Inkitt Deleted My Account, and Other Forms of Nefarious Vanity Press Skullduggery

I joined Inkitt on May 23rd, 2015. I know this because after they deleted my account, I started feeling a little retrospective and wanted to verify just how long I’d given that site a chance before they decided to pull the plug. Also, I want to show that I wasn’t just some recent fly-by who’s salty because they only entered one contest and didn’t win. I had eight or nine stories on there, the most popular having a little over 1000 reads and the others somewhere between 50-200. Not that I can check that anymore, since my analytics are gone with the account, but it should go to show that I was in there for a good while and gave it a pretty good shot, in my opinion.

With that established, let’s get to the goods. Inkitt, as some of you may know, is a story publishing site similar to WattPad or FanFiction, if not in how the site operates but in that it’s ostensibly a community of writers and readers. I say ostensibly because, as some of you may also know, a lot of Inkitt’s fame in the e-publishing world has come from both its spamming and being labeled a spammer (Exhibits A, BC, and D, with the last one coming from the venerable Queryshark). Whether it’s promos for stories they host or “publication offers” that turn out to be popularity contests, the site has certainly been getting its name out there and not always in a good way.

Instead of just repeating what these articles say and calling it a blog post, I’ll give you guys some insight into experiences had by both former employees who wish to remain anonymous due to the negative experiences they had whilst employed at Inkitt and myself to complement what’s already been said.

First off, as a now-former Inkitt old-timer, let me just say that the site used to be pretty pleasant. The community was well-managed and active, the contests were varied and frequent, and even though the promise of publication was still just off in the distance, there was no reason for users like myself to really suspect that things would take a turn. However, they certainly did that. I don’t know if I can pinpoint a day when this happened since it felt fairly gradual, but it did happen. What changed was a shift away from short story contests to ones accepting only novel-length works. The forums, which used to be so full of discussion, turned into nothing but endless promos as writers were now hesitant to help each other in the contests, which were won by votes and page views instead of using human editors. The Inkitt Academia board, the only one immune to endless promos, got shut down after its moderator was dismissed. With other employees who were instrumental in running community affairs either quitting or getting fired, celebrity endorsements (they once sponsored a fanfic contest with Alan Tudyk, naked Paul Bettany not included) and AMAs dried up overnight. What we were left with was a popularity contest masquerading as a golden ticket to publishing superstardom.

Now here’s where I explain how this superstardom was pitched. In the new contests for novel-length manuscripts, the way to win was to reach 100 “reserved copies”, each representing a user who actively read your book. Once your book reaches this cutoff, something Inkitt always refers to as “the algorithm” takes over. While it’s apparently a trade secret, I suspect that this is just a hyped-up page view counter. Because the system is operating on pure numbers instead of being read by judges, you can imagine that it’d be pretty easy to game it, especially if you already have a significant fanbase from another website. Keep in mind that this was the goal of the spam emails and Tweets mentioned in the articles above: to poach writers who were already popular on other platforms with the promise of publication through Inkitt.

So let’s say you win the contest. According to Inkitt’s publishing guidelines, they’ll then shop your story around to traditional publishing houses in an effort to score a contract with themselves as the agent. The site then takes a 15% of net royalties, which is about standard for a literary agent. At least that was how the two StoryPeak and StoryPeak2 contests worked, because everything after The Novelist drops any mention of a traditional publishing deal, probably because they knew they couldn’t promise one anymore. This is important, because Inkitt still markets itself as a publisher, when the actual publishing is (or at least was) intended to be outsourced.

This is where things take a turn from their optimistic pitch. Of all the winners Inkitt’s had so far, none have been published traditionally. What’s happened instead is that Inkitt self-publishes the winners as e-books in Amazon KDP. Having gone this route before, I’m quite familiar with how this works and can explain it fairly well. So in the KDP interface, Inkitt would be in charge of inputting all the relevant information into the publication template (author, publisher, illustrator, genre, price, etc). While Inkitt credits the book to the author, it’s actually only the publisher that gets paid out from KDP, since there can only be one bank account linked to each Amazon author account.

A book that doesn’t get picked up by a major publisher goes through this process of KDP publication with a few stipulations.

