Category Archives: Intelligence Reports

The Monday That Got it All Right But Got it All Wrong

You know me, I love a good story and this one involves a business that just wanted to biz and put their best foot forward in that endeavor, so they dressed that foot in designer shoes and socks and still wound up tripping somehow.

Say hello to Monday.com

They’re in the project management software business, specifically software that helps teams organize, manage, track etc.  They wanna sell this software tool to other businesses so they can theoretically be savvier businesses… nothing wrong with that.  Now here’s where I show the commercial, the one that cut through a totally unrelated video on YouTube (otherwise I wouldn’t have known they even existed). It’s less than a minute, so I encourage you to check it out.

Hold on to what you noticed most about the video.  Allow me to tell you that if you’re like most of the commenters on the monday.com youtube page where this video lives, it wasn’t what the software actually does.  Some of the commenters wanted to know who the attractive spokesgirl was, some dug the sofa or the building architecture, but the overwhelming majority wanted to know where they could get that insanely awesome, crazy infectious earworm beat.  And since it’s an ad that cuts through other YouTube videos which are probably extremely unrelated to office/team management to sell people who may not have offices or teams or spokesgirls or jobs this designer software, it had a share of complaints and jokes.  This has led to a comment section which I haven’t had so much fun browsing since Amazon’s Three Wolf Moon shirt.  Here are a few choice ones:

The BG Music brought me here.. and ONLY that.

So you won’t tell us what the title of the song is? Even if we ask on a Monday????

Yeah, but i hate mondays

I LOVe the music! What’s the name of the music? :O

Its like MS Project but for millennials.

Whats the name of the music used in this ad? PLEEEAASSSEEEEEEE!!!
Anyone know the girls name or IG name at least?
I suggested monday dot com to my employer, and they fire me instantly. True story!
Stop encouraging women to be managers; they’re terrible at it
I’ve only included a smattering of the comments that asked about the beat, just so you guys could get a sense of how often it was happening.  Internet investigators starting digging into it and sharing what were the closest similar beats or getting in touch with monday.com to directly inquire and one person reproduced the beat and hosted it on their own YouTube channel.  This investigation and collaboration was all going down in monday.com’s comment section.  The requests for the song just wouldn’t stop coming in.
Finally, a month ago monday.com pinned a response at the top of the comment section.
For everyone asking for the music, here is a link to the song 🙂 https://youtu.be/dQw4w9WgXcQ
Now,  I was one of those beat seekers, which is why I started pursuing the ad in the first place and found myself surrounded by this story.  Which means I’ve clicked the link (so you don’t have to) so this will hopefully spare you from getting rickrolled like I did.  Yes,in a classic bit of trolling themselves, monday.com rickrolled everyone.
Some of the commenters got offended, started calling themselves “potential customers” and talking about how they’re going to take their business elsewhere.  Stop it.  To riff off Rick Astley, you were never gonna give, never gonna give, never gonna give a dollar to their software.  And if you actually are an executive or manager who procures software for their office and actually need team-building organizational management tools, if something as simple as a redirect to some classic 80’s music is enough to put you off from investing in better business management then your company’s likely doomed to failure with that shitty attitude.  They’re not Shazam, fool.
The ad’s currently sitting at 32 million views on YouTube.  That’s a killer ton of views. Out of almost 170 comments, do you know the number of comments that actually testify that this is winning software?  2.  Yep, two.
monday.com is the best tool and platform in the business. Just perfect!!
To which other commenters called this person a sock-puppet with 2 subscribers and no content.  The other was a backhanded compliment.
You have a great product. But please stop throwing that annoying commercial at me every time I watch something on Youtube.
This is a fun story to me because you’ve got a company that just wanted to get word out of its product and did the absolute best they could to dress their product up for a spring social.  But they ironically dressed it up so well that that no one cared about what they had dressed because everyone was too busy wondering where those fancy threads came from.  It’s like the equal opposite of the movie The Producers, where a couple of theater play producers with the intention to fail combine a bunch of bad factors together and somehow succeed… only here a company with the intention to succeed combine a bunch of great things together and somehow fail.
Please allow me a bit of poetic license with the language with that last part.  I don’t know per se if they’ve failed… if there’s no such thing as bad advertising, at 32M views then it was a successful ad campaign.  It’s just the comment section is its own sort of mini-drama, one I fervently wanted to share with you all.  And that beat, tho. The moral of the story: advertise to the right audience.  Speaking of, buy my book.
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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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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.
UPDATE: Inkitt has seemingly changed their practice, moving away from predictive analytics to determine bestsellers to focus on a reading app.  It’s still not all good in the trenches.  You can check out the latest development here.

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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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