Category Archives: Intelligence Reports

The Dark Side of Inkitt

An hour before I posted about the Bright Side of Inkitt, I deleted my story from their site, and for reasons I haven’t seen anywhere else on the net.  I didn’t mind the impressions from others that they were spammy (as I still hadn’t seen any) or that I was essentially turning my novel into “previously published” and I still like the theory behind their model to predict bestsellers using algorithms.  I went from excited to disillusioned, which led me on an investigation where I became appalled.  It takes a minute to go through that kind of emotional range, so have a seat.  This is the story of an Inkitt user from November 2017 to January 2018.

The compelling draw to Inkitt outside of the analytics model was the novel contest they were hosting.  You had until the middle of December to upload your novel, where they’d make 100 copies available for download and the winners, as determined by their predictive engine, get book deals.  I was enthused about the contest and the limited release so I hit the bricks, announced my novel on my blog, mailing lists, Twitter and close to 30 Facebook groups.  I earned a pretty decent number of reads.  Check the graph.

Before I go further, I should explain what some of these terms are as defined by Inkitt.  See those little question marks over “Chapter Reads” and “Collected Data?”  Inkitt explains them in detail when you mouse over them.  While I think the full description’s worthwhile, for those who may have small screens I’m adding the TL;DR version below the screenshot

Chapter reads are when someone starts your story or continues reading the story, essentially any time someone reads it.

Collected Data is how much data they’ve collected.  When it gets full, they analyze the book and see if it’ll be a hit.

I have to admit it was addictive watching the reads go up.  But I noticed the Collected Data bar wasn’t filling very much.  I figured it was still early, so I focused on what Inkitt suggested which was blare it out to more readers.  Besides, I would only have to move a maximum of 100 units and eventually the chapter reads would fill the Collected Data bar.

Then they took away the 100 download limit, making views unlimited.  It felt like a breech of the contest conditions, you know, the reason I signed up for it.  I suspected the reason they took away the limit is because their algorithm needed more than 100 readers.  After all, what’s the point of making the free story unlimited when the sole purpose is to simply get enough data to discover if they want to sell it for profit?  By this time I had learned trying to get readers to use Inkitt’s interface was a fairly titanic affair.

Then they took away the contest entirely.  If you go to the site now, there’s no mention of a contest anywhere.  Posting your novel on Inkitt has become nebulous and undefined, a perpetual slush war with every other aspiring novel on the site.

So there were no download limits, no contest and no real progress on Collected Data and all this within the very limited scope of two months.  Disillusioned, I started crunching numbers based on what I saw in terms of chapter reads to collected data and by my calculations it would take approximately 8,250 chapter reads for the collected data bar to fill.  And since you can only read so much of a 30 chapter novel, more factoring led me to the conclusion that this would take moving about 275 copies of my novel.

At this point, I wanted a bit of confirmation on the numbers.  As evidenced by the “chapter reads” description picture, this site touts their engine and how Book A can have 500 reads and Book B could have 90 reads but they analyze the data and determine Book B is the better bestseller.  Meanwhile I had more reads than Book A and Book B combined and only a fraction of a fraction’s worth of Collected Data.  It felt like a scam.  So I emailed support.  This was the start of a dialogue that would last 10 days.

First I hit them with the numbers I had worked out with a very thorough explanation of how I arrived at those numbers.  The response was that it really did vary, they hit me with the same example of Book A and Book B, and how the internal algorithm’s looking at over 1200 different reading behaviors and to keep promoting.  Here’s what I said in response to that in brief:

While I won’t necessarily say that you’re talking around my question, it certainly feels that way.  I thoroughly read through the mission and theory that Inkitt outlines, especially how even though Book A garnered 100 downloads and Book B garnered only 30, Inkitt’s algorithms can look at reader behavior and analytically deem Book B a better bet as a bestseller.  It’s the chief reason I signed on for Inkitt, as I have minority hurdles in this business and don’t necessarily have a huge following.  Besides, it felt as if it reduced the potential to game the system.
Again, I don’t know if you’re talking around my questions or if it’s simply a matter of me not asking it right, so let me ask my two base questions as simply as I can.
1) Do the “chapter reads” directly fill the “Collected Data” bar?
2) Is the reason Inkitt lifted the 100 download limit on the contest because 100 copies doesn’t produce enough data to fill the “Collected Data” bar?
This was the reply:

For clarification, the chapter reads are not actually downloads. A chapter read is when a reader starts or continues a chapter, and it’s not unique users, so for example, one reader could be representative of 10 chapter reads.