  1. Inkitt pays up to $6000 for advertising, but this is NOT considered an advance. Rather, the book has to out-earn this figure before the author sees any royalties.
  2. An Inkitt publishing contract does not run your manuscript past in-house editors, as would a real publisher.
  3. Any royalties the author sees after earning back $6000 in net profit will come at one of two different royalty rates, which is at Inkitt’s discretion.
  4. Rights to books that earn back this amount in a year will belong to Inkitt, while rights to those that don’t are reverted to the author after a year.

There are a few problems with this, and pointing them out is what got my account deleted. First off, if Inkitt were a real publisher instead of an agent pretending to be a publisher, they’d be giving you an advance with a publishing deal instead of a hole to dig yourself out of first. They may as well make you buy a garage-load of books to sell yourself but since it’s all in KDP, you don’t even get that. Incidentally, my last post in the forums before my profile got nuked was me comparing them to a vanity publisher, which I guess got under their skin.

Second, Inkitt gets 50% of all royalties for the duration of the contract, whether that’s just a year or in perpetuity. Because of the way Amazon KDP operates, this will come at either (0.99*0.35*0.5) or (2.99*0.7*0.5) depending on how they price it. Standard Inkitt procedure is to price initially at $0.99, then go up to $2.99 after a few days. Of course, if they ever want to change this price, it’s out of your hands, just like with a traditional publisher. The main difference here, though, is that traditionally published books still earn the authors the same amount of royalties at sale prices as they would at regular prices. Brandon Sanderson explains more about that here but you should really just watch the whole series because it’s fantastic. Anyways, what this all means is that an author published by Inkitt would have to sell the right amount of books between ((6000/(0.99*0.35)) and ((6000/(2.99*0.7)) at each price point to break even. In just copies sold at $2.99, this would be 2867 copies. If all these came at $0.99, which is unlikely but possible if they ever lowered prices to boost sales, this would come out to 17,317 copies. It’s after this number is reached in whatever combination that an Inkitt contest winner starts to see money, and now they no longer own the rights to their story. That would be third.

Still with me here? So the beginning of the end of my time at Inkitt started about a month ago, when I got inspired to point out some of these observations on the forums. After all, there is a board for suggestions and comments, so I figured I’d give it a shot. While the reaction was never negative, it was just corporate and bland. I followed up and followed up some more, hoping that it would get somewhere but suspecting that if things hadn’t changed before, then they probably wouldn’t now. It was at this point that my posts started getting hidden (not really deleted, since I could still access the posts from my notifications bar) in the forums. I kept posting and asked why my questions were disappearing. It was at this point that I got an email from an Inkitt employee, asking if I’d like to take my concerns up with Ali Albazaz, the site’s owner, over Skype.

lauren-email

I’ll be honest. At this point, I was ticked. After this much time and effort invested in the site and nothing to show for my concerns but brush-offs from various employees, I didn’t want anything to do with Ali (much less have a private call with him) if he couldn’t reach out to me himself in any way. I figured that if he’d posted rather frequently on the forums before under his own name, it wouldn’t be too much for him to address this personally if he really wanted to address my concerns.

Since I was already in touch with some former Inkitt employees and users, I asked what questions I could about how the community could’ve gotten this way while being careful not to violate any Non-Disclosure Agreements they could’ve signed.

It was at this point where my account got deleted in the middle of commenting in the forums. You can still see my posts there as Deleted User. If you don’t believe me, here are some screenshots I took before and again shortly after my account was deleted.

Obviously, I’m valeca (named after the main character from my story Divided House) until the last comment. I had more threads deleted which I couldn’t get screencaps for in time, since I didn’t have a link to the page anymore. What it looks like is that Inkitt can only hide posts on the forums instead of actually delete them, because I could still access posts invisible in the forums by clicking on the notification link when a post got a new comment. Why they’d have it work this way instead of actually deleting them is beyond me, and probably indicative of the extremely high turn-over rate for employees there. Either way, I can’t get to all the ones I missed since my account doesn’t exist anymore, but I’ll gladly post what I’ve got if anyone asks for more.

