This post has been updated several times and will continue to update if there are any major developments. I have left most of the original text intact, but I encourage you to read all the way to the end to see NaNoWriMo redeem itself.
I sequestered myself for the month of November and wrote the first 50k words of Hostis Humani Generis, the decopunk anarchist lesbian pirate farmer novel. So. Huzzah for me.
Unfortunately, it will probably be my last NaNoWriMo.
I’m going to finish the book! And using the same method, as well. But not using the NaNoWriMo website or hashtags, and maybe in a month with fewer holidays in it.
And now we’re going to talk about why.
I have been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2015. And winning. And publishing. I used to donate every year and get that little halo over my profile photo.
I believe in NaNo as a project.
I don’t actually believe, as they often say, that anyone can write a book. I think you need to read a lot and write a lot and think a lot, and on top of that, you need the freedom to section off a part of your life and say “This is where the book is happening. Nothing else is allowed.” Those things are a combination of privilege and choice. Not everyone has the privilege. Even fewer make the choice.
But I want EVERY ONE OF THEM to write a book. NaNo was the thing that finally let me dedicate myself to the work, and I want everyone to have that for themselves.
And NaNo does get bigger every year. This has come with some issues.
When they redesigned the website, I think they were just trying to modernize. And every big, complicated, public-facing website will have some bugs to iron out. But I think the website redesign suffered from the same issue outlined in one of my favorite books as a kid, Mrs. Armitage on Wheels, in which a woman adds bells and whistles and radios and baskets and umbrellas onto her bicycle until it becomes unridable. There were some strange design decisions in the new website, too, like turning the bar graph into a blob graph. It was at this point that I decided to stop donating until they sorted it out. It seemed like they had spent a lot of money to ruin a perfectly good website. But I kept doing NaNo, hoping it would get better.
Instead, I’m afraid they’ve done something much worse.
This year, when I punched in my final word count, I got the usual lovely confetti and charming winner video and the little heart reacts from the wonderful people in my local NaNo discord. I felt good. Until I clicked on the “winner goodies” section, which is a set of discounts available to winners for things like writing software, plotting software, and typing devices. Those are all great, even if they are a bit of free advertising for the companies offering the discounts.
But this year, I noticed that my winner goodies included a “chance to win publishing contracts, social media spotlights, and more!” from a company called Inkitt.
And THAT is not okay.
If you search “Inkitt” on social media, you will see a lot of authors begging people to read their story for free in Inkitt.
This is not a good sign.
If you click one, there is a very good chance you’ll find something minimally edited, or missing punctuation entirely.
This is also not a good sign.
As the long-standing among you may remember, I wrote about Inkitt in TWENTY GODDAMN SIXTEEN after they targeted me for an “invitation” using a fictional publishing house account on social media.
I was not the only one who wrote about them being a scam.
So did Victoria Strauss.
And David Gowey.
And Fictigristle (twice).
There is bound to be some confusion if you read all of these, because Inkitt has drastically changed their business model several times, and each time it was going to be the Next Big Thing.
I learned about Inkitt because they replied to one of my tweets with an offer to ‘publish my book.’ (Which was, by the way, already published, but the bots didn’t know that.) I looked into them and found dozens of fake accounts spamming people with their single link. A little further and I found that if you give them an email address, they will hound you until you die.
When I wrote my initial blog post about them, the “co-founder” contacted me “to talk about it” but refused to discuss any of the actual issues unless I gave him my phone number, which, yeah, like hell, buddy. He then stalked me across multiple platforms to say that Inkitt was innocent. Inkitt is not innocent. Inkitt is a scam. Inkitt lures people into giving away their first publishing rights so they can’t sell the book to anyone else, and gives them “a chance to win” a contract. Or possibly be shopped around to real publishers, which is the job of an agent. Honestly, the whole thing is so screwy that I won’t try to lay it all out again here. You can read the posts above.
Here are some general pro tips about publishing: No publisher will ever reply to your casual post about writing on social media with an offer of publication. No publisher will sign a book that has already been published for free on the internet, unless that book has already proven that it can sell a million copies, and probably not even then. And no author should ever sign away their book for “a chance” or “exposure.”
Inkitt Meets NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo has dedicated forums. When I found Inkitt on my “winner goodies” page, I went to the forums to ask why this extremely disreputable company had been included and suggest that people google them before signing up.
(The following is edited and updated to reflect events of the 24 hours after this was originally written, because if I update this just to add the entirety of 24 hours of forum drama, this is going to be a long damn post.)
The highlights of the following day on the forums are as follows:
- The mods panicked
- I was banned for disparaging a sponsor
- I wrote this post
- Other authors joined me in saying that Inkitt was not okay
- The mods presumably had a long and stressful meeting
- The mods un-banned me (and others) and sent both public and personal apologies
- I, for one, absolutely forgave them, because the core issue here is not their fault
- We all settled down for a long talk in the forums about sponsors, forum moderation policies, and how to make sure all this never happens again, which is ongoing at time of writing.
But Inkitt remained on the Winner Goodies page.
I find it extremely distressing that NaNoWriMo, an organization that exists to encourage writers, is funneling those writers directly to a company that will take advantage of them. I hope it is an oversight (although typing two words into a search engine could have spared them that). I hope they will fix it. I am not going to assume that the org, or the mod, acted maliciously.
But I also can’t let authors fall for Inkitt if I can help it. You wrote a whole book! You should treasure that, and continue to work until it is perfect in your own eyes, and then share it in its best possible form, after close review, in a way that works for you, without signing it over to the first hand you see outstretched.
So spread the word. Do not put your work on Inkitt.
And hopefully that word will get around to NaNoWriMo as well.
And if it doesn’t…I think I’ll start writing books in June. June is nice.
NaNoWriMo really turned things around, and quickly. They have removed both Inkitt and Manuscript (a questionable vanity press) as sponsors and basically promised to make sure that none of this will ever happen again. Staff from all levels of the org descended into the forums to talk with us, saying that they had made a mistake and they were fixing it. To the extent that it is possible without use of a time machine, they have, in fact, fixed it. They bolted through the process of removing all favorable references to sketchy sponsors from the website, the social media posts, and the forums. They posted honestly about the issue in the forums.
Now all that remains to be seen is what they will do going forward. They’ve taken on Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware as a consultant (good move) and promised that the vetting process will change dramatically. They’re even letting people voice their issues with the website again. Is the disastrous NaNo of the last few years completely reformed? Of course not. But they’ve only had about 36 hours. But we’re all waiting to see what they do next, maybe even with a little restored faith.
Since the sharing rampage of both this post and the previous one relating to Inkitt, I’ve received feedback from quite a few people. Most of them were authors who appreciated the warning, whether or not they had already signed up for Inkitt. One person contacted me anonymously. They claim to be an ex-employee of Inkitt/Galatea (Galatea, not previously covered here, is an app run by Inkitt) and gave me permission to share their message. I am not a reporter, and I can not verify this person’s identity or employment history, so I share this with the caveat that you decide the veracity of it for yourself. I have very lightly redacted it, because in the event that this person really was an employee, I didn’t want to leave any hints about when and where they contacted me.
So, there’s that.
Since I didn’t mention Galatea before, some quick info about it: Galatea is Inkitt, in yet another “next big thing” form. For no reason at all, here is a screenshot of Galatea reviews from the Apple app store. If you look very closely, you might see something suspicious.
At this point, fake accounts and fake reviews appear to be the entirety of Inkitt’s business model.