To answer your two questions:

1) No, chapter reads do not directly fill the Collected Data bar.
2) No, because it’s about reader engagement, so it’s not necessarily about the number of copies. We removed the counter because we wanted to increase the opportunity for authors to spread the word to more readers. Keep in mind, most authors would add additional copies when their 100 from the copy counter had been taken, so it was initially meant to drive urgency.

Keep in mind I never said or assumed that a chapter read was the same thing as a reader or a download, but the big thing here is that customer service said in no uncertain terms that chapter reads do not directly fill the Collected Data bar.  I’m sure at this point you guys know my next question because it’s big and obvious.
If chapter reads don’t directly fill the Collected Data bar, then what does?”
This was Inkitt’s response:

Per the name, reader data is what fills up the bar, so the more reader data that is available for analysis, the better. So, while chapter reads do not necessarily represent unique readers, they can give you a good indication of the reach, especially if you see a high rate of growth.

Again, the key is to share the story as much as possible, so it has the best opportunity to reach new readers and discover its audience.

If these answers from Inkitt seem cagey to you, you’re not alone.  I’m not the kind of dude you can toss a word salad at and expect me to feel like I had a great meal of it.  So I unpacked my same question.
My question is what directly fills the Collected Data bar if not chapter reads?  I mean, Inkitt has yet to actually analyze the data using its 1200 point algorithm engine, it’s just collecting the data at this point.  If chapter reads, i.e. the number of times a reader starts or continues reading the story isn’t what’s filling up the collected data bar, then what is?
I’m providing the response for the sake of tracking the conversation more than any real useful information to be had.  Here it is:
Each story will pace differently, so the bar will just show how much reader data has been collected and how much more is needed. The reason I was saying it can vary with chapter reads is because a story could have 200 chapter reads and have a smaller bar than one with 60 chapter reads, for example. Since it’s based on reader engagement, our algorithm is the one making a determination regarding that. It’s hard to provide an accurate response since it will always vary from book to book.
I think the objective by this time was to frustrate me away.  What Inkitt failed to realize is that I’ve been married for 20 years and I have a cat.  I threw out most of the filler and asked this:
So let me get this straight, you’re saying if a reader reads the story fast, it fills the Collected Data bar faster than if a reader reads the story slowly?
I figured this was it, as Inkitt’s founder  said as much in TechCrunch when he said, “If they start reading and stay up all night to continue reading, if they use every break during the day to continue reading your story, we look at this reader behaviour in order to see if a book is good or not good.”  But the response from Inkitt support surprised me.
Pardon the confusion, as that was not what I was saying. I was saying that every story paces differently regarding its progress, and since it’s about reader engagement, it’s always going to vary from book to book.
I really chewed on this and everything else, all the negative response to what this thing is.  And I had a soylent green moment.  This was my next question:
So, chapter reads don’t inherently fill the bar.  Neither does reader engagement in the sense of how fast/slow they read the book.  I thought a bit about what you say in terms of reader engagement and the reader data collected.  Are you saying that the more data you collect about the actual reader of the novel (such as a fully complete bio on inkitt) fills the Collected Data bar faster than someone with a bare bones profile of just a username/email login?  I mean, that would make sense because it’s very difficult to apply 1200 individual points of data just on how fast or slow someone clicks through a book.  But collecting data on the reader allows the algorithm to create reader profiles of sorts and determine how the book would work with the world at large.
Is this how the Collected Data bar fills, based on readers engaging with the site in a meaningful way for Inkitt to collect data on who the reader is?
Here was Inkitt’s response:
It would not be based on someone who decides to fill out a profile more than another person, but I think you’re somewhat on the right path regarding reader engagement, though we may be getting into proprietary information, so I’m not sure if I’ll necessarily be able to provide more at this point.
 You guys see where I’m going?  I was on the right track when it comes to thinking about what reader engagement was, but it didn’t necessarily have to do with profiles on Inkitt.  I want you guys to look at the sign in screen for Inkitt, the methodologies employed, and have your own soylent green moment.