If you’ve gotten this far and are wondering what the takeaways are from this, the biggest would be that Inkitt is not the magic solution to years of unfairness in the publishing industry. You’ve seen the accusations that the site encourages and practices spam posting, and I’ll second (really fourth) that. What’s more is that even if you win one of their contests, the most basic comparison to traditional publishing makes Inkitt inferior in every way. Between no advances; no human editors; little community support; contests that operate more as moneygrabs for the site than author incentives; and pointless Amazon giveaways, an Inkitt winner is still losing out.

amazon-promo

You are reading this right. The idea was that you get the voucher, then use the honor system to buy Inkitt’s book. Of course, doing this means that for every $1.08 they spent on these vouchers, they’d make back $0.34 per e-book, while the author sees exactly diddly-squat. Between you and me, I used the voucher to buy an e-book from another former Inkitt writer who’d been ostracized by the founders for asking too many questions (do you see a theme here?).

So if all this is something that you still want to put up with, then by all means, don’t let me stop you. Go ahead and try your luck. After all, founder Ali has said numerous times that what he’s looking for is the next 50 Shades of Grey. Even if this is a reference to quantity of sales instead of quality of writing, do you really want your book to get slapped with that sticker? Does that contract look good to you, despite it flying in the face of anything that’s ever actually made any author successful? If you can actually put in the time and effort to learn how to market your book well enough to succeed on Inkitt, why not just cut out the middleman and do it yourself? Or if you don’t feel confident in your ability to self-promote, why not use another website like Tablo, that has guides for new writers, and DeviantArt, with a large, active community? At least you’d learn and get to keep all your royalties along the way when you finally decided to self-publish.

And really, “hipster’s library”? That’s gotta be the silliest tagline I’ve ever heard.

P.S. If Ali or any other staff member is reading this, don’t waste your time trying to give me a canned PR response as has been done on other blogs that disagree with you.

P.P.S. It appears that in the 10 hours or so since I started writing this post, Inkitt decided to block my IP address. That’s one way to keep their user base from asking too many questions, at least for now.

403

If you read this far and feel as sketched out as I have by Inkitt and their practices, then I’d encourage you to help get the word out there. It’s not even about them stealing anybody’s stories; it’s about using your time wisely to maximize your visibility and reach as an author who’s in the same boat as all the rest of us who try to self-publish. You’re even free to keep using Inkitt if you want, but just bear in mind that while there may not be that one secret trick to becoming a successful author, there are certainly better platforms more deserving of your patronage and effort.

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29 Comments Add yours

  1. rebeldynasty says:

    Reblogged this on Mythos and commented:
    Why I’m jumping ship, and why you should, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. davidgowey says:

      I really should’ve left earlier with the first waves of authors who pulled their stories, but this is just how things worked out. Thanks for sharing this post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rebeldynasty says:

        Until recently, I had no idea. I came across one of the articles you used in your exhibits, but until tonight, I didn’t know just how deep this particular rabbithole went. Thanks so much for creating this blog. I’m sharing it on as many of my haunts as possible, to prevent any other authors from suffering the same fates.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. davidgowey says:

        This rabbithole goes particularly deep, I’m afraid. I saw the same articles before I wrote this one but I just figured that I’d keep my stories there for the extra exposure. Now that bridge has been burned and not by choice, so this is the result.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Little Birdy says:

    This is not surprising at all.
    Inkitt has been shady for the last few months. Same contests, same desperate cry for full-length novels. They are a paper mill for fiction. I’ve yet to see them publish anything of worth. You’d think they’d at least have a catalog of books by now, not a few things they popped up on Amazon. I could put books on Amazon, and I wouldn’t have to give a third party anything.
    Their ‘algorithm’ isn’t working, and it seems that they are getting flustered. Who juvenile for them to do what they did to you. I bet that is just the tip of the iceberg. Their staff seem to be constantly be changing, and now I really wonder why.
    I’ve heard enough bad stories from writer friends about Inkitt. I think it’s time for people to move on. Their hype train derailed at the station.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. davidgowey says:

      And it’s really too bad because the community used to be great. Unfortunately, it was the thing hit hardest by the constant turnover rate, since the community managers and board admins were first to go. I suspect now we’re only seeing yes men for Ali.

