ETA: Inkitt cofounder Ali Albazaz has been in touch to clarify a couple of points (see below). I will keep this post periodically updated as more information about Inkitt emerges.
If you’re active in writing on almost any site—Twitter, fanfiction.net, Wattpad, Fictionpress—you’ve probably been contacted, or will be contacted, by a site called Inkitt encouraging you to enter writing contests that can get you a Big Five deal. Here’s the full story.
- You were contacted by a bot. They didn’t pick you because you caught their attention as an up-and-coming author; they will contact anyone who appears to be a writer. They have a whole army of Twitter spambots. They also apparently have four official Twitter accounts, three of which do nothing but plug their contests.
- Their front page lists publications like The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, implying that they’ve endorsed Inkitt. Both publications only mention Inkitt briefly in passing while covering the same story about an author.
- They claim the entries are curated by real writers, but in reality they’ll post anything. Many of the entries are riddled with errors, and your entry will appear side by side with them.
- When you post your novel on Inkitt, you post it in its entirety. In the publishing world, this counts as publishing your book. You’re using up your all-important first-publication rights just by entering the contest. Few publishers will touch a book that’s been previously posted online.
- They don’t promote your book aside from occasionally tweeting a link to a top entry. Notice that they always contact you asking you to enter a contest—never promoting another entry. Getting pageviews is entirely up to you. An average entry has maybe 5 likes; top entries have a few hundred. Inkitt is extremely low-traffic compared to reputable sites like Wattpad, and in particular, it has no readership: Everyone on the site is a writer participating in a contest or a friend who was pestered into voting. You can’t build an audience on Inkitt because there is no audience. The entire site is geared toward getting people to enter contests, not toward what happens next. And matters get even worse if you actually win.
- They are notorious spammers. They email you multiple times every day encouraging you to pester your friends and family to like your entry.
- Inkitt touts its “artificially intelligent algorithm” as the future of publishing, claiming it can predict future bestsellers that elitist agents and editors would reject. How does this algorithm work? We don’t know exactly, but it “analyses the behaviour of readers” and “measure[s] their engagement.” That sounds suspiciously like simply picking the entry that gets the most page views. But if you’re an indie author with a large platform and a lot of readers, you don’t need a contest in order to get found. An algorithm based on reader behavior can’t find the diamonds in the rough that no one is reading yet—the very books and authors that Inkitt caters to.
- Inkitt claims “We pitch your book to A-list publishers” (oddly not referred to by their ordinary name, “Big Five publishers”) and strongly implies that you’ll get published by one of them if you win the contest. In reality, Big Five publishers have no relationship with Inkitt and little reason to be interested. Tor apparently picked up a recent contest winner, as apparently confirmed by Publisher’s Marketplace (although that’s behind a paywall so I can’t verify), but this deal is oddly ephemeral: The book, Bright Star by Erin Swan, is not on Goodreads or available for preorder and, less than a year out, there has been no buzz about it since its original announcement. Writer Beware has the full story.
- If you do get a Big Five deal, Inkitt takes 15% of all the book’s earnings. That’s the same as an agent’s cut, but while an agent fosters a career-long relationship with an author that involves putting in an enormous amount of work pitching, negotiating, and promoting the book, Inkitt demands that fee for once putting your book on their website. Reputable writing contests will never take a cut of your earnings.
- If you don’t get picked up by a major publisher, Inkitt claims they will publish your book themselves. The details of this publication process are extremely vague on their website. They list five books as “published” on their site, but there’s no trace of four of them anywhere outside of Inkitt (according to the Inkitt representative who keeps stalking this post, they’re coming out in September, October, and next year, but the site doesn’t include this information and makes no distinction between books which will be published in the future and ones which are already published). Inkitt’s “publishing deal” is nothing but publishing your book on Amazon through CreateSpace. They offer no advance and do nothing for you that you couldn’t easily do as a private individual. The one book that has been published this way, Catalyst Moon: Incursion by Lauren L. Garcia, is a new release less than a month old as of the writing and is ranked #16159 in fantasy. And this from a company that claims “we only publish bestsellers.”
- Inkitt claims they will “run a marketing campaign to sell as many books as possible,” but have you ever seen a marketing campaign for an Inkitt book? Yeah, neither have I. In fact, the Inkitt website seems designed to minimize any mention of its “successful” books. The pages for previous contests don’t even list a winner, nor do individual entries; to see winners, you have to go to Writing Contests > Show All Contests and scroll down to find the winning entries printed in small text (linking, of course, to their Inkitt pages, not to a purchase page). Their list of published books is buried on a carousel halfway down the page on publishing, the rest of which is about their special algorithm. They do profile winners on their blog…which is hidden in a collapsed menu in the far corner of the page. There are no buy links or exterior links at all on the site. To get to their one buyable book, you have to go to Amazon and look it up yourself.
- Rules vary wildly from one contest to the next. Prizes vary from publishing deals to gift cards, Inkitt branded merchandise, or nothing but a badge on your profile. In each case, you’re still sacrificing your first publication rights.
Like most predatory companies, Inkitt maintains just enough veneer of legitimacy to stay out of trouble. Yes, its contests do have winners; if the winners are barely mentioned anywhere on the site, that’s your problem. Yes, it is possible to get published through them; if they just use CreateSpace to post it on Amazon, that’s your problem. The places their behavior becomes really questionable are often the hardest to quantify. A legitimate publisher would have its new releases on its main page, front and center, with buy links and dates, but here “Get published with us!” is front and center and the books they’ve actually published are buried. A major red flag, but not actual proof of anything.
As the comments on this post reveal, Inkitt is deeply concerned with coming across as a legitimate organization, even to random private bloggers—but appearing legitimate is their only concern.
Inkitt claims to be the future of publishing that will revolutionize the industry and create a new path for overlooked authors. In reality, it’s a predatory company that preys on inexperienced writers, luring them in with exaggerated promises of book deals while driving traffic for their site only by recruiting more and more writers. Give Inkitt a hard no and only submit your book to vetted contests that have a track record of success within the industry.
Some reputable pitch contests to consider are listed after the cut.
The following contests are recommended entry points into the industry. They are run by successful authors or agents with the goal of helping newer authors. They do not charge entry fees, take a cut of your earnings, or use up your first publication rights. Many agents and editors participate in these high-profile contests and high numbers of the participants get representation or book deals. They’re also a great way to build your platform and make new friends.