While I can’t get a confirmation because it’s “proprietary” I highly suspect the Collected Data isn’t about how someone’s reading as much as WHO is reading.  Signing in with Google and Facebook allows Inkitt to request data from these sites about you; your birthday, friends list, employment, an exhausting amount of data about who you are.  Again, this is just my suspicion, but with that suspicion in mind everything makes perfect sense in the following ways.  Chapter reads do not directly fill the collected data bar because they’re not focused on the reads as much as who’s reading.  If most of your readers signed onto the site with a bare bones username/password, that bar, like my bar, won’t move much despite the number of reads because, while they can still collect the same amount of data on HOW someone’s reading, they can’t collect enough data on WHO’s reading.  I don’t care how nitpicky you are, there’s no way to apply 1200 individual points of data on how fast someone’s clicking through an ebook.  Besides, adults have lives… work and children with after school practices and dinners to cook and bills to pay… most of us don’t have time to speed through a novel with abandon but this is what they say they’re looking for even though that’s not an especially telling indicator of a bestseller in this current age of distraction.  What is a better indicator of a bestseller is market penetration, i.e. how many different markets can this book reach and one of the best indicators is demographics.  Are you black, living in New York and like the book?  Hispanic and 35? Male? Female? What’s your job?  When do you take breaks (after all, can’t know if you’re reading a book during your break if we don’t know you have a job and when you take breaks)? Do you have a lot of friends? Few friends?  Did you recommend the book to them?  It makes sense to discover everything about the reader, inspect and dissect it in 1200 individual ways to gauge how successful a book can be across several spectrums.
Again, this is just my suspicion.  And to be fair, I’m going to post the final exchange I had with Inkitt so you can hear what they had to say.  This is me, telling them what I thought they were doing:
It sounds like Inkitt is data mining the people who sign up on the site and the reason the Collected Data bar fills differently based on the reader is because different readers have varying levels of data to mine based on their Facebook and Google privacy settings i.e. how active they are on social media and other publicly accessible sites.  While this isn’t inherently proprietary information, as it doesn’t go into the data points of the algorithm, I suspect it’s a prickly enough subject for you to not want to comment on.  So I actually don’t have any further questions outside of “Would you like to comment on this?”
 I actually didn’t expect a comment back but I guess that’d be too damning.   Here’s what Inkitt said in response.  Keep in mind they are fans of word salad:
The Collected Data bar is only based on our platform and is still just tied to the reader behavior on our app and website.  There might not be more information I can provide beyond that, but if you still have questions, please let us know.
I’m pretty sure that signing in with Google or Facebook is a reader behavior tied to their site.  You can be your own judge of what this says.  You already know how I judged it.  Of course I can be totally wrong.  And even if I’m right, perhaps it’s not a big deal to most people.  I do not fall in that category, as I believe sharing information with another party should be a clearly communicated choice.  There’s a huge difference to me from just feeling let down by a sales pitch where I find out instead of 800 chapter reads I have to actually get 8000 to telling friends and long time followers and people who just discovered me to check out my work by going to this site and possibly signing up for more than they asked for or wanted.   It was important enough for me based on those suspicions to delete my novel from the site and to issue an apology to anyone who went to Inkitt on my behalf.
I’m sorry folks.
I tried to provide the best possible full spectrum look of Inkitt in the few months time I used it.  I hope you look at both this and the post about the bright side and make your own determination, as either a writer or a reader.
See y’all in the trenches.


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The Bright Side of Inkitt

If you’ve done even a cursory search on Inkitt, you’ll get some of the most widely disparate viewpoints for a new publisher you can find.  There are tech articles that seem impressed with their future-forward approach to predict bestsellers through data analytics.  There are writers on the web who have very good reasons why their business model sucks.  Me?  I dug the idea so I tried it.  This is the first of a two part look at Inkitt, with this one focusing on the things I think they did right, as well as an interview with Egan Brass, an author who found success on Inkitt’s platform.  I urge anyone who’s considering or recommending Inkitt to look at both parts (part 2 will post in a few days).  Let’s get started.

When Inkitt first started out, apparently they were spammy as hell.  Many authors and bloggers have reported this.  Personally, I didn’t notice this and I think perhaps that was due to my lack of a well developed social media presence until recently.  When I came to Inkitt in October, I had to find them.  And I’ve personally seen their business model evolve even after I joined in October 2017, so for those interested in Inkitt and you’re doing research, know that the further back in time you go the less relevant it may be to how Inkitt is today.

