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, B, C, 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.
- 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.
- An Inkitt publishing contract does not run your manuscript past in-house editors, as would a real publisher.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.