So instead of a short story for Writer Wednesday, I’ll ask a question: Has anybody heard of Inkitt?
Okay, yeah, I get it. Inkitt’s got a sucky reputation at the moment, and that’s (slightly) deserved. But after a brief hiatus, I’ll be returning. Here’s why.
What the hell is Inkitt?
“Don’t publish in two years when you’re finished. Publish as you go, get feedback from other writers and improve. […] Our aim is to build the next step of publishing where we can measure how people read, and see very early how a story will become a best-seller, unbiased and objectively. ~Ali Albazaz to Red Herring, 2012
Basically? Inkitt’s founder thinks he’s designed an algorithm that—based on community reads and reactions—can accurately predict the next bestseller from the ranks of the wannabe (published) writers.
Worldwide bestsellers like 50 Shades of Grey (debate its quality as you will) have been rejected by traditional publishing houses, due to their “crowdsourced,” electronically published drafts and their ignoble roots as fanfiction. Harry Potter—one of my favorite childhood series—was turned down by more than a dozen publishers. When it was (finally) published, the series’ future marketability was so uncertain, J.K. Rowling was forced to go by her initials since “no boy would read books written by a woman.” (I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s a true story.)
A publishing house that claimed it would leverage social engagement metrics and logarithms to evaluate the potential of a tale, rather than enforcing a “gut feeling” sort of approach?
(Well, manuscript, not money, but same-diff.)
Why the World (Seemingly) Hates Inkitt
Ahhh, Dear Readers, such a lovely thing was fated to stumble before it could fly!
It’s important to remember that the founder of this particular publishing house
is was a programmer. Inkitt was actually started as a part-time hobby while he worked a day job, writing code and (presumably) fielding calls from family members thinking they could get IT support for free.
Why do I bring this up? Because many of the problems the budding website faced were of a PR nature, which is—as we all know—most programmers’ very best favorite thing in the whole world.
Inkitt was released for public consumption as a beta site. Now, this tactic is fine and dandy for programs, games—shoutout to Steam Greenlight!—and even books (if you look at their “crowdsource a rough draft” as an analogous beta program). For a social site, it’s a bit more problematic. For a site like Inkitt, it’s a catch-22 situation.
See, algorithms require lots of data to crunch in order to spit back accurate results. The more data you put in, the more accurate the result. So for Inkitt’s algorithm to successfully predict the next bestseller, it needs lots of data, which means lots of users.
In order for Inkitt to verify and test its formulas for bestseller-prediction, it needed to launch the site as soon as possible. It needed writers, sure, to submit manuscripts, but more than that: It needed readers.
And so, its beta site was designed to keep readers as long as possible—even if that reaction started to resemble a prison.
- Features common to its competitor sites like reader notifications and metrics were offline, to go public at a later date.
- Writers on other websites received spammy email invitations, written as though the composer had never read the story. (Chances were, s/he hadn’t.)
- You couldn’t escape its emails. Apparently, a bug with the email notification system caused a deluge of spam into readers’ inboxes—even after they’d unsubbed from the notifications! Such a torrent of email turns people off, right off the bat.
- Inkitt hosted contests and encouraged social sharing to garner votes and reviews, but made its users unwelcome in some of the most popular online forums like reddit. It encouraged sharing without context, resulting in accusations of spam and alienating the very writers & readers it needs to survive.
- When contest results became public, the purpose of votes—and readers’ “sacrifice” of personal information to vote for beloved stories—remained unclear, as stories that “won” the popular vote didn’t win the contest due to unclear rules.
Admittedly, my NaNoWriMo story Questing: A Failed Tale fit this last bullet to perfection. It won the popular vote, but only placed third.
I was a bit peeved about this. I stormed out of Inkitt, angry that I’d essentially given the website first publishing rights by posting the draft publicly online and feeling deceived.
However, that’s not where this story ends.
The Apologist’s Renaissance (Or, Why I’m Going Back to Inkitt)
So after that long, drawn-out saga, here’s the meat-and-potatoes of this post.
I’m going to be giving Inkitt a second chance, and I encourage everyone who thought Inkitt was a spam of a website—a joke, compared to the fully functional alternatives—to come back, too, for several very important reasons.
1. They’re fixing their mistakes.
Ali took the time to reach out to several those who worried about the website and complained about its functionality make amends. He explained what happened, what was intended, and apologized. That’s a huge green checkmark for them, in my book.
Furthermore, functionality is slowly but surely emerging from the swirling mass of chaos.
aren’t weren’t marketing people.
PR is damn hard at the best of times. When you’re a programmer launching a social site for a bunch of (let’s face it) rabid fanwriters, most of whom are used to the polished perfection of rival sites?
Yeah. It wasn’t going to end well.
Communicating with your constituency is vital for any project, but especially for a social project of this scale. Inkitt failed by not adequately posting rules to contests, describing how the publishing selection works, and encouraging social sharing without considering the platforms it was endorsing.
(I’ll don my online-marketer hat here to say that Reddit, while popular with many online and particularly with the male-techy crowd [and so understandably supported by its male-techy founder], is absolutely not for the faint of heart and should not be a default sharing place for writers, even if they are talented. End of story.)
But to its credit (and my everlasting relief), Inkitt seems to have realized its shortcomings in this area. It’s expanded and increased its staff to handle issues and proactively reach out to its community. The new Academia group invites interesting discussion with knowledgeable writers—including a certifiable, real, honest-to-goodness professor! <waves hi to Joshua “That’s Dr. to you!” Grasso>
Plus, there’s increased curation and response within the forum area, meaning that certain personalities are no longer permitted to roam freely and generally be asshole idiots to everyone involved. Which brings me to my final point:
3. The community is fantastic.
I remember struggling while writing on Fanfiction.Net for constructive critique that would help me improve. Instead, I either got:
- Fans who couldn’t offer anything constructive beyond the echo chamber of “OH YES PLEEZ MOAR,” or
The middle ground between the two just… didn’t exist.
Inkitt, however, actually cultivates writers whose comments and reviews I’ve come to trust and appreciate. Sure, you get the people who think offering anything less than a 4-star is rude (and I’ll be writing about that some other time), but in general? Inkitt’s got people whose work is worth reading, and whose judgment and feedback actually mean something.
Besides, the whole founding concept revolves around community involvement. Based on my reviews, my reading, my vote, stories get published. They’ll get covers, and editors, and promotions—all those things the self-published authors struggle with and none but a very
lucky few achieve through traditional channels. Inkitt’s publishing model is a crowdsourced meritocracy, not a gut-driven oligarchy through publishing houses, and I want to support a publishing model like that.
Linda Gavin, one of Inkitt’s founders, tells me that there’s a new contest coming out, looking for
America’s Next Top Model novel.
And y’know what?