers or don’t want to be a bother, especially since they are effectively the resource that is paying the staff.

Lauren: For the first two-ish years, everyone that I dealt with at Inkitt acted professionally and courteously. It was only in the summer of 2018 that the communication started breaking down, ie: it was difficult to get a hold of their author relations staffer. I think this was around the time that they were ramping up Galatea, but that is pure speculation on my part. From what I recall, at the time only one person was handling “author relations,” so I imagine she was swamped.

Me: Why don’t you recommend Inkitt/Galatea to new authors?

Lauren: First of all, everyone at Inkitt that I dealt with was friendly and courteous, and I don’t believe there was ever any deliberately malicious behavior or intention.  However, the switch to Galatea happened so suddenly and so completely; what’s to stop them from switching to something else if/when Galatea doesn’t perform how they want? And what happens to those authors who’ve made their names via this app? I think Inkitt has some great, innovative ideas, but unfortunately, I can’t place my trust in them any longer, therefore, I cannot recommend them to anyone else.

###

As an aside, Lauren makes a very good point on what could happen to a new author who invests with the Galatea approach. Inkitt seems to change operation models like they’re seasons. We do not, however, share in the belief in the deliberate maliciousness of their behavior.  I believe they operate in a realm of pleasant dishonesty, a cadre of very friendly people who are smiling happily as they steal your good silverware.  Unironically, during the course of our interview, Lauren stumbled upon this article from Techcrunch, which has this most dubious quote from Inkitt CEO Ali Albazaz:

It’s also a more flexible platform in another regard: if you want to publish elsewhere at the same time, you can. “No one is locked in,” he said. “Our mission statement, which we have across the wall in our office, is to be the fairest and most objective publisher.

Not quite what she experienced while she was there, now is it?  Going back to one of Lauren’s first responses about promo, Inkitt used pre-orders by promising a free copy of Catalyst Moon: Incursion and on launch day they sent Amazon gift codes to the readers who signed up.  They could’ve just emailed the e-book directly to the reader, they are the publisher after all, but they wanted to skew the bestseller algorithm on Amazon. And to do that they were basically buying their own book, paying the reader instead of paying the writer.

Remember my TL;DR statement at the start? Well, this is how all this breaks down for a writer who’s contemplating signing with Inkitt.  Understand that you are taking a sizable gamble on a sensory reader tool, the equivalent of D-Box interactive movie seating, only you know dinging and shaking and chiming as you are actively trying to read. You will possibly sign away your novel for absolutely no money until it earns out the cost to promote it, a cost that may be undefined and amorphous.  Your novel will be given to a staff writer who is actively being paid while you are likely not.  They will then potentially change your novel by inserting faux suspense and artificial cliffhangers to cajole readers into signing up for more of your now serialized novel, and if you decide later to go your own way this novel may not read the same in its new serialized format, causing you to agonize on whether to leave it in its originally published form or go through the process of revising it back to where you once had it for a “second edition”.   Finally, understand that if you deal with Inkitt and something’s feeling off, I mean something’s just not quite right, do not trust the pleasant, friendly folks that are always smiling at you, or at the very least look at their incisors to see how sharp they are.

This is where I’ll leave it.  That’s me, but I’m going to let Lauren have the last word.  I encourage you all to support this new indie by treating yourself to the first novel of her series, Catalyst Moon: Incursion.

Lauren: I’ve been thinking about Inkitt a lot lately, so your questions came at the perfect time. 🙂 Looking back on my responses, I feel that Past Lauren was quite naive. However, I am truly happy to be independent now. I believe self-pubbing suits me more than even being with a “big five” publisher would. (Assuming that would ever be an option!😆 ) However, since Inkitt appears to be growing, I do think it’s important for prospective authors to get an “inside look,” so to speak, at their operations. I sincerely hope that the negative aspects of my experiences are a thing of the past, and that as Inkitt continues to expand, they will treat all of their authors with the respect and kindness they deserve.

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My Monkeys on Attack in the Year’s Best SF!

I’ve been a bit busy promoting my fantasy novels because one was temporarily free, the other had just come out, and both by most folks accounts are pretty awesome, so I’ve been a bit behind on my sci-fi.  But NO MORE!!  You guys remember my steampunk cyborg attack monkey story, “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds?”  Well it’s been included in Baen Books’ Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Volume 5.  For those of you who don’t remember because you never read it, here’s what the discerning folks over at Tangent had to say about it:

Even among the more restricted form of military SF there are some unconventional pieces. I thought James Beamon‘s “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” was one of the best stories of the year and was amazed that this “year’s best” was the only one to select it. No one should miss this alternate history tale of the Crimean War with a street urchin press-ganged into combat aboard an airship crewed in part by vampire attack monkeys.

No one should miss this, their words not mine, meaning you, meaning definitely check out the book.  The Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF Volume 5 is available directly on the Baen site and other online retailers (Personally I’d go to Amazon.  There’s a crazy amount of price disparity among sites, which I find both strange and perplexing).  You’ll not only get a chance to check out my story but eleven other stories such as the widely acclaimed “Thirty-three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer.

Plus there’s a VOTE!  Readers get to decide which of these stories is the best of this year’s best.  The BESTIEST!  Once you check out the book, head over to the Baen site to vote on your favorite.  I’m hoping it involves killer steampunk attack monkeys…

 

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Pendulum Shift is Live(ish)!

Mixed news, gang!  The digital copy of Pendulum Shift is now live!  Absolutely zero problem if you’re a tablet enthusiast with a penchant for fantasy adventure.  Just click here to go to the online bookstore of your choice.

But, uh, for those of you who enjoy the feel of paper pages turning in your hands, there’s gonna be a slight delay for the print edition. Amazon flagged it for slight format errors, small things I won’t bother you with here, but which once again made me pine for the yesteryear of CreateSpace.   Those errors are fixed but resubmitting for publication takes me back to the bottom of the queue.

Rest assured, sometime this weekend the print edition will LIVE! And as an added bonus for those who are willing to endure the wait, I’ve set up a Matchbook price to where if you get the print edition you can download the Kindle edition for free.

Back cover of the print edition. Not showing the words for those who want a completely spoiler free read of Pendulum Heroes.

Meanwhile, those of you who signed up for the newsletter know I was running a contest to give away an ARC paperback of Pendulum Shift.  The winner is a Goodreads user named Phil.  I was supposed to announce this yesterday but I was dealing with Amazon and waiting for him to get back to me.  Everything in its own time I guess.  Or is it can’t rush the slow taste?  Either way, things are happening as we speak.  Sorry for the delay… I didn’t realize Pendulum Shift was going to be this shifty!

 

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Pendulum Heroes Free Weekend is Here!

You know, I was envisioning a pretty amped up post on this day, but now that it’s here I don’t have much to say beyond what’s already in the title.  I gotta say something right?  Ok, here goes… extra exclamation caps mode activate!

TOTALLY FREE!!  PENDULUM HEROES FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE!!! 4.7 STARS ON AMAZON!!!! CLICK THIS LINK HERE TO START THE ADVENTURE!! GET IT NOW OR YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY GONNA PAY ME 5 BUCKS LATER WHEN YOUR SAVVY FRIENDS TELL YOU HOW AWESOME IT IS, SO DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE!!!1!

Seriously though, you all enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend. If you’d like to support this vet here, it’d mean the world to me if you gave my fun fantasy adventure a try.  Here’s the link to get it for FREE.

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