I also have to confess that I really dug the writer interface.  It was extremely easy to upload my work, format it in ebook format and post it.  I think that first day getting started it maybe took an hour to take it from a Word doc to fully available on their site. They also provide charts and graphs measuring your metrics and it gives you a pretty solid view of who’s currently reading your work, how many chapter reads you’ve got under your belt, and how much overall data’s been collected.  Also, and I mean this whole-heartedly, their customer service is top flight.

That said,  Inkitt wasn’t for me.  But that doesn’t quite give folks looking for a full scope view a whole heaping lot to go on in terms of the bright side.  So I decided to reach out to Egan Brass and interview someone who actually earned a deal for a book series through Inkitt.  Egan Brass (aka Ryan Attard) is the author of the Esper Files, the Legacy series, and the Pandora Chronicles.  Hailing from a faraway island, it wasn’t long until he began creating his own imaginary friends and writing down their adventures.  As Egan Brass, he writes the Esper Files — a tale of super-powered individuals set in a steampunk universe.  He also dons a cape and a mask, and spends his free time learning Victorian insults in order to both confuse and enthrall his foes.  He’s also one to write his bios in the third person.

The Esper Files is the series in which Egan found success through Inkitt and three of the books are available now at Amazon.  I asked him several questions about Inkitt and I invite you to check out the interview below.

Me: The Inkitt staff seems really helpful and friendly. Were they fun to work with?

Egan: The folks over at Inkitt are amazing. I mean, I guess you can expect that when you put a bunch of really dedicated people in an environment of hard work but also passion. Having worked with a (now failed) small press, I can tell you that Inkitt people actually care. Heck, they periodically ask me if there’s anything they can do to help – whilst demanding a sequel of course, ha ha!

Me: How much input did you have in selection of cover art?

Egan: They actually consulted me from the get-go. The thing with any business is that you have to present your attitude up front. When we had our first meeting, I told them that writing is my full time job and had been running my own self-publishing business for 4 years (now close to 6). Essentially they knew that I had a plan, from story to marketing, and as such they consulted me because of it. So yes, today every move done on Esper Files is a team effort.

Me: Did they provide an editor to suggest changes once your novel was selected, or was it a more of a print “as-is” type of affair?  If they did assign an editor, were they willing to bend to suggestions based on your input?

Egan: Again, they offered to assign me an editor but I was professional enough to have my editor friend look it over before submitting it to the contest, as well as edit it myself (I have qualifications in that sort of thing). Bear in mind that when I came on board, I was the second or third author they got — Inkitt has come a long way since then. So they presented me with my choice of editors, as well as letting me bring my own people if I thought I worked better with my team.

Me: When you say they offered an editor but you declined, you’re saying that in your case you could waive editorial review and they were fine with that? The reason I ask is because most venues I’ve worked with, excluding the ones that are looking for “print as is” quality stories, generally require editorial review, even if it’s simply a matter of grammar or word choice changes.  I’ve never seen a venue that has editors on deck but will defer to the author’s decision to employ the editor.  If nothing else, it definitely seems that they give the writers in their stable the royal treatment which is pretty cool.

Egan: Their practice is to assign an editor – so every book needs to be professionally edited no matter what. In my case, I already had someone I worked with for years, and asked them to use her instead of their own editors.

Me: It looks like you took 1st place in the Skybound contest (congrats btw!).  How long did it take from the time you initially uploaded your novel to the time you were determined winner?

Egan: Uploading the manuscript was sure easy. Even back then, the interface was basically copy, paste, save. (Now it’s even fancier but having used it again earlier this year, I can tell you I have no trouble figuring it out). As for the selection… Well, in between the drinking, and praying, and thinking I suck, and then reading the reviews I got so many times I can quote some by heart, I say it took about 3 weeks. It also helped that I already had a mailing list of fans who helped up-vote the book.

Me: I’m assuming once you won, subsequent novels in The Esper Files series are automatically selected to be published by Inkitt.  Is that right?

Egan: Yes, my contract says that Inkitt gets “dibs” (for lack of a better term) on any Esper Files book. Which is great for me and them, since the whole thing is 9 books long. (plus short stories and extra content for mailing list sign ups)

Me: Now that you’re an Inkitt novelist, are there any deadlines you have to meet?

Egan: Inkitt is pretty lax with deadlines with me, since I present them with a book a year. Heck, after I gave them book 1, we released book 2 three months later. So, I can say that at least with me, they never pressured me for a manuscript. Then again, I write like my life depends on it, so they have nothing to worry about on that end.