      And yes, you’d think the proof of their masterful publishing skills would be in the number of contracts they’d pull down. We’re still sitting at zero and I’m curious about if the authors they’ve scored will ever see a cent from all that.

      Like

  3. ~Melody~ says:

    Thank you for writing this article, I’ve had some doubts myself, but kept my own works on for hopes that something good would come from it. Little-by-little the community died away, I can attest to that as even I’ve become quiet (work reasons) but where 5 months ago my stories where just starting to get attention, it all slipped as soon as the more full novel contest came out and every one scrambled to be front and center instead of supporting one another.

    I’ll still keep some of my pieces up, mostly because there are some truly great people on Inkitt who is willing to help with proof reading, but it really is a shame that Inkitt is getting so desperate; an algorithm to find the most popular author/novel/story should be a simplistic one.
    But the more even I think about it, good written works don’t always get as much thought from the community as compared to those with poor structured/and terrible grammatical-errors that occur side by side in one sentence; these face planting stories I’ve often found has more votes and great reviews (5 stars and everything) than the novels that truly shine on Inkitt.
    An algorithm for popularity can’t possibly take in comparison for actual written genius, that is something that is being overlooked and my biggest upset of all.

    ~Majority of People are more inclined to read these ill-written works, though I will admit might have a good plot; but they need a good and proper scrub down.

    As for the fact that Ali doesn’t interact with his users (the Inkitt Community) directly from time to time, leaves a bad taste; Inkitt is supposed to be his baby, he should take care of it, feed it and cradle it; not hand it to someone else to up lift Inkitt ‘spirit’.

    So yeah… A lot of “Yes men for Ali”!
    I won’t rely on Inkitt for publishing because I don’t think authors will ever see a cent for there hard work! But I’ll keep Inkitt on the same lines as Spark-a-Tale, Fiction Press, etc as a community of authors at best (Though Fiction Press has a more active community right now and still growing).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. davidgowey says:

      I was in the same boat for a while about just keeping my stories up, but it got to a point where I couldn’t just sit back and watch anymore. Especially since the whole model shifted to only really supporting authors who were already popular and leaving the rest of us to fight for any notice, it just wasn’t worth it when up against that. I really do think that some people on the staff still want to help users but all I’ve seen anymore is Ali just pushing things through (“hipster’s dictionary” was his idea) and telling anyone who doesn’t like it to get lost. Now that so many of us are doing just that, I hope they start to get the picture.

      Like

      1. ~Melody~ says:

        I hope so too, because it isn’t nice trying to compete with the popular people and no-one is paying attention to the shyer authors or less web active authors who I’ve noticed has a great written voice going for them.
        Besides “Hipster Dictionary”? Really was that the catchiest thing to come up with? Often pushing through ideas aren’t the best path to follow and this is what Inkitt (Ali) is doing – he’s ignoring the users thoughts, the very people/’clients’ that he wants to serve his main dish to; and we’re allowing it.

        I’m making my exit move from Inkitt; though I really hope that Inkitt gets back on track to being what Inkitt was. The Q&A’s with authors was great to have; I had gotten a lot of inspiration and ideas from those AMA’s and as well from Academia, which is all but a forgotten memory now.

        I’m very much on my way to making my stand as well; the overshadowed authors shouldn’t be allowed to be overlooked on a site such as what Inkitt is being advertised for. If they are looking for aspiring books to publish then they should moderated the works being posted so that the true gems are known through out Inkitt and not just the most popular by ‘online’ readers from every walk of live of who half don’t speak English to a publishing standard and thus I suspect why they read the good plotted, badly written stories.

        Inkitt, as you have said makes it out as if they do read through what is posted on their site and entered into the competitions, but they don’t else at least a 1/5 of the contest entries would be eliminated. Not that I’m saying they should do that; but that is how frustrating it is! A contest for full length and finished novels ends up hosting 3 chaptered stories, finished (Not 40 000 words at all) or 9 chapters over 40 000 words but not finished and they get the readers because they’re either a nice sweet short reads or cliff hangers and everyone needs to know what happens next!

        And I commend you for standing up! It’s a shame that Inkitt (Ali) is too proud to actually hear out the concerns for his own community he created.