Me: How many chapter reads did it take for your Collected Data bar to fill for The Esper Files?

Egan: Oh God, I have no idea. As I said, the technology went through various iterations and personally, I had no idea how to read it back then. But I can say that since Inkitt is a data-driven enterprise, they put data collection quite high on the list. But don’t ask me how they collect it – my answer is either fairies or goblins.

Me: Do they help in any way with your social media presence (tips on blogging, setting up interviews on podcasts, setting up GoodReads Giveaways, etc.?)

Egan: I know for a fact they do help other authors, especially if they are new to the scene. For example, you can go on their Facebook page and see Emma (one of the aforementioned magical creatures) talk about new releases on videos. As usual, I am a bit of an exception. I had everything in place already, so they basically just got out of my way, or egged me on with my shenanigans. Like when I do Q&As for my book releases. (There’s swearing, alcohol and loads of geeking out involved)

Me: Overall, would you recommend Inkitt to fledgling writers?  Any tips for those newly approaching the site?

Egan: I would recommend it but please bear in mind this is not a magic button. Once you upload, you need to hustle to get yourself promoted. Or if you get chosen via Inkitt’s own system, then you still have to hustle and work on marketing with the team once the book is out. You don’t get to write the book, send it over, and bury your head in the sand. Inkitt is a great place for those that have the right attitude. (I swear they are not paying me to say this but I’m sending them a copy of this interview and demanding something!)

Me: When you say once you upload you need to hustle to get yourself promoted, can you provide examples of that?  Did you pay for any advertisement?  And how many copies did you move, ball park, in the course of the endeavor to win the contest?

Egan: No, not  paid advertisement. At that stage it won’t be worthwhile. I basically hit my followers and posted on social media to drive people to the competition and vote for my title. No idea about the actual numbers since I did not check.


That’s the interview, and my first one at that, so my apologies if I didn’t think to ask a question one of you folks reading may have been curious about.  I may do better next time if there is one.  Meanwhile, feel free to find out more about Egan Brass, you can check out his website here and check out more about the Esper Files, an adventurous superhero filled steampunk series here.

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Intelligence Report: Becoming Hero

How would you fine folks out there like a story where a comic book hero, whose life is constantly besieged with enemies, lost loves, and insurmountable odds on a near-weekly basis, finally gets tired of it and decides to kill the person who’s always stacking the deck against him, namely his writer?  If you raised an eyebrow or leaned a little closer, welcome to Jen Finelli’s Becoming Hero.


If there’s any one I can call my protégé in this business, it’s Jen.  She’s been listening to my good but weird (or is it weird but good?) writerly advice for a few years now, soaking in the big points and tailoring the finer points to match her own witty and irreverent voice.  You can see a great example of that in Brain Worms and White Whales, which is free to listen to and read over at Escape Pod.

Jen wants to bring to life this very meta story of a comic book hero getting revenge for all the torturous machinations we writers cook up, and when I say to life I mean full on color life.  She wants to hire graphic artists and a voice actor to provide some high quality audio and kickass visual aesthetics on the ebooks, audiobooks and physical print copies.  That costs a bit of coin and there’s a reason why the words “starving” and “artist” go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  That’s where you guys come in.

I invite you to go over to Jen’s Indiegogo page for Becoming Hero.  It’s very hard to not get excited by the premise and all the cool rewards she’s got in store for backers.  Plus there are contests and games, no matter your backing pledge amount, coupled with a real and altruistic sense of community and plain giving back.  At the time of this post, she’s about $1200 short of reaching that dream goal of fully funded.  So head on over there and check out the project!

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Intelligence Report: H.G. Wells, Secret Agent – FREE for 2 days!

You guys know I take my humor seriously.  Fun stuff comes along so infrequently you know, and I’ll be damned if I write it all myself.  So when Alex Shvartsman, the driving force behind the Unidentified Funny Objects  anthologies, puts a fun action novella out for free (FREEEEEE) not only do I pick it up, I tell you guys to pick it up.


H.G. Wells, Secret Agent is a romp through Victorian-era England, with Wells as a steampunk style James Bond.  Fun, Fast-paced, Frivolously anachronistic.. for FREE!

Get it here!  Read it!  Leave a review or just come back here and tell me what you think.  But you guys gotta act on it A.S.A.P. – the free status only lasts today and tomorrow.


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