        Like

      2. davidgowey says:

        Yes, I’m disappointed by all this more than anything. It all just looks like they’re trying to take advantage of younger writers, or at least the very optimistic and naive ones, who think they can just stumble on instant success. Even succeeding on Inkitt takes skill, but getting you to that point isn’t what Inkitt does; they only capitalize on pre-existing success.

        I’m not the first and I sincerely hope I won’t be the last to say this sort of thing. Keep getting the word out there so that if Inkitt wants to change, they know what the userbase’s concerns are. If they still refuse to listen, then the site deserves to fade into obscurity.

        Like

  4. Masika says:

    I guess that Inkitt is out as a publishing platform now.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Dani says:

    Hi David,

    Is there a way I can get in contact with you privately? I’d like to share my own experience with Inkitt 🙂

    Like

    1. davidgowey says:

      You should have my email soon, so feel free to contact me there.

      Like

  6. Shadow Dancer says:

    Wow. This is eye opening. I’ll be pulling my stories immediately.
    What assholes.

    Like

  7. James Villinger says:

    Hi Valeca,

    It’s me, James. I was chatting with you before you got deleted. This is pretty bad, I must say. I’ve seen a lot of negative press about Inkitt, and it’s hard to defend them.

    For those not ready to self-publish yet (like me), what other platforms would you recommend growing your readership on? I’m already on Wattpad, for example. I’ve had no success on Tablo (despite it being created by someone from my home town), it seems dead on there.

    -James

    Like

    1. davidgowey says:

      Hey. I’m still in search of some new platforms in addition to those two, though the problem might just be that I’m not particularly active on them. With classes winding down, I’ll have more time to promote and write more than just research papers. At least I won’t be wasting anymore time on Inkitt.

      Like

  8. ashbleugray says:

    Reblogged this on Smoke Rings and Shiny Things and commented:
    *sigh* Is every website just nefarious now?

    Like

    1. David says:

      Not all of them, but Inkitt’s certainly on the naughty list. Oh well. If what I’ve seen there continues, I really doubt it’ll last much longer.

      Like

      1. ashbleugray says:

        Yeah, I started getting a bad feeling when their staff kept sending me personal emails. They were being way too attentive. It was like they were scared I’d leave. I started asking myself what was going on, and that’s how I came here. Wish I’d found this article before signing up with Inkitt. I never wanted a publishing deal, I just wanted the extra exposure. Now I want nothing to do with them.

        Dave Chesson the “Kindlepinuer” is praising them all over his website. I tried to warn other authors that it was a trap and was promptly shut down.

        Like

      2. David says:

        That’s how they’ve tried to bring back a lot of authors I know, and you’re right: they are scared. Putting up this blog earned me a string of personal emails offering to Skype with Ali himself about my questions, but I shut that down because I was tired of not being taken seriously. It’s never to late to leave and judging from how I’ve seen the community recently, you won’t miss much.

        The word about them is spreading, not to mention the fact that the site doesn’t do much to retain users other than constantly getting their hopes up with contests that go nowhere.

        Like

      3. ashbleugray says:

        Yeah, I’m glad I came across this article. Thanks so much for writing it. I’ve shared it on my blog and will continue to warn people. As if indie authors didn’t have it hard enough without this kind of stuff.

        Like

      4. David says:

        You’re welcome, and also thanks for sharing it. Self-publishing would already be a pain without sites like Inkitt but at least awareness is growing about their harmful practices.

        Like

  9. Anirudh Sathe says:

    How do I unpublish my inkitt novel and delete my inkitt account?

    Like

    1. David says:

      Funny thing about that… You can delete your stories if you go to your account but the account itself can’t be deleted easily. To do that, you have to email Inkitt and ask them to do it for you since they won’t be able to pad their membership numbers if users could delete themselves. Several people I know had to contact them for several months before this eventually happened.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The incremental photograper says:

        Thank you was wondering how to get our story off that mad website!

        Like

  10. Sophia says:

    Wow, I ma sorry such a thing happened. I have a similar experience with Wattpad, after I had a fight with a popular author, they deleted my account.

    Like

  11. da-AL says:

    super grateful for your sharing your wisdom 🙂

    